On Philosophy, or the Eternal Debate, or Amongst Friends upon the Boards of the American Theater (1938), or Wisdom.
Who’s on first?
What’s on second?
I don’t know’s on third.
Laughing, I wipe my eyes and turn to the final page, reading through the blur:
Will you let your bindings
Blindly for eternity?
Or will you snip the
’Fore they be snipped for you?
I’m trembling by the time I turn the last, crisp page. As I do, I close my eyes for a moment, taking in his words, his life. Our life. This book is us. Jamie has immortalized us; a too brief encounter made eternal. I open my eyes and see what looks like an inscription, at the end of the book, carved into the hardness of the back cover. Two simple words:
I close the cover and place the book, our book, back in his suitcase. As if this hasn’t been enough to process, I notice another item, an envelope tucked into the side of his bag. There’s no way I’m leaving it there. I’m ready to take his whole damn suitcase apart. I open it and find a thirty-day rail pass with my name on it, but no destination. And of course there’s a note. It’s not signed, or poetic, it just says:
Starting Tomorrow: Anywhere, Everywhere. Happy Birthday.
This was his gift. I imagine Jamie before me, handing over his book of poems, a shy grin, saying something self-deprecating. Then, after I’ve thanked him profusely, kissed him, he urges me to open the envelope. Oh. What have we here?
It’s the sweetest, most thoughtful thing anyone’s ever done for me. But it’s also infuriating. Why would he do this? Why would he send me away during the vacation, during his recovery, during our time to reconnect, our time to savor what we have left?
Because I’m leaving in June. Because he knows this is my last chance to travel like I’ve always wanted to. Because he knows that he can’t go and he won’t be responsible for holding me back. Because he loves me more than he wants to spend what remains of our time with me.
What do you do with that kind of love?
Think of me as withdrawn into the dimness,
Yours still, you mine; remember all the best
Of our past moments, and forget the rest;
And so, to where I wait, come gently on.
William Allingham, “Untitled,” 1890
Eventually, I clean myself up. I go back out to the waiting room. Cecelia is curled up in a chair like a cat tipped vertically. Antonia sleeps on William’s shoulder as he stares at the floor.
Before I can go to them, Dr. Corrigan appears around the corner. William rouses Antonia, and Cecelia wakes up, senses the stirring. We all go to the doctor. She looks grim, causing my heart to beat erratically, a child on the kitchen floor banging pots and pans.
“No sign of improvement as of yet,” she states, and my heart stops beating. “We’re still keeping him under and intubated. He’s not responding to the antibiotics yet. But . . .” She looks confused. “I received his blood work. And while his white-blood-cell count is still quite low, it seems that the trial may have had an effect.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Compared to the files that were sent to me, I’m seeing relatively little incidence of the myeloma. He’s remarkably clean.”
A small gasp comes from the back of Antonia’s throat. I can’t move. “He’s in remission,” William utters.
The doctor shakes her head. “I’m not his oncologist. I have the barest of tests in front of me. But I can say that I see a definite shift. The next twelve hours are critical. If he pulls through the pneumonia—”
“I want to see him.” My voice is calm but edgy, as if I could tip over into hysteria at the slightest provocation.
“He’s in isolation—”
That does it. “Now! I’ll see him now!”
“He’s deeply sedated, he won’t know you’re—”
“I don’t care!” I shout.
Antonia tries to grab my shoulder, but I shake her off. Cecelia’s hand slips into mine, offering strength, support. I hear her voice, low and calm. Capable. “Give her a mask, Doctor. Whatever you need to do. Surely, she can be let in.”
Dr. Corrigan considers us. She nods, once. She purses her lips, but says, “Follow me.”
AFTER DONNING A pair of scrubs, having a nurse help me wash and dry my hands, and being given a surgical mask, I’m taken to Jamie’s room. Dr. Corrigan points at the window in the door. “Just prepare yourself.” I peek into the room.
Jamie looks like death. Plain and simple. He’s as pale as the bedsheet, his face covered by a ventilator, an IV in his hand. He’s surrounded by machines. Dr. Corrigan moves to the door and opens it softly. “I’ll be back in ten minutes to fetch you out again. You mustn’t touch him. The risk of further infection is too great.”
I hover at the threshold. “Can I ask you . . . how long he has?”
She’s taken aback. “What do you—”
“I mean . . .” I pause, glancing at Jamie. “Let’s say he comes through the pneumonia and we’re just dealing with the amount of cancer that you saw. How long?”
The doctor shakes her head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“Please. How long?”
“I don’t know.”
The doctor snorts, as if I’m amusing her. “Eleanor.” Her voice takes on a more real tenor, dropping the doctor filter. “What you’re asking is unknowable. His oncologist probably gave him timetables, ay? He has this long if he gets treatment, this long if he doesn’t? Well, the oncologist wasn’t expecting pneumonia, now, was he? Asking me how long Jamie has to live is like asking me how long you have. Do you know how long you have?”
All I can do is shake my head.
“Exactly. Neither do I. What I can tell you is that, now, you have ten minutes.” She turns and disappears down the hallway.
Reeling, I enter the room.
There’s not even a chair in here. I look down at him and edge closer to the bed. My hand snakes out before I remember that I can’t touch him. I grab it with my other hand, clasping it in front of me.
Everything I wanted to say to him evaporates. What am I doing here? What’s the plan? Bludgeon him into recovery with invectives and recriminations? Cry and plead until he wakes up just to shut me up? Beat my chest? Tear out my hair?
Looking at him, eyes closed, head tipped back, tube down his throat, breathing artificially, I can’t believe it’s only been six months since I first met him. Since he doused me with condiments in a chip shop. Since I hated him at first sight. Since that first class, our tutorial, whiskey and ale, drunken first fumblings, Buttery kisses and chapel trysts. Dry English wit one minute, gallows humor the next. His eyes. Those pools of every shade and depth.
Eyes, it suddenly occurs to me, I might never see again.
Carefully, I perch at the foot of his bed. I look at him for a moment.
“Jamie?” Just saying his name brings a flood of tears. “Jamie, I hope you can hear me. Please. This isn’t your Oxenford. Okay? This isn’t where you cross.”
I don’t know when it is, or where it is, but it’s not here. It can’t be here.
Please don’t let it be here.
Stay, Jamie. If you can, if you want to, please choose another time. Choose to stay. Choose to stay with me.