Never Die at Home
by R.T. Saunders
“Listen,” I say strongly into the barely charged smart phone. “We need someone to come here. Things are starting to spin out of control.”
Before my Father signed the papers for home hospice two weeks earlier the glossy marketing brochures promised premium care, with aides and nurses always available to make an individual’s last days ones of dignity, surrounded by loved ones and receiving the care they need.
“No one is coming, Sir,” she says as I hear the cold monotone on the other end of the line.
“What do you mean, ‘no one is coming’?”
I try to stay composed, an aura of panic starting to creep over me, like fog on the road on a rainy night, that sense of horror that you can’t see the road ahead.
“No one is coming, Sir. You’ll have to handle this by yourself.”
Standing on the deck of the house, the cool night air of April on my neck like the icy hand of death that was now moving through the house, I look at the tree buds and try to hold on to the new life that’s out there, that’s emerging in a new season. Give me your life, I tell them silently. Let me feel the energy of existence that is draining away just feet away from me. Let me linger here in the newness.
“What am I supposed to do?” I tell her. “I have never gone through this before. He’s pulling at his clothes for God’s sake.”
I try to think that any feeling person would pick up the desperation building in my voice.
“They do that,” she says steely. “It’s called sundowning. Many of them do it.”
Many “of them”. My Father is now one “of them”. One of the undead, pulling at his pajamas in some desperate attempt to free himself from his body and move, perhaps, to that light at the end of the tunnel. But there’s more work to be done before that. You have to earn that sort of trip.
It’s a beautiful evening, the sun disappearing quickly into the night. A perfect time for people to tug at themselves trying to escape their own desperation of a life ending. I don’t want to go back inside. I don’t want to be the one responsible.
Oh Father, if this cup can pass me by!
But it’s not going to pass. This cup is firmly in my hands. No one is coming.
“I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what to do,” I tell her, thinking she’ll relent and the cavalry will soon arrive in the form of trained EMT’s who will whisk a suffering body into the place where doctors make miracles happen.
“You have that packet. It’s in the kit we gave you. It’s got the morphine in it. Give him some under his tongue. It will calm him down.”
“We gave him one earlier after I talked to someone else,” I countered.
“Well give him another. You can keep giving it to him until he calms down. It will slow his breathing.”
What is she talking about? Pump him full of narcotics until he’s in an appropriate stupor? He’s my Father, for God’s sake! When younger he would barely choke down an aspirin even after his head was pounding from some late evening “Mad Men” party.
No one is coming, sir. No one will be bothered, sir. He won’t talk. He won’t pull. He won’t annoy. He won’t soak his diaper again.
He won’t breathe?
“Listen, dear God, I don’t want to kill him. Suppose he stops breathing?”
“It won’t hurt him, and you certainly won’t kill him. It will relax him.” she says therapeutically. “You could give him the whole package and he still wouldn’t be in danger.”
The whole package. Maybe he would want that. Maybe he would enjoy drifting off instead of holding on by his fingertips.
Suddenly, the rationality of this is broken by another horror coming to me at full speed in the dark. My Mother, herself challenged by health, is running out to find me in the night.
“Where are you? Where are you? Get in here! He’s trying to get out of bed and I can’t stop him!”
Yes, hell does truly break loose. Sometimes it happens on a beautiful night in early spring
“I have to go. Right now. My Father is getting out of bed,” I yell into phone to the night nurse who is doing her best not to nurse anyone for the duration of this evening.
“Ok. Call back if you need to talk more. Good luck,” she says.
Good luck! Luck? I don’t need luck. And I don’t need to talk! I need help, goddamnit. I need someone here. I need someone who knows what they’re doing. I need to be spared this. I need my sister here; the one who is too busy in her own life to see the ending of another; the one who is ten minutes away. I need to feel competent. I need to be able to comfort a dying man. I need to not feel so lonely at this very minute.
“No one is coming, sir.”
© 2015R. T. Saunders
Thoughts in the Laundry
I have been working the spot on this goddamn shirt for the last half hour. What happened to all those "miracle" detergents, the ones that promise to make everything new again? It is my favorite, and longest lasting shirt, the kind that gives you a smile when you take it out of the trunk at seasons change and is with you at those unique life times that appear so unexpectedly, messed up with life's sloppiness but somehow resurrecting itself with water, soap, and a spin cycle.
