From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Brent Davies)
Subject: My Friend Michael
Date: 21 Apr 1994 02:36:04 +1000
I have been absent for awhile. One of the main reasons is detailed in
these journal entries. I wanted to share them with you.
Just wanted you to know I'm still here, and looking forward to my visit
to SF and NY in June-July. I'm due for a break.
Love to all,
Saturday, 12 March
It's the usual visit with Michael at his flat--but
tonight, I feel uneasy.
Hazel is there; she says Michael has been vomiting and
has fallen over a few times. She's on the phone with Gary
when I arrive. I speak with Gary, who is going on
holidays next weekend and asks me to take over the Sunday
and Monday visits. I assure him that I will.
Michael tries his best to lean in so he can hear Gary--
he's gotta know what people are saying about him. Well,
who can blame him? It's hard to keep from laughing as I
talk to Gary, though.
When I get up to leave at last, Michael, for the first
time ever, doesn't come with me to the door. "He doesn't
want you to see how bad his legs are," says Hazel. I see
myself out, then, and frown all the way down the lift.
Something's different. I've got a bad feeling about this.
Thursday, 17 March
Gary rings to say that I needn't worry about taking over
Sunday and Monday visits--Michael's been admitted to the
Alfred and will probably be there "over the weekend,
maybe into next week."
Maybe into next week. Hm. Am I stupid to be so worried?
I visit Michael, who seems in pretty good spirits,
considering that he's flat on his stomach and too sore to
move because of all the lumbar punctures they've been
doing. Poor thing--he's exhausted. He's glad to see me
anyway and squeezes my hand. God--I can't wait till he's
out of here; he's so keen to get back home.
Monday, 21 March
I visit Michael in hospital again. He's free-associating
today... I walk over to the Alfred from my work during
lunchtime, since it's nearby. I'm wearing a blue shirt
and tie... and straightaway I'm one of his mates from the
Army, and he's resting in his bunk after a late night on
duty. We talk for forty minutes. He's animated and
cheerful, and describes to me how much he's enjoying
duty, talking about the new recruits' marching and
drilling skills... and all the while, of course, he's too
weak even to stand up. There I sit, reliving these old
memories with him, thinking to myself, "Now, keep up,
Brent; stick with him; these are happy memories; help him
relive them." In the end, we're both giggling at the
antics of this new recruit or that--and it really does
stop being prentending after awhile, because he's a good
storyteller: it's like I really was there in the Army
with him. I hug him goodbye and then walk back to work--
chuckling to myself, but frowning too. My friend is
slipping away from me. God, I want a little more time.
Just a little more time.
Tuesday, 22 March
Dear Lord, do we ever stop talking about the Army? That
time must have been very important to him. I've gotta
take my tie off next time I see him. Perhaps that's
what's triggering these memories.
Whenever I go in these days, I get the same greeting:
"Oh, hi! I gotta have a piss, that's for sure!" There's
the IV bag, dripping away. How long has he been waiting,
while all that fluid goes into him, for me to come in and
save him from having to ask a nurse for a bottle to piss
into? I close the door and help him sit up and fill the
bottle. Who else does this? I have no idea. I notice that
the urine is almost brown. What the fuck is happening?
Thursday, 24 March
Yesterday--was it yesterday? Tuesday? I can't remember--
John is in hospital when I come by at lunchtime. He's
sitting in the wheelchair, looking heartbroken--but still
there is the banter between them:
"Don'tcha feel sorry for me, being the guinea-pig?" says
Michael, "Or maybe, I should say, the guinea-pig-ess?"
"Nup," says John.
"Jeez, you're good to me, Boo-boo," says Michael. There's
a big grin on his face. I love the bond between these
two. It's old and wise. They're very lucky, I find myself
thinking. There's a lot of history there, and a lot of
Friday, 25 March
Michael's IV alarm goes off every five minutes--he figets
so much. He moves his legs constantly. "They feel very
busy today," he says of his legs. I try propping them up
with pillows, pinning them down with pillows, separating
them with blankets, laying them down flat--nothing seems
to help, and he winces when he moves them: "Ooh!" he
says, or else he sucks his breath in between his teeth.
Michael doesn't whinge. He's in pain.
As always, there's the request for the bottle. And as
always, recently, there's the constant litany: "Well,
guess I'd better get dressed," and then he pushes the
covers down. I'm no idiot: he wants to go home, that's
for sure. What do I do? I can't bring myself to tell him
that he can't, so I say: "Don't worry, sweet-pea. There's
still time, if you wanna rest."
"Oh, yeah, I am feeling pretty tired," he says, and then
settles back into the pillows. Phew. Another lie avoided.
I'm up in the country tomorrow and Sunday; back Monday.
Monday, 28 March
In these measly two days his dementia has progressed to
the point where he has begin pulling out his IV. The
decision has finally been made to halt drug treatment.
