Late in February, I received an email saying, “I’ve been thinking of you a lot, knowing you must be revisiting the many anniversaries associated with Carlos’s passing.” The writer, a meditation friend of Carlos’s, was exactly correct. It’s surprising how acute the feelings were as these anniversaries rolled around, in some ways worse than when the events actually occurred, when I didn’t know what was going to happen and was just plodding through it moment by moment.
One evening, I thought: at this exact moment last year, Carlos was sitting right where I’m sitting now, and it was the last time he was ever at my house. The next day he ended up in the hospital and never went home. That was the day he held my hand and pleaded, “Ayudame.” Help me. (He wasn’t in pain. He was just grumpy and hungry and ready to go home. I think it was dawning on him that someone else was in charge.)
The evening after that was when I sat in a restaurant near the hospital in tears, thinking of all the meals in the future I would eat alone, knowing I should go home but unable to bear thinking of Carlos just across the street, lying in his hospital room. Charlie saved the evening by agreeing to give me a ride home at the end of visiting hours, so I was able to go back and spend a bit more time with Carlos, knowing someone would be there to fetch me, that I wouldn’t just be walking out into the dark to stand alone at the bus stop. Charlie was tremendously helpful throughout this whole time.
Another afternoon I recalled that one year to the minute earlier, I had been with Carlos at the hospital, and after I left him that evening, we never again spoke in person, because the next day, after we talked on the phone but before I arrived to visit, he had the seizures that put him in the ICU in a medically induced coma. Then he was taken off life support, then he was in palliative care, and then he was gone.
A friend of his was lately lamenting that the biopsy that caused the seizures had occurred at all, and I think there’s something to that. If he hadn’t had the biopsy, he might have gone on for months. During this hypothetical time, he’d have had many visitors and would have been enveloped in love. But he’d either have been in a care facility, which he would have hated, or I’d have had to quit my job to care for him full-time, so the way it happened was probably best. He never knew he was ill. He wasn’t in pain. He was only in the hospital and conscious for ten days. (He was in the hospital for three weeks total, but not conscious all of that time.) Everyone he knew came to see him.
For nearly a year, it had been just us two, seeing each other seven days a week at first, and then at least several days a week, and all of a sudden, moments where we were alone were in short supply, which was difficult for me, but it was only ten days. Even if it had been just us two, it would have been only a week and a half before he was, for most intents and purposes, gone.
Around the time I had that memory of speaking with Carlos in person for the last time, I’d been consulting my Carlos-related calendar for a couple of weeks, conscientiously recalling what had happened precisely one year prior and being miserable over it. But shortly after that, on a particularly gloomy day, rainy and dark, the desolation became overwhelming and I tore up the calendar, which was a good thing to do. Sorrow over his loss will probably arise from time to time in the normal course of things forever. I don’t need to drum it up.
For decades, Carlos often attended a poetry event on Wednesday evenings at the Sacred Grounds café on Hayes St. I’m going to go this week so that his friends and I can remember him together.
A year ago there was talk of having a portrait of him painted to hang on the café wall. More recently, that morphed into the idea of putting up a framed photo. Pursuant to that, a friend of his and I chose a photo of him in Golden Gate Park. I ordered a print of it, and bought a frame in a glowing reddish wood. I was going to print out his name, birth and death dates, and a few words about him to put in the frame with the photo, and even found a font that was rather like his handwriting, but it looked sterile and I knew he wouldn’t have liked it at all. He wouldn’t have liked the bland white paper, nor the repressed perfection of it, so I cut a circle out of a purple Post-It note and wrote on that instead. The finished product I think he would have liked—the red frame, the purple handwritten note, the bright blue sky, the green grass behind him. It’s cheerful and colorful.
His absence seems worst of all on lovely sunny afternoons. How can he not be here, holding my hand, moving in his always leisurely way, pointing out the beautiful shadows on the ground, stopping to admire the subtle colors of bark on a tree, smiling so sweetly?
(Click photo to enlarge.)