The night I asked Suzie to marry me, I took her to our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Palacio. Since we met in Spanish class it took on a more romantic significance than merely being delicious. It was not complicated with border crossings or politics. To a couple from Mississippi, it represented adventure, mystery and interesting possibilities.
After sharing a dessert of cinnamon and honey covered sopapillas with ice cream, I took her to a park at sunset. I knelt down before a park bench and asked her to marry me. She said yes.
In the current world of exotic and spectacular proposals, it seems simple now. There were no fireworks, no skydiving or swimming with dolphins to make it special. It was a man and woman promising to love each other their whole lives, no matter what. I don’t know how you can make that more special.
But on the way home, I pushed my luck and promised her one more thing, that I have lived to regret.
“Well, one thing’s for certain,” I said, digging my hole. “Being a musician, I can’t promise you riches or a mansion, but I can promise that it won’t be boring.” I greatly underestimated how long happily ever after was and similarly overestimated my ability to remain interesting. I had no idea how many times Suzie would remind me, with an arched eyebrow, of my legendary ability to avoid boredom.
I should have saved myself a lot of trouble by promising that I might get old and bald and boring but I would love her longer than I could remember where I put my car keys. But the young have their dreams.
I think I said it to make her laugh. But she didn’t.
“About that,” she said. “I do have one question.”
“Okay,”I answered slowly, wondering where this was going.
“I know it will probably never come to this . . .” She paused.
“Come to what?”
“But if it does come to a choice between me and your music, will you choose me?”
There it was. Plainly asked. A question that had never entered my mind. I was a musician. How could I divide myself into pieces? I paused for a second to think. Then I realized that it was a question of who I loved more, her or music. It was a valid question. And we should answer it now.
“Well,” I said, “hopefully it will never come to such a decision.” I looked over and locked eyes with her. “But if it does, I will absolutely choose you.”
“Okay,” she answered. “I just wanted to hear you say it.”
If just driving home from the hospital was disconcerting, going back to work was downright shocking. In twenty minutes, I drove from a stark, terrifying world of worst-case scenarios back in time to my previous life. It was all waiting there unaffected. Music had been the most important thing in this world. The only thing. Life and death.
Now, it wasn’t.
But it was urgent. We needed the money more than ever. So, my job was to get my mind back in gear in spite of my feelings. Game face on.
Our assignment for the week was a large television music package for a station in Los Angeles. It involved a news producer, a music producer, three arrangers, three keyboard programmers, a full orchestra along with a video and lighting crew.
In a week, we had more than one hundred pieces of music to be recorded, edited and mixed to provide every piece of music the station would need for the year. There were news themes for morning, noon, six and eleven. There was promo music for sports, weather, dramatic and family segments, bumpers to go to and from commercials, station identification and more. Each theme had to be recorded, edited and mixed into timed versions from three minutes to five seconds to be synchronized with video segments that were already shot and edited.
I was doing my best to focus on the details of the job but with every patch cable and mic cord I plugged in I was thinking about Suzie. We started with transferring programmed material to tape, a process we called by its technical name – dumping. The week was designed to start off easy and ease into the harder work. But my brain was already fragmented in too many directions.
“The kick drum is coming from output one.” Carl Marsh’s voice was calm behind the keyboard of the Fairlight. I took note of his example and took a deep breath.
“O.K. What’s the name of this piece?” I asked, filling in the information on my track sheet.
“Soft Promo :60 second. The start time is 5:25. It’s waiting on you when you’re ready.”
“Thanks. Be right there.” I was rewinding and writing and patching at the same time. The goal was to stay ahead of the musicians but I was a little off my game. A voice over the intercom called my name.
“Dennis? Cartage wants to know if they can bring in Blair’s gear yet.” The next programmer/arranger was waiting.
“We’ll be through by 2:30!” I called across the room as I hit play and record.
The two-inch tape spun up to speed and spit out time code to the programmer. His computer paused until five minutes and twenty-five seconds appeared on the screen then counted off and played a drum groove to begin the next tune.