When I go to see him today, he is so vague that he can
only string a few sentences together, and his voice is so
faint that I can hardly hear him. He responds to my
voice, and to his name, but he can't make much sense of
what's happening, especially when he's lying down,
because then he tends to drift away. Yet when I kiss him
goodbye, he smiles faintly and squeezes my hand, so he
knows I'm still here. I go home afterwards a cry for a
Tuesday, 29 March
I visit Michael this evening. The nurses have placed him
in a chair to eat his dinner--sort of wrapped him into
the chair with a bedsheet so he won't try to get up,
because he's still so independent that he'll sometimes
try to stand up if you don't watch him, though his legs,
the way they are, wouldn't hold someone half his size--
and somehow, when he's sitting up like that, focussed on
something--like his meal--he's more alert, and we chat
for three-quarters of an hour, though about what I can't
say, because he can't keep his thoughts together at
all... we talk about people I've never met, places I've
never seen, all sorts of random memories from his past
that I can only pretend to be privy to. But strangely,
and happily, there are still flashes of the old Michael.
At one point, he takes a coffee-cup from the tray and
tries to drink from it, and when nothing comes out, he
looks down into it... and then says, "Oh, it's ICE
CREAM!!" And sure enough, it is: the ice-cream has been
served in a coffee cup, and he's been fooled. He looks at
me and rolls his eyes, like: "Jeez, how dippy have I
gotten!" I start to laugh, and then so does he.
And when the nurse comes in to remove the tray, Michael,
suddenly thinking he's in a restaurant, asks the nurse,
"So, when do you close tonight?"
"Oh, dear, we're open all night," says the nurse, with a
wink at me.
"Aw, that's pretty good," says Michael, and I chuckle.
"So, you're in party mood, eh?" I say to him.
"Oh, well...", he says, smiling back... "Maybe not
tonight. I'm feeling a bit tired."
I lift him back into bed, and then comes the usual
request for the bottle. I shut the door, help him get his
PJs down, and then position the bottle for him, something
that--unlike only yesterday-- he seems too confused to
do. Then, once he's finished, he looks straight at me and
says, "You know, I've had just about enough of this." I
stare back at him. I feel like falling over myself. I've
never heard Michael say anything like that.
"Fair enough, sweet-pea," I say. "That's your decision."
I help him back into bed, and almost at once he begins to
drift. "Wow," I say, "you do look tired."
"I am feeling sleepy now," he says. "You're welcome to
stay here as long as you don't talk." I have to laugh.
Another bit of the old Michael. It still peeks out from
time to time, and it's a joy.
Wednesday, 30 March
When I come in today at about noon, Hazel and Graham are
there. Hazel greets me, and I shake Graham's hand as he
stands to say hello.
"It's good to see you!" says Hazel. "Now," she says,
after I've greeted Michael, "Tell me: how is Chrissy?"
I give her the most recent update. She seems to take it
in for a long while.
Then she looks at me. "Just remember:" she says. "Take
this one day at a time." And then she smiles. The
kindness is real. I am touched.
They're awaiting the ambulance--Michael is being
transferred to Bethlehem today, a move we've been
expecting as soon as Bethlehem got an empty bed. "Perhaps
I should come back later," I say. "At Bethlehem. After
They won't hear of it. "Stay," they say. "Help see
Michael on his way."
I stay for the next hour, until the ambulance arrives,
chatting with the three of them and watching as Michael
converses with his parents, reminiscing about his
childhood, about how my suburb was in the '60s and '70s.
At one point I say to Michael, "I live in Elwood, you
know"--something that his old self knows very well--and
then he makes a face at me and says, "I know that. Some
things still do stick, you know," and we all laugh. ("My
God," I think. "There's more of him there than I
The ambulance eventually comes, and after they've lifted
him onto the stretcher, I reach out and stroke his cheek.
"See ya soon, sweet-pea," I say.
"At the flat?" he says. And then they're out the door. I
walk back to work with a lump in my throat.
Thursday, 31 March
As I walk past the nurses' station at Bethlehem, the head
nurse looks at me with concern. "He's agitated," she
says. "He's not the same as he was yesterday."
I go into his room. Michael looks at me and rolls his
"They won't leave me alone," he says. "Look." He points
to a strap that's been tied between the bed-railings, a
strap that's been attached to a hand-bell.
"They're afraid I'll try to get out of bed," he says.
"They've been hovering over me all day. It's really
pissing me off."
(No wonder he's agitated, I think. Loss of independence
is the worst of all, and the nurses aren't remembering
I untie the strap. Several times he does make a move to
get out of bed, but each time I simply say, "You don't
have to get out of bed yet if you don't want to, sweet-
pea. There's still time." And each time, he looks a bit
relieved and says, "Well, I am a bit tired," and then
settles back into the pillows.
I have to fight a crazy urge to smuggle him out somehow.
I'm glad I don't have the keys to the flat, or I just
might be tempted to try.
