Rock Solid Wife

Things to tell my wife before I die | Non-Fiction | Fresh Soup

“Rock Solid Wife” was written in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, when all of humanity was living in fear of the lethal virus. During those volatile days, I was also terrified, but as always, I made a point of being frightened of something completely different. This story was first broadcast on the podcast “Israel Story”, and is now appearing in print for the first time. To celebrate the occasion, my good friend Yitzhak Ben Aharon contributed a special illustration in which Shira and I look a little holier than usual.

Since the plague broke out, I’ve finally been able to imagine my own death. It’s not that I didn’t try before, but every time I lay in bed, shut my eyes, and tried to envision my final breaths, something always went wrong. If I pictured losing control of my car on the highway, for example, drifting between lanes with my wheels locking up at 60 mph while hostile drivers honked at me furiously—in the end, seconds before the crash, my car would slide onto the shoulder, and although there was a lot of drama and airbags inflating, I somehow always came out of it alive. And it wasn’t just car wrecks. There was everything: terrorist attacks, violent skirmishes with the neighbors, an on-air heart attack in the middle of a cultural show on public access television. However bad I tried to make it—in the end I always survived. Some of the visions ended with me being interviewed, my hair rumpled, on the evening news. In others I would wake up in hospital and my son would fall on me with hugs. But all the incidents ended, despite my genuine efforts, with no casualties.

And then came the Coronavirus and sorted everything out. Now I can close my eyes every night when I go to bed and visualize myself being rushed to hospital with severe respiratory distress. The few exhausted doctors still remaining in the crowded ER have gone off the deep end completely. My wife politely asks a young bleary-eyed doctor to examine me, explaining that I’m high-risk because I have asthma. The doctor gives her a vacant stare. He’s thinking about something else. Maybe what his own death will look like when the time comes. Or a shower. I try to smile—I read somewhere that when people smile they arouse empathy, and that’s why conmen smile a lot—so I put on my most charming grin. If only this child-doctor would glance in my direction he would immediately see into my humanity, and the smile on my ashen face would remind him of an uncle he loved as a child, who died in a diving accident. But he doesn’t. He’s looking at something else. He’s looking at a hairy giant with a receding hairline who’s standing at the nurse’s station yelling like a madman. I gather from his bellows that he’s been waiting over three hours for someone to examine his father. The older nurse at the station asks him to cool down. Instead of answering her, the hairy giant lights a cigarette. A short, neckless security guard rushes over and tells him to put it out, and the hairy giant says he will, just as soon as a doctor sees his father and not one second sooner. My wife tries to catch the child-doctor’s attention but he ignores her and marches over to the giant and his father. I can feel that no matter how hard I try, I can’t take any air into my lungs. It’s like pushing at a locked door. I’ve known this sensation since childhood, I remember every detail of the asthma attacks. But back then there was always a tiny bit of air that did get in. And the doctors used to care. I look up at my wife. She’s crying, which drives me mad. My death is within spitting distance, I’ve already accepted that. Any minute now I’ll be gone. But what’s with the tears? Why do I have to leave the wonderful life I had like this: no sun, no blue sky, a hairy giant screaming and smoking in my face, and my beloved wife crying? Death is supposed to be like the season finale in the TV series of my life, except that actually, since you’re dead, the next season never happens. And who wants a series’ very last scene to show a weeping family in a crowded, disgruntled emergency room? I say ‘family’ even though my son isn’t here. He’s at home playing Fortnite. Or at least that’s what he was doing when they took me to the hospital. I asked him not to come with us because I was afraid he’d pick up something in the ER. The Coronavirus era is not a good time to get sick, even if you are a kid. I’m glad he’s not here to see me finished. If he were, and my wife cried, he would start crying too: when it comes to emotions, he’s a follower. And then the whole business would get really heavy. I want to tell my wife something to make her happy, to distract her, something to make her stop crying. But I can’t talk anymore. I’m dead. And then I can’t fall asleep all night.

I open it up with my wife. I know that Coronavirus days are not the best time to open things up, but this whole business is burning inside me like a hemorrhoid and it has to be clarified. “That’s it?” she asks, “that’s what’s bothering you? Not that you’re dying young, or that you’re leaving behind a wife and a child and a rabbit, just the fact that I’m crying?” I try to explain that the Coronavirus, my defective lungs, the collapse of the healthcare system, the hairy giant smoking in the ER—all these are a given. There’s nothing I can do about them. But her crying is a choice. And as far as I’m concerned it’s an extremely troubling one. 

“Okay,” says my wife in her seemingly-accepting voice, the one she always tries out on muzzled dogs who bark at her on the street. “So what you’re really saying is that, as part of our planning for worst-case scenarios, you would like me to work on this? To come prepared, so that when you die right in front of me in the emergency room, I won’t cry?”

I nod excitedly. This is a rare moment. Most of the time she doesn’t really get what I want. 

“So if I promise you right now that, no matter what happens, I won’t cry, and instead I’ll… I don’t know… I’ll just give you a wink?” she wonders. I explain that she doesn’t have to wink, she can just hold my hand and be cool and collected. Like those bereaved mothers who appear on TV to demand that we not give in to terrorism. You can see that it’s difficult for them, that they’re torn apart on the inside, but they project strength, they keep up appearances. It’s much easier to leave when you know you’re leaving behind you a rock solid wife. “No problem,” my wife nods, “if it’ll make things easier for you, I’ll do it. No tears. Done deal.”

That night I lie awake in bed again. My wife is asleep, I can hear her regular breaths next to me, and when I close my eyes it’s all there waiting: the pain, the flickering florescent bulbs over my bed, the air refusing to enter my lungs. I can hear the hairy giant yelling and the older nurse trying to calm him down. I struggle to take in air, pushing the door as hard as I can, but it’s locked. Hovering above me, my beautiful wife looks around for the doctor. She knows there’s no chance of finding him but she still tries. I’m running out of air and she senses it. She looks at me, and in her eyes I can see it’s the end. She takes my hand and puts her face close to it. She is strong, like the moms on TV but much more peaceful. Her green eyes say: It’s a shame you’re leaving, buddy, but everything will be just fine here after you’re gone. I fall asleep.

Translated by Jessica Cohen