This is the longest non-academic story I’ve written. Bear with me.
We used to laugh…
The leaves have started their slow descent that will usher in the winter; cold and white. I’ve never liked winter, in fact, I thoroughly despise it. You know that. But you, you seem to carry summer everywhere with you; never letting anything chill your warm spirits. It’s why I was attracted to you in the first place. The way you laughed; long and hard and so carefree like no one was watching. I used to get so embarrassed. Everyone would stare at us, and you didn’t care. You’d be rolling all over the floor, tears in your eyes, just cause you heard a good joke. In a way, I was probably jealous, because I was too self-conscious to ever laugh like that. I mean, what would the people think? It’s taken me so long but I finally get it. Why you’d say to me with that solemn look in your grey eyes, “Carpe diem, amor mei.” I want to seize the day now, baby. And I need you here to seize it with me. Just try. You always told me I could do anything as long as I tried. Well, now I need you to try. You have to try, OK? Just try.
“… glad that we caught it early. With extensive radiation and chemotherapy, I’m sure that we can get all of it.” The doctor pauses when he sees the look on both our faces. “Listen, try and be positive. There is some new pioneering research now. We’ll do everything we can.” His words mean nothing to me. I am rocked to my core. Last week, my biggest problem was how Brad was leaving Jennifer for that Jolie woman. And now, cancer? You take my hand and squeeze tight. “Hey, I’m gonna be fine. You heard what he said. They’ll treat it and I’ll get better.” You look so sure and so strong, and you have a smile on your face. But I know you. I can see the worry and the fear in your eyes and that’s what frightens me the most. You, who is fazed by nothing. Oh God. I just lost a child. I can’t lose him too!
It’s your birthday. We’ve decided to throw a really big party. All our friends, the neighbors, family that we haven’t seen for ages: they’re all here. Your mum doesn’t even look like she’s aged a day since we last saw her at Christmas. That’s where you get your great genes from, I always tell you. I hear you laughing in the kitchen and look up to see you playing a game of darts with some of the men and losing spectacularly. Your aim is still as crappy as the first day I met you and you spilled coffee on my crisp white shirt. What a cliché way to meet your future husband. I can’t remember how many times I’ve made you pay for that particular incident. You were so flustered, so apologetic, it was hard to stay mad at you. Before I knew it, my frown had morphed into a big, goofy smile, and I was handing you my number. Quite the charmer you were. Still are, I correct myself. We were married in 6 months and you’d tell me, “Always and forever, baby.” Gosh, you’re so cliché. I roll my eyes as I think of it. So strong and yet so meek, so confident and yet so humble. Big Ben, they called you. And it had everything to do with your heart. I smile as I carry the big birthday cake out to the yard. You’ve lost too much weight after aggressive chemo and radiation, but it’s all worth it, because the cancer’s all gone. Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, Big Beeeeeen!!! Happy birthday to you!!! The entire yard is ringing with applause and hoots of “You’re the man, my man!” You plant a huge kiss on my lips, and I can see all the love you have for me in your eyes.
The vase is a beautiful green and gold one that I bought on my trip to Bali. It has sat on top of the fireplace, far away from any clumsy fingers. I watch you, my mouth open in stupefied silence as you pick it up and throw it hard against the wall. It smashes into a million tiny bits and I find my voice as a bit lodges itself in my upper arm. As soon as you see the blood, you rush towards me and hold me tight. “Oh my God, babe, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me.” But I do. It’s those stupid drugs that they’re giving you. You’re tired and weak and you can’t keep any food down. Last night, when I saw tiny clumps of your hair in the garbage bin, I sat on the toilet seat and cried for hours. We don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve this. You’ve become moody and broody and not the man I married at all. As you bandage my arm, apologizing over and over, I can only look at you, tears in my eyes. Tonight, I will hold you as you huddle over the toilet and the nausea racks your already weak body. Tomorrow, I will support you while you struggle to make it to the car. But now, as I look at you, tears in my eyes, I just want you back. God, please, I just want my husband back.
“… spread to your lungs, liver and your throat… went into remission… these things happen… combat with surgery… chemotherapy…” The words float in and out of my head. I’m finding it difficult to follow the doctor’s sentences. “I don’t understand,” I interrupt. “Didn’t you say we got it all the first time?”
“That’s what I’m trying to explain,” he says patiently, the way you would explain to a child that the tooth fairy isn’t real.
“Don’t patronize me!” I yell, jumping off my seat. “You said it was gone! Gone! It can’t come back! It can’t be back!” I’m fighting tears. You pull me gently down. “Sit down, babe. We fought it the first time. We’ll do it again.” You smile that sad smile at me, and in my despondent state, I can only believe what you say. I have nothing else to hold on to.
The snow came early this year. It’s so beautiful I wish you could have seen it. It’s cold, so cold and the roads are so slippery. Fred from next door offered to help me salt the driveway and shovel it from time to time. The house is big and empty without you in it. I will probably see a real estate agent when I have the strength. I don’t even know if I can handle today. Everyone will come and say wonderful things about you. The priest will ask me to shovel a bit of sand on a coffin. I don’t know if I can. Damn you, Ben! I sat by your bedside for 5 full weeks, willing you to open your eyes, to wake up, smile that smile of yours and tell me, “Beat it again, baby.” But you didn’t. Instead, you let it take you. Goddamn you, Ben! Did you even stop to think about me?! Did I cross your comatose mind one bit?! I’m so tired, Ben. So so tired. I can’t stand the sympathy from others today. I need your strength. Help me, babe.
I can feel you as I walk out of the house. My brother will drive me to the funeral. They’ll put you in the ground, but you won’t be gone, baby. Not from me.
Always and forever, baby. Always and forever.