No one talked as they checked the music for mistakes and clicked stopwatches for timing. I had sixty seconds of peace while I watched the console meters pulse to the right. Because of the computer, there would be no surprises. I closed my eyes and wondered what was happening at home.
On Wednesday morning, Sandra was getting packed to leave. Her visit was over much too soon. We didn’t want her to go but had to admit there wasn’t any real emergency to keep her. She had a family of her own to take care of and considering how well she’d taken care of us, I knew they must really miss her.
We certainly would.
She kept the kids one last time as we headed to Dr. Burns office for a post-op checkup. We had asked for an early appointment so I could be there before my session. I would have to head to the studio immediately after I got Suzie back home.
I had my paper in hand to show how much the drainage had declined and I was a little worried that it was still too much. The tube was still causing Suzie pain and I wanted her to get some relief, as much for myself as for her. It was difficult watching her in pain. It almost hurt me too.
Dr. Burns walked in and announced that he could take the other tube out today. Suzie would finally be rid of those tubes. They were a visible reminder that something was still wrong. She couldn’t feel healthy with bloody drainage coming out of her side and she was afraid to move because of the pain.
Now I knew she would feel better and I would too. Leaving her unattended while I went to work would be easier without the plastic plumbing. I already felt guilty enough, leaving her alone with the kids despite her assurances. This was a clear sign that she was on her way toward getting well.
Now if she could only get rid of her cold. I decided to bring it up.
“Dr. Burns,” I asked, “Suzie has had sinus congestion and headaches since the day she left the hospital. We were wondering if this was a normal reaction after anesthesia. The same thing happened after her biopsy.”
“Normal?” he said with a smile. “Yes, she’s got a very normal cold. Hospitals and surgery can’t protect her from that.”
I knew Suzie would never mention it, so I pressed on. “She’s been having more trouble with the cold than with the surgery. She can only sleep on her back and the drainage makes her cough which hurts and makes her throat sore.”
He turned to Suzie. “I haven’t slept much,” she confirmed and shot me a look of disapproval for worrying. “I’ll give you a decongestant which should help you sleep better. I’ll want to see you in a week for a checkup. You’re doing well. You’ll feel better when you get some rest.”
When we got home there was just time for a quick round of goodbyes. I dropped Sandra at the airport on the way to work. Wednesday was the last day to dump synths to tape and it went surprisingly well. I ended up getting home at a reasonable hour.
When I got back home, Suzie was sitting up with the kids watching television. There were clothes folded on the back of the couch, ready to be put in drawers and closets. The smell of something delicious lingered in the air. They had ordered pizza. Things looked entirely normal. Suzie smiled when I came in with no tubes or bandages in sight.
“Did you wash clothes?” I asked amazed.
“Well, they were dirty. Were you going to do it?” she teased.
“Well, I could. . . with a few instructions.” I tried to look sincere. She didn’t buy it.
“Did you let the girls help you carry them? You’re not supposed to lift anything.” I said, trying to recover my momentum.
“I carried them in small piles. I was feeling good.” she defended.
“Is your headache gone?”
“I’m not feeling that good. But having no tubes feels better. I can move without being careful.”
“Well, be a little careful.”
I knew she wasn’t going to do it but something in the back of my brain made me say things like that. Maybe I was just repeating the warnings I’d been telling myself.
Thoughts like that followed me to work the next morning. I would tell myself everything was fine at home but I didn’t believe me since I knew I wasn’t there. At least we were busy and it made the time pass quickly. Trying to keep up with the best horn players in Nashville can be demanding. I had three trumpet players, two trombones, four French horns and a tuba staring at me through the glass.
I was rewinding the tape and changing to a new set of tracks so they could play the same section to double it. Doubling would allow the song to sound like twice as many musicians were playing. It also took twice as long which was the reason for the stares through the window. They were going to be late to their next session if the producer continued to ask them to do it all twice. There was nothing I could do about it. I was caught in between pushing the buttons and wondering how long it would be before I could get home.
