Monday, May 22, 2017

She Knew

          She Knew
          In memory of Sherri Beth Hellerstein Krynski
          January 12, 1956 – May 11, 2017

Don’t worry, I’m well enough. So is Hannah.
We’re dancing as fast as we can.
Little things help: friends, family, hugs.
Black humor helps:
“Why do skulls grin? Wait and see.”
Poetry helps, because it’s an angel,
And poetry helps, because it’s a vulture.
Best of all, small work helps;
The tiny day-to-day routines
That sustain the illusion of normality.
But Sherri was part of those routines
And routines are in calendar time
And calendar time is made of paper,
But catastrophe time is made of fire.

One small request. Don’t say you’re sorry.
Say you’re sad, say you grieve, say you mourn. Me too.
But don’t say you’re sorry. You didn’t kill her.
Heart failure killed her, triggered by septicemia,
Plus diabetes, plus spinal stenosis, plus sleep apnea,
Plus a weak pancreas, plus diabetic sores on her feet,
Plus infection through those sores, and on and on.
She was so full of life, and so full of death.
So no, you aren’t sorry. Me neither. We are innocent.
I’m sad, I grieve, I mourn
But I’m not sorry.

What was Sherri to me?
Wife of twenty years, mother of our daughter,
Lover, partner, guide, best friend
Inspiration and bad influence.
Nowadays, whenever a traffic signal turns yellow
I ask myself, what would Sherri do?
Shall I slow down, like me, or speed through, like her?

She sped through life, and she dragged me with her.
So often, after trouble and labor and my kvetching
She took me to see some human marvel or natural wonder;
A play, a landscape, a cityscape, a forest
And thunderstruck, I’d say, “I wouldn’t have been here.”
Meaning, without her.

And now I am without her.
The presence of her absence haunts me.
Sometimes the ground beneath my feet opens up,
And I fall, and in free-fall I ask, what happened?
How could this be?
Then I recite times and diagnoses to myself
And gravity returns. It’s like hitting an air-pocket.

Once the three of us were riding an airplane
And it hit an air-pocket
And for several eternal seconds we were in free-fall.
Hannah was laughing at something just then
And she kept on laughing. That’s Hannah.
I, showing great presence of mind,
Pulled the claim check out of my shirt pocket
And let it go in front of me
And watched it float in zero-gee.
That’s me.
Whereas Sherri, unlike goofy daughter and weirdo husband,
She had a normal human reaction to falling out of the sky:
She screamed.

Then the plane’s wings grabbed air
And cabin gravity returned
And the claim check fell into my lap
As inevitable and incredible
As the punchline of a joke.
Is life a joke?

Consider her Mother’s Day cake.
By Mother’s Day she was dead
But two weeks and a day before
She insisted that the next day was Mother’s Day
And she wanted a cake. I didn’t know,
Hannah didn’t want to say no
So we gave in, and I went out, and I got a cake
With “Happy Mother’s Day” written on it
And I brought it home and I put it in the fridge.
The next day we learned that, oops,
We were two weeks early
But we ate that cake anyhow.
Two weeks later Hannah and I realized
That not only did she con us
Out of a cake and a Mother’s Day;
She conned Death itself.
How do you argue with a woman like that?

She must have guessed that she was dying.
We all three knew, but not really.
We all three knew that she’d die before me
But we thought eventually, not just yet.

Our cat Charlie sensed it.
When Sherri came home that Friday,
Exhausted and spine hurting, she only wanted to sleep
Why that cat turned needy and vocal. Meow, meow.
Every time I opened the door to the bedroom
He’d zip past me, leap onto the bed,
Rub against her and purr real loud.
He was trying to comfort her.
He knew!

Sherri knew for sure by late Wednesday.
She told me, but I was in denial.
Her last words to me
Urgent, slurred, repeated three times
So I could understand:
“She’ll be all right,”
Meaning Hannah.

Later that evening we found her, eyes half open.
Breathing heavily. Unresponsive. We called 911.
I was still in denial, until the paramedics
Zapped her heart to restart it. Twice.
The cats stared, wide-eyed, and so did I.
They dragged her down the stairs and out the door
And she never returned.

I followed them to the hospital.
The intensive-care doctors struggled,
Then they took me aside to tell me the bad news.
She won’t revive. CPR pointless. Death in minutes.
So I went in and I held her hand.
Her pulse slowed to a stop.
I didn’t notice just when.
Then they shut down her breathing, and that was that.

The viewing was two days later.
Sister-in-law Michelle, ever capable
Herded Hannah and me, still in shock, to the hospital.
The chaplain led us to the room.
I went in first.
I saw her shrouded body.
My knees shook.
I said, “Too real. Too real.”
Then I stood up straight. I marched forward.
I looked at her face. Hers, all right.
Set in a scowl around the breathing tube, still in place.
I touched her forehead and her cheeks. So did Hannah.
We touched her feet, thighs, belly, shoulders and face.
Michelle sat with head bowed.
Sherri’s skin was as soft as ever, but icy cold.
Too real.
I examined Sherri’s corpse with cold intensity.
The only comfort I sought was clarity.
Some drinks you must quaff to the bitter dregs.

So here lies Sherri Krynski, woman of valor
Who won battle after battle with Death
For valor wins battles
And she pitched mighty battles.
For instance, her last Sunday.

Between the Friday evening that her heart started to fail
And the Thursday morning that it finally stopped
In between, on Sunday
Sherri declared that she was feeling better
And she wanted us to go out, to the theater
And see a play that she had paid tickets for.
I objected but she insisted.
She said, “Am I being stupid?”
I said, “Yes!”
“I don’t care, I’m going anyhow.”
I gave in as usual. You try arguing with Sherri.

So lo, on the third day of her death
The doomed woman rose from her deathbed
To go see a bedroom farce!
I saw it with her, it was a great show
With scandals and pratfalls
And slammed doors
And a scantily-clad actress
And a play-within-a-play
With an incompetent director and idiot actors.
It was tons of fun, laffs galore,
Boffs to die for,
And that’s what she did.

Sherri knew that she was dying, soon,
And she hated the hospital, and loved theater
So she went to see a comedy. She insisted.
Her body, her choice. Quality of life.
She died as she lived.
Talk about laughing at death!
Daughter, learn from your mother.

And daughter, here we are. Thunderstruck.
I, widower, single father; you, motherless.
Roles as new and uncomfortable as shoes that don’t fit.
But here we are, and I am grateful,
For if it hadn’t been for her
Then we wouldn’t have been here.

May 20, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful poetic story!

    I first met Sherri at a convention of the National Puzzlers League in the 1990s, and the last time I saw her was at the NPL Con in Salt Lake City last July. At the end of Con, she was looking for company in her drive to Park City, saying she would take the scenic route out and the highway back. I agreed and sat back, literally just along for the ride as she decided where and how to go.

    I will never forget that day, mainly because I thought we were both going to die on the miles of hairpin turns on the side of the mountain with no guardrail. Sherri was not the least bit concerned.

    We arrived at the only crowded place in the state of Utah, ate a terrible lunch at a sidewalk table we were lucky to find, watched the Beautiful People stroll by, peeked at the $80,000 fur coats in a nearby shop, and listened to live music and bought some small things at a craft/farmer's market.

    The ride back was a lot less scary, and we talked about our daughters and how proud we were of them.

    Sherri was a remarkable woman, not to be argued with or trifled with, and I'm so pleased to learn that she squeezed every last possible good time out of her final weeks.