Good Friday, 1 April
I visit Michael shortly after noon today and make us cups
of coffee... he's very tired, though, and asks to be
allowed to have a nap, so I give him a peck and tell him
I'll be back in a couple of hours. Then I go to a nearby
shop to buy him a big chocolate egg... then on to my
friend Veronica's, who lives nearby, where I spend the
afternoon helping her dye Easter eggs. With the
assistance of wax sticks, I manage to make two coloured
eggs with designs on them.
About 4:30 I traipse back to Bethlehem to present them to
Michael, whose face lights up when he sees them. He turns
them over in his hands.
"Oh, wow," he says.
Heh. Vintage Michael.
Then comes the chocolate egg, which he shares with me,
and we have more coffee. I'm there for a couple of hours,
chatting with him about this and that... I've found that
if I shy away from recent stuff, and concentrate on older
stuff--such as earlier times in his life, old friends,
likes and dislikes, long term memory things as opposed to
short term memory things--he not only can carry on a
coherent conversation, he actually becomes quite
animated. I adjust his bed, massage his feet (which he
loves), and sit on the bed with him as we talk.
He begins to tire, and his eyelids start to droop... "You
wanna take a nap?" I say. He nods. "Maybe I should piss
off then and let you sleep."
He shakes his head. "No, I want to take a nap, but I
don't want you to piss off." He opens his eyes and smiles
at me. "Don't wanna lose my bodyguard," he says.
I understand perfectly. He's been feeling "hovered over"
by the nurses, feeling his loss of independence very
keenly. When I visit him, I shut the door, and the nurses
leave us alone to have our quiet time. He feels safe with
me there. He feels that I really do guard him against
some of the unpleasantries of the hospital.
I sit there with him as he dozes for quite a long time,
until he shows signs of wanting to "spread out" a little
in the bed, and then I get up, and he awakes. "Now it is
time for me to go, isn't it?" I say, and he nods.
"Yeah." he says. "Come back a little later, though." I
promise I will.
"See ya in the morning, sweet-pea," I say, and give him a
peck--and he grins, reaches out, and pats my stomach. It
does my heart no end of good. He appreciates what I'm
doing, and he wants to make sure I know it.
Saturday, 2 April
Michael is very grumpy today--feeling like everyone is
hovering over him, but that's understandable. When I walk
in this morning, he says, "Just got here?" I nod. He says
something that I don't quite catch, then as I stand there
looking at him, he opens his eyes up wide and says,
"What do you want me to do?" I say.
"Just leave me ALONE for five minutes!!" he says.
"Okay, fine," I say, and duck out. I go and make myself a
cup of coffee and come back in five minutes--and he's
perfectly pleasant. This is Michael.
Jane visits at hospital tonight, and I tell her about
this incident. She recounts a time last week when she was
visiting with him, and he was listless and vague, and
moving himself about in the bed... then when I came in,
according to Jane, Michael brightened up, became more
lucid, and suddenly "needed help" to move--to turn over
and such. I remember the visit, how he kept asking me to
move him. Jane laughs about this. "It's obvious he really
likes you," she says. It makes me feel great.
Easter Sunday, 3 April
Today I've lifted him twice into his wheelchair so he
could wheel himself out onto the balcony for a smoke. The
nurses say he's been wheeling himself around the ward all
morning. Mind you, he goes about a foot a minute--but at
least he's mobile. At one point, he insists on being
wheeled to the end of the balcony, and then back to the
other end. Then he begins to splutter--he's frustrated.
"What's wrong, sweet-pea?" I say.
"Where are the stairs?" he finally says.
"Oh, well, there are no stairs on the balcony," I say.
"Now he tells me," he mutters.
He wants out. I know that, and there's not a fucking
thing I can do about it.
Donna and Maria come to visit, and Michael asks us to
wheel him around the ward. He directs which way we should
turn--and all the time, we avoid the passages that lead
to stairs or lifts. Now I'm really beginning to feel like
The three of us leave together once I've put Michael back
to bed, and then they drive me back to Elwood, where we
go to visit the Gordon Street house, which is right down
the road from me. "That window," Donna says, pointing--
"that was Michael's room when we were growing up."
Once they've left, I go back and stare at that window for
a long time.
Monday, 4 April
I bring a block of chocolate in today, something that's
become a bit of a ritual lately. "Look what I brought!" I
"Oh, wow!" he says when he sees it. "Brilliant!" He
usually insists that I have some too.
He's still pushing the covers off and saying, "Well,
'bout time I got dressed." He still wants to go home. He
does this several times today. One time, he picks up the
catheter and stares at it curiously. Then he tosses it
back on the bed, sinks back into the pillows, and covers
himself up again.
"No way," he sighs.
I've grown to hate that catheter. It's become like a sign
that he'll never leave, like a tether holding him in this
place where he doesn't want to be.
