Skip to main content

You Think You Have Time

I live in a suburb of New Orleans and have been writing here off and on for 10 years. I have been married 53 years to the same crazy guy.


Nine Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

The cousins are tucked all snug in their makeshift beds in a room in Granddaddy's hospital, waiting for news. Then there's Fanny, who has cooked the doctor's meals for so many years, standing at the door, brown face covered with tears. And now there's the news we've been waiting for and dreading. Fanny announces: The Doctor has passed. The clock in the hallway strikes the half hour as she is telling us the news.

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Fourteen Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

It's one of those sit-down-we-want-to-talk-to-you moments that can't be good. Daddy is grinding his teeth and Mom is wringing her hands. You're squirming as they tell you that everything will work out okay because you know from their demeanor that it obviously won't. The question you want answered is "How long will it be okay until it's not okay anymore?"

And then Mom speaks: I have cancer. (I am 14 years old and it is very early 1960s; I'm just not too sure what this is.) I have to have surgery and have my breast removed.

My body goes cold and numb. And I think in the vocabulary of a 14-year-old: This is bad. And it was very bad.

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Twenty-three Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

The baby is more aware of her surroundings now. Her big brother, who is barely over a year, is remarkably not jealous at all and is, rather, possessive and treats her as his own special toy. She is a little over a month old. She was born very, very early. The evening after she was born, the doctor came to my hospital room after I had taken a very strong sleeping pill. He said: "Your baby is very ill. One of her lungs has collapsed. She may not make it through the night. If she's still here tomorrow morning, it will be a very good sign." We went to the nursery to see the baby, then spent the night on the sun porch. When we woke up to the sun in our faces, we knew our daughter would live, that this time, we were granted grace.

The phone on my father-in-law's kitchen wall rings. My mother is in the hospital. The cancer came back around the time of my wedding. She didn't tell us until after our honeymoon because she didn't want to spoil the wedding, but in the past three and a half years, she has gone downhill rapidly.

I drive to little Rock while the babies sleep in the backseat, all the time I'm driving, looking for hope where there is none, miracles that I know will not happen. On this wretched day, there surfaces a rainbow. I cry out and make an obscene gesture at the sky. I am very young and haven't learned how to "process my grief," as they say. Unfortunately, I have never learned.

When I get to Little Rock, I leave the children with a friend and go to the hospital. I read the Bible to my mom. I don't know why because she was in a coma of some sort and couldn't hear a word I was saying. I wasn't even listening to the words myself, but it was something to do. All 85 pounds that were left of her were just lying there in a hospital gown, and she was breathing peacefully as if taking a nap.

My husband, the babies and I stayed with my dad, who was in a coma of his own, a walking around kind of coma. He never came in the room at the hospital. He would come to the hospital, but would stay in the hall. During this awful time, I learned where the fear that kept me from holding my baby when she was born so desperately ill came from. It was in my genes, I suppose. Daddy and I were both cowards.

For three days, I was back and forth at the hospital, checking on the babies, buying groceries, trying to persuade my dad to eat. Mom woke once and asked what day it was. She died quietly in her sleep that same night at the age of 53. Of course, it was the night I stayed home with the babies and left her in a relative's care. My very being raged against a creator who could send a rainbow just days before. The day of the funeral made up for it: dreary and overcast all day long. I have absolutely no memory of that day except the slow, drizzling rain.

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Twenty-eight Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

The phone rings at home in New Orleans. It is a friend from Arkansas. Whitney, who has been our friend, brother, confidante and more is gone. He was found in the driveway of his apartment, apparently dead of an aneurysm. He was 30 years old.

We had made plans to go to dinner that night and didn't want to disappoint our friends. I drank too much and remembered times with Whitney when I was pregnant with my first child. He had flunked out of school and didn't want to go home and let his grandmother know so he stayed with us till the semester was over. When I opened the door, he was standing there with his suitcase and said: Here's the failure. Of course, we welcomed him with arms wide open.

He adopted a stray dog from the neighborhood and I remember helping him bathe it to get rid of some of the fleas. He bought carpet remnants and carpeted our attic, turning it in to an apartment for himself and the dog.

I remember when the baby was so sick, he told us later that he sat down in one of the pews in the hospital chapel to pray and put his hand on the ankle of a woman who had gone to sleep there. He said it scared him and the lady both to death. They both screamed. We laughed till we cried, talking about it.

When our son was two weeks old, Whitney brought over a huge electric toy truck for him to ride in. He couldn't understand why the baby wasn't more enthusiastic about the gift.

I remember him saying one night when we were in our 20s and after the three of us had finished off a fifth of Black Jack and he was feeling especially maudlin: I'll be dead before I'm 30. When I die, put a flower on my grave. And now he was gone. He was 30 years old.

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Fifty Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

The wind is blowing down Tulane Avenue, scattering leaves and trash in its wake. I have just visited my father-in-law in the hospital. He seemed reluctant for me to leave and I promised to return tonight.

He has lived with us for seven years now. Grandpa, as we all call him, has always been more like part of our immediate family. We are his life. When my children were born, he found a new reason for living after having lost his wife a few years before. When they were small, he took them to "the country" where they fished, rode horses, and discovered a different life. He shopped for them at the Navy base, bringing boxes of clothes and toys when he came to visit us.

He came to stay with us when he had cataract surgery. He stayed two months. When he went home, he never adjusted to being alone again, and we brought him to live with us. He watched both grandchildren graduate from college, an education which he financed, then he gradually lost interest in life. A few weeks before the fall that was the beginning of the end, he told me: "I'm just tired. I just get tired." And I understood he meant tired of living.

He fell two months before this windy night and damaged an already injured back. He had other complications and the doctors told us it didn't look good. I went home and rested a while, then went back to the hospital. I held his hand and told him I loved him and he said he loved me. I drove home through the swirling leaves on Tulane Avenue, learning later that the wind had knocked the chimney off my house. The man who taught us all so much about love died during the night. He was 86 years old. One of the things I remember him saying many times during the time I knew was: "Before we had television, people talked to each other. People should talk to each other more." He was right; we should. He was always appreciative of every tree, flower, bird or other creature he saw in the country. He often referred to a "high sky," which meant bright blue and clear. I never see a high sky without remembering Grandpa.

I was worried about him after he died, concerned that he was all right. He came to me one night in a dream, wearing the blue jeans and red plaid shirt he often wore in life. He said two words that let me finally let him go. He said, "I'm okay." And then he was gone and has never come to visit me in my dreams again..

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Sixty-six Years Old

The tick tock of the ticking clock:

The clock will stop for all of us; some sooner, some later.

I am racing against the clock now at this stage of my life, hoping to learn, do, be and live as much as I can before the clock stops for me. My cup truly overflows with blessings. My children are both personal and professional success stories; I still look forward to seeing my husband each morning. The only negative force in my life is the nasty bastard cat, who hisses and spews his meanness every day. I think of him as my penance for having so much good in my life.

When we're young time stretches before us, a luxury to be used when we're ready. Yet we may not have "all the time in the world." I'm sure Whitney thought he did. When we're older, we feel an urgency to get things done, to grow spiritually, to gain insight, to love more and better. We begin to do the math: If I'm lucky, I have "X" years left. It is not " all the time in the world" any longer. The clock's ticking is more audible.

Time waits for no one. Time does not heal all wounds. Time is on your side until it is not anymore. And time does not stand still.

The tick tock of the ticking clock . . .

Related Articles