* * *
I never thought we'd last so long.Â I never thought I'd outlive you, the Hercules of athleticism and health. I never counted on things we cannot anticipate.
Your sun set early today, you had five good minutes. Five minutes before you lapsed into forgetfulness.
Outside, the sky is a steely paste; inside, the room feels dank and grey, despiteÂ Â flower paintings on the yellow walls.
I hate to to see you like this, I ache; these 25 years have sped by on a jet, five miles high; yet, when the sonic boom sounds and they tell me you're gone, my heart will stop dead in its tracks.
I see you as a kaleidoscope; each day, I want to reclaim more of you before you are lost forever.
Looking through the kaleidoscope, I see fragments. You are fragile; someone walks into the room, and the kaleidoscope suffers a knock; I've lost the pattern I just saw and you are out of whack again.
You keep losing yourself; you're lost to yourself, to me, the world, to everything that matters a damn whit.
Long ago, I saw you as a force I wanted to leave; slowly, I took the prism, (which is my mind) and saw you through another angle -Â I saw your hurt, your confusion; our shared pain.
Eventually, I forgave you; forgave you from that which can never be forgiven, yet I forgave you. The heaviness of not forgiving was too much, so I forgave you.
Your spirit lags today; yesterday, you were brighter. Yesterday, you told the story of the vultures. Do you remember how it went? Can I tell it to you now to help you remember?
We were hiking on Mt. Wachusett, and we stopped to drink from the canteen. Three turkey vultures overhead circled us as we drank. They began to circle lower, sniffing us out.
We were not dead, yet. The turkey vultures flew high, circled upward, looking elsewhere.
I smiled and held your hand in mine; you smiled back. Our hand holding was a symbol of life that not even the vultures could take from us. Until now.
Yesterday, we had one good hour together.
Then you spoke of war. War when you were a bad soldier and went with the platoon to the front. Your cameraman was killed by the bomb that took your legs, and you spoke of the months in rehab before you returned to work; when you returned, they put you on Features, not News. The war broke your legs, your mind, your spirit, your heart. Yesterday,Â you told me how you loathed fighting in that war. Your eyes were bright and you smiled. You were proud to have fought in that war, you said.
That was a lie you tell yourself. You never fought in that war. It was your brother who fought that war, but his brains were left splattered on the front.
Your soldiering is now. You are fighting the war we all fight. You are fighting in a war we all lose.
The kids don't visit much anymore. They want to remember when they were small, when you took them to the quarter-mile track. You were silly, a goofy dad, who told jokes and exotic tales about people who never existed, stories you made up because they were silly. We laughed till our sides split, then we sang songs during the ride back home. This, they loved most about you--that you were not afraid to be a child with them.
Now you are a child and they can't look. The kids have not yet learned to adjust their prism.
Years ago, after your mother died, we made love - this was celebration, not sacrilege. I played your body with my fingers; my fingers were chisel and potter's wheel, your body was clay.
Out of that clay, our love was made; I pressed your flesh, trying to make it live; we were each Pygmalion to our muse. Out of that night, we were reborn.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â Â *
Too much time has passed. I have waited too long. I am old and you are old.
* * *
Last year, IÂ did not find time when you were in your best light. I did not find time to tell you how much I had once loved you. Now, the time for such sharing has passed; that time is over. Soon, it will all be over.
The doctor delivered the news today: You will not be going home. Too much damage to the heart muscle. Your heart attack, which had seemed minor at the time, caused extensive damage.Â This is where the train stops.
When you fell into a coma, I wanted to believe you could hear me. Can you hear me, I asked. My whispers breathed love into your ear, hoping you could hear me.
The children and I sat in the room, waiting. Waiting for the moment we knew would come.
The four of us fixed our gaze between the monitors and your face.
It would not be long now. This, we knew.
I took your left hand; Anne took my other hand, Michael took Anne's, the ICU nurse took Michael's, then the nurse took your other hand in hers.
We watched as your pulse slowed.
We watched as your blood pressure weakened.
95 over 55.
The nurse said it would not be long, now.
We squeezed your hand, each in turn and said, "I love you, Dad."
Heart rate 50.
"I love you, Dad."
Blood pressure 80 over 40.
"I love you, Dad."
Heart rate 35.
Blood pressure 40 over 20.
It was my turn.
"I love you, Drew."
Heart rate 20.
Blood pressure 20 over 10.
Your skin looked waxy - your sleep was like death, but still your chest heaved.
I craved each breath you took, and I watched in slow motion; I saw our life playing onÂ a clickety-clackety filmÂ reel before my eyes.
From our first shuddering kiss when we breathed our souls into each other, we knew we had found something long in the making; seeing you now, you are shriveled, your breath, the death rattle.
I am not ready. I'll never be ready, I won't give you up.
In my sleep you will haunt me with visitations from the grave; I'll know you're at my side, still sleeping as spoons, as we tasted each other's warm, sticky breath in first morning's light before we unfurled into mad, mad love.
I watched. I saw. I wept.
* * *
I keep having that dream, knowing that one day it will cease to be only a dream.
This is the last in the fictional series on marriage and family.
Previously:Diary of a Marriage: 2 (fiction) - The summer I found the rabbit
Diary of a Marriage 3 - (fiction) Just When I Need You All So Damn Much
Diary of a Marriage 4 (fiction) - The refrigerator hums along in middle C
These were originally on Gather last year under a different title; they have been rewritten since that time.
Copyright Â© 2007, 2008, 2009. Kathryn Esplin-Oleski. All rights reserved.