CHAPTER V: Dead Man Walking

Staring at a ventilator makes you question everything.

With each force of air, I tried to consider how we got here: he was dying and I was struggling with bouts of suicidal ideation. “You have to live for your kids,” was usually the only resolution anyone ever offered. Sometimes, “Accept that he has chosen this destructive path and start a new (happy) life,” was thrown at my chest like a wild tranquilizer dart. It never did any good upon impact, so they quit aiming.

No one else understood me like he did – he got the self-deprecation, he got the need to be alone while together, he got the twisted view of life. He lived for the day, for the hour, for the minute. He didn’t save money for the future, he smoked pot because it made him happy, and he didn’t say much because he didn’t have the greedy compulsion of being heard to feel like you matter.

We secluded together, welcomed babies together in empty hospital rooms, and lived our separate lives, together. I sat alone at his bedside; the drug dealers and the junkies were well on their way to pick and pull from his abandoned house. I imagined them tossing around outgrown baby clothes, that once meant something, to find the last item of street value. I could see the foiled up front windows, peeling at the edges, and the boarded up windows from the last tear gas event. I could hear the police and the tweakers buzzing in my mind, circling the house like angry rattlesnakes and thin red wasps. Buzz and sting, dive and paralyze.

That house always held bad things. His grandmother’s house, then his father’s, now his, and known by the town as the “drug house,” the “lots of activity over there” house, the “it’s hard to believe he turned out like this” house. His father had lived reckless in that house and upon his death, I had begged him to rent the house out, we didn’t need bad vibes, we had enough of our own. He had skipped over his father’s activity in the house, only remarking on the time he shared with his grandmother under its roof.

“That was the only time in my life I really thought I was going to die,” he had explained. The Tornado of 1997 – an F5 that snatched up fields of hay by the roots and used the tiny blades of grass as spears, impaling cows and dogs across the miles – spun at the center of his childhood. The great tornado, referred to by many as Dead Man Walking, due to its multi-vortex catastrophic force, sucked up his hometown down to its concrete slabs. People were swallowed up whole and returned to the earth in fragments. He attended four multiple-casket funerals the following week.

I remember my grandma standing on the front porch like a statue holding a dishtowel. I guess she was in shock that it was coming right at us. I got to the front door and could see it – looked like a huge gray cloud of trash. You could see trees spinning around, big sheets of metal – you could hear the roar, like a train – like what they talk about on tv. It took up the entire sky. I finally realized she wasn’t moving so I grabbed her shoulder and told her we needed to get in the house. She ended up locking us in her closet. I remember she pulled out her cross from the front of her dress and she started praying. I’d never prayed like that before. At first I just sort of sat there looking up at all of her rolls of yarn and stacked up old magazines and thinking ‘is this really how I’m gonna die?’ She kept praying and praying and it made me cry. She was scared. We prayed over and over and finally thought we had been in there so long, the tornado would have hit us by then. We got up and went outside. It was gone. It missed us. They say it was coming right down the highway and right before it got to us, it turned.

The tornado had turned, sparing him and his grandmother that day. After a few phone calls, they had driven up the hill of Double Creek Estates. The police stopped them just shy of his aunt’s home.

“Ma’am, we can’t let you go up there,” the police had advised. He had sat still in the passenger seat, confused and concerned about his aunt and six-year old cousin up on the hill. His grandmother fought a good fight with the officers, showing her cross and reminding them she had known all of them since preschool.

“Ma’am, to be quite honest, we simply can’t let you go up there. There are limbs scattered all over. I’m sorry.”

This news left his grandmother paralyzed again, and he was there for that, and all of the days after, as his friends, schoolmates, and family members were located and pieced back together.

“I think that’s about the time I started smoking weed,” he admitted. And so, the addiction had begun; the insidious beast of false comfort seized its perfect moment.

And here we were.

The machines were beeping too fast. A nurse rushed in, resetting the system and pulling me out of that house. I smiled at her, unable to speak as if I were stuck in a closet whispering,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven