Images courtesy of the author
The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die
— Matsuo Bashō (translated by William George Aston)
Donnie took his last breath March 10, 2019. The November before he passed I threw him a banger of a birthday party. I went all out for the event by inviting all of Donnie’s family and friends and some of mine too. I decorated the house with blue and white for the NY Yankees. I wore a shirt that said “Fuck Cancer.” There was tons of alcohol going around and food that was catered. I even hired a local comedian to come entertain us, and it paid off, because it was the first time that Donnie had laughed in months and it would be the last time that I would see him laugh while alive.
When Donnie was diagnosed, he quit drinking alcohol immediately except for two occasions, once when his sister came to visit and on the night of his last birthday party. I hadn’t realized how much alcohol was a part of Donnie’s personality until he was sick. I didn’t realize that Donnie was unable to communicate his feelings without alcohol or that Donnie preferred not to talk about difficult things unless he had been drinking. On the night of his birthday Donnie was more like the Donnie we all knew: fun and expressive. Even though Donnie didn’t throw drinks back like he would have when healthy, he was circulating the house with a glass of Evan Williams and feeling good.
After everyone left Donnie and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. Something we hadn’t done in what seemed like forever. Donnie opened up and told me how much he hated what was happening and how he wasn’t actually scared of dying but he was scared of what to say to loved ones. He said that he didn’t want nor know how to say goodbye. Donnie told me what he thought that I should do with our home after he died and he said that he thought that I should remain in New York to raise the kids. After our discussion, Donnie and I lay in bed hand-in-hand. Then Donnie surprised me by taking his hand and placing it between my legs for the first time since his diagnosis. His diagnosis had instantaneously changed our roles from husband and wife, parents, confidants, friends, lovers, and drinking buddies, to nurse-patient. I had become the caretaker and the giver of information to his family, friends, and coworkers, and I had become the arranger of appointments.
The person who is the caretaker also becomes responsible for anyone else who cares about the sick person’s doubts, suggestions, and questions. People say, “Are you sure the doctor is any good? I mean have you tried others?” and “Have you thought about a second opinion?” They say, “Have you tried CBD oil?” and “My friend’s boyfriend’s cousin’s friend beat cancer by eating only vegetables, wheat germ, and a half a bottle cap of apple-cider vinegar a day—have you tried that?” They send emails signed “Donnie is in our prayers.”' They send follow-up texts that say, “Let me know what you think of the (thirty-page) article I just emailed you—when you have time of course.” They say, “Just be thankful that you have medical insurance,” and they say, “It’s all about attitude and Donnie has a lot to live for. I know he’s going to be okay.” They call and ask, “Have you watched X documentary or X movie?” Old high school friends send messages through Facebook Messenger hyping the vitamins they sell as a side hustle. They say, “be strong” and “stay positive.” The ones that fight the hardest to change the outcome are the first ones to say, “Everything happens for a reason” when there is nothing else to be done.
Anyway, when Donnie put his hands between my legs it threw me off, I had forgotten about my previous life as a wanted woman. Without my consent, life had changed me into someone new, someone I didn’t even know, so instead of embracing Donnie like I used to in my previous life, I sadly and regretfully confess that I felt sick to my stomach, utterly repulsed. As portrayed in the movie Philadelphia when Tom Hanks, portraying a man with AIDS, sits down in Denzel Washington’s office and Denzel is repulsed, even though AIDS is in no way contracted in this manner. In my head, I pictured Donnie’s cum cancerous and slithering inside me slowly. A poisonous snake even. An evil serpent hissing and traveling through my vagina passing through my uterus, my fallopian tubes, and as it traveled it spewed its cancerous venom, infecting each organ as it slithered through. I pictured my insides cancer-ridden, all my female organs shutting down and my entire body folding over onto the floor in pain, in a child’s pose rocking back and forth crying and saying, why me? As sometimes Donnie did when the pain was unbearable and when it was just him and me.
Shortly after the night I denied my dying husband sex, Donnie was never able to make it upstairs to our bedroom again. The downstairs man cave became his permanent dwelling, and would be where he lived out the rest of his days, with the exception of a few trips to the emergency room. The room that Donnie would leave this world in was his favorite room in the house. It was decorated with all his sports memorabilia and everything perceived as masculine.
One evening, I sat next to Donnie on his hospital bed centered in the man cave and tried to execute what I had seen in the movies or on some stupid show. I said, “Donnie if you need to go—you can. Me and the kids are going to be okay, so if you’re waiting for permission, know that you are loved and we will see you again someday. I’m pretty sure this is what I’m supposed to say.” No response. I was sure this conversation was supposed to go more sentimentally. I tried something else. I said, “When you get to the other side, I just want to know that you’re safe, okay? Do you think that there is some kind of sign you could send me or something?” I felt dumb. Donnie just sat there blankly. I put my hand on his hand and sat there for a while, and eventually said, “I’m going to grab you some applesauce, maybe you can get some applesauce down today?” As I reached the door of the man cave to exit, Donnie blurted out in he loudest voice he was now capable of projecting, “BBQ smoke!” I turned back, “What—you smell smoke?” “No—I will come to you through BBQ smoke when I get to heaven!” I repeated, “BBQ smoke?” He shook his head yes with a funny, crooked little smile. I chuckled a little and said, “Okay, you crazy nut. I’m glad some things never change, now I’m going to go grab that applesauce. BBQ smoke.”
THE GOOD DOCTOR
Once when Donnie had to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy done for initial staging, the gastroenterologist was about the same age as Donnie. The doctor and my husband hit it off right off the bat. They were chatting and engaging in friendly sports banter during our appointments.
At one of the appointments, Donnie boasted about how he and some of his buddies were once thrown out of the Red Sox stadium, which seemed to really please the young doctor. At our following appointment the doctor brought in another doctor and said, “This is the guy that I was telling you about. The guy who got kicked out of Fenway!” The doctors and Donnie all laughed wholeheartedly.
Through conversation the doctor learned that Donnie had never been to Yankee Stadium, even though Donnie was an avid Yankees fan and it was a lifelong dream of his. At our next appointment the doctor surprised Donnie with baseball tickets for our entire family. Donnie told the doctor, “I just don’t know what to say, man.” The doctor replied, “You don’t have to say anything.” I began to cry and my husband got choked up. After a few moments Donnie collected himself, stood up, reached his hand out to shake the good doctor’s hand and managed to say, “Thank you.”
On September 1, 2018, me, Donnie, and the kids drove to NYC. We watched the New York Yankees play the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. I remember Donnie being in awe of the stadium as we walked around it. I remember the smell of hot dogs and humidity in the air. I remember Donnie obsessing about getting to the stadium early in case they were giving out free gifts. The gifts were Yankee pullovers, which my kids and I still wear to this day, sometimes in unison on his birthday in remembrance. I remember Donnie catching a practice ball and handing it over to our four-year-old son slowly and precisely like he was a surgeon in the operating room. Donnie bent down, smiling, extending his arms out slowly with his hands cupping the baseball and he said, “This is for you, son. This is to you from your dad.” I remember Aaron Judge hitting a home run and the Yankees winning the game by one. I remember bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home from NYC, but most of all I remember the kindness of one human’s actions and how it lifted Donnie’s spirits that one day in September. Sometimes I find myself looking back through Donnie’s Facebook posts, and to that specific day. The day that his lifelong dream of watching a game at Yankee stadium came true, he simply wrote a post that said, “Today was a great day!” I just love that.
Life is too important to be taken seriously. — Oscar Wilde
I didn’t know that Seth Rogen’s movie Sausage Party, starring an animated hot dog named Frank, was a critique of religion until I gulped down some of Donnie’s medical marijuana with a glass of wine that flowed out of a black box sitting on my kitchen counter surrounded by a heaping pile of bills and sympathy cards mostly decorated with pastels and white birds, with words on the outside and checks falling from the inside. I scrutinized the movie thinking, nothing like a little phallicism to wash down your hot dog-ma. Ha! Okay—not funny. I am clearly no Seth Rogen, but I think that Donnie would have thought my lame joke was funny, and if he didn’t, I would have been able to tell because he would have said “That’s funny” instead of actually laughing, which everyone knows is a lie. It’s just something people say when they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Speaking of sausages, my dad (also pretty new to widowhood) and I traveled across the states for my fortieth birthday visiting family along the way. He came from Nevada and me from New York. We met up in Colorado and then drove back to the East Coast together for quite a family adventure. My dad brought his “new friend” and these fucking raw sausages with him from state to state. There are no rules that I am aware of for traveling sausages, but there are rules that are different for male and female widows regarding “new friends.” When male widows date again people say things like “Good for him” and “It’s about time. He really needs a good woman to keep him in line.” When female widows start to date again people ask in a hushed voice, “How long after her husband died did she move on?” They emphasize “move on.” They say, “I’m not one to judge, but shouldn’t she be focusing on her kids?” and regardless of the time frame they say, “It just seems a little bit too soon.” Anyway, I am not sure which is more entertaining: the fact that my dad’s “new friend” was the same age as my sister and that my kids kept calling her grandma, or that most of our family that we visited across the states were either vegan or vegetarian, and my dad just kept pushing these gray, hot-mess sausages on everyone.
The traveling sausages, much like widows, are messy inside, consisting of whatever preservatives and BS they have been stuffed with by humans; held together by a thin, see-through exterior for everyone to examine and poke. As for these traveling sausages, they would finally get their day in the sun, as they say. When visiting my uncle in Nebraska, my dad started up with his sausage peddling, and my uncle replied, “Sure—I’ll fry these bad boys up right now.” A gesture that lit up my dad’s face. My uncle pointed at me as he poured us some red wine. He said, “I was planning on grilling this old lady a birthday meal anyway.” I laughed and went to sit down outside. I was drinking my glass of cabernet and admiring the greenery of Nebraska and I was just feeling overall thankful that I was surrounded by family—not just family, but family who didn’t pry about “how I was really doing”—when a familiar smell entered my nose. My mind wandered, and I thought about a trip me, Donnie, and the kids took to Zion National Park in Utah. I thought that I had booked a room with a little kitchen, but I had misread something and so we had coolers filled with food but no kitchenette. So Donnie, being the BBQ king, came to our rescue by cooking every meal on the grill. Pancakes, French dips, pizza, you name it. In the midst of this memory, I started waving my hands back-and-forth because my face and body were engulfed in barbeque smoke. I got up and moved to a seat where there was no smoke, but was soon covered. I moved once more and the same thing, so I got up and went over to where my uncle was grilling. I said, “What are you making anyway, besides sausages?” We both chuckled and he said, “I’m about to start bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers.” He looked at my face which was now covered with tears and said, “Oh my god, are you okay, Corrie, do you not like jalapeño poppers? I can make something—” I waved the smoke from my face. My uncle was still completely confused when my cries turned to laughter. I stepped away from the BBQ grill and out of the smoke into the light coming down from the open Nebraska sky. I bent slightly backwards and cupped my hands over my mouth as an amplifier. I then yelled the most profound thing I could think of; I yelled, Shots!
Corrie Clements is originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. She currently resides in central New York State with her kids, fur-babies, and beloved duck Donald. This is her first publication. She is currently working on a full-length memoir based on “The Traveling Sausage.” She would like to give a shout-out to her children and muses Ty, Ky, Caity-cat, Bella, and Jacob.