by Mark Chmiel
The following is an excerpt from part 2 of The Book of Mev.
By mid-December, Mev had grown very quiet. I’d estimated she was knocked out for 20 hours a day. Was she asleep? Did she dream? Was she in aggravation? Or was she just so doped up and out from all her medications? What went on in her consciousness?
I found it incredible to realize that less than two weeks before had been the Visitation Academy Award ceremony, at which Mev appeared with grace and dignity and that, in the near future, it would be Christmas. I was always polishing my penchant for understatement: It sure didn’t feel like Christmas, even though our neighbors were kind enough to get us a tree and encourage other neighbors to bring ornaments.
The Puleos had slowed down in step with their daughter. Since Mev now rarely used her wheelchair, her father’s adaptations and refinements were no longer utilized. Unlike three weeks before, Mev was now confined to one place, there in the bedroom: in a hospital bed, surrounded by people who were wiping her forehead with clean and freshly chilled washcloths, or who were rearranging the pillows and cushions around her arms and legs and head, so as to prevent bed sores and to allow her some comfort and change in the face of being stuck there.
So often we judge others from our own narrow personal perspective, so I, as Mev’s husband, could see many things that others could not (and vice versa). As I tended more towards observation, I knew my father-in-law was more a man of action — an engineer for heaven’s sake, those people who get things built. In his case, he got things done so well that he had become affluent after growing up poor in a St. Louis immigrant slum. He was a classic man of his World War II-era generation: their love was expressed in actions, in providing. Mr. Puleo was nothing if not a problem-solver.
Up until the first part of the month when Mev had obvious needs, he did what he could, but at this stage of Mev’s illness, there wasn’t much to do except sit with her, chill the washcloth for her feverish forehead, change her diaper and give her morphine with white grape juice, a Mev favorite. Mr. Puleo was not up to these activities as much as other practical endeavors, for it was too heart-breaking. But he was able to keep me from going insane when he offered to handle all the insurance bills and papers and filings. It almost drove him crazy, but it freed me up to spend much more time with Mev. He was clearly uncomfortable with a Mev who could not respond as of old: with vim equal to his vigor, with cheerful announcements of new gems uncovered in the dark room, with ever-spirited political contestations about U.S. foreign policy on Haiti. Now, only silence.
But he was faced, as we all were, with that vast, impenetrable, bafflingly local, resistant-to-analysis mystery: Mev’s life was leaving her; we were witnessing it hour by hour. One day, I simply said to one of the new recruits who had come to give us a breather, and who was afire with the desire to help and serve, “You can come sit and be powerless like the rest of us.” I did not mean this harshly.