how do I even begin


Dwarfed against the skyscrapers of New York. The heat, sticky and swampy, but glorious after the oxymoron of San Francisco summer. A visit to Brooklyn, then a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into the thick of lower Manhattan. Dinner and a show: Cirque de Soleil at Radio City Music Hall. A morning in Chelsea. Biscuit sandwiches at a countertop seat at a busy restaurant on a weekday. A late-night email from my uncle that said, in its subject line, "Emergency." The hospital on a late Wednesday afternoon, my uncle bookened by IV tubes. The relief of his smile. The strain in his voice, rasps of it coming out. Difficult breaths. His handwriting in a notebook. The fear in his eyes. The words, "No tears" on the page, and a shake of his head. Eyes brimming anyway. The keys to his apartment. The twice-daily walk to the hospital. Nurses on a first-name basis. The doctors and their optimism, the doctors and their worst-case scenarios. The bardo state of the elevator from ground level to the 9th floor. My uncle's chest and the chemo port. His beard. The straw in the plastic cup of water. A mouse-sip. The lydocaine swish. Check your blood pleasure, your temperature, your fluids. The first night in his apartment. Everything I remember from age 12. The liquor cabinet. Angostura bitters. Brandied cherries. Slivovitz. The view from the livingroom. The Empire State Building. The chivalry of doormen. Riverside. West End. Broadway. Zabar's. Bagels and coffee. 10th Avenue and 59th. Roosevelt Hospital. Visiting hours. The fall out of bed. How he made sure to fall on his cheek. CAT scan normal. And yet. Downhill. Decline. Julie and Robert Beller and their children. The intimacy of a waiting room. My uncle's ancient roommate leaving at last for the nursing home. How did HE get better? A thunderstorm. A downpour. A rainbow. Conversations no one is ready to have. Threat of a blood clot. Threat of pneumonia. Pneumonia. We may have to take him to the ICU. We have to take him to the ICU. We may have to intubate. We have to intubate. By then, a mouth so full of pain. A face so full of confusion. Does he know? Does he know? Phone calls twice, three times, four times daily. My father. It might be time. It's time. Respirator. Kidneys failing. My sister and the red-eye. 11:30 a.m. Ten minutes, fifteen. 11:45. The numbers dropping one by one. Not like television. Not like television at all. Slow drip, drip slow. Joel? We're here. David's coming. Can you hang on? The walk on the High Line from days before.  Cucumber lime popsicle. Flecks of mint. 96 degrees. Stalks of daisies among concrete. A dozen different languages in the span of one block. The Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. Fried chicken and steamed broccoli between one morphine dose and the next. Bringing up the mail, the newspaper, his laundry. The books in his bedroom. The crease of his pillow. All of that behind this moment. This moment. How do I even begin? The heart. It controlled everything. It stopped, and everything else did too. Ssshhhh...ssshhh. Take a deep breath. Take a long look. Life and death. So close I touched it. So close it touched me right back.