I called to check on Suzie during breaks and she had seemed drowsy but okay. I talked to Rebekah to check on the kids and they seemed fine. But I still got home as soon as possible, leaving my assistant to set up the microphones for the strings the next day.
When I walked in, however, things didn’t look quite so good. Suzie was not sitting in the recliner or lying in the bedroom but was stretched out on the couch. When she opened her eyes the expression on her face told me immediately that she didn’t feel well.
“How are you, Sweetie?” I asked as I sat down beside her on the edge of the couch.
“Hi. . . I’m . . . not . . . so good.” she answered slowly with pauses between her words.
“Well . . . I . . . uh.”
“Are you awake?” I asked. She looked disoriented and confused.
“I’m alright . . . Headache. . . ” she said sitting up and making an obvious effort to concentrate.
“Are you sure? Because you don’t sound like it. What’s wrong?”
“It’s hard . . . It’s the medicine . . . I’m so groggy.” She was clearly having a tough time.
“Is it the pain medication? Did you take too much of it?”
“No, . . . the other one.” her eyes crinkled and darted in frustration.
“Yes,” she said and seemed relieved. “It really . . . knocks me out. Just give me a minute to wake up.” She picked up a glass of iced tea.
She was sounding better now but this wasn’t the same woman I’d left this morning. She’d been so energetic that I had warned her not to do too much. Now she was lethargic and drugged. I was impatient for more information but Suzie was still drinking.
“Rebekah?” I called. “How long has she been like this?”
“Been like what?” She had a quizzical look on her face. She didn’t understand.
“How long has she been lying on the couch like this?”
“She’s been asleep most of the afternoon,” she said, confused by my strange questions.
“Has she had trouble talking?”
“No, not that I’ve noticed. She’s been asleep, Daddy!” she repeated for emphasis since I evidently didn’t get it the first time.
“I’m O.K. It’s just the drugs” Suzie said, jumping in to rescue her daughter.
Maybe so but I wasn’t satisfied, “And you didn’t take too many by accident?” I persisted.
“No!” She was emphatic.
“Have you called Dr. Burns.”
“No, there’s no need,” she said speaking in short but clear sentences.
She seemed to be doing better now but if the decongestant was interacting somehow with the pain medication or some residual anesthesia it could be serious. It was already after six o’clock and the doctor’s office would be closed. I would either have to page him at home or wait until morning to call. The girls didn’t seem to think anything was wrong and they’d been with her all day. Maybe she was alright.
“Well, I don’t want you to take any more of that decongestant. It shouldn’t make you that loopy.” I said firmly.
“I’m going to page Dr. Burns.”
“Fine!” she answered. “I hate this feeling!”
He answered quickly to his service’s page and told me to take her off of the medicine. He said he would call something else in to our drug store and quickly got off the phone as if he had a life of his own. I listened and thanked him but I didn’t go to get the new prescription. I wanted her to get better before I gave her something else to take. After all, it was just a decongestant and wasn’t necessary.
I got a comforter and snuggled her in on the couch and checked on the kids’ day. They’d done their school work and Rebekah had already fixed them supper since Suzie was asleep. They were just fine. I was relieved but felt terribly guilty for being at work and leaving them to fend for themselves.
Still, they’d done alright and we did have a lot of medical bills to pay now. I rationalized as Suzie slept it off on the couch. Later I got them all to bed, read a story, said prayers and tried not to worry.
By bedtime, Suzie had gotten no better. I was getting worried. I reminded myself that sometimes medicine took a long time to get out of the body. I was pretty sure that she would feel better after a good night’s sleep but the question nagged at the back of my mind. What if she wasn’t?
I tried not to think about it so I could get some rest but my mind kept going over details for tomorrow’s string session.
Orchestra days are like skydiving. You make careful preparations and then jump. There’s no going back. There’s no slowing down. If you missed something, it will be obvious to everyone.
