Samuel Samuel under the laying on of hands.
Of wailing women. Lined in a horseshoe around his bed. In a small hospital room. Where Samuel Samuel is dying.
The small hospital room is not actually a room, but a curtained rectangle. Whose main attraction is a modest, starchy bed with wires and blinking chirping machines. Attached to the body of a septuagenarian, who is still impressively strong.
But whose brain decided to stop earlier that day.
The mourners around the bed are organized like a civil war front line. The front phalanx is the most stunned or demonstrative. They are his young beautiful third wife. His young beautiful daughter from a second marriage. His beautiful daughter-in-laws. And a stunning mother-in-law, a decade younger than he.
Their cries bathe him. Their hands earnestly caress. To try to wash away the solitude, from the moment when we are most alone.
The middle group of the mourners is a collection of the dearest. Old forever friends. His handsome biker son from his first wife. They stand solemnly in support of the front line. Occasionally filling a slot. Putting a hand on a shoulder. A gesture of modest weight, which actually lightens the load.
The rear troops line the outer dimensions of the room. They are the husbands. Boyfriends. Significant others of the principles of the moment. They are the arms folded. The hands in pockets. The weight shifters. Because when you absolutely don’t know what to do, neither do your limbs.
And beyond, outside the curtain, the spell of the wails dissipates. The volume is the same. But there is a social contract in select situations, where we all choose not to focus on the inside of other people’s cordoned off spaces.
The hardened creased faces of doctors and nurses. Pass from one pocket of unimaginable tragedy to another. Slipping out from behind the fabric walls their faces ease. They cluster and talk and joke. When they think all the curtains are closed. And laughter sometimes erupts- an occasional dissonant note. Not unpleasant, but belies a life at wartime.
I witness this all from a gap in the curtain. I am a boyfriend on the outer rim from Samuel Samuel’s body. I have dated this man’s daughter for five years. My hands are in my pockets.
This is my first time meeting him.
I should let you know, this is not my story to tell.
But Samuel Samuel’s name is Philip. Because in his awkward stage of youth he was a touch on the chunky side. And there were those who joked that he never filled up. So when he was a young man, no longer chunky, he legally changed his name. From Samuel Samuel to Phil-ip.
He grew up in a family of Lebanese immigrants. In the mid-west. He fought often. Loved cars. Wore berets. Rode motorcycles. Had a flair for making a moment big. So everyone who knew of him had a story. Usually attached to a wry smile, and a rueful shake of the head.
He went to war. Pissed off superiors. Spent significant time in the brig. Played drums at the midnight jazz sessions of the enlisted black infantry band. Cut the hair of soldiers. Not in accordance to regulations. Was court-martialed. Claimed he was framed, by an officer who didn’t care for his ways.
He lived in Paris. New York. Los Angeles. Las Vegas.
He had money. He spent money. He had wives. He lost wives.
He was a gifted actor. A marathon runner. A writer. A Deacon of the Church. An architect of whim, tearing down walls in his house and replacing them with pieces of his fancy. He was a clothing designer. A race car driver. A hairdresser.
He was an amazingly supportive yet complicated father and friend. He moved from extreme to extreme. The kind of man who could risk everything he owned for a stranger on the street. The kind of man who could throw a friend out the door and not talk to him again, if he wafted an offensive word toward the autographed head shot of President Reagan, that hung prominently in it’s frame.
As with all men that possess powerful souls, he was capable of great anger and love.
But that is not my story to tell.
I’ve never actually met the man. I refused. I’m not sure why, now. I thought I knew, then. I’ve never been in his presence until this moment – as he lies on this rented bed. The center-point to sobs of women and men.
The funeral man behind the showroom desk really moves the conversation along. Fuck if laying a soul to rest isn’t just damn complicated. Good thing he’s there, he says.
For starters- there’s the plot. Or in this case a square in a wall. Amongst many, many squares. The ones that are eye level or touchable by mere extension of hand. Cost extra.
And of course there’s the space behind where your loved one’s body will lie. That you can purchase at a discount, fortunately. Where a future loved one’s body – one that this body loved. Yours, maybe. Can rest peacefully in some strange sort of queue.
Act now though.
Failure to place a down payment immediately on such a golden deal results in the significant increase of price. For a space, that if is not bought by you, will remain an un-purchased space.
Now to the coffin.
There are marble ones. Mirrored ones. Oh and there are pine ones. At the bottom of the price line. But would your. Father. Mother. Sister. Brother. Family. Friend. Lover. Child. Want to house their body for eternity in the equivalent of a cardboard box?
This is America. The land of Cadillac. And Mustangs. And Jaguars. Lexus. Mercedes-benz. Bayerische Motoren Werke.
And then there’s the price of the bag. That goes over the coffin. To keep the coffin from rotting. In the concrete square. In the marble wall of concrete squares. In the building with a roof over the marble hall of concrete squares.
And then the price of putting that bag over the coffin. I mean, you just bought a coffin-sized bag. What else are you going to do with it? Do you want to put it on?
And to the matter of payment. We accept credit and debit. And life insurance and mortgage loans. We accept cars and titles. Gold and jewelry. Appliances and your grandfather’s childhood dreams.
ABSOLUTELY, INCROYABLE, MOST IMPORTANT: Payment is due before any ceremonies may begin.
You will be allowed a reasonable short nearly impossible amount of time to acquire the total funds. Let’s say… three days? Do you have a life insurance policy that has absolutely no red tape? Do you have a rich uncle? Access to credit?
And do please remember the nightly cost for housing the body in the basement is very much on par with a reasonable downtown luxury hotel suite.