Tuesday, 5 April
When Michael decides he wants to go out for a smoke
today, I lift him into his wheelchair, put his jacket on
him, and take him outside. He starts to nod off a few
times in the chair. At one point, I say, "Maybe you'd
like a little bit of a nap, eh?"
He reaches for my arm and looks at me. "Nup. Don't wanna
"You don't?" I say.
"Nup. I lose you when I nap."
I'm immensely touched. "Aw, sweet-pea, don't you worry.
I'm not going anywhere."
Then comes the inevitable push around the ward. "That
way," he orders. I go that way. "That way now," he says,
pointing, and I do it. Once again, he's looking for the
way out. I know that. I know the way out, goddamn it, and
I can't take him. Fortunately, he never asks me to wheel
him in the direction of the exit, or I don't know what
the hell I'd do. I know what I want to do: pick him up in
my own arms and carry him down to a taxi.
Of course, eventually the time does come for him to get
back into bed, so I lift him back in: as usual, he hooks
his arms around my neck, I get him into a sort of a
bearhug, then hup! up we go, and over onto the bed. But
this time, Michael doesn't seem to want to take his arms
from around me, so the sister has to wait until Michael
is through with his hug--and I sure hug him back, but
very carefully, lest I hurt that bony body of his. At
last I lay him down, pick up his legs, and arrange them
on the bed, while he grins at me. Then I step back to let
the sister position the catheter bag. Well, as soon as I
step away from the bed, I can hear him say softly to the
sister: "Is he in a hurry?"
She giggles. "No, Michael, I don't think so." She looks
around at me. "He really likes you. You're very good for
It makes me feel great. This really does mean something
Wednesday, 6 April
Michael's developed thrush so bad in his throat that, so
claim the nurses, he can't swallow and can have only
liquids. So, through lack of food, he's been growing
weaker and weaker. He essentially stopped feeding himself
Hazel told me that Michael loves Milo on ice cream, so
tonight on my way to hospital I pick up a tin. His dinner
arrives about the same time as I do, and I look with
dismay at the fish and the mashed potates and the
vegetable soup... not the thing for a boy with a throat
full of thrush--but there is ice cream, so I sprinkle
Milo on it, crank the bed up into a full-sitting position
(which gets his attention), and hold out a spoonful. I'm
not sure that Michael will allow me to feed him, but he
eats that spoonful, and points to his mouth once he's
swallowed. I give him another. And another. He finishes
the whole bowl. I run out and get another bowl and cover
the ice cream in Milo. He eats the whole second bowl. By
now he's definitely awake, jabbering (between mouthfuls)
about trucks and the Army and driving and visiting his
parents and having barbeques and seeing friends and
fixing cars and on and on, as I spoon in the ice cream. I
take a risk: a forkful of fish. He eats it. He eats the
whole fish. And the mashed potatoes. And half the bowl of
vegetable soup. And a THIRD bowl of ice cream, and two
glasses of orange juice--he asks for Bundy in them, by
the way--and a glass of water too. (When I go out to
request that third bowl of ice cream, the sisters just
shake their head in disbelief.)
A little later, I wonder: Is it wise to start feeding
him? Would that be prolonging things?
I make a decision.
As long as Michael wants to eat, I'll feed him. If he
wants me to stop, he'll let me know somehow.
Thursday, 7 April
Michael has been spending most of his time in a semi-
conscious state these last few days, breathing heavily,
eyes half-open... but the sisters have pointed out that
hearing is the last sense to go, so I talk to him
constantly, especially in the evenings.
Tonight, as he lies motionless, I spend several hours
sitting beside him, stroking his arms and face, massaging
his hands and feet, and describing for him some of my
travels. Well, I'm right in the middle of central Mexico
when a Sister comes into the room with an orange juice
for him, and he wakes up--something he sometimes does
when a new person enters the room, even if he only stays
alert for about a minute. She sets the juice down and
leaves, and then, before he can lapse back into semi-
consciousness, I look at him and say, So--where were we?"
He looks right back at me. "In Mexico," he says.
So he hears. He hears. He listens.
Right, I think. I can take advantage of this.
The rest of the night, as he continues on in that semi-
conscious state, I tell him about him--how much we love
him, how good he is, what a fine person he is, how proud
we are of him, how well he's doing, how glad we all are
that he's through the worst of it and that it all gets
easier from here on in... and, before I leave, how well
he'll sleep, how rested he'll feel in the morning.
He comes fully awake when I stand to say goodbye. "I'm
gonna go get some sleep," I say. "And you'd better do the
same, cheeky boy! It's bedtime."
"Okay," he says, then reaches out, weakly pats my
stomach, and tugs a couple of times at my shirt. "Come
back later, okay?"
"You bet I will. I'll see you in the morning, sweet-pea."
He's still tugging at my shirt. "Hey, you like this
"Yeah," he says. "It's really stylish."
