For the longest time, I was the oldest of five. Then Teresa died, and I was the oldest of four. The way things are going with brother Bill in Tucson, I’m on the threshhold of being the oldest of three. I’m tired of dealing with death, especially in Arizona. Our parents died years apart, also in the spring in Tucson, where the vortex of the damned first pulled me in and colored my perception of the place. Try as I might, I always clench a little at the name, and look at how it makes me write!
Bill has cancer in both lungs. For a time it looked like he’d miraculously arrested the progress of his illness through twice-monthly chemo and plenty of meth. The chemo probably did the work—though what if there’s some synergy or will—and at least the other made him happy. Then yesterday my sister M. (a nurse) dropped in on him after a road trip from Texas. She found him bedridden and abandoned inside his stinking hot singlewide, too weak to sit up or stand. He hadn’t eaten in several days and had cellulitis in his legs. He was septic, she said. Like rotting inside. A couple of days from being gone. There was a cell phone, but he hadn’t called. Most of you probably find that hard to believe, but to me it has “Bill” written all over it. (Bill, Bill, Bill…) His oxygen tank was empty, too, so she phoned for an ambulance right away.
He’s in the intensive care unit at the V.A. hospital in Tucson now, feeling better, apparently, after antibiotics, fluids, and food. We want him in hospice, but if he insists, he might end up back at his trailer after all. He wants to go home so he can keep getting high. I totally understand, but then he’s on his own.
My first reaction on hearing the news was shock and grief. My second reaction, something approaching acceptance, derives both from the fact that there’s nothing anyone can do if the doctors let him go, and that dying is perfectly safe. However the impossible suffering bastard with a secret heart of gold checks out, we can surely say he did it his way, and a part of me will feel some pride in that. No matter what the past, I’ll honor his memory and do him up right. When it’s all over, it’s over, and the world trundles on. Save for happier reasons, I may never set foot in poor Tucson again.