Sometimes when we walk down the quiet hallway, and stop at apartment #210, the door opens into a narrow dark foyer, the bathroom to our immediate left. But sometimes, the door opens and reveals nothing but blue sky. In the former of the two possibilities, if we turn right, we walk down another hallway. Keith Richards plastered on the purple wall. We enter the living room with its low red sectional couch, covered in purple and black sheets and red pillows. Looking east, towards Lake Michigan—a bank of horizontal windows, the blinds usually drawn.
He sits down and pulls out his black lock box of narcotics.
He arranges his pills on the glass-topped coffee table. On a good day, Roku is working, and he picks something from Youtube to watch, or asks what do you want? I always say Law and Order. In this iteration, he’s okay—the pain seems to be manageable, he might eat something, or he might not, he might throw up, or he might not, and so things are in a kind of equipoise; meaning, theoretically, days like this could go on forever. And this is why I go to the kitchen and pour a glass of wine, and eat a candy bar.
I call to him, Should I cook Ma Kitty’s skrimps?
And he says, Yes, but cut them into smaller pieces before you feed her.
A spoiled cat, and fat, too. To the right of the kitchen, a small dining area by a window has been subsumed by Ma Kitty’s condo which he built out of cardboard boxes; multiple levels, decorated with wrapping paper and family photos, and over 1,000 cat toys in luminescent colors, green, pink, blue. A real mise-en-scène, except I never see her lounging there. She’s always with my brother. In the bathroom, in the full length mirror on the door, I am horrified by his body and mine.
I don’t get drunk, but I do keep the levels consistent throughout the day. It’s a delicate algorithm of vodka at 5:00 a.m., while the sun is coming up, maybe Ativan, white wine at 11:00 a.m., and then take as needed throughout the day. Coffee in the morning, but usually just one cup. I don’t want to be too awake. In the living room, he plays one of his own videos on his Youtube channel. As a filmmaker, he builds a montage of stills with cross-fades, dissolves, and jump cuts. They usually feature Keith Richards or Mother Love Bone. He calls it lower east side media, located on Avenue D, in the East Village, 1,000 subscribers.
On the red couch, I sip my coffee, I smoke a cigarette. He chops up Adderall, which is blue, which he takes with Zofran, and Dilaudid. Next, enzymes and precise shot in his belly for clotting. Jessie Girl (as he calls her), his CN, arrives at 11:00 a.m. and runs the vacuum in the living room, the hallway, and his bedroom. He sells her an automatic weapon he built in his man cave, he sells it for $600 which he uses to pay off his funeral. He and Jessie Girl have a special bond. He can talk to her, when he can’t talk to me.
I lived with him in 1983 when my forty-eight-year-old boyfriend threw me out on my ass for cheating. I was twenty-seven, and addicted to coke. He was a badass cop, and his feet smelled, so he left his shoes out in the hall. Lacing them up one day, a large cockroach climbed up his pants leg. The kitchen was infested with them, but I didn’t give a shit and neither did he. Who cooked? We loved to smoke pot and watch MTV. We were beautiful, because we were young, because we were immortal.
Today, everything has telescoped down to the glass-topped coffee table in the living room, and his narcotics. Narcotics because he’s always in pain, but don’t ask him ask if it’s “manageable,” because no one knows what that means. Jessie Girl cuts up Ma Kitty’s skrimps, because I forgot to, and the I pour another glass of wine. It must be noon or thereabouts. Right on schedule. Today, his hospice nurse, Dawn, shows up. I hide my wine glass when she arrives–once she caught me drinking straight out of the bottle. She counts his Fentanyl patches. She’s the bad cop.
Dude, she says, There’s only eleven, there should be fifteen.
He’s replaced them every 48 hours, instead of 72, because he can’t stand the breakthrough pain. His shoulders jut out like chicken wings.
A few hours later, our cousin Debi stops by, and they smoke a joint. They get very stoned, and talk about his will. I don’t pay attention. I really haven’t eaten anything all day. Earlier, Stevie, the middle brother, met me outside before Jessie Girl arrived. He brought over a couple of sliders in a white paper bag that I devoured on the spot. He drove away in a black Saab, and I went back inside. Mark is on the red couch flipping through Roku. I can’t stand to look at him, and I can’t stand to be away from him. He’s going, and I’m staying. He’s leaving, and I can’t follow. I can’t help him. And worse, he can’t help me. Instead of dinner, I eat a yogurt with malted milk balls on top, and a miniature Snickers bar. I have another glass of wine. In the living room they are laughing. They are high.
At night, I sleep in his bedroom, which he has abandoned. Now, he sleeps in the living room alongside the windows, in a hospital bed with Tibetan prayer flags overhead; next to a makeshift altar, with Ganesha, Shiva, Buddha, bamboo in a tall glass vase, candles and incense. On another table, closest to his bed: his medical file in a black binder, a book he’s reading, his ashtray and his cigarettes, a small glass of Good Belly. Ma Kitty is at his side, and lately a long white tube undulating across the room, the pump and hiss of oxygen.
In my room, his former bedroom, I’ve opened the blinds and the window to let in as much light and air as possible. Even when it gets very, very cold at night, a cold Wisconsin night, I keep it open. Some nights I hear a flock of geese, black against the blue-black sky, flying over the lake. I hear them just before dawn. And sometimes a train passes by, and it sounds like the same train I listened to forty years ago. Across the courtyard, another apartment—lit up all night long, like a Hopper painting. I never see anyone, but am happy and relieved to know that someone else is awake with me.
My phone doesn’t work, the signal is for shit, so no distractions like Facebook or twitter. It’s just me, and the kelly green walls. I lean back on a hospital bed, the one he didn’t like. Overhead, a large orange mural of the Brooklyn Bridge—my home. My pillowcases are black and red, the sheets are purple. I light a red candle, I get up, pour a vodka, and sit at the window, smoking. I’m listening for the geese, the train, even a passing car. I sleep only when I’m shaking with exhaustion, usually between 5:45 and 6:20 a.m. I like those moments just before the sun rises. I don’t dream a thing. On a good day, maybe today, around 10:00 a.m., he knocks at the door, sits down at his desk, turns on his ancient desktop, reads the news, talks on the phone, scratches his ear, sends a text. His hair is purple.
But sometimes when I open the door to #210, all I see is sky.