Earlier, before I left him in his pre-op recliner, a surgical nurse issued
him a tall brown paper sack with Jacobson scrawled in black marker
across the front. She flicked her hand toward it as she turned to leave,
closing the curtain behind her. It was for his clothes. And I was to help.
He tossed his boots into it with a thunk and crumpled his T-shirt
into a basketball, which he shot from an imaginary free-throw line. He
stripped off his underwear.
“Seriously?” I asked. “You can’t leave your drawers on?” The surgeon
wasn’t operating anywhere near there.
“Believe me,” he said, “I’ve tried.” And his glance toward the curtain
said it all. VA hospital nurses are a harassed and hardened breed.
I unballed the socks he handed me and added them to the sack. He
slid his arms through the sleeves of the papery blue surgery gown and
flailed around his waist for the ties.
“Here,” I said. “Lemme get those.”
I tied two bows, and he stepped back to give me the full view. “I don’t
care what anyone says,” he said and licked a finger that he ran across an
eyebrow. “I wear this well.”
Two nurses returned, pointing him to the recliner, and covered him
with a thin white blanket from the waist down while they began prep-
ping his IV. They hustled me out and pulled the curtain closed one last
time, asking, “Do you know your way to the surgery lounge?” I hoisted
my backpack over my shoulder. This was our third surgery for the same
ear that had been blasted by an IED in Iraq. Yes. I knew the way.
Now, as I get ready to leave the funeral home, the director hands me
a similar paper bag. Nearly identical to the one from the hospital. The
medical examiner who autopsied my husband’s body has filled it with
his clothes. Jacobson, B. is scrawled across the top in black marker.
“Are you waiting for your father?” was a common question I got
asked in the surgery waiting room. “No, my husband,” I’d say. And then,
to clarify that I wasn’t married to someone twice my age, I added, “He
served in Iraq—well, still serves.” None of his injuries eliminated him
from a deployment rotation schedule, so he was always somewhere in
the process of going back to war. Instead of making small talk, I usually sketched new layouts for the garden or our farm’s pasture. One year
during a surgery wait I added fruits—apple, pear, and cherry trees, as
well as blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. The trick would be keeping the chickens out. During another surgery wait I devised a new rotational grazing system for our lot of horses, goats, sheep, and llamas. But