“Yeah! She’s here. Hold on”.
When I picked up the phone, I had no idea how my life would change. On the other end was an emergency room nurse telling me there had been an accident. I got the address and put down the receiver. In shock, I told his Brothers what had happened and began to jerk on my jeans and boots.
I rushed to the elevator with two men in tow and, for once that weekend, the damn thing slid open quickly. I burst into the lobby, eyes rolling like a terrified mare, into a sea of denim and leather, looking for a bellman or the concierge. “Where’s Charity Hospital”? Faceless people gave confusing directions, but some words were clear, “Two blocks, right, out the door”.
Wanting to sprint or go back to bed, I tried to accommodate the pace of my entourage. “Go on Sis” was all I needed to hear.
Lungs afire, I found the emergency entrance only to be detained while the security alarm bleeped and flashed red. “My husband…A nurse named…” I panted as I explained my steel-toed boots and belt buckle.
After a minute that seemed to be hours, the nurse appeared and swept me off to stand in the hallway between emergency x-ray and the surgical elevator. “You’ll get to see him. He’s badly injured”.
A sea of medical staff surrounded the gurney.
“Baby, it’s me”.
“I love you. They’re going to do surgery. Just get better”. Choking back tears, I answered the firing line of questions as best I could.
The seemingly aerial view of the Big Easy from the twelfth floor waiting room window might have been romantic any other day. I was, however, struggling with sanity and, but for the guardian angel in a leather vest, I would have lost my mind. Nine hours later the resident reported he was out of surgery; eleven hours later I walked into the surgical intensive care unit for the first time.
Were it not for his tattoos, I wouldn’t have known him…
My adolescence was spent romanticizing the world of outlaw bikers. Having a large faction in the area where I was raised probably added to my fervor for the lifestyle. When I began to seriously date one of the bad boys on an iron horse, my mother took it in stride. I was always an edge away from the end of the knife. At sixteen years of age, that man honored me as his steady girl with a denim vest with the words “Property of”. It was worn with the pride of a queen’s tiara. Teenage love is as fragile as gossamer wings; the relationship ended.
Nearly twenty years later, I reconnected with the old crowd when a beloved friend died. Through this connection, I came to meet the love of my life. His 6’6”, 250-pound presence complimented my 5’11” frame nicely. And he came to love my Native American traditions as much as myself.
I was sober from alcohol and drugs when we met in that Virginia tattoo parlor. Life was good and I knew serenity as a cornerstone of my life. In the ensuing years, despite the progression of his addictions, I somehow maintained sobriety. I did, however, eventually realize I was absorbed in the throes of codependence.
Several years later, I found myself drowning in the pain of unreciprocated compromise and I moved from our home. Over the next nine months, I worked steadily to regain my sense of self. When we began to discuss my return, I voiced an unwillingness to again lose myself in the maelstrom of his behavior. There were no false positives, I knew I had to accept him in totality for the relationship to work.
I returned to our home and, although there was no bed of roses, our life together was greatly improved by my having let go of the need to control his life. We began to plan for a vacation that would incorporate the annual NCOM (National Coalition of Motorcyclists) convention.
“I speak your language; don’t keep any information from me”, I informed the medical staff. That medical terminology class years ago was paying off. So began my stoic presence as the wife of the biker in the corner bed.
Five days after the accident, we went and picked up his bike at the impound lot. Its broken frame and shattered front-end were a visual example of my battered psyche. I had to be strong, for him, for me, for us.
Days melded into a standing ritual. Up for prayer, to the shower. Off to the SICU waiting room where I anticipated our brief encounters five times a day. There I talked to him; I rubbed his feet; I whispered to him of my sexual desires. I bathed him and told him jokes and gossip and the prayers others were sending. When people came to pray; I asked them to touch him. I brushed and braided his hair. I consistently told him that although I was selfish and wanted him to stay that he and Creator would have to decide.
When his parents came, I talked with them about what he wanted when he died. We spoke of love and shared memories, tears, laughter and hope. We finally settled on a DNR order. We joked that if I didn’t before, I now knew my darling man inside and out, given my attentiveness and his open abdomen.
Through every surgical procedure, I prayed. About three weeks into my vigil, I shopped for red flannel and black and white yarn. Between visits, I sat and handstitched the burial blanket with which to wrap my warrior when he left this plane, as a young or old man.
On the sixteenth day he finally opened his eyes and smiled at me. But the rollarcoaster ride we had experienced thus far wasn’t over. His condition would improve and I hoped; he would crash and I would hope. Support came to me through the hospital staff, other SICU families, Native Americans and our biker Family and other bikers from all over. I occasionally had access to the Internet and was able to communicate to the world about our lives through that medium.
On the thirty-first day, he moved and lifted his hand about three inches in greeting to one of our most steadfast visitors. On the thirty-fourth day he was humming and gave me kisses. My heart leaped with joy; my hope for his recovery was huge. Creator’s power was felt ever encircling his bed.
We celebrated his birthday with two cakes – one for each shift on the unit. I shopped quickly between visits for a Walkman so he could get some normal stimulation. He was alert for a short while; I kept hoping.
The next day, we were back on the rollarcoaster. Around 8pm, the chief of surgery and the resident came to talk with me. They wanted to do another surgery – the eighth. This time, the chance of his survival was less than fifteen percent; I declined. Were he to die, it would not be on a cold operating table surrounded by strangers. I was holding his hand fifteen hours later when he and Creator decided he could leave. His doctors called me brave and thanked me for the professional relationship we had developed. I didn’t feel brave; I felt old.
In the traditions of my people, a widow mourns for a year. Oftentimes, the mourner cuts their hair; I only trimmed mine since the idea of cutting it was a tremendous bone of contention with my man. Creator gifted me the opportunity to send my man home in the traditional way when exactly twelve months later, I re-entered the powwow circle. Although the genesis of my buckskin dress was prior to our fated vacation, it was not completed until a week before powwow. While the Northern drum played “The Traveling Song”, during the women’s traditional dance, I sent him home. It was as difficult a process as the decision I made about the eighth surgery.
The year following his death was fraught with adjustment. I have gained a great appreciation for the lessons provided. The gifts provided through all the pain include the awareness that everything, and everyone, has a season. I am aware that the rainbow appears to give me a memory of my darling man and I know I must carry on, to share the love and hope I have come to know-with all my relations.