After leaving Chile to live so far away I often considered what I would do if one of the members of my family I was closest to would become sick or die. Would I get on a plane and rush down? It's a day or so of flight time and the ticket is a bit more than say, going down to San Diego. What would that phone call be like? What would it feel like?
Well wonder no more.
Last October I wrote a mini short about one of my aunts who raised me during my teen years Chile, who had suffered a severe stroke and was paralized and probably not going to recover. Well she did for a while only to worsen again a few days ago.
I received some emails from cousins updating on her condition and now it seems nothing but a miracle can save her.
I called my cousin I'm closest to, she was in the hospital and needless to say it was an awkward conversation at best.
I remained silent most of the time, which isn't really proper phone etiquette. Since you can't see the person, you need some kind of acknowledgement that they are still on the line. But what do you say? What is the proper response?
Her condition has only gotten worse, for the last 2 days she's been vomiting blood and her condition is so fragile that the doctors can't even perform the appropriate exam to determine where the internal bleeding is coming from.
She's at peace, she's ready. She called us all in and said her goodbyes one by one. We talked for 3 hours or so. She said she loves you very much. She said she wants to leave what little she has to you. She says she'll always be with us.
A gasp, then more silence.
Are you there?
Yes, I'm here.
The doctors say if she makes it through the night there might still be hope. But it doesn't seem likely.
Except I don't. I don't see. I don't see what you can possibly say to a conversation like that. What the correct response is. What the fuck do you answer, when someone tells you a person you care about is circling the drain and has been coughing up blood for the last couple of days? And you can't even go and say goodbye? Or support and comfort everyone else who is being put through the ringer?
Worst of all how do you end the conversation?
Yeah I'll call you later and check up. If you talk to her again before...if you talk to her later can you tell her I love her?
Then you hang up. When you hang up you're transported back to your cozy room in your San Francisco apartment. You hear your roommate laughing upstairs. Gone is the hospital, gone is your heartbroken family who is...waiting. Waiting for her to die.
Such a large distance plays such an important role. It's all happening so far away it almost isn't real. There's really no one you can really share this with. No one knows this person. She doesn't exist in your reality. So you can't really mourn her if she dies. Can you? It's such a bizarre mix of emotions bubbling up in that dark cauldron.
After reeling from probably one of the most intense phone conversations ever I got up from my chair and continued my day as usual. Running errands and preparing dinner. There's this strange feeling of cheating. Because I'm so far and not there, there's this odd sensation of feeling like a flake. I was supposed to be somewhere for something important but didn't go. Maybe also of being robbed.
So the day is coming to a close as every other day has. Except that it's different because someone I only know is dying or might have died already. For everyone in Chile everything will change. For me...very little.
There's not much to do except wait for the next phone call...I think a drink is order. It's suddenly really cold...perhaps a hot toddy.