Hello my love. Today I had your name perched on my lips, your scent still glued to my bedsheets. I made your favourite breakfast. I smiled all day. Thank you for letting me smile. Thank you for giving me a reason to smile.
I woke up with a bad cough and cigarette ashes plastered to my fingers. Maybe going to the gym yesterday wasn’t a great idea. You always told me to be careful with my cough: it’ll kill you, you know. You’d always said that with a wide grin on your face. The stupid rays of the sun made your teeth glimmer when you did it. You were my sunny boy, you were my darl, you were the cough that built and built in my chest. Now, with the cough building in my chest again, I hear your voice, “Exhale.”
Exