Brevity Sixteen

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How to Say Goodbye in Front of 14 Strangers

By Jessica Mesman

So this is it, I think, sitting on the floor near the first floor nurses’ station at Slidell Memorial Hospital, holding the payphone, talking to my best friend, Joyce, who has been crying all day because they made an announcement over the PA system during third period that the Mesman family needed her prayers.

“They don’t know the half of it,” I assure her, and we both laugh.

I want to comfort her. I’m okay. This death scene seems like a formality. I know from melodramas, from soap operas and serial adolescent fictions and after-school specials, that I will regret not saying goodbye. But how do you script the last moments you will share on this planet in this lifetime with this woman you couldn’t imagine living without, the same way you can’t fathom eternity, or infinity, or nuclear holocaust?

It used to give me panic attacks just thinking about it, and yet I learned so quickly, in less than a year, how to get along just fine without even saying hello when I walked in the door as she sat there rocking away in that La-Z-Boy rocking chair they bought her to cushion her pointy bones, rocking with a hose in her nose.

My dad is walking down the hall toward me, not quite angry. More like bewildered.

“Come on,” he says.

“In a minute,” I say.

He takes the phone from my hand and hangs it up. He looks at me as if I were a foreign exchange student who had mysteriously appeared at his breakfast table that morning.
But I’d just had to get out of that room. I couldn’t stand watching her writhe in and out of consciousness, alternate between living and dying, I could feel my brain chemistry overcompensating, my emotions oscillating wildly. I was suppressing simultaneous urges to cry and to laugh out loud. She was crying, calling out for her own mother. Did she even remember us?

“She can still hear you,” someone whispered in my ear, and I realized there were other people in the room, people we barely knew, people chanting incantations as her life signs faded. It reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby, a movie we had watched together late one night, and I thought, what if they’re right? What if she really can hear this? It’s probably scaring the shit out of her.

My sister picked up a book from the bedside table and threw it against the wall. Finally! I thought. Someone’s going to do this right. But then she just sank into the chair behind her and stared, her face a blank.

“Isn’t anyone going to do anything?”

Nobody answered.

My dad was silent. He rubbed Jennifer’s back a little too rough, like he always does. He was not the one we called to when we were sick.

Or did he officiate, feeding us lines like a priest before a bride and groom?

“Say we love you,” he prompted.

“We love you.”

“Say we’re here.”

“We’re here.”


Jessica Mesman lives and writes in Indiana.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore