I stayed by her bed for three days as she died. The sides of the metal hospital bed were finally pulled up, to keep her in, to keep her safe. The metal slats of the window blinds clicked together and then against the pane of the glass in the air conditioning that kept her room cold, cold. The night before she sank into death, she had even lost the ability to write, our last form of communication. And around ten o’clock that evening, she needed me, she needed something, she needed. And I couldn’t tell what. By that time, I had been there so long, and so long near her, that I smelled like her. I had become her hands for so long, I knew them like my own. Her hair was matted against the back of her head, and she looked panicked that night, for hours. The sound of the oxygen machine, its ceaseless rhythm, sank into a rhythm with my own breath, or mine sank into a rhythm with that of the machine. The nurses knew. They knew things I could never know, about how her body was shutting down. I thought she would survive. Surely she would.
For five hours that night, Nina was alive again, strong and ferocious and manic. Struggling to tell me something, her arms stretched straight up into the sky toward the ceiling pockmarked with tiny holes, her eyes so wide, looking past me and through me. She was wailing and looking up, like a pilgrim who has had a vision. This went on for hours, and I got used to it. It stopped scaring me. “Nina,” I whispered to her, leaning down to her ear, “I feel like I’m failing you at this important moment. I know you are trying to tell me something, and I don’t know what.” She moved her arms to her heart, over and over again. Suddenly, without any warning, she opened her arms again and grabbed me toward her, pulling me up and over the bed rails with a strength long since gone from her arms, but now back. She held me the tightest I have ever been held, my torso on top of hers, the bottom half of my body dangling over the metal rail. She held me.
Rest in peace, Nina. I remember you every day, and especially on this anniversary of your death.