Keeping Hemingway Alive
May 5, 2008
Never had I craved anything so much as this strange and alluring task. Thousands of other doctors clamored for the opportunity but most lacked the necessary vigor. Only a man obsessed would be fit to lead this scientific revolution, and I was thus chosen to sacrifice all in the quest to keep Ernest Hemingway alive till his hundredth birthday on July twenty-first, 1999. Many of you have doubtless already howled: but Hemingway’s been quite dead since 1961 when as an alcoholic, depressed, and paranoid shell just short of age sixty-two he shoved a shotgun in his mouth and scattered the remnants of genius. It’s true that until recent dynamic developments we would have had only a corpse as useless as the writer sometimes said his would be. Now, however, I must apologize for the intrusion and assure all I did not degrade the great man’s bones. Following a quiet ceremony my chief assistant delicately sliced a sliver from the back of his spinal column. That’s all we needed to start. That was the easy part. Ernest Hemingway would soon live again. But those who administer this cherished project had vowed not to share it unless I could keep him on his feet the aforementioned length of time.
Though transforming rotted bones into a healthy baby is an astonishing procedure, the infant will either progress exactly or essentially like the original unless there is profound intercession, which is particularly urgent in the case of the Hemingway family. The writer naturally knew his father was bedeviled by depression and had shot himself. Ernest also suffered from this demonic trait and often claimed he’d someday have to pulled the trigger. The family’s nature proved manifestly worse than even Hemingway had reckoned. His younger brother subsequently shot himself and a sister terminated her life with medications. The next generation was also troubled, particularly a son who suffered from schizophrenia in his youth and as a senior citizen was arrested for misbehaving in a public restroom and died shortly in jail where it was discovered he’d been undergoing transsexual therapy. That genes are more doggedly linked than a chain was apparent in the fourth straight generation when a beautiful young granddaughter, an actress, decided she could endure no more.
How do you keep those of even the healthiest lineage alive for five score years and more? Then ponder how you would try to do so with Ernest Miller Hemingway. I started by telepathically ordering his outdoorsman father to limit the adolescent Hemingway’s camping and fishing excursions. I did not say eliminate them. Simply don’t let the boy conclude that ceaseless forays into the wild are healthy or desirable. Encourage him to fish in the shade by a little pond near home in the bourgeois haven of Oak Park, Illinois. That’s better than getting sun scorched on all-day hikes, and inevitably falling en route to wild places where eating well is unlikely and sleeping difficult.
I also had to insist that both parents censor Ernest’s reading lists. He was entirely too focused on the Civil War and other armed conflicts and frequently talked of his grandfather’s valiance for North against South. The Great War overwhelmed my dictates in 1914, and by 1917, when America headed over there, eighteen-year-old Ernest insisted on going, too, as an ambulance driver. I hadn’t been able to change much and couldn’t alter his heroic effort to save a comrade and suffer a serious leg wound while so doing. Many doctors have long understood that a blast to one part of the body can decades later result in catastrophic failure elsewhere. Remember the home run hitter for the 1960’s Boston Red Sox, Tony Conigliaro? A fastball fractured his left cheek and almost blinded him: fifteen years later his heart seized leading to a stroke then a coma. He never recovered and died young.
Ernest loved thinking about death and soon chased a war in Turkey, saw more wounds and corpses, and in both nonfiction and fiction, directly and indirectly, focused on physical and psychic violence. Ernest, I messaged him – more subtly than his mother – please try to write about peaceful and uplifting matters. Why not stay in Oak Park and chronicle high school sports or perhaps even the Chicago Cubs. You could also write about civic matters and the arts. That, as I’d feared, would not be forthcoming, and was perhaps not essential. My most critical duty was to get Ernest to stop drinking – he’d imbibed heavily even as a young man – then, at the propitious moment, introduce modern medical means to control his depression.
