Written three years ago. I’ve always liked this short little piece.
Sometimes she sees me, other times she does not. Sometimes she greets me with a warm smile, other times it is a cold stare. It is these latter times when I feel as though I cannot go on, when my heart seems to be breaking. Ironically, in all our years of marriage, she was the one who had been worried about me forgetting her. Never would I have imagined it would be the other way around.
Normalcy is a slippery slope, and that slope seems increasingly steep as everything goes from bad to worse. Normalcy had been warm dinners in the dead of winter, barbeques in the heat of the summer, and lazy evenings doing nothing but basking in each other’s company and, perhaps the glow of the television. Normalcy had become waiting rooms, unwanted telephone calls, and hospital beds.
The last of these had become our new home in a matter of three short years – or long years, depending on which way I looked at them. We were no longer surrounded by our usual comforts – by the baby blue and cream-colored bedroom of our house – but were forced to come to know the cold off-white, drab walls in her private room. We were there so often that I began to find comfort staring at the pale border of wallpaper littered with bleached flowers on an ashen background. It was haunting. Those walls were soon replaced by the soft, mint green ones of the home in which I had to put her. After only a year, she became too much for me to handle, and I had to go back on everything I vowed never to do. What else could we do?
I say “we” as if the two of us were trapped there together. I was free to leave; she was the one stuck. Yet I was there every day or else my guilty conscious would get the best of me. It broke my heart each time I walked into that building. Half the time, she didn’t know any better. The other half of the time was another story. That other half I had to grin and bear it, as they say, and pretend that everything was perfectly fine and normal.
“I brought along our song,” I told her as I put the compact disc into the player on her nightstand. Music was the key to calming her, I had discovered some weeks ago. The song started and she quieted down immediately, the melody taking her back years. “Sleepy Time Gal” was the first song we had danced to as a married couple.
“You look stunning,” she whispered, a serene smile forming on her face. She had breathed those exact words to me before.
“So do you,” I replied. It was easier to go along with things by this point. How often had I done so in the past?
“I’ve always loved Glenn Miller. It’s too bad he disappeared in World War Two. Maybe he could have played for us at our wedding…”
She always started to ramble until she tired herself out. I sat patiently and waited by her side, in case she started to panic.
It all came to a peak one morning in late September. I had brought daisies, her favorite flower, to put on her bedside while she was still asleep. She looked particularly docile that day and it made me smile; it had been almost a month since she had been like this. I walked over to her bedside and leaned down to brush her mahogany hair out of her face, but the tender act woke her up. She mumbled something incoherent as she stirred.
“What was that?” I asked. It took her a few moments to be able to speak.
“James?” she whispered, her eyes lighting up as she caressed my cheek with her frail hand. I bit back sudden tears and nodded, forcing a smile to answer her question. It had worked. “Oh James. I love you so much. I can’t believe we got away with it…I never thought any of this would happen.”
“Neither did I,” I replied, startled and heartbroken.
My name is Hank.