The night before last, I had a dream about Tank. He was very ill, and living in a lovely, rambling, white clapboard hotel surrounded by a porch, situated on a grassy hillside. It appeared to be a 1920s sanitarium where one might recover from tuberculosis. Tank wanted to get out of there, so several family members picked him up in an over-sized pickup truck that belonged to Kelly. I was there, of course, along with my siblings, and Sadie, and Kaycee with 1-year-old Charlie on her lap. Tank made eight, and we all fit comfortably in the extended cab of the white truck.
Sally was driving, because she told Kelly that being a passenger hurt her back, but driving did not. Kelly was sitting in the backseat, his arms folded across his cheat, clearly unhappy with the arrangement.
Just as we were about to leave (we were headed for Purple Turtle to get tacos), I suggested that it would be handy to have a couple pairs of paper skivvies with us. So Sadie (all knees and elbows...looking about 13 years old) hopped out of the truck and ran back to the sanitarium, quickly returning with two diapers, identical to the ones I recently used on young KJ. No one saw a problem with that, so Sadie climbed back into the truck, and we headed out, Sally carefully maneuvering the large vehicle down the grassy hillside.
There was a bit of a party atmosphere in the truck. We all seemed to know that this would be Tank's last ride...that he wouldn't survive long. (He was walking, though, and wearing a polo shirt and slacks; the shirt wasn't tucked in, and he was barefoot.) Charlie was wearing an orange T-shirt, and happily perched on Kaycee's lap, gnawing on a chunk of bread. We kept grinning at each other, knowing that this final outing was bringing Tank a lot of pleasure, and knowing that he--not others--was choosing where he would die.
The dream ended there, and blissfully. I felt confident that we'd make it to Purple Turtle...that the end would come after lunch.
I miss a lot of things about Tank. Just the other day, Dan mentioned how much he missed Tank's loud, enthusiastic, predictive phone messages: "(Laughter.) Dan! Polly! (More laughter.) Just called to say hello! You're probably out having lunch! Or walking the dogs! Having a wonderful time, I'm sure! I'll call again later! (More laughter.)" And we usually were out having lunch or walking the dogs (but sometimes we were snaking a toilet, or I was sobbing quietly, baffled by a particularly complex Excel spreadsheet). I also miss his frequent and sincere (but not needy) invitations to visit, the warm and solicitous way he asked about "our Clayton," and the way I could please him by discussing the latest Parker novel...by recalling a perceptive line or a meaningful exchange between two of our favorite characters.
I miss the validation I received from Tank. He validated generously and spontaneously, and--since I'm cursed with an external locus of identity (and no, the irony isn't lost on me)--I appreciated every validation, every reassurance, every recognition of every accomplishment, no matter how insignificant. I signed up for swimming lessons? Wonderful! I got an A-minus on my Biology final? Wonderful! I did seven push-ups, took E to the aquarium, stopped at a Kool-Aid stand in a bad neighborhood, made Enchilada Pie for dinner? Wonderful! With siblings and other peers, there's usually some sense of competition, no matter how minor or subtle or vehemently denied. Not so with parents. They're always rooting for you.
My favorite thing about blogging is that paragraph-to-paragraph transitions are optional.
Decades ago, Dan's sister-in-law delivered full-term stillborn twin boys. Family and friends were gripped by the tragedy, but eventually other topics of conversation were broached. Maybe out of emotional discomfort, maybe out of a misplaced sense of kindness, people stopped talking to her about what had happened...about the boys. She wasn't ready to move on, though, and she told me that she wanted to hang a sign around her neck: "Please ask me about my dead sons." To this day, I appreciate her gritty honesty. Sometimes, I think about that, and Tank. "Talk to me about Tank!" I want to insist. "Tell me that you miss him. Tell me how much he meant to you. Tell me that you can remember...when he was alive."
Tank never said that he was a Leonard Cohen fan. I'm certain, though, that any lack of fanaticism is related to a lack of exposure. If he'd heard the live version of "The Gypsy's Wife," with its eerie violin solo, with its heartbroken refrain ("where...where is my gypsy wife tonight?"), he would have declared himself a fan. Perhaps I've mentioned it before, but--at the end of Tank's life--I often thought of my favorite lines from that song, and hummed them occasionally when I was alone with him.
It's too early for the rainbow,
too early for the dove.
These are your final days,
this is the darkness, this is the flood.
I think he would have forgiven the biblical origins. I sometimes wonder how aware he was at the end. Scary as hell, I'm sure, but fascinating, too, to have a sense of what's going on. Tank had a curious nature. I can imagine his last thought being, "This is new...this is interesting..."
Please forgive me for complaining in my last blog entry, regarding the Laugh Lots sign. Right behind me, on my study wall, hangs a three-feet by three-feet sign that reads, "Pay Attention" in Tank's handwriting. It actually says:
The L's only look like L's if one has seen Tank's L's. Dan read the sign as "Pay Attentio alpha-alpha-to-the-Nth." :) Which is probably only funny to me.
Ya'll take care.