There would be a studio full of talented people to record thirty pieces of music and very little time to do it in. Because a big string section makes good visuals, there would be a video crew with lights. With that many people on the clock, money was being spent like a flood. This was as high pressure as it gets.
They were depending on me to make things run smoothly. Planning and preparation were the only way to do it. With that many people, headphones, and microphones, the possibilities for a technical problem somewhere were multiplied. The studio didn’t have enough equipment for this kind of crowd so I had to pick up even more gear before the session. I set my alarm for six o’clock and hoped it would be enough time.
When the clock went off the next morning I rolled over and slapped it. I turned to see if Suzie was awake. She didn’t move. I took a quick shower to wake up, got dressed and ate breakfast. I gathered my gear by the back door and went back one more time to check on her.
She was still asleep. I hated to wake her but I wanted to hear her speak a clear sentence or two before I left. I called her name twice and she opened her eyes.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Darling, but I want to see how you’re doing before I leave,” I whispered.
“I’m okay,” she answered groggily.
“I’m sorry but I can’t tell from that, Sweetie. I need you to wake up and talk to me. I want to hear some clear, concise sentences before I leave for work.”
She moaned and sat up. It was a struggle.
“What . . . do you want . . . me to say,” she answered and I knew there was trouble.
I paged Dr. Burns immediately but there was no answer. I waited and tried to find out more about her condition.
“How do you feel? Do you still have a headache?”
“No, but I . . . just feel awful.”
“Like awful how?” I asked.
“Just bad. I feel . . . drugged!”
“Drugged?” I repeated stupidly.
“Yes. I’m loopy and dizzy. . . I just can’t wake up.”
She was still talking slowly but maybe the medicine hadn’t gotten out of her system yet. That would explain things. Maybe. Still, I was worried. Dr. Burns hadn’t called back and I needed to leave for work. Normally I would have just canceled but today was string section day. I would have to be there unless there was an emergency and I wasn’t sure this was.
“What should I do, Darling? I don’t want to leave you like this.”
“Go to work,” she said emphatically. “I just need some sleep. There’s nothing for you to do here.”
I was about to answer that I couldn’t go until I spoke with the doctor when the phone rang.
“Hello, Dr. Burns?” I said hopefully.
“No, this is Cindy. Dr. Burns is making his rounds at the hospital. I just got your message from the service. I can contact him. What seems to be the problem?”
I quickly described what I had learned and she asked a few questions. Then she promised to get back with me in just a few minutes. It seemed like a few days as I watched Suzie sleep until finally . . .
“Hello!” I said, grabbing the phone on the first ring.
“He said it was just the medicine making her sleepy,” the nurse said without introduction. “He said to give her some time. It hasn’t been twenty-four hours since she took her last dose. He said to discontinue the new prescription until she’s feeling better.”
“I didn’t fill the new prescription and it’s been eighteen hours since her last pill and she’s no better,” I said, trying to make the point clear. “I’m concerned! Shouldn’t she show some improvement?” I was trying to stay calm but I wanted to shout at her.
“Not necessarily,” she countered. “It takes a while sometimes. Dr. Burns said just to wait. Is she breathing O.K.?”
“Has she broken out in a rash anywhere?”
“Is her heart racing?”
“Then there’s no emergency. She’s just overmedicated. She should be fine in a few more hours,” she repeated. “Call the office if there’s any change.”
I hung up frustrated and annoyed at being treated like a child. I wouldn’t have called if everything was fine but they didn’t know me well enough to know that.
“What did they say?” Suzie asked and I repeated the conversation. “Well then go on to work. I’ll be fine!” she urged.
She was speaking clearly now and looked more awake. I had trouble arguing with her. What could I do? Call in and tell them I couldn’t come to the studio because I had to watch my wife sleep? Reluctantly I admitted defeat and kissed her goodbye.
“Sleep well, Darling,” I said. I walked out of the bedroom and realized how much I had to do and how very late I was.