It was a miracle.

Early last spring, sporting jeans, flip-flops and a hack-saw, my husband’s 77 year-old father took it upon himself to climb the 30-foot apple tree in our backyard, to prune it within an inch of its life.

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Ned begged him to come down. His father, ha ha, waved his saw in the air. He grew up barefoot and free, swinging from the trees of Constantine, Algeria, plucking nuts and fruit off the branches with his teeth. I watched as his elderly toes curled around a branch and he hoisted himself higher in the overgrown tree, closer and closer to the sky.

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Ned turned white. I grabbed my camera.

*

It was an accident. Last October, my oldest friend Naomi’s life-partner Mike got locked in at work on a Saturday. He didn’t want to hassle anyone on the weekend and the only way out was to scale an eight-foot fence. He used to jump fences as a boy.

I didn’t ask what Mike was wearing on his feet when he fell. At 52. On to the concrete, shattering his right knee, left elbow and prescription glasses. In the super-human spectacle that is shock, he somehow made it to his car, blindly drove the ninety-minutes home, called Naomi and told her to meet him in their driveway. When they got to the hospital, the pain.

When Naomi told me what happened, my brain flashed on Ned’s father and our apple tree, and for the first time it hit me that he could have died. That it was a freaking miracle he didn’t fall and break his neck. One peeping blue jay. One snapping branch. One wrong move-

The phone cried.

Mike is dead.

What??

Mike is dead.

MIKE IS DEAD??!!

Dead.

Mortal shock. The day after coming home from the hospital, days after the surgery that would have had him lying prone for two months in a haze of gratitude and the womb of their 13-year love, a homicidal blood clot raced up his leg into his lungs and killed him on the spot. It happened as fast as the time it took Naomi to tell me.

The brain scrambles to find words for the heart.

*

Click here for Life or Death, Part 2.  The last time I saw Mike.

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