The funeral man can wait. While you whisper amongst each other. As you pool together all your savings. And try to think of all the people you can borrow from. What things you can pawn. To bury the person you wish you could most turn to right now.
And so goes the man behind the soap opera set desk. To a small congregation of heart broke world shook souls.
In a place built to look like a church. But is not a church.
Samuel Samuel’s powder blue coffin is being fitted with a special sized plastic bag. The special sized bag is being attached to the coffin with duct tape. For the proper seal. In front of an audience. That just came from the funeral of the man in the powder blue coffin.
The family is all sitting in theatre rows placed before the scene of raising the coffin to its final rest.
The coffin is slowly ascending to a great, but not the greatest of heights. On a rickety cherry picker. Which is an OK machine. But not very precise. Or subtle. Or perhaps the best instrument too raise a coffin to the exact inch of height needed to fit in this wall hole. It takes quite a few tries. In front of an emotionally raw, fairly large audience. Including the daughter, and wife of the man in the box.
Samuel Samuel did not expect to be in a powder blue coffin. He expected, as the doctor said, for the surgery to be uneventful. That cutting open a body was less dangerous than the clogs in all the arteries to your heart. The heart is a well-plumbed space, the doctors said. The heart is a well-plumbed space, I said to his daughter. As if I knew.
The song of us all is a melody of coward and grace.
At this moment, as witness to this ridiculous scene, there probably is no better version of me. I am sometimes made for emotional wartime. Though, so are sociopaths, I guess. But here I am. The shoulder to cry on. The new person whose reputation precedes. The everyman that everyone feels comfortable unlocking their locks to. Almost every member of the family finds me in a parenthesis of solitude and unloads some deepest darkest of thing. I am calm. I am here.
And yet, just a few weeks (days?) before – the weakest version of me. Stuck in yearlong drunks and depressions. Unable, unwilling, to lighten the load of the woman I claimed to love. Being ninety percent asshole and ten percent amazing. Thinking that’s enough. Rationalizing, rationalizing- Of course he’ll be fine. Of course everything will be OK.
When I goddamn know everything never, ever, ends up OK.
Samuel Samuel didn’t want the heart surgery but he got it. Because he needed it. It was the right move.
Some time before he went in, his family had a meeting with the Doctor. He stressed the importance of Samuel Samuel sitting upright the day after the surgery. That he stand up the day or two after that. To help keep fluid from collecting in his lungs.
After the surgery there were complications. He had to have a breathing tube for several days, so he didn’t get to sit up. After the tube was removed, he still did not get to sit up, and he developed pneumonia. The tube was put back in.
The next time the breathing tube was removed he had another bout of pneumonia. He was put on strong antibiotics.
The strong antibiotics overwhelmed his kidneys, they stopped working. He had dialysis. Multiple times.
Eventually, he was taken to a rehab center. His daughter and wife discovered that he wasn’t being sat upright regularly. One of the things that help fluid not collect in your lungs. That he had one daily, brief, session of physical therapy. They took control of the regimen.
Samuel Samuel went through a parabola of lucidity and dementia. There were stories of his charm and anger. A man of confidence and intellect in invisible scenarios, battling imaginary foes.
Samuel Samuel’s daughter was flying back and forth from her job in Chicago. Staying for long stretches, to ensure, with Samuel Samuel’s wife, his quality of care.
I was an out of work drunk in Chicago. I was a writer who wasn’t writing. I have no excuses. There is no forgiveness.
Samuel Samuel got pneumonia again. He had strong antibiotics again. He had kidney failure again. He returned to the same hospital he just left. He had multiple treatments of dialysis again. The pneumonia once again subsided, and he returned to the same rehab center he just left.
This time his daughter and wife raised hell. A Doctor friend raised hell. He received quality physical therapy every day. He spent most of his time upright in chairs.
Samuel Samuel finally returned home months after the surgery, but he never felt quite right. He had thrush from all the antibiotics. He developed an intestinal tract infection. He possibly developed pneumonia again. His doctors couldn’t figure out how to return him to independence, and that’s a hard thing to accept for a proud soul.
Samuel Samuel fell and hit his head. He seemed okay for a short while, but soon suffered a brain aneurysm. And one Las Vegas morning fell into darkness in the arms of a woman he loved.
I watched his daughter receive the phone call as his wife was waiting for the ambulance. There is a panic in those voices, a single note, I now hear always.
We flew out that day. During our flight the hope drained from the situation. When we arrived it was a waiting game for the end.
Sometimes I think maybe the biggest part of finding someone you love is simply finding your best historian. The person who most closely shares your version of events.
As Samuel Samuel’s daughter was falling out of love with me I noticed the narrative shift of someone losing care for another’s point of view. My past mistakes had more malice behind them. My jagged words were less forgiven. My jokes were no longer taken as jokes.
I became the villain of our time together. Where before, well, before I was an asshole, but at least I was not a villain.
And when I finally started to fall out of love, I noticed the same. Anger born of pain, not justice, injected a color scheme over history. My filter became clouded and unforgiving. And I came to understand that we leave things behind by tilting them to the extremes. By creating heroes and villains. Even if only for a while.
The citizens of truth, those that raise flags, are liars, madmen, and fools. The most we can hope for from our story is an honest accounting. A struggle for what really happened.
But make no mistake, the facts are forever fucked. We can only safely assume it was all a mixture of coward and grace.
Though I can, however, tell you these things are absolutely true:
Samuel Samuel died a man many people battled for at the end of his time. That he died unexpectedly, after being up all night in loving conversation with his wife. That he died with the lingering palm prints of all those he loved.
But I missed a chance to measure myself by lion.
And so this is my story to tell.