I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Things Few People Know About Me #4: My Most Regreted Words

I worked late tonight. It was almost dark when I left, pitch black a half hour later when I arrived at the graveyard. I placed some tulips on Laura's grave. It was a little tricky to find in the dark. If it weren't for the little trinkets placed at the marker by her friend Anke I would have had to resort to attempting to read the little placards by the light of my cell phone.

I didn't stay long. It was dark and cold, and I had the galleys to Bitterwood in my car waiting to be proofread. I've told my publisher I'd get my notes to him by next Monday. I keep hearing this ticking clock in my skull now. I went to a restaurant and ate some hot wings while I proofed another two chapters. All of it had a very familiar feel.

Because the last time I spoke to Laura when she was awake, I had a copy of Bitterwood in my hands. This was back in May; Solaris had told me in March they wanted the book but it needed to be expanded. I waited a few months while the details of the deal were hammered out, but at the end of April I printed a copy of the book and started a read through making intensive notes, trying to figure out where I was going to put 40,000 new words into my tightly plotted novel. Of course, right around this time was when Laura started getting really, really sick. Every other day there was some new crisis. So, I hadn't made much progress when we made out last trip to the emergency room. I took along the copy of the manuscript. My hospital experience was that there would be long hours of waiting while they had Laura off for x-rays and exams. We went to the ER at night. They checked Laura into a room after midnight. They were having trouble getting her oxygen levels to a safe zone. Then, they put her on an oxygen mask and she started improving. I went home that night and slept, then went back the next morning early and spent the day sitting in her hospital room. It was a nice room, one one of the upper floors of the hospital, with a terrific view. The room was also private, unlike the last room she'd had which she'd shared with a person with a very concerned, and very large, and very loud family. We joked that the room was better than some of the hotels we'd stayed at.

I spent a lot of that day reading Bitterwood. Laura's friends and family came by in a steady stream. I'd sit in the corner and read while people talked. My focus that day was really more on the book than on her.

Around 6:30 that night her friend Cheryl came buy and planned to stay the evening. Laura seemed to be doing pretty well. She hadn't eaten anything all day, but her oxygen levels were just barely below normal; it seemed like the oxygen mask was going to make a difference. I wanted to leave. I had spent all but maybe 7 of the previous 24 hours in the hospital. I told Laura I was going to go eat, take a shower, get some rest. They had actually offered Laura the opportunity to be discharged that night, since her vital signs were okay. It seemed like the immediate crisis had passed. She decided she'd feel better if she stayed one more night in the hospital, just to be sure the oxygen mask was doing the trick. I told her I'd come back in the morning to bring her home. She be on oxygen from then on... it would be an adjustment, but it wasn't the end of the world.

I left... and went to my Writer's Group, which always met Wednesday's at 7:00. I didn't tell Laura I was going to the group; I told her I was going to eat, then go home. It seemed okay to tell her I was leaving because I was hungry and tired. It seemed shameful to tell her I was leaving because I wanted to go hang out with other writers and talk about writing for a few hours rather than sit around in that hospital room for another evening. It wasn't a straight-up lie, only a lie of ommission, but it currently stands as the thing I most regret saying, or not saying.

It's not that Laura valued me for my honesty. I think, really, I was often useful to her when I was there to lie to her. Doctors would come in with bad news and once the doctor left the room I'd be able to spin it into good news. The doctors would tell her that a tumor had grown by 2 millimeters, for instance. I'd show her how tiny that was; if her tumors only crept along at millimeters per month, she had a long time left, I assured her. There was a long line of medical report over the years that kept telling her, in more clinical terms, "You're screwed!" I was there to read the same reports and look Laura straight in the eye and say, "You know, they are paid to be pessimists. This really isn't bad news at all. You're going to beat this thing." And sometimes, I meant it. Sometimes, I believed it myself. But, a lot of the time, I knew she was losing the battle, and I still chose to tell her she was winning. I don't regret those lies at all.

But, I wish I'd stayed that night. Or, I wish I'd just said, "I want to go to my writer's group, then I'm going to eat, then go home. " But instead I acted on my own hidden agenda, ashamed that I had something I wanted to do that evening more than I wanted to spend time with her.

I know, intellectually, that no matter what I did or said that night, Laura still would not be here to share this Valentine's Day with me. But, on a deeper level, I really wonder if I could have changed things, if I'd stuck around and held her hand through that night, and told her everything would be okay, if maybe she would have pulled through, probably not this long, but maybe a few more days, a week or two more, a month. I'm told that she got very frightened that night, that as her vital signs started to decline she was scared, asking if there was hope. I wished I'd been there to tell her yes--even if there wasn't. I wish my last lie to her had been one I could be proud of.

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