I'm looking out the hospital window
at the frozen trees
so that I don't have to see him.
There are mostly oaks with a few pines,
but even the green of the pines has faded to gray.
I can only take it in bursts.
I don't get used to it.
He's lost 30 pounds in 3 weeks.
His lips are pulled thin --
making his teeth protrude like a skeleton --
exactly like that.
His legs have frozen.
He has bed sores on his feet.
He was a terribly proud man,
so much so, that when his wife visits,
he refuses to talk.
He pretends that he's not there.
And I can see the shame biting
through his face from the inside.
He's gone most of the time,
but when he comes back,
I can still see him hiding in the skeleton -- terrified.
Does he want to go,
or does he want the feeding tube
to prolong his pain?
He can no longer swallow from the Parkinson's.
His living will says, "No artificial or heroic measures,"
but is that still true now that death is close?
He comes up with my name on his own.
It wasn't a yes or no question.
He reaches out for me to take his hand.
He says, "No more,"
to the drops of milk they pour down his throat.
Does he mean "no more ever," or just right now?
Does dignity matter?
Or the shape of a life?
I saw your little footprints in the snow -- size five --
laid down on your way to work that morning.
I walked over them, tracing their path backwards
with my big ugly feet, so I wouldn't get my socks wet.
I was just there to get some things for my new house.
The ocean was higher and wilder than I'd ever seen it --
raging at the end of the blizzard.
I imagined the water would rise up the cliff --
up onto the porch -- to swallow the house
and erase our footprints.
Then, driving away with my pots and pans,
my computer, and some of our towels,
I suddenly got trapped in the other place:
where everything and everyone is on top of each other --
nirvana -- a million worlds flowing together in cartoon --
endless lives like movies erupting and dying.
I was just able to shake it off
and put my car into the right hole --
road -- lane -- that would take me back
to my new apartment.
I knew that if I took one wrong turn
I'd never find my way home
through the swirling flakes.
©2005 by Vanessa Kittle
Vanessa Kittle is a writer and cook who lives on Long Island with her partner, Erin. She also takes care of a very evil kitten named Sombrero.