Sometimes though, you reach the point when things just can't be repaired with a quick rinse. Life fades things after too many washes. I really hate when things get ruined like that. So suddenly, like that relationship that started all fresh and clean, right out of the package new, survived for years, and now desperately clings to the edge like a novice high wire act; the dying connection that gifted me with this still bloody nose in what seems to be a fatal personhood crash.
You can work hard and try to save things, scrub them until the material is almost worn through, but sometimes you're better off learning when and how to let them go. Even a favorite shirt knows when it's time to stop going along for the ride and start a new life serving as a rag. A step down, yes, but still clinging to existence, remembering the times when friends said, "Is that new? It looks good on you!"
Sometimes it's best to know when the stain will no longer come out.
I am not sure what happened tonight. Things were going so well.
He came into the City just a few days ago and we were all so up! I mean, everyone was up! You could feel the excitement.
We were pretty near the Passover so we rented this room just to be sure we could get some private space. It wasn’t fancy, in fact it was a bit dirty, so I grabbed a broom and a rag and tried to clean things up a bit. We paid a few coins more for the table and some chairs. No one was quite sure if Mary or the others were coming so we got a few extra seats.
As it was, it was just the twelve of us, and the Master of course. It started off really well; the guys traded stories about the entry into the City, and some of the crazy people grabbing at us. I mean I got poked in the eye, all that crap that they were waving. They even pulled branches off the trees to toss in our way! That’s why I hate crowds! Although in the end it was all good.
We all figured it was a long week, so we’d have a good, holy Passover and crash out. We had the room for a few days. There were some big weeks coming and even Peter had to tell his wife he wouldn’t be home. She didn’t like that at all! The single guys have a little less going on, but we could use a little down time too.
John is the youngest of us. He’s got this real baby face that makes him look younger than he is, so he asked the Four Questions at the Passover table. He can act like such a kid sometimes but Jesus loves him a lot and he’s got a good heart. He’s the kind of guy who will do anything for you and I am glad he’s part of our group. After tonight, we’re going to need him.
Peter was really pretty obnoxious at the table. The Master started washing our feet to explain that we need not be full of ourselves and to serve the lowliest in society. You know, the first must be last sort of thing. (That can be a tough thing to learn I’ll tell you!) Well, Peter pulls this deal that he’s not going to let the Master wash his feet, and Jesus tells him off. Good for Him! Before Judas left, the Master was telling us that one of us would betray him, and Peter, as usual says “Oh no, not me!” Jesus told Peter he would deny him, maybe not now, but someday. It wasn’t a good moment. Peter was really embarrassed. He’s a good leader and holds us together, but sometimes he just doesn’t get it.
Judas walked out of the Seder all disgusted. I didn’t hear the conversation but someone told me it was about betraying the Master. It was quite a scene, and it was then that things got really serious; the Master talking about doing things to remember him and such, breaking the bread, sharing the wine. It was intense and got us pretty unnerved. It was hard to really get what the point was.
We took a walk after dinner to Gethsemane as the Master wanted to pray. He seemed really stressed out so we went with him. It was hard to stay awake after all the excitement of the past week, and I was pretty beat. And it was unusually cold and tough to stay warm. I have to admit, I tried my best but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. None of us were really in a praying mood anyway.
It was then that those Temple Guards showed up with the priests. What the fuc……sorry, the Master keeps telling me to watch my language, especially around the kids. Come on, the Roman soldiers are bad enough but to have those lackeys of the Chief Priest show up for one of their own people, well, it was too much for some of us.
So it was real chaos. Lots of confusion. Lots of anger. Peter is going down to the Temple to see what he can find out. I don’t like how things are developing though, what with the Master talking about not being around and everything.
It’s hard to imagine how things can go so wrong. Everything was just coming together for all of us. Now Jesus has been arrested and our group is falling apart. I am not sure how this is all going to work out.
I don’t know. I just need to go home and think.
I feel like crying.
