A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg




Wild Night

“Dying is a wild night and a new road.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Eggemoggin Reach emerges from the dark as the first nor’easter of the season races across the Atlantic and slams into the Maine coast. Churning and frigid, the dull green sea climbs toward the dock in big frothing steps, leaving strands of black seaweed draped over the steps as it recedes. Gusts of fine snow crystals smooth the surface of the yard, filling in fresh deer tracks and covering the branches that break and fall from the bare, battered oaks.

    I watch the growing tempest from our second floor bedroom window. We have weathered many storms on this rocky shore, and know the wind’s myriad voices. It rubs against the house like a giant cat, then pummels it with a sound like approaching thunder; it rattles the shutters then howls and moans down the chimneys. Even as it trembles, though, the house that my husband and I built in anticipation of a long slow odyssey into old age seems to wrap itself around us, muffling every sound but his labored breathing.
    He’s lying on the portable bed that hospice brought the day before. I had them set it up where his fireplace chair usually sits. Long nights of staring into the flames pressed four round hollows into the sand-colored carpet, covered now by the bed. Alternating chambers of air inflate and deflate under him like slow ripples, relieving pressure points on his defeated body; a body that might have carried him for another thirty years if not for an inexplicable combination of care and carelessness. 
    A boombox on the dresser is playing the CD compilation he titled “Sailing.” It was intended for glorious days spent adjusting the reins of the sails as he and his boat, Minstrel, galloped with the wind across the sea; never for this.

    With a sound like wood beams scraping over a rough stone floor, his lungs drag air in, then push it out again. Drag and push, drag and push. Now and then he sinks into a lull; an agonizing, interminable silence that seems to go on for minutes. I sit by the bed and rub his chest, willing the next breath to come, breathless myself until we break the surface together, my own relieved gasp immediately following his. Each subsequent plunge lasts a little longer, taking him a little deeper, a little further away from me, and our home, and the life he’d crafted so deliberately over fifty-six years.

    I lift his hand and kiss it. It’s cold, so I press it against the side of my neck. I remember the first time he touched me. It was winter in Santa Fe and we were walking past the old Lensic Theater on San Francisco Street. He put his arm around me, and his hand on my shoulder radiated a warmth and apprehension that went through my wool coat and thick turtleneck. I put my hand over his and thought, “If his lips are anything like his hands, I’m in big trouble.” They were, and I was, hopelessly, joyfully, in big beautiful trouble. 

    His ragged breathing resumes, drag and push, drag and push; the only sound in the world as morning rises somewhere far above the shroud of dark clouds and we blindly navigate our last hours together beneath them.


Posted April 11th. 2020  Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020