"Well, ya can't have it, it's mine," I say, and he smiles
and gives that little snort of his... then, within
seconds, his eyes have drooped, and he's back asleep.
It's weird. I still get these flashes of Michael, the old
Michael, in between the semi-conscious periods... it's
just that they were coming every fifteen or twenty
minutes on Tuesday, and now I have to wait hours for
Friday 8 April
My days have been full of Michael; I seem to live at the
hospital, only going home to sleep. I've rearranged my
work hours... I nick off for two hours during lunchtime,
which means an hour-earlier start in the a.m., then leave
to be with him at 4:30 p.m., which means another hour-
earlier start... so my day goes: 7:00-11:30 work, 11:30-
1:30 hospital, 1:30-4:30 work, 4:30-8:30 or 9:00 p.m.
This morning, I ring in from work. "How's Michael?"
"Had a really peaceful night!" says the nurse. "And even
says he slept well--and wants to know where his breakfast
is!" I laugh and tell her to make sure he knows I'll be
coming in at lunchtime.
I visit at lunch, then again in the evening, when there
are more massages of his hands and feet, and more sitting
close, stroking his forehead and hair and arms, resting
my hands on his shoulders and chest, telling him how we
love him, how well he's been doing, how the worst is
over... the same as before.
What else can I say? I think. Then I get an idea. Money.
Money means a lot to him--who doesn't know that? A few
times this week he's sat up in bed--or tried to--and
said, worried, "How much is this all costing?" Maybe I
can put his mind at ease about money.
"And you know, sweet-pea," I say, "you don't have to
worry about a thing. This is costing NOTHING. The rent is
all paid. The bills are all paid. You're on leave, and
the paychecks are flowing in. You're a rich man. You
don't have to worry about anything. Nothing to be afraid
of. Nothing to fear. Nothing to worry about."
What else? I think. What else can I suggest?
"Do you know how much we all love you, sweet-pea? We love
you. We admire you. You're brave, and you're a fighter.
You're a bit of a hero, you know."
Semi-conscious as he is, he rolls his half-open eyes and
turns the corners of his mouth down--that sort of
scoffing look that he pulls.
"But sweet-pea, it doesn't matter what you think. This is
what we think. You're the best. We all think so. We all
(The scoffing look again.)
"Dammit, geddit through your head, sweet-pea: we love
you, we admire you. You're an example to us all. You've
changed all our lives. We've learned from you. Isn't that
what you wanted? Isn't that why you've taught and
lectured? You've done it! You've changed us all. None of
us will ever be the same. We're so fucking proud of you.
You are a hero. You've done everything you set out to do.
You've succeeded. Our world will never be the same
because of you."
There's a long pause. He doesn't move.
Then, although he doesn't open his eyes or make a sound,
I watch his mouth form the words: "Oh, wow."
"Yeah, we love you, sweet-pea. We're always talking about
what a wonderful friend you are. We're really lucky to
have you in our lives. We wanted you to know that. You've
gotta let us tell you that. You've changed us. We're so
proud of you. You're our hero. We'll never be the same.
Everything you've set out to do, you've done. We love
you. We all love you."
This goes on for about an hour--I just hold his hand,
stroke his arm, and talk to him as he lies there, not
moving, but listening, and responding more and more often
by mouthing "oh, wow" rather than giving me the scoffing
look. I talk about us, our love for him, how well he'll
sleep tonight, how well he's doing, how all the bills are
paid, how the worst is over... on and on and on...
Around 9:00 one of the sisters comes in, and Michael
actually becomes completely conscious for a moment. He
smiles and reaches for my hands.
"Rent's all paid?" he says. Well, I just about drop my
teeth, but I nod.
"And you'll sleep well tonight, eh?" I say.
He smiles, rolls his eyes, and makes a snoring noise.
Now, who hasn't seen Michael do that?
"Yeah, just like I said!" I laugh. Then, on some sort of
impulse, while he's still fully conscious, I bend down
and say very clearly, "I love you, Michael."
"Huh?" he says.
"I said, I love you, Michael. I just wanted you to know
Now, you're lucky to get a grunt out of Michael in
response to statements like that--I know that very well,
but it somehow felt really important to say it while he
was still fully conscious, before he drifted off again.
What happens next, then, astonishes me.
He looks up at me, smiles very tenderly, and says, "Thank
you." Then he reaches out with his right hand, pats my
stomach, and says, "I love you too, Boo-boo."
I almost faint. John! My God, he's saying this to John!
What am I supposed to do now?
I bend down and kiss his cheek. Still smiling, he brings
his hand up and taps his mouth with his finger. I bend
down again and kiss him on the mouth. I can still see him
looking up at me. His eyes are full of love.
I try not to think. I try to do what my heart tells me to
I reach out, lay my hand alongside his cheek, and say,
Still looking at me with those eyes, still smiling, he
puts his hand up and waves goodbye at me, very slowly.