© 2013 R.T. Saunders
Dream Date September 2005
The water is cold, ice cold. I can feel the spray on my face as I try to keep my vision clear. I am in a river, in a canoe, and the water is fast. I am alone; things are happening quickly, but I am not frightened. The speed picks up, you can feel the power, and the landscape moves by rapidly. Suddenly, things are out of control, the water rushes by faster now, almost swamping my ride. Overcome by the powerful surge, I can’t get to the shore; the craft is caught up in the strong current. The situation is dire. I could lose my bearing at any time. Quickly, almost without warning the Falls appear, the rush of the water more ominous with every second passing. With little chance to escape, the canoe is swept over, tossing me into the air and into the foaming water. I can feel myself falling, ever faster, never quite hitting the water below. Just falling.
I wake, on the floor, soaked with water; the glass knocked from the night table above.
Published in Skive Magazine - June 2012 www.skivemagazine.com
©2012 R.T. Saunders
The Fedora Kid
by R. T. Saunders
She walks into the meeting of the weekly support group. A young girl. It’s assumed she’s a girl, or female identified, since this is a male to female transgender support group. Her long shoulder length, unkempt brown hair, dark, dark glasses obscuring what must be pretty eyes, and rumpled corduroy jacket set her apart from the others who make a studied effort to establish a female persona. She wears a man’s black fedora, stylish, very Madonna-esgue in its fashion sense. Pulled down low to the eyebrows and meeting the top frame of the dark glasses, it shields her face, making her as much a hidden icon as she can manage. She comes in late, forcing her to grab a chair in the center of the room. She does this often, each week a new entrance. A hidden object in plain sight, she says nothing, gesturing occasionally.
In a quiet way she is included, each person struggling with who they are in the body they are in, whether they say anything or not. They are all gender questioning, trying to make sense of an inner feminine expression to an outer male presence; a relentless inner message that doesn’t quit and that drives each to find a way to wholeness. This is a journey of the courageous; the ones who give up every idea of what others think of them or have expected them to be. She’s on that journey, and tonight she’s with others, moving silently ahead.
The two hours go quickly. Tears and laughs. Struggle and acceptance; some sharing stories of being welcomed, some tossed aside. The hidden girl absorbs it all with a wry reactive smile. She’s lived this too.
As the meeting time brings things to a close sooner than they like, members step up and give their impressions of the nights’ discussion, what’s on their agenda for the week, and how they’re feeling before heading back into a trans unfriendly world. Adjusting the brim of her hat, bringing it down closer to shield her face, she looks like she has something she wants to share, but she waves on to the next person, declining to speak.
At the end of the evening, when some of the more social members gather in the lobby to plan where to go for the evening and start to make their way out, she hangs around, listening in on others’ conversations, occasionally making a one or two word comment. You can tell she’s listening. She’s reacting. Things are getting in there.
The small group decides to move out of the building and on to a local transgender friendly diner. This is New York City after all, and fifteen transgender females in various stages of physical transition are as much a part of the cityscape as a mouth open tourist. But unlike a tourist, they own this City. It’s theirs every day, no matter how threatened they feel in it.
As they head out to expand on the evening discussion and get to know one another more, she follows. Saying nothing, she tags along, and being the kind of group it is, she is welcomed. It’s a blustery fall night as they cross the busy avenues of New York, a few strongly confident, their too high heels clicking on the cold pavement, others painfully self aware of their feminine presence in public, but all feeling delight and protected by each other. Briefly separated by the ever rushing City traffic and the flashing “don’t’ walk” signs, they reassemble on the near corner. A quick look around to see if everyone successfully navigated the sea of taxis, and her absence is noted. She’s no longer there.
As they continue on, someone in the group asks whether or not she has ever joined the after meeting social. After all, even the strongest of them find it tough going from the protection of a support meeting to the emotional openness of sitting across the table from someone who wants you to take off those dark glasses and let them really see you. The real you. The one you hide.
No, someone says, she tries, but never quite makes it all the way to the restaurant, peeling off some blocks before, setting out on her own.
They wonder who she is, what her name is.
No one knows. She never tells anyone.
She’s just The Fedora Kid.
© 2014R. T. Saunders