Wavering at a Threshold

Featured image: Together: Last Portrait, 2015. (Photo by Rachel Anik)

On the last day of September, just one week after the hospice doctor had whispered “any time,” I wheeled my husband onto a bus for the annual Oak Hill autumn leaf tour. As the bus wended its way on rural roads, I’d exclaim, “Look!”—at the lakes, leaves, and fading fields.

            Dick ignored me. Whatever he saw dancing in front of his eyes was far more enticing. Perhaps butterflies, I thought, or silky filaments bearing seeds. As he hallucinated, he’d reach out, pluck those minute mysteries from the air, and place them on his lap, in his cupped hand, or in the hand of the lady next to him. She thanked him.

            Later that afternoon, the last photo was taken of my husband and me together: my head leaning against his forehead, my arms around him, my eyes and smile bright with joy. His face is pallid, his mustache and beard ragged. His eyes are watery, downcast, almost closed. He looks content, yet withdrawn, as if he were partially there, partially elsewhere.

In that last photo of my husband, he’s there, yet gone, wavering at a threshold: “Like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves, / as though we were drowning inside our hearts, / as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul,” wrote Pablo Neruda in his poem “Nothing but Death.” Dick had been falling out of his skin and moving into his soul for years.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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