Then, he pulls the covers all the way up around his neck,
closes his eyes, and quickly drifts off to sleep.
I grab my bag and almost run past the nurses' station,
choking back the tears. I'm not sure what just happened,
but I can't help thinking that, through me, Michael and
John have just said goodbye to each other.
Saturday, 9 April
Michael's growing more and more difficult to understand;
the thrush in his throat has affected his ability to
speak clearly even when he can speak, so I have to put my
ear to his mouth to make anything out.
And yet, he still calls out for people occasionally--
usually for "Mum," "John", "Donna", or "Brent". It's not
panicked. He'll just suddenly say out loud: "Mum?" or
"John?" It doesn't happen often; his voice is croaky from
the thrush, so it's probably pretty uncomfortable for him
to raise his voice like that.
This morning, he calls out, "Brent?" as I'm massaging his
"Hey, I'm right here, sweet-pea!" I say. He looks at me,
a little startled at first, then rolls his eyes, smiles,
and gives me that look that means, "Boy, am I dippy!"
I laugh. "I know who you meant, sweet-pea," I say. "You
meant John, didn't you?" He nods and smiles. "You see,
sweet-pea: I really can read your mind these days, eh?"
He grins and smiles again, and nods at me. "Well, don't
you worry, sweetheart. Don't you worry. He'll be in soon.
Sure enough, John arrives within the hour. After what
happened last night, I've been expecting him. I've
started to have the strangest feeling, almost as if the
three of us--Michael, John, and I--are all the same
person. It's hard to explain, but it's very, very real.
At times, for instance, Michael seems to think of my body
as his: he'll say, "Are your medications working?" or
"Your legs are sore, aren't they?" And then there was
last night, and now the strong feeling that John is on
his way. And then, suddenly, John is here, just as I knew
he would be.
John stands over the bed, saying nothing, but I only have
to look at his eyes to know what he's thinking. At one
point I offer to let him take over the feeding. He smiles
and shakes his head, and in that smile is gratitude, and
appreciation, and grief. I give another spoonful of soup
to Michael, and when I look back at John, he's wiping
tears away. I have to fight to keep from losing it
myself. "Don't worry, John," I think. "I've got a very
important message for you. Straight from your Boo-boo."
But I can't tell him now. Not now. Later.
Michael's still eating reasonably well; proud as he is,
still independent, he insists on holding my arm as I feed
him, so that he can feel like he's doing something for
But there are other problems. Even yesterday, when the
sisters turned him every three hours--he's got very bad
bedsores on his back by now--he didn't complain... but
today, when the sisters come in to turn him at about
3:00, he howls as they turn him onto his side: "You're
HURTING ME! YOU'RE HURTING ME!" It damn near breaks my
heart. Michael doesn't complain, even if he's in great
pain, so for him to howl like that, even through the
morpheine, he must be in absolute agony. As they get him
into place on his other side, I lean close and ask,
"How's that, sweet-pea?"
He looks at me, curls his lip, and says, "SHITHOUSE!!"
I ask one of the sisters if she can give him more
morpheine, which she does. At last he stops grimacing and
seems more comfortable. It takes a long time for my heart
to stop pounding.
The evening consists of more talking to him about love
and comfort and safety. He's drifting very far away
tonight, it seems. At one point he begins whispering
something over and over, VERY softly; only when I put my
ear near his mouth can I make it out:
"...it's like falling into nothing... like falling into
nothing... falling into nothing..."
As soon as I get my breath back, I change my tack. My
talk to him now includes: "You'll never fall. You might
slip, but there's always someone behind you to catch you.
Always someone there with arms out to catch you. You're
safe. We love you. I love you. You're very brave, and
we're very proud of you. You're doing really well. The
worst is over; you'll be better soon... There will always
be someone there to catch you...You're safe, sweet-pea...
Sunday, 10 April
Hazel and Graham arrive mid-morning from Wonthaggi, just
in time for lunch. I barely get the ice-cream down
Michael, let alone the soup or anything else; he keeps
drifting off before he's swallowed his mouthful, which is
dangerous. His parents are off to the flat shortly
afterwards, and I go off to lunch with friends.
When I get back at 2:00, he hasn't moved from the
position in which I left him. His breathing is shallow
and rapid--about 60 per minute--and his pulse is around
140. I can get no response from him at my greeting, which
is new--not even a semi-conscious flicker of the eyelids.
As the afternoon wears on, he seems to grow more and more
distant... and then, in a flash, I am reminded of
something. Back in 1987, I spent some time with a good
friend in Tasmania during the last weeks of her
pregnancy; I was actually there on the day she gave
birth. And I noticed something strange on that day. In
the morning, hours before any sign of labor appeared, she
began to grow vague, and there was a feeling of a bubble
around her about six feet in diameter, and everything
outside that bubble was invisible to her. You had to
approach within a few feet to get her attention. And as
the day wore on, the bubble seemed to shrink down to the
size of her body, and then labor began. It was as if she
were drawing within herself, marshalling her strength for
the ordeal, for the birth to come.