Ernest was not at all amenable to a life without drinking, which he described as the best feeling right from the start. Without delay I started him on a regimen of antidepressants secretly ground into his food and drink, and rebuked myself for not having first tried this since a depressed man is likely to continue medicating himself with alcohol. I couldn’t converse directly with Ernest, of course. That would’ve revealed the whole devious scheme, and at any rate the unstable Hemingway would’ve smacked me for insolence. He often talked about punching or shooting people. He needed violence, and courted death as ultimate relief. Medications weren’t changing that so I tried more and he sometimes complained of blurred vision, disorientation, and digestive woes.
I did not meddle much in his marital life since his first wife, Hadley, was a fine and submissive woman, the kind he desired. But she was eight years his senior and became what their only son later described as “very matronly.” Ernest escaped into the rather bony embrace of wealthy Pauline, who was four years older, and though unable to stop her husband’s dalliances and drinking she “shelled” him plenty. I put Pauline on antidepressants, too, but noted no change in their moods or behavior.
Since his late twenties Ernest had been living in Key West in a stately place, purchased primarily by Pauline, and enjoying fishing from his boat in the Caribbean. The tropical sun seared all in its sights but Ernest in his early thirties called himself tan and ridiculed weaklings who stood under cover. I was worried skin cancer would form somewhere on the abundant flesh he bared. He ignored entreaties to cover up, increased drinking as he spent less time writing, encouraged people of all ages to call him Papa, and fell in love with blonde young Martha, a writer who went with him to the Spanish Civil War and later preceded him to the big one in Europe. I went, too, and began taking the same newer antidepressants then doubled our dosage when he hit his head during a London car crash that made his ears ring without cease. Enveloping his hospital bed with a fleshy frame and long gray beard, he looked, in his mid-forties, like a rather unhealthy fellow several years beyond that. Comparing original pictures with what I saw before me, I was at least encouraged Ernest appeared perhaps a few pounds lighter now and not quite as aged.
In 1944, as Anglo-American forces advanced east toward Paris, war correspondent Ernest Hemingway downed liquor straight, boasted, enchanted many observers, insulted other writers, urged people to hit his tensed stomach muscles, and fired a variety of arms, ignoring international law as he slew German troops in combat, an act that violated international law and endangered other journalists. At the investigation Ernest perjured himself. I was despondent and drinking almost as much as the celebrated writer who seemed forever surrounded by sycophants. If I’d had an audible voice I would’ve used it to join Martha in rebuking him for megalomaniacal behavior. Even after I again increased his and my medications, and trebled my telepathic efforts, Ernest shoved a photo of his new girlfriend’s estranged husband into a toilet and, in a hotel suite packed with people, blasted the bowl with bullets. This was a most ominous indication, like Elvis shattering Robert Goulet on TV and nearly wounding his girlfriend, and cute little Mary said she almost ended the relationship.
She should have for neither Mary nor I could comfort or control Ernest. He bombarded his brain with evermore alcohol and pretended his body bloating to two hundred sixty pound enhanced strength and masculinity. For a long time he retained his charm and people still flocked to him. Out by the pool at his estate near Havana he said, “I can cheer everyone up but me.” I was trying. Eventually one of these medications will help, won’t it? It might have if he’d long ago heeded my stimulus to avoid long and dangerous hunting trips. During a 1953 African safari he suffered two private plane crashes in twenty-four hours and twice battered his head as he fled the flaming aircrafts. He was burned, his kidneys damaged, his liver bruised, his blood pressure awry. A busted man, he returned to Cuba and badgered and degraded Mary whether or not I diluted his drinks with water. Despite having been a journalist, Mary saw no escape and in fact didn’t want to get away; her addiction to Ernest superseded pride. His pain overwhelmed all pleasure, and winning the Nobel Prize in 1954 was emotionally irrelevant. He continued treating himself the same way and by 1960 was frail and psychotic. When Castro prepared to pounce on his home he got another in Idaho, underwent useless and debilitating electroshock therapy, and early one morning while Mary slept in another bedroom he got up and tiptoed downstairs, found keys supposedly hidden, and grasped a rifle. Ernest, I shouted, give me the gun. He didn’t hear, and when I grabbed his arm he felt nothing except fatal urgency. Everything ended the same except this time he had a few more months of misery.