What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?
I would have to say it began with the lack of interaction with hospital staff after my first husband died. Here’s how it went:
He had a massive heart attack early one morning. I call 911. They come and take him out after talking with me briefly; as they pull away with lights on, there are no sirens–I know at that point that he is dead. I take my then-three-year-old son to his preschool and make my way to the emergency room. I am told to wait a moment; during my waiting, I overhear two guys talking about having to take a man out of a very narrow upstairs. My upstairs. I am taken to a small room down a back hall. The room. I am told to wait. It’s quiet. I’m alone. I go out into the hallway and make calls: my boss, my mom; a mobile phone in an emergency room causes action. People come. Some guy tells me he didn’t make it, like I hadn’t figured that out. I am taken to go see him; the nurse asks if I want her to come in with me. I don’t remember what I said, but I thought, no, you don’t need to watch if I slap him, or if I break down and cry, or lose my mind and start laughing hysterically. I go in and there he is, with a sheet pulled neatly to his chin, the apparatus they use to pump air into him still in his mouth. I go outside the curtain to find that I am alone again. I wander to a desk to find a bored young man (I think; the memory is hazy now). I ask what to do next; I am 30 years old. He tells me to call a mortuary, that the hospital will keep the body (he says, “him”) there until arrangements are made. I ask if there is anything else, he says no; he does not offer me a social worker’s card, a priest or pastor. It is about 8 in the morning. I look outside and ponder if I should run out screaming and step in front of a city bus. I don’t. I go to my car and drive home to clean up the mess left by the paramedics. I straighten furniture, pick up IV covers, alcohol scrub packets, and other detritus from the invasion of health professionals. I don’t look at the bed much, creeped out by the thought of sleeping in it ever again. I throw away the sheets and put the mattress and box spring out for trash collection sometime later and sleep from then on downstairs on a couch until my son and I move out. I make phone calls, telling his three daughters from three different previous relationships (no marriages except ours, and that probably the biggest tragedy of them all). I search the phone book for a mortuary and settle on one with my grandmother’s name in its title. I leave a message and get back in the car to drive to my mother’s. I can’t stay a moment longer. As I drive across the bridge, out of state, out of my mind, lost on my way to mom’s, my mobile rings. I answer and keep driving; it is a time way before cell phone law. I tell the woman on the other end what has happened; she assures me that they will take care of everything, that I must drive safely to my mother’s, that they will go retrieve him from the hospital, and that they will call me in a couple of days to work out arrangements.
I don’t know how long I stayed at my mother’s. She came back with me and somehow the world had continued going without me; my son was well-cared for and had been going to school (I had dropped him at his preschool but he was in another day program as well. Somehow it worked out). I went to the mortuary and ask to see him; I ask if I can take my video camera back there because I am chonicling what has happened for my son, who is 3, who won’t know his father otherwise. I had done a bit of filming back at the house after cleaning up as an introduction and now I wanted to film in the workroom. The mortician was concerned; would I be all right going back there since there were…others…back there? I asked if they were also dead. He said yes. I said I would be fine then. He allowed me to go back and there I was, face to face with him again. The apparatus was out of his mouth and he looked peaceful. I made a comment about him looking okay when I came out; the mortician told me that’s how he’d come from the hospital. I made payment arrangements because we had no insurance. I sold my sports car.
One night after the funeral, I was asleep on my couch. I felt someone holding my hand and when I opened my eyes, it was him; he was dressed in a white denim suit and had a smile on his face–a smile that said, I get it, really, finally. And then he was gone. I could smell his cologne on my hand, even though I’d disposed of every trace of him that had been left in the house weeks prior.
It’s been almost 15 years and I still had nightmares about that marriage until just a few months ago.