As I sat there, distraught and seemingly withdrawn—mentally counting the folds on the sheet covering her ailing figure, the number of bars on the side rails of her hospital bed, noticing the foam-rubber booties casually leaning, blue, against the footboard, next to the yellowing power chord of the hand-control—her eyes glanced over me and she smiled with a tenderness that stirred me, for it appeared to be a glimpse at another lifetime, long ago. Her illness moved fast, devouring her inside and now her outside, as the merciless tumor on her left breast, where it all began, oozed out day and night to heighten her distress even if well-bandaged and anointed to soothe its physical sting. Her remaining days were dwindling. She was quickly losing the fight.
In a split-second, as if on an out-of-body experience, I saw myself from above, there at her side, reliving the re-enactment of a scene I loathed to experience, pouring forth an agony that haunted me and hunted me down heartlessly, forcing me to come face to face with her tragedy; to witness the few residual moments of the most significant person of my existence; the woman who transformed my life initially with youthful unrestraint and gut-wrenching love so many years before, later gifting me an anguish that paralyzed me and turned me into a human ball of pain and nausea, despite having allowed me to retain the most cherished fruit of our years together. Gone was the bitterness over her betrayal, the shock of her desertion, as was all memory of our two, four, six and eight year olds sobbing when for days she failed to call or visit; absent too was the sorrow of listening to the bedtime prayers of disconcerted little children pleading for their mommy to come home.
After thirty-three years, unexpectedly, one day life came around full circle and there I was, still with so much left to grieve, hardened to the world, but internally, spongy, like soft clay, with nowhere to run, realizing there was nowhere I craved to run to. The youthful I wanted to give her peace; the present I, grasping for some of the peace I lost when she walked away–but it wasn’t to be found. Despite the mountain of years, both lives fully lived, the experiences enjoyed or suffered without our presence in each other’s space, I wanted to assuage her pain and nurture her with the love I strived so hard to kill—so in vain—before, year after year. I wanted to cram, in what little time remained, the happiness we could have shared.
Life and certainly the Spirit colluded to remind me, to reflect on each and every ceremonial vow we made on that magical Friday evening almost forty-five years before; solemn promises neither one of us dared annul, perhaps—and I romanticize—because deep inside, intuitively, we both knew our souls were uniquely intertwined even if our flesh was not to be. So much had changed. So much had transpired and yet, at that instant, I saw her again majestically radiant in her wedding gown, stepping down from the altar; strolling out of the church, in step to the crescendo of the recessional playing on the organ, hanging from my arm as, starry-eyed, we faced the world together for the first time.