Nov 22, 2023

Three years had passed since I’d seen Arlen. Then one night, I got a call from her telling me Harry was in the intensive care unit at Kaiser in critical condition. I sped over to the hospital, where she drew me into a foyer to tell me what had happened.

Harry hadn’t gotten the teaching position in New Zealand, and she’d realized only a few months before that he’d been secretly drinking at night, claiming that she hadn’t known—that until then she’d never smelled alcohol on his breath or seen him intoxicated. She told me he’d turned nasty that last month, remarking to her once, “I went out and found the one woman who could destroy me…and then I married her.” When she gave him an ultimatum to stop drinking or leave, he tried to go cold turkey but went into convulsions in the middle of the night. Now the doctors were telling her that if he survived, his liver was so damaged he could never take another drink or it would kill him.

In my journal I wrote:

     “Harry is naked except for a sheet pulled over his groin, up to the great yellow swelling of his belly, fine networks of red veins traced over the yellow of his face. He makes strangled sounds, as though he is suffocating under the transparent blue muzzle of an oxygen mask. A tube, clotted with blood, sticks from one nostril, twisting it grotesquely to one side. I stroke his cheek with the backs of my fingers, wanting to comfort him…then, fearful of disturbing his sleep, I simply rest my hand there.

     “Harry…reclusive, erudite, witty, kind. Arlen tells me he holed up in his room drunk the last month. It wasn’t until he slipped out briefly that she pushed her way in and found layers of empty bottles, dirty plates, and newspapers piled in the corners, the strata of his despair. She poured a half a gallon of vodka down the bathtub drain. When he came back and saw what she had done, he cried.

     “The laying on of hands—I’m wondering what is possible. Being happy in my life now, I find myself ardently wishing when I touch Harry that I could somehow communicate to him my own hope, give him whatever he needs of my own life force.”

     That night I went home and prayed to whatever powers might be that Harry would recover.