December 23, 1982. Pompano Beach, Florida. On US Federal Highway I “Adult Motels,” “Adult Films,” and Go-Gos advertising such star nudes as “Ms. Illinois” (the Backstage Club) and “Ms. Kansas” (the Centerfold)—though “Ms.” hardly seems appropriate in these bastions of male chauvinism. And what about “Wet T-Shirts” (the Playpen)? No matter how torrid the atmosphere, mightn’t someone catch cold?
An ad for the Baird-Case Funeral Homes in today’s Sun-Sentinel offers fifteen combinations of “sea burials and cremation.” The customer need only mail in a coupon, placing an “X” next to his/her preference. A “scatter at sea” with “viewing” and a “minimum casket” (knees tucked to chin?) costs $750, a “scatter at sea” without “viewing” and without casket, $625. “D’incroyables Florides,” as Rimbaud wrote.
December 25. Walking the beach this morning on the anniversary of V.’s birth does not help me to erase memories of the night of her death. The end was said to be “expected,” but is it possible to “expect” the instant transformation of a living person into a motionless image, and can anyone anticipate the beginning of an eternal separation? C.S. Lewis referred to death as “the slamming of the door in your face, and the sound of bolting on the inside.”
During that terrible night, September 16-17, the doctor arrived minutes after being notified, looking even more dour than he had in the afternoon, with black suit, black bag, and black expression. He entered the room without a word—not even “I am sorry,” though tears were streaming down our faces. When he curtly refused my request to close her eyes, a nurse did so a moment later. After the perfunctory ritual with the stethoscope, he retreated to the living room to write the death certificate (“consequence of a stroke”), then crept out.
Meanwhile the undertakers appeared as quickly as if they had been waiting in the next room. I kiss her forehead, her hair, her hands, and go out; after the first sight of the lifeless body, the worst shock is the view of the empty bed, where she had been lying for three months. I had gone to her at all hours, holding her hand, whispering in her ear, to which she would respond by opening her eyes and squeezing my hand. Day and night, I waited for the nurse’s knock on the wall, a signal that V. wanted to see me. Now the silence in the room will haunt me.
“I haven’t hope. I haven’t faith”: Betjeman’s poem speaks for me. “Soul,” “spirit,” the Buddhist idea of a continuity, a rebirth of minds not connected with a self—even if I understood and believed in these notions, they would not console me. The mind is unable, thinking about death, to imagine something other than life, and I want the resurrection of the person: her face, her smile, her eyes, her voice and accent, her gestures—the way she lighted a cigarette (she …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.