Just a quick update here to let you know I didn’t forget you. It’s just that I’ve been too upset worrying about the meaning of Stalker’s silence to write you.
I decided something terrible must have happened and that is why I can’t reach him. His pride would not allow me to see him diminished, if I approached him with anger or blame. Anger? Blame? What kind of person would hold on to such mortal, mundane illusions, rather than go to his side and give a last touch of comfort? Rather than hold his head in her hands, as he lay taking his last breaths? To keep him from dying feeling alone and unloved?
No, he would not let me see him vulnerable. That must be why he has not responded. He would let me see him that way only if I came to him with humility, on my knees, begging forgiveness.
Silently I beg him. Do not die angry with me.
I picture him wasted to a skeleton, looking like my father’s father did. I was just eight years old when my father drove me all day and all night upstate. He must have known he was taking me to say good-bye. But I didn’t know, or what that would mean to us. I knew my grandfather — Zaide we called him, using the Yiddish — was sick, but I was not prepared. I had overheard the word cancer, but didn’t know what that was, other than deadly. And “deadly” was beyond me.
I was happy to see my aunt, uncle, cousins, and Bubbe. They cared for my Zaide who lay in the back bedroom in an old house in snowy upstate New York. The front rooms of plastic coated-furniture stayed dark and silent. But the kitchen and dining room — where I slept on a cot for the weekend — were full of life. My father ushered me down the hallway to the last room and I paused at the entry. My Zaide was in his twin bed, its wooden headboard overpowering his shrunken frame like a crown too big for the head of its wearer. Later I would hear he weighed just 65 lbs. when he succumbed, in his sleep, in this bed, a few days after a second bowel surgery. The family would not let him die in a hospital.
He must have been close to 65 lbs. when I saw him. I saw a skull veiled by the thin, translucent skin that had been his face. He smiled at me. Did he motion for me to come to him? I hope not, because I know I said nothing, then turned away after a few awkward moments, and walked back to the kitchen. Scared of death and horrified to see the outline of his skull and — embarrassed. Embarrassed to stand brazenly in his presence, me in my shiny, healthy youth. Wasn’t it an affront to him? I did not have those words then, but that was what I felt: ashamed to stand before him with a lifetime still stretching in front of me.
I didn’t go back to his room for the rest of weekend. I didn’t want to catch Zaide’s death — catch it like a cold. No one made me go, even to say goodbye before getting back in the car to go home to the City. I was relieved.
I imagine Stalker looking like that shrunken man in my Zaide’s bed. Stalker’s shaved head and thin frame — even when “healthy” — had reminded me of Zaide. How long had Stalker been sick, I wonder. Should I take that into account when judging his “bad behavior,” as he claimed I should? That is reasonable, after all. Cut a sick man some slack.
I turned away from a dying man once, in fear. Yes, I was a little girl. But haven’t I grown up? Can’t I do better now?
Yes, that must be it. He must be dying. That is more likely than his having gone underground on a last killing spree, getting his revenge. If he is on the spree, there is little I can do. But if he is dying, I must go to his side and carry out his last wishes. I must hold him and later take his ashes to the waterfall. I must not turn away in fear and disgust — a second time.
He had given me strict orders never to call his sisters again — not after the disastrous results the last time I called them in desperation. They, like me, prefer to move fast, and err on the side of caution. I know, I know. I must respect his wishes. But this isn’t about him now; this is about me. I will have to live with my actions. I cannot picture sitting and doing nothing. If I do, I will have regrets. He will be dead, but I will have to live with my last actions, or inactions.
So, I phone Sister One.
She picks up right away, but my heart sinks when I hear her tone: sternness twisted around a core of fear. Flavored with accusation.
“Baby, oh no,” said Stalker’s sister. “You should NOT have called.”
. . . to be continued
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.
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