Everything's Under Control

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is the story of the death of my wife

Submitted: February 01, 2011

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Submitted: February 01, 2011

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FINALLY
 
 
“Finally, everything’s under control.”
That was the last thing Suda said to me, and after 24 years, I’m still not sure what she meant.
Maybe it was words from a morphine dream. She knew I liked to listen to her descriptions of the hallucinations the powerful drug produced, like the one about pink-clad robots marching below as she watched from a high tower, or the one featuring my father – dead for about a year – standing, smiling at the foot of her hospital bed.
“I really like this drug,” she said to me once.
And they pumped it into her six times a day to keep the pain of her cancer at bay. She was an addict by the time she died, watching the clock for the next fix.
“Finally, everything’s under control.”
When she said that, I smiled at her and kissed her goodnight and went to sleep on the cot across the room.
An hour later, a nurse shook me awake.
“Kuhn Suda sia (Suda is dead).”
I called her father after asking the nurse what words I should use to break this awful news as gently as possible. Her father still hoped for a miracle; her mother still hoped for a miracle. Her brothers and sister hadn’t given up hope.
* * *
Suda’s sister had arranged a miracle cure that involved a man who became possessed by the spirit of a famous monk of long ago. He came to our hospital room and mumbled over Suda and sprayed saliva on her, which terrified her. Suda’s family believed in this man and a potion he prescribed, which it became my job to pound together with a mortar and pestle.
But I pounded without conviction because I had given up hope. As for Suda, I don’t know. Dr. Williams, who had cut off one of her breasts and prescribed a torturous, and ultimately futile, six months of chemotherapy and then radiation, told me that it had become hopeless. And Dr. Udorn, a top cancer specialist in Thailand, had agreed. Suda knew what the doctors said, but maybe she still had hope. It’s one of the things that bothers me, that I don’t know and that I gave up maybe before I should have.
“One more week at most,” Dr. Udorn had told me earlier that day.
And Suda had wrung that terrible prognosis out of me, though I’d been determined that this time she wouldn’t.
Her mother had scolded me once: “Don’t tell her these things the doctors say!” And she’d said it with pleading tears while Suda’s father nodded in solemn agreement.
But Suda knew I’d talked to Dr. Udorn and when she insisted on knowing what he’d said, I told her, as she knew I would, but perhaps hoped I wouldn’t, or at least that I’d lie if the news was as bad as it was.
“She’s doomed!” her father had said angrily when I told him that, once again, I had passed the doctor’s bad news on to his daughter. He stalked away down the hospital corridor, perhaps to stop himself from slapping some sense into me.
“I couldn’t lie to her!” I called after him. But that was not true. I could have lied to her.
* * *
“Kuhn Suda sia.”
And I asked the nurse to leave me alone with her.
“It’s finally over,” I said to myself. A part of me – the part that had become resigned to this eventual ending – was relieved.
I kept a journal intermittently during those long days and nights at Sirirat Hospital and I read through it recently. A recurring theme was self-recrimination, how I should be more optimistic, how I was letting Suda down by not trying to instill her with confidence, not urging her to fight for her life. And at the end of the journal there is this entry:
“2 a.m., Friday, Feb. 6, 1987.
Suda: I beat it this morning. It tried to kill me. I can’t tell anyone in the whole world what it was like. I beat it. It was so strange.
Me: What did you beat?
Suda: My mind. It wanted me to die, but I refused to die.
Me: Was it like an argument going on in your mind, with one side arguing that you should die and the other side arguing that you should stay alive?
Suda: No, it wasn’t like that. There weren’t any words. It was more like a battle between strong urges. (pause) I hope I can beat it again tomorrow.
2 a.m. Sat., Feb. 7
Su is dead.”
* * *
I left the hospital and wandered around Bangkok. At one point, I got the idea of going to the Siam Hotel, where the Peace Corps had put us new volunteers upon our arrival in Thailand in 1973, and where Suda and I had gone the first night we’d spent together.
I flagged a taxi and went through a half-hearted negotiation over the price of the ride.
On the way to the hotel, the driver pulled over, got out and opened the trunk. He took out a crowbar and made a point of showing it to me and putting it on the seat beside him.
I must have looked dangerously insane.
When I got to the hotel, I checked in and went to the bar for a drink and found it filled with young women sitting quietly at tables. The only other man in the place was the bartender. The Siam Hotel had become a brothel. I finished a rum and Coke at the bar and decided I didn’t want to spend the night alone.
 I told a version of this story to Dang, who said she was a tailor by day and only did this to supplement her income. She showed me a picture of her parents on their farm in Suwankaloke.
I don’t think Dang believed that my wife had died two hours ago. I guess you meet all kinds of people in that profession.
* * *
This all happened 24 years ago, but it’s as clear as yesterday -- clearer, in fact. Perhaps I should by now have buried it away.
I still talk to Suda sometimes, though I’ve given up pleading or reasoning with her to try to get her to respond.
In many ways, I have moved on with my life, but in one crucial way I haven’t. I cannot say the words, write the sentence, think the thought, that will sum up this tragedy for all time. I survived the death of my wife, but only barely, and mostly because of the always-in-the-back-of-my-mind realization that there were two little children who needed me.
* * *
I arrived at Suda’s family’s home across the river from Bangkok just as the dawn was breaking.
“You came back,” Suda’s father said when he saw me. It must have occurred to them that I might not.
I went to the guest room and sat on the floor, watching the kids sleep. When 6-year-old Emily woke up she crawled sleepily to me and settled into my lap.
“I have to tell you,” I said, “that Mommy died.”
She made a sound of acknowledgement and nestled closer.
“But don’t worry,” I said. “Everything’s under control.”
 


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