Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Clean Well Lighted Place and suicide

From Hemingway's short store, "A Clean Well lighted place":
"He's drunk now," he said.
"He's drunk every night."
"What did he want to kill himself for?"
"How should I know."
"How did he do it?"
"He hung himself with a rope."
"Who cut him down?"
"His niece."
"Why did they do it?"
"Fear for his soul."
"How much money has he got?" "He's got plenty."
"He must be eighty years old."
"Anyway I should say he was eighty."
"I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock.  What kind of hour is that to go to bed?"
"He stays up because he likes it."
"He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me."
"He had a wife once too."
"A wife would be no good to him now."
"You can't tell. He might be better with a wife."
"His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down."
"I know." "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing."
"Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling.  Even now, drunk. Look at him."
"I don't want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work."
. . .
"Another," said the old man.
"No. Finished." The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.
The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip. The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity."

I'm now sitting at a table about the size of a table I set at near the El Mirador hospital in Palm Springs.  It was in a Starbucks, sort of.  That is, the Starbucks was actually inside the lobby of the hospital -- a very nice setup for those waiting for someone or for a ride.  I sat there for perhaps an hour reading a book, waiting for a doctor to be done conducting some procedure on Susan.  I had no thoughts of suicide -- still don't.  If (I still have difficulty thinking "when") I lose Susan, I may check out the Starbucks near me.  I won't use the drive-thru but will go inside and see if it will be a clean well-lighted place, good enough to sit and drink coffee for an hour our two.

Years ago when I was going to college and paying my way, largely, by working for the Teamsters, someone told me the story of a fellow who retired, had someone take him to an inlet of the Pacific Ocean every day.  He had a lunch pail and a fishing pole.  He cast his line out and then opened his pail and took out a bottle.  By the end of the day he was drunk, and someone came to get him.  Day after day it was the same until he died.   I never heard how old the man was.   Sounds like he could have been an existentialist.

Hemingway's old man was deaf.  I'd rather be deaf than lose clarity of mind as Susan has.  I discussed with Susan the idea of reneging slightly on her plug-pulling plans.  She could get kidney dialysis.  I'd be happy to take her for that.  She'd gain clarity of mind, but she stuck with her original plan to give it all up.  She has gone on for years getting weaker and sicker.  She's tired and wants there to be an end.  Not just that, she has an extremely high degree of faith and experiences no doubts about "being with the Lord after death."  So it isn't like the old man hanging himself in a Hemingway notion of existential despair.  Susan has been responsible -- more than responsible.  She has done everything the doctors asked and prescribed so that she could have a new liver and live a long time, but when they said they couldn't operate and that beyond that their tests had given her kidney failure, she decided she had done enough.  A person desperate to live as long as possible might opt for kidney dialysis, but she isn't desperate.  She is a physical wreck.  Whether she could even endure the being lifted into a wheel chair, taken to a dialysis place, waiting in a wheel chair, enduring the process, put back in a wheel chair and driven home is doubtful.   She's content to wait here in the hospital bed the hospice people provided, have me feed her as much as she can manage, and wait. 

As for me, I don't drink and so won't experience any alcohol-induced despair.  I do read biographies of poets, which is depressing enough.    Auden, in the one I'm reading now, made it to age 67.  He died in Vienna.  A Syrian doctor reported Auden saying "'My mind still seems to function, thank God, as it should, but my body gets tired very easily.  His diagnosis -- a weak heart, whatever that means.'  Shortly afterwards, at the close of summer, he wrote three lines that may constitute his last poem:

    He still loves life
    But O O O O how he wishes
    The Good Lord would take him."

". . . Some friends and acquaintances in New York and Oxford, who knew how miserable Auden had been, speculated whether he had killed himself either deliberately or incidentally with alcohol and pills. . . A limited autopsy was performed and indicated that he had died of heart failure.  There is no evidence of a fatal overdose, intentional or otherwise; and perhaps the speculation arose because Auden in his last years often volunteered the remark that he had never contemplated suicide, with an insistence which made some of his friends doubtful."

I skipped ahead in Richard Davenport-Hines' biography of Auden to see how Auden died.  I didn't read enough to have the entire event in context, but from what I read Auden was taking "pills" and also, like the old man in Hemingway's short story, drinking.  Lots of people slip away under those circumstances. 

I wonder, if Auden's mind was not functioning well, whether he would have rationalized his way to suicide?  Perhaps not if he was as religious at the end as his three-line poem suggests.  Susan is that religious.  I think I'm okay as well, but maybe I don't need to worry about that for awhile -- plenty of time, most likely, to find a clean well-lighted place of my own.

No comments: