ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 183: Silent Witness
When Ernie and I first knew each other, he called me Ding-A-Ling. His Letter of Proposal begins: Dear Ding-A-Ling.
Then came Fuzzy-Wuzzy waddle doodle de-do (yes, my thinking was unfocused; I didn’t know it, but Ernie did), Lemon-topped Zephyr (I wore striped tops and was as inconstant and unpredictable as the wind), and Chicken Wings (my arms grew thin after being on a pregnancy diet).
After Joshua was born, Ernie called me Ma Q. S. Burgolingus. (I don’t know how he would have spelled this because I never saw it written out. Also, I don’t know what Ernie was thinking when he called me this because — alas — I never asked him.) Years later came The Rattler (a poisonous snake), The Black Donkey (I was stubborn), and Little Girl (yes, I was irresponsible and immature).
These nicknames are all clues to how Ernie saw me, his indirect way of calling attention to some of my flaws and shortcomings. Trouble is, I didn’t catch on.
In the last half of our life together, he called me Ernestina.
In the last year or so, when I was awakening in the night, reaching for a book or food for comfort, he called me Hoot Owl.
The last two words he spoke before he lost the power of speech, he looked at me and said: Silent Witness. Another name for me.
Oh, Jesus! I just realize something. Ernie wasn’t calling me Silent Witness, as I thought he was. He was describing himself, wasn’t he? He was witness to his own dying yet beyond the ability to speak of it and way beyond the ability to write of it.
This man who had written millions of words and spoken many millions more, a descriptive and articulate and creative man with a highly associative mind, had lost the ability to utter another word. He was caught in his final torture.
He knew it. He told me. And now I finally get it.