It’s been plaguing me these past few years, that tape. When I watched it last, I went into a several day tailspin of tribulation. And I wasn’t even watching the raw stock, but rather the edit that Mickey had made in the mad rush before the funeral because I wanted to give everyone something to take home. When Mickey cautiously suggested that I not look at the original tape because on it, Billy said he felt like he was having a heart attack, I heeded her warning and built that scene in my mind with all of the heartbreak, guilt, and regret that I could have never imagined possible.
I watched the edited tape on Friday, our anniversary, and sure I cried, but I saw something magnificent; Billy and I were happy and playful and loving and I told him over and over how handsome he was. After almost nine and a half years, we'd built an amazing rhythm, one that survived and had grown stronger.
It’s been over two years since I saw him move and talk and laugh. On the tape there were a few important games we played; Small Mouth being the most important, and I don’t even know how to describe it other than to say it maximized his rubbery facial expressions.
But I really needed to see the raw tape. I called Mickey, and while she walked me through how to transfer the High-8 to DV, I asked her about that scene.
“What does he say?”
“Oh, uh, I think he says he’s having a heart attack.”
“What was my response?” My question caught in my throat.
“I dunno. I can’t remember.”
I hung up, rigged the two cameras together, and started to dub. I watched the tiny Sony screen out of the corner of my eye, and when the tape ran close to the end, I crouched down to watch and listen.
Bob is lying on the end of the couch and Billy has a pillow hiding his face from my invasive camera lens.
“Leave me alone!” The pillow muffled his giggles.
“Come on, Guyster.” I pan down his sweatshirt and jeans to his slippered feet that nestled into Bob’s middle.
“Stop it! I’m having a heart attack!” He took the pillow away for a second, all smiles, then slammed the pillow back onto his face.
“Mr. Pillow Face. Say hi to the camera.”
“I’m having a heart attack!” There was no gravity in his voice.
“Mr. Pillow Face cuddling with his boy.” I mumbled and the camera went back down to Bob and Billy’s feet.
“Get out of here, you dummy! I said I’m having a heart attack!” The camera spins around toward the TV, and the tape stops.
There was no more footage shot on that tape. Two days later, it happened.
Does this let me off the hook? A little. There were several other times in that preceding week where frivolity wasn’t in his voice. There are indelible snapshots that frequently crawl to my mind when his face was serious, when he put his hand to his heart in a pained reflex.
I’m not afraid of it anymore, though. It’s not as bad as I thought it might’ve been, and if nothing else, it shows more of why I love him so much. He was playful, too playful at times, much too playful when urgency was needed.
I’ll watch the tape more often now, Mickey’s version, because seeing him and hearing him made me feel alive again. And some day I may be watching it from an enormous circular bed on a large screen and the strains of Dream Weaver will well up on my soundtrack.