That's exactly what I realize I'm now feeling with
Michael--that there's a shrinking bubble around him, that
he's drawing within himself, marshalling his strength for
the birth to come. I find that, by 5:00, I don't feel
that I'm really with him until I'm about six inches from
his face, that he doesn't really hear me until I'm about
that distance from his ear.
Inga comes in at 6:00 and is massaging his feet when his
dinner arrives. I crank up the bed into a near-sitting
position, and as I do so, Michael opens his eyes and
looks almost panicked with fear... I don't know whether
he thinks that the sisters are going to move him again,
or whether it actually hurts him for the bed to be moved
at all. I do know that when I offer him a spoonful of ice
cream--when it touches his lips--he makes no move to take
it, but simply looks at me with those big, blue,
immensely tired eyes, and those eyes say, "No more.
Please, no more."
I'm shaken. Inga sees it all. I crank the bed down flat
again and kiss his cheek. "I'm sorry, sweet-pea," I say.
"I understand you, sweetheart. I won't do that any more."
I turn to Inga. "Did you see that look on his face?" I
whisper. She nods.
"I won't be sitting him up again," I say. "I knew that if
he wanted me to stop feeding him, he'd tell me. He's just
The rest of the evening I play the music tape I've been
playing for days, the one with the rainforest sounds and
restful music whose tunes I've come to know by heart. He
seems to really like it; he calms down when I play it,
and his breathing slows, and his face looks calmer.
There's a lot of birdsong on the tape too. "Hear the
birds, Michael?" I ask him when it comes on. "Hear all
the birds?" Sometimes he smiles and nods. Tonight I lower
the bed and sit very close, so that my face is right in
front of his and his ear is only six inches away, and I
talk to him for the next three hours. Now my talking
takes on a slightly different tone.
"Eveything's fine, sweetheart. Everything's as it should
be. You won't fall. You can let go now, and you won't
fall. There's always someone to catch you. No need to
worry. No need to fear. You'll see. I'm right, sweet-pea,
I promise. There are loving hands all around you, so you
can just let go now and let them catch you. Fall back
into all those hands and let them catch you, and you'll
feel wonderful, you'll feel better. You'll see. I'm
right. I promise. You'll see. You can let go now. You're
safe. Nothing to fear. You're safe. You can let go now.
You'll be caught. You're safe. You'll be all right.
A sister comes in at about 8:00 to administer morpheine.
"He's changed in the past few hours," she says. "His
colour is duskier."
"It's true," I say.
She puts her hands on my shoulders. "And how are you
I look at Michael. "We're getting there," I say.
I sit, I touch, I talk. And, knowing the tunes, I begin
to sing to him, something I haven't done till now but am
somehow moved to do. I hum the tunes into his ear in
between the talking, and occasionally--for the first time
all day--his eyes flicker from time to time. And once,
only once, at about 8:45, the faintest of smiles steals
over his face as I sing. I see it and laugh out loud.
"Yes, you are still here, sweet-pea!" I say. He opens his
right eye a little, and in that eye is unmistakable
recognition. I seize the moment. "Michael, listen to me
now. We love you so much. I love you so much, sweetheart.
Listen to me: NEVER FORGET: YOU ARE SAFE. YOU ARE LOVED.
NO NEED TO FEAR. YOU CAN LET GO NOW, AND YOU'LL BE
CAUGHT, AND ALL THE HURT WILL BE OVER. WE LOVE YOU,
MICHAEL. WE ALL LOVE YOU. NEVER FORGET THAT..." --and
then his eye begins to close.
When I get home, there is a message from Hazel on my
answering machine. I ring her.
"I don't know why, Brent," she says, "but I got the
strangest feeling this evening. I know this: YOU MUSTN'T
FEED MICHAEL, EVER AGAIN."
"I won't, Hazel," I say. And I recount for her the look
that Michael gave me at dinnertime, how he's already told
me, without saying a word, that it's time to stop.
It's an emotional moment. "It's always been this way,"
she says. "My son was letting you know our wishes. We've
always been connected, Michael and I, and now you seem to
be on the same wavelength. I'm so glad that you've been
there for him... it's almost like you came from the other
side of the world just to care for my son, and I'm
grateful for it. It won't be long now, you know."
"I know," I say.
Monday, 11 April
This morning there's a rainstorm, then a hailstorm, the
likes of which we haven't seen since last winter. I wake
up to thunderclaps, when it was bright and sunny only
yesterday. I go to work, packing a change of clothes for
the hospital this afternoon.
The hospital rings at 10:20 a.m.; Michael died only five
minutes ago. I am out the door and there at 10:40, twenty
minutes before anyone else.
It's exceedingly, unexpectedly difficult to describe the
sensations I have as I sit down beside him in that room.
