Friday, June 04, 2004

Ariel Recaptured

In the last year of Ariel's life he lived at home. Being a screenwriter, I make my own hours and so arranged my schedule around Ariel's needs. My office is in back of the house and so Ariel was able to call me if he needed something. Still, I spent most of my time in the house, close to my son. I learned to cook a very limited menu just for Ariel. I drove him to medical appointments. And when he was able I took him for short walks down our block. When he couldn't walk, I pushed him in the wheelchair. Karen and I had to find solutions for all sorts of problems that crop up when your child is ill and dying.

Ariel was having trouble sleeping. He told us that he was anxious, that his mind simply would not stop whirring away. Karen suggested that he shouldn't try and sleep, trying only makes things worse. "Get up," she advised, "turn on the light and read something." Ariel tried this several times but he compalined that the books he chose to read, usually some commentary on Torah or Talmud, was so engrossing that it would keep him awake all night. "Try reading something really boring," Karen said. But Ariel could not imagine picking up a book with the purpose of inducing boredom. It went against his every impulse. When it became clear that the lack of sleep was taking a toll on his frail body, I handed him a Walkman and a box of tapes. "When you find yourself tossing and turning," I said, "just put on the headphones and listen to the tape." "What is it, Dad?" "A novel on tape. It should help."

The next morning Ariel smiled hugely as I stepped into his room. "Dad, that's an amazing book," he exclaimed. "You liked it?" I cried, incredulous. "I fell asleep before I knew what I was listening to," he said. "What is it?" "It's a book called In Search of Lost Time. It's written by Marcel Proust, and it's seven volumes, over 3,000 pages, and by the way, the first forty pages are all about a child trying to fall asleep and failing." "Dad, have you actually read this book?" he asked in mild horror. "Um, yes." I confessed. "But Dad, you hate the French, you hate everything French!" "I know, I know," I whimpered. "What can I say, it was a challenge to read, and truth is after a while I kinda liked it. Please don't tell anybody, Ariel. Please. Please. I still hate the French -- well, not French Jews. But, please. Let this be our little secret." "B'le Neder," he said with a sly smile.

Ariel was endlessly amused by my affection for this impossible and plotless and meandering French novel. He chuckled in disbelief when I showed him one sentence that, "I kid you not, Ariel, runs on for three pages, 958 words." But Ariel did continue to use Proust as a sleep aid for several weeks. Now that he's gone, now that he's memory, my respect for Proust and his massive tome has only increased. I now understand what Proust was after because it's a central human urge: to recapture the past, to corral the moments that made us who and what we are. If we can accomplish this, we tell ourselves, then we will find some measure of peace. If I can recall with perfect exactitude the moments I most cherish with Ariel then perhaps his death will not be so final. In this manner Ariel will gain another life, a shadow life perhaps, but anything is preferable to a terrible oblivion.


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