At Her Side

As I sat there, distraught and seemingly withdrawn—mentally counting the folds on the sheet covering her ailing figure, the number of bars on the side rails of her hospital bed, noticing the foam-rubber booties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 inside, for it seemed a throwback to a happier time decades ago. Her illness progressed fast, devouring her inside initially and now her outside as the merciless tumor of her left breast, where it all began, oozed out day and night, heightening her distress even if well-bandaged and anointed to soothe its biting sting. She was swiftly losing the fight.

In a split-second, as if on an out-of-body experience, I observed 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 as an outsider the painful agony 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; gone too was all memory of our two, four, six and eight year old children sobbing when for days she was unaccounted for; missing was the sorrow of listening to the bedtime prayers of disconcerted little children. It all vanished and what remained was sincere, unselfish love in defiance of everything that broke me before.

After thirty-three years, unexpectedly, life came around full circle and there I was, still with so much left to grieve, hardened to the world, but internally supple 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, grasped for some of the peace I lost when she walked away, but none remained. 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. So much had changed. So much had happened and yet, at that instant, I visualized 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.