I'll try my best.
I sit. I look. I pick up his hand, his arm--and at that
moment, a jolt goes through me: "Oh my God, there's
nobody here." That's the overwhelming feeling: that the
room, aside from me, is empty, or that, perhaps, I'm
looking at someone I've never met. I stare closely at his
face. There is simply nobody there. There is nobody there
in his eyes anymore.
Now, of course nobody is there, because Michael has died,
but... well, I think of the stereotypical movie scene of
throwing oneself on the body and crying out, "Oh my dear!
Come back to me!"--well, an image comes into my head: A
bird lives in a cage, and one day the cage door comes
open and the bird flies out, and then the owner of the
bird flings himself on the CAGE and kisses it, crying,
"Oh my dear bird! My dear bird!" Strange, no?--the cage
is not the bird; the bird is gone, and now the cage is
irrelevant. So it seems with Michael's body.
I cry, of course. I cry, but not over that irrelevant
thing in the bed--rather, over how much I miss what has
left it. The absolute lack of grief I have over the shell
itself takes me quite by surprise. It isn't the sight of
his body that brings the tears--it's the sense of
separation from my friend who has only so recently lived
in it, the friend whose life-force has so recently given
it the warmth that I can still feel in his face, a warmth
like an afterimage of a bright light.
In time, Hazel and Graham arrive to say goodbye to their
son. We keep vigil over his body for several hours as
friends come to kiss him, and weep, and go.
In the end, I go to meet Hazel at Michael's flat, where
she's gone to sort her son's things and decide what to
give to a few close friends; the bulk of his possessions
Michael has willed to the Victorian AIDS Council. In her
searches, Hazel has come across a few good photos of
Michael, notoriously rare because he loved spoiling
photos of himself by pulling faces, the cheeky boy. The
ones she found are good; when you look at them together,
you get a pretty good look at Michael. I'll treasure the
copies she's having made. They show him as he was when I
met him, the way I'll always remember him.
One of the photos shows him in that leather jacket that
he loved so much; in fact, he was wearing it when I first
met him. Hazel gave me the jacket, and I couldn't think
of a more meaningful gift. She's also asked me to care
for Michael's silver goblets--the small ones for his 18th
birthday and the two large ones for his 21st--because,
having given them to him, she couldn't bear to take them
back, yet she didn't want them going to strangers. He
loved them; he showed them to me with pride long ago, and
so they're articles whose history I've had from his own
The funeral will be in Wonthaggi on Friday morning.
I go directly from Michael's flat to have dinner with two
good friends, then arrive back home at about 9:00. I put
on Michael's jacket and walk down the block to the Gordon
Street house, the one he lived in from his birth in 1963
until 1985 when the family moved to Wonthaggi. There's a
small triangular park just in front. I sit on the ground,
I reach into the pocket of the jacket. Something there.
Michael's hanky. Slightly used.
Then come the sobs. As I press the hanky to my face, my
God--he's there, I can smell the scent of him. Michael,
my dear friend. Now gone.
Soon after that, a door opens in the flat to the left of
Michael's old home, and a man comes out, about my own
age. He goes to get into his car--then, he sees me across
"Is that someone sitting there?" he says.
"Yes," I answer.
He walks across to me. "What's wrong?" he says.
"A friend of my died today," I say. "He grew up there,
next door to you. I'm just sitting here thinking about
"That's bad news," said the man. "I'm sorry, mate. That's
rough." Then he's in his car and gone.
I sit for a moment and look up at the night sky, now
clear, the storm clouds now hours-ago gone. Jupiter
shines brilliantly in the east, bright and yellow-white.
It catches my attention particularly.
"Fly well, sweet-pea," I find myself saying. "Fly well,
dear friend. I've always loved the stars, and here you
get to see them before me, lucky boy. Maybe when I get
there, you'll give me a bit of a tour, eh? Meanwhile, I'm
gonna miss you like hell--I just wanted you to know that.
And when it comes my time to fall... I'd be very happy if
you'd be one of the ones there to help catch me. Would'ya
Tomorrow is the 12th--one month exactly since I sat with
Michael in his flat, joking with him and laughing. One
month. One single month. How can that be? It seems
impossible that he's gone.
When I get back to,the flat, there's a message on the
answering machine from Di Perry of Mid-South Support.
"Brent, there's a lovely young man just down the street
from you who has just had his first AIDS-defining illness;
he's decided that it's time to form a Care Team. We'd
be very happy if you could join..."
The fight goes on.
Meanwhile, pray, pray for an end to the war.
* * *
In memory of Michael Barry Spruzen
14 Oct 1963 -- 11 Apr 1994
_--_|\ Brent Davies Internet: email@example.com
/ \ Aust Centre for Unisys SW Voice: +61-3-522-3773
\_.--._/ 574 St Kilda Rd
v Melbourne, Australia 3000
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