By Mark DiFruscio
All rights reserved.
Sentimental reasons brought me to the jeweler for repair. Otherwise, I might have simply replaced the timepiece with a new one, less extravagant. My brother really did love to spend, recklessly, to excess and abandon and finally into “coma dépassé.”
The watch still runs; the time can no longer be set. The gears were stripped, making it impossible to move the hour and minute hands forward or backward. The second hand spins perfectly smooth, perpetually self-winding, but any attempt to reset the time causes the minute hand to spasm, clockwise then counter, clockwise, counter.
My father and I retrieved the watch from a clerk at the Sun Valley police station along with my brother’s wallet, keys and the clothes sheared from his body by the paramedics who revived him. All of it had been sealed in an oversized, well-worn manila envelope. We stared at the shredded boxer shorts that spilled out. They reminded me of something one might discard while cooking—stringy husks stripped from a corncob, dried paper white skin of a garlic clove.
The envelope had a handwritten address on the front, carelessly scratched out with a black marker but nonetheless legible. The still-visible address was not that of the police station where we had come to retrieve his personal effects. My father struck open the seal on the envelope on our way back to the hotel, the rental car’s interior light not even timed-off yet. He never noticed the address written on the face of the envelope. Never questioned what it signified. Never understood that it was where the personal effects had been collected, where the 911 call came from, where the ambulance had arrived, and where scissor-wielding paramedics found my brother, down for too long, at least ten minutes, revived but irreparable.
The jeweler peers through his loupe. “We need to open it up, replace the winding and sliding pins and intermediate wheel, which is causing the slippage,” the jeweler explains. “Refit the yoke, pressurize the casing and reseal. We’ll clean the band and crystal for an extra $60. All together, $620. Have it back to you in about two weeks.”
“My watchmaker only comes in on Tuesdays.”
I pause, weighing options.
Diamond Court or Diamond Circle or Diamond Lane . . . the street name had “Diamond” in it, that much I know. Some woman he met at a Vegas casino and followed home, was what we gathered from police. Who was she? This woman who fell asleep with him that one last time, only to call 911 the next morning after discovering him down, unwakeable. What would she tell me if I showed up, unannounced, knocking at her door: “What happened? Please, give us some answers.”
I found it on a map—the house, on some street called Diamond—and went investigating, driving through an unfamiliar “city” on the outskirts of Vegas, my mind sprouting fantasies en route about what I might find on the other side of a door-knock. This I did on my own, without informing my father, who I left tending to my mother, telling them both that I was putting gas in the rental.
For three days my brother had been there in the ICU, nobody aware of what had happened. He was alone and unresponsive. A neurologist measured his brain activity while a caseworker was tasked with tracking down his family, frantic for information leading to an insurance card or policy number. A Suffolk County policeman finally showed up in our driveway to inform my parents. One minute we were watching Brett Favre throw snowballs on the sideline of a blowout win over the Seahawks, next we’re flying into McCarran Airport, asphyxiating from the urgency and dread. Until we found him, in his room. He slept in dreamless intubation. Seeing him for the first time, my attention was drawn to the little foam cups beneath his heels.
When I was a child, my dad took me to the hospital to visit my grandmother after a stroke. She was on the mend, but her roommate, a heavyset bald man in the next bed, had been in a coma for some time.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Oh him,” my dad said. “He’s in bad shape. Coma.”
“He can’t wake up?”
My dad shook his head, leaning down to me, whispering, “He’s a vegetable.” My attention, drawn to curious incongruities, then as now, kept returning to the little foam cups supporting unmoving feet.
The neurologist was clinically curt and definitive in his diagnosis of brain death. I spoke to him on behalf of my parents. Prior to having all of the extraordinary measures removed, my mother requested last rites be performed at his bedside. I happened to be standing by the window when the priest arrived in a beaten-up old Toyota, eating a sandwich with one hand, bible folded under the other arm. He was a small Asian with thick-glasses, wearing a Members Only jacket that may have been purchased during the first term of the Reagan administration, and wholly uninterested in the entire affair. His prayers, delivered in rapid, possibly alcohol-stained mumbles, included sighs of annoyance at being summoned to a deathbed at an inconvenient time and several instances of getting my brother’s name wrong. We were mirages to the priest, without traction in the passing of his day or the substance of his life, encountered, unremembered.
Sitting outside the room after last rites and goodbyes and seeing a nurse at the nearby desk in tears—which I think was for us, my brother’s life unsupported— we met the coroner with purple hair. She introduced herself, kneeling down to us.
“I promise to take good care of your son,” she told my parents. “Treat him as if he were my own.”
“Thank you,” my father said. “I’d just like to know—what happened? What did he take? What caused the overdose? Was there anything suspicious involved?”
“I’ll do a viewing of the body, examine the organs, document any injuries or trauma, and then draw fluids for toxicology.”
“You’ll let us know?” my mother asked.
“Please fill this out,” she said, handing my father a clipboard. “I’ll call first with the results and then a full report will be mailed to you.”
“That’s a big help. Just to hear from someone who knows something, maybe has some answers for us.”
She was still kneeling in front of us as my father filled out the form. A golden crucifix dangled over the crest of her turtleneck, purple hair perfectly squared above her eyes.
“It’s good you have your other son here with you,” she said. “To lean on, help you through this. That’s important.”
Her gaunt face, almost skeletal, found mine, stayed fixed on me for as long as we might hold our breath together. That long silence, her kindness extended, untied some knot deep inside, which continues untangling still. I sometimes wonder if the coroner had cancer, if her frailty was from chemo, her purple hair a wig, her cross a form of hope, the state of grace she inhabited the only answer.
The address led me to a private, gated community, inaccessible from the street. I circled the perimeter in my rental, following along the bank of a manmade lake installed for the benefit of the mini-mansions inside the walls of the development, searching for a way inside. After parking beside an entry gate, I walked to within reach of its bars, knowing I would never scale it. I waited without a plan, looking inside at the houses beyond, wondering which way I might turn once inside. Atop the roof of an unoccupied guard post, I spotted a security camera craning left then right, and wondered if there was someone on the other end of its lens watching me.
Almost ready to relent and return my rental, an SUV appeared behind me, pulling up to the gate and idling at the guard post. A pretty young woman stepped out from the driver’s side to input an access code at the intercom. She pushed her sunglasses onto her head, moving her hips to some music beyond my hearing, punched in the digits. She saw me then, standing there, smiled, and kept dancing, even as she reseated herself and drove through the gate. I watched which way she turned, disappearing from sight, the gate still open before me.
So I stand motionless, staring ahead, the bars of a security gate starting to move, sliding closed, forcing me to act. And a long-necked surveillance camera turns toward me. And a priest recites a prayer at my brother’s bedside, calling him by the wrong name until my mother intercedes. And my dad leans down to my ear and whispers, “He’s a vegetable.” And a purple-haired coroner kneels with me, instructing my spirit toward compassion. And my father unseals an envelope filled with my brother’s last moments and hands me his Rolex. And the watch passes from me to a waiting jeweler. Our eyes fall heavy on the crystal’s face, hour and minute hands unhinged, time inside self-winding.