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Edmund Weisberg

Your Voice in My Head

 

Your voice 

Was already

Indelibly,

Never ineffably,

Etched in my mind.

 

I didn’t need 

A reminder,

But it would have been nice.

 

When you died

Two years ago

I knew that your voice

Was among my

Landline

Messages. 

A lifeline,

Somehow.

One that I wasn’t

Prepared to use,

Seek,

Grasp.

It was too

Difficult then

For my life,

You

With no lifeline.

 

I realized 

Not long after

That your voice

Was also on my

Smartphone. 

Not so smart.

 

For me to throw it

In anger.

An emotion

That you modeled well.

 

So well, that my past

Outbursts

I associate with you,

One way or another.

 

At 10, kicking a hole in my wall,

Told 

To wait until my father got home.

Throwing a ping-pong paddle 

After a teen tantrum,

Losing to you in an epic comeback.

Breaking a glass 

Racquetball court door,

Around the same time period.

You weren’t there,

But you were called by the athletic club

To pay for it.

Your insurance

Paid,

But did I?

You talked to me,

Explained.

Taught me the lesson

That I’d mostly remember

But was it the proper

Channeling of emotions

That I learned?

Anger is a key emotion.

Unprocessed,

Not acted on

Appropriately,

It can linger,

Fester,

Reverberate.

For years.

 

Anger.

But humor, too.

A childish, impish

Delight

When we worked

On household repairs,

You’d hammer your thumb

And utter your favorite

Expletive.

Son of a bitch.

The expression

Screams you

To me.

Scratching your foot

With my toenail

While wrestling,

Stubbing a toe,

Pitching a fit,

Throwing something,

Anything.

You got to see

Many years ago

That in this respect,

You had made

Your imprint.

Son of a bitch.

 

I associate my anger with you,

But I’m not angry with you.

Not for a long time.

I blamed you more

For the dissolution

Of your marriage

To my mother,

But age,

If not wisdom

Or maturation,

Helped to add nuance.

 

I was angry about

What I didn’t get from you,

At times,

Dwelling,

Struggling to understand,

Through the intervening years,

Between protracted youth

And into middle age.

 

I imagined

That there were lessons,

Means, communications

That I would have

Conveyed better 

To my children

Had I sired any.

 

Seven months

After you died,

One month,

After my mother

Completed 

A one-month hospital stay,

I was diagnosed 

With likely cardiac sarcoidosis.

Multiple tests ensued.

A gap in care,

As I pursued

Health through a

Functional medicine doctor.

Supplements,

Weight loss,

Looking better, moving faster

But still beset

With arrhythmia,

Bradycardia.

A heart rate

That would qualify me

As a novel Nosferatu.

 

A broken heart?

Of course.

My emotions manifesting

In ill health?

Stress attacking me

At my weakest link?

As in society at large

As a global pandemic,

Exacerbated by

Criminal negligence

At the highest levels

Of soi-disant

Leadership.

You’d be disgusted.

Angry.

 

Nearly two years

After you died,

I went to the hospital

For a pre-procedure

COVID test.

Miscommunications

About registration

Led to confirmation

That my name wasn’t listed

After having waited,

Wasting a half hour.

With a Zoom work meeting looming,

My partner, who you knew

And saw just days before you died,

Waiting, 

I saw that the volume

Of those registering

Would mean an hours-long ordeal,

Sharing space with other

Masked folks,

With varying orders,

And maybe disorders.

I needed the test

To qualify for my implant,

A pacemaker

And defibrillator

That could mean the difference

Between sticking around

For awhile

And possible

Sudden, irrevocable

Cardiac death.

I needed the test.

Hopped up on prednisone,

Though who can prove

If that mattered,

I flung my phone,

With no one in the line of fire.

You might have sympathized

But wouldn’t have wanted 

Me to shoot myself in the foot.

Or anywhere else.

The broken phone

Complicated my day.

As for my data…

I had the procedure

As scheduled.

I learned soon after

That my data

Was irretrievable.

Hadn’t been backed up.

 

As I recover,

Sharing my 2nd 

Birthday anniversary

Without you,

I think of you,

Your voice,

Impact, absence,

And what you’d

Make of how I have fared,

How my sisters have fared,

And this world,

Which you’d scarcely

Recognize,

Or, in some respects,

Want to.

 

I was advised by 

Multiple specialists

That the risks of doing nothing,

Not having the device implanted,

Outweighed the risks of 

Surgery.

I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary,

But the scar tissue

Suggested otherwise.

 

For you, with coronary artery disease

And kidney disease,

You were told that

Another angioplasty

With contrast,

Would weaken your kidneys,

And likely lead to dialysis,

Which you wanted to avoid.

And, in the end, you did.

 

Two years.

There have been losses

You’ve presumably missed.

Your cousin, Buzzy, about 14 months

After you left us,

Bereft us,

Flailing with a shock

That perhaps 

Shouldn’t have shocked.

A few former co-workers of mine,

Leaving prematurely,

That I would have told you about,

Not to mention, 

The scores of Trump virus victims, 

And the continuing 

Climate catastrophe.

You’d be tsking,

Shaking your head,

Given your disgust during the first 

Two Trumpian years.

You would still have managed 

To be more shocked, more appalled.

As so many millions have been,

Though not enough.

 

What would I have done, 

If I still had your voice

On my phone?

 

Obsessed? Compulsively listened?

As my friend Johanna did,

Repeatedly replaying

The outgoing message

Of her betrothed

In the wake of his suicide?

 

Or the way your mother,

Decrepit,

Broken by her baby brother’s death,

The loss of yet another friend,

A lifelong one,

Old age,

Waning will,

Devastation at being the last

Of her nuclear family,

Flipped

Through old photo albums

Until they

Fell apart?

 

Would it have changed the course

Of mourning you?

Processing your loss?

Forging this new

Relationship

With you?

 

Having or not having

The data, your voicemail,

Doesn’t change 

The wretched reality

Of your absence.

 

I still think of you

As here

Reviewing our trials,

Troubles, conflicts.

I see you as vital,

Invulnerable now.

Not when I last

Saw you alive,

Being worked on,

After having gone

Into surgery

With a 10% heart capacity,

And slim chance

To survive,

My baby sister and I

Clinging to one another

And hope,

Our middle sister

On her way to the hospital.

 

After your death

Was called,

I closed your eyes for the final time,

As you did

For your father

Twenty-three years ago.

The eyes of the man

Who taught me to ride a bike,

Look at the world

With a skeptical eye

And still see humor,

Consistently, through his own foibles,

Showing me unconditional love,

Closing your eyes for the final time.

It scars,

Reverberates,

Pierces 

But fails to

Dominate.

I still can recall those images,

But when I think of you,

When I talk to you, 

When I imagine you 

Bemoaning our, my 

Current existence,

I see you as alive.

 

So I won’t be able 

To take your voicemail with me,

But as long as

I’m of relatively

Sound mind,

I’ll take your voice with me.

 

 

 

Edmund Weisberg is the senior science writer in Radiology at Johns Hopkins University. His essays appear in Impakter Magazine, Voices in Bioethics, and the Rutgers Journal of Bioethics, and his poetry, in Literary Yard and Down in the Dirt Magazine. He also authored the children’s picture book While You’re at School. Bienvenue au Danse, Edmund.