The Hell at the Gateway to Heaven

Photograph © 2001 Mignon Naegeli

You expected a life not to be this way. You met your knight in shining armor, and he turned out to be an angry dreamer. He made you doubt your talent, and you gave up, regradless of rave newspaper reviews! He gave you a child you didn’t really want.

You saved his life. You loved him despite his irresponsible political views. He stayed with you, depended on you, until he died in your arms.

You lived as well as life could give you. The sun became your savior; never enough! On a bench in the snowy mountains; on a beach at the lake, even before the season; any ray during a stroll in the park, the streets, woods, or dark corners.

Then came the islands. Escaping from the harsh winter months, you took your Love island hopping until you found the right people, at the right place, on Tenerife. You assumed the designated paradise would grant eternal happiness.

One day, during a stay in your home town, your man became gravely ill. My Female called his family physician, who told her that her father had cancer throughout his body. Way to go, doctor chess-playing friend…. There was no cancer. Pulmonary and arthritic issues where diagnosed at the hospital where he was rushed. When my Female hurriedly arrived from the United States, you felt so much relief that you immediately fetched him a fatty sausage from the cafeteria, something he certainly wasn’t supposed to eat.

Your Love confided to the Female when she visited him for the last time at the hospital. Never had he been as honest—without the drunken melodramatics she had encountered throughout her life. At one point he talked about his youth, about loving a jewish girl; just feeling sorry for you. No, not so sure … sounded more like a wishful hallucination. He did love you—called you Mama—would have died for you. Well you know, he actually did. He had realized that running is a choice, not a solution.

Then, he had no choice. Professor Nager and his team’s good care and advice of frequent checkups could have swayed you to settle down in your town. You decided to return to the island.

 

Their final goodbyes

The last time my Female spoke to him was when he called to please have her cross the Atlantic again to clear their abandoned apartment of forty years.

Of course she did. By coincidence, a childhood friend was also taking care of the affairs of her own parents, who lived on the same floor. The two women, full of sorrow, drank cheap wine and smoked American cigarettes until late into the night.

The next day a charity collected the treasures of a lifetime. My Female then drove to the house near Lake Zurich, where she was warmly welcomed by the Wolfman’s parents. The next day she flew back to Atlanta. A friend with an F-150 pickup truck was ready to give a lift to her and her bulging luggage full of her fathers writings.

You called her monthly, but her father was never on the phone. You didn’t want to have a phone—needed to go seven floors down to the public telephone—promised each time he would be on the next call.

Months later, in August, it was on the Female’s birthday. Again, it was your voice only. A few hours later, you called once more, at five AM, August 10, 1996. He had died. You had already dispatched his body to be cremated on Gran Canaria, the ashes were to be sent back to Tenerife by the time the Female could be there—alone. Wolfman wasn’t welcome. Strange. My Humans know you suffered … how much, we can only imagine.

My Female visited you as often as possible. One time, a receptionist of Iberia in Madrid upgraded her ticket. Sitting in first class made her jittery … awaiting a security guard to escort her to her booked seat. Nothing! Later, she devoured the sea bass and champagne with pleasure and was one of the first to exit the plane. You didn’t come to the airport, but you were standing on the balcony when my Female arrived. Made her feel good.

You decided to stay in Los Christianos. It lasted three more years. A friend had a phone installed in your place, but when you suffered a stroke in 1998, there was no help. A neighbor who had joined your daily stray-cat feeding routine tried to reach you the next morning. When they found you, there was too much damage to make you totally well again. You recovered somewhat in the local hospital. One of the physicians spoke English and explained the situation to my Humans. No life support was necessary. But an ugly friend accused my Female of letting you become a vegetable—out of spite! Then there was Annie, a true human, who found a place for you near her home.

In January 1999 you were repatriated by REGA, the Swiss Air Rescue. Apparently, you were content at the assisted-living facility. Living on the third floor, among the most severe cases, wasn’t easy, but the head nurse, her team, and even your roommate made the transition more comfortable. Nothing you ever expected, but you could accept it. When the Female found a flight a couple of weeks later she brought a family album. Then was the only time you spoke, “Dass du’s hesch phalted.” [That you kept it.]

In the four years you spent in Littau, the most memorable event for my Humans was a Christmas celebration. While everybody quietly listened to a rather boring music performance, you started singing. No words, but with a very loud, strong voice, shocking the whole congregation. My totally Americanized Female gave you a standing ovation—one of your two Warholian fifteen minutes—the only one you lived to experience.

You showed your strength at other times, proving what your live was about. You didn’t want to walk again. The therapy session was a disaster. You screamed and howled like a trapped animal while the therapist coaxed you to walk the bars. You did it, but you won. They gave up. Later you went to speech therapy, only to be sent back: hopelessly uncooperative. Again—you won.

My Humans often wondered: You still read the papers while sitting next to the floor cat…. You shrugged your shoulders…. Were you afraid to be sent back to your former life, solitude, uncertainty? After your Love’s death, you had cancelled your insurance, had quit taking your blood pressure medication—which my Humans did not find out until after the terrible ordeal.

For a while you seemed comfortable, enjoying Annie’s weekly visits with Baldur, her gentle long-haired black retriever, an old family friend bringing his white mutt (until his wife unsuccessfully tried to compel you to come to their home for a visit, when you did not feel like it). Others didn’t visit you because they couldn’t see you ’like that.’

You had regulars: the Female’s cousin with his Bernese mountain dog Natasha. You didn’t like his (now former) wife. One day, you yanked her goldilocks while walking the beautiful trail through the petting zoo—which still existed then—with goats, donkeys, chickens, a bird sanctuary, and a vegetable garden.

Things changed at the facility. The gentle director, who encouraged you to play the piano one handed, was suddenly gone. Some of the staff followed, getting replaced by coldhearted professionals. The gateway to heaven became the hell before the gate. Not long after a visit by your only child in 2004, you gave up. They had invaded your privacy, that wasn’t much anyway. Your last pride was your beautiful hair. They cut it. You starved yourself to death.

A kind nurse called the Female, first telling her that you were near your end. A few hours later, that you finally had crossed the rainbow bridge. The Wolfman was on a trip somewhere in Maryland. Not good. I sensed that we four legged creatures would soon be boarded by Dr. Hilla. It’s ok. Not home, though.

You did get a second fifteen minutes, even more. Some of your friends didn’t approve of the obituary in your hometown paper, in which my Humans—respecting your wishes against a funeral service—announced that they would instead hold a vigil with friends in front of the painting Hans Erni had created of you in 1942.

Your remains where already floating down the rivers, toward the Atlantic Ocean where you reunited with the love of your live.

Color photograph of two white mute swans (Cygnus olor) facing each other, with the bases of their necks pressed together at a body angle of about 120 degrees, forming an inverted V of water in front of them from the viewer's perspective. With their beaks also near each other, their necks and heads are about to form the outline of a heart.Photograph © 2001 Mignon Naegeli

Basquiat

To Leonard Cohen …
You Want it Darker.

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