One day I choose every year to either celebrate or ignore is my birthday.
In 2014, I had chosen to basically ignore it as my mother had recently been in hospice, but after a couple of months, she rallied and was “discharged”. She really wasn’t any better, she was just “better enough” to be taken out of hospice. For those of you just joining me, my mother was 86 at the time, with congestive heart failure, failure to thrive and had begun to exhibit signs of dementia. She’d forget to feed herself or my brother (who has early onset Alzheimer’s), she refused to stop driving, and she started to get lost in places she was very familiar with.
I had taken two weeks off from work to make sure we could go back to status quo – me stopping by every day and them taking care of themselves. My mother was still showing enough signs of being “all there” than not (little did I know).
At four o’clock in the afternoon of my uncelebrated birthday, I received a phone call.
Them: “Do you know Andy Rush?”
Me: “For 35 years. I’m his on/off girlfriend. Why? Who is this?”
Andy had been in the hospital for a week because he had a really bad back condition. It got to the point where he couldn’t walk, and was taken by ambulance to Cedars in Los Angeles. Did I mention I live in Northern California? Okay. Anyway, I had spoken to him every night that week.
Them: “I’m a (some word for “person who searches for relatives”) and we found this number in Andy’s things. He’s unconscious.”
Me: “What do you mean, unconscious? He was there for his back! What the hell?”
Them: “The doctor will contact you in a few minutes”.
Me: “Tell the doctor I’m heading to the airport right now and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I met Andy when I was 17. I interviewed him for my high school paper. Cheezy? Yep.
We were perfectly suited for each other, but he had a wandering eye. Two years after we started dating, I found he’d been cheating on me. We broke up. We got back together after a while when I found he was still seeing her. I was done. We were still friendly, and for several years we carried on while he carried on. I finally cut it off when I met someone else. But he’d send cards and tapes – I’d ignore them. But I missed him. When my new boyfriend and I broke up, I wrote Andy a letter telling him everything he did that hurt me or pissed me off, and when he got it, he called.
We were on the phone for 8 hours, and a month later, I moved to Los Angeles.
Basically, that’s how it was for 35 years. When I lived in L.A., we were never apart for long. We just liked each other. But he was still the same. It’s hard to explain, but it worked for us.
I threw some things into a suitcase and called my neighbor. I asked her to take me to the airport, which she did, and to keep an eye on my mom and brother while I was gone.
Andy and I had spoken every night that week, several hours at a time. The night before, he had asked me to come back when he got out of the hospital. He was going to sell his house and he wanted me to pick out a house in Ventura. He wanted us to be together. I agreed.
I was at the gate having just got on the list for standby when I got the call. It was the doctor.
“Are you in a place where you can sit down?”
“Just tell me.”
“Is anyone close to you with you?”
“Please, just tell me. I’m at the gate waiting for the plane to board.”
“He’s not unconscious, he’s brain dead. I’m so sorry.”
As I fell to my knees, she explained that the nurses had gotten him up from his bed to start physical therapy for his back when Andy said “my chest hurts” and dropped to the floor. It wasn’t a clot, it wasn’t his mitral valve, it was an “electrical” heart attack. The odds of surviving a sudden death heart attack are very slim – a three minute window to restart the heart.
They worked on Andy for 45 minutes. Because they did everything, blood thinners to break clots, CPR that broke every bone in his chest, broken trachea, tubes from his head to his groin, his brain had hemorrhaged. On both sides.
I arrived at the hospital and when led to his room I barely recognized him. And then I saw his hands. I’d know them anywhere. I told them to remove all of the equipment as there was no way he was going to recover. For 21 hours, I sat with him, holding his hand for hours, playing our music and talking to him. He took his last breath with his face in my hands. He had turned 60 three months before.
He had cheated on me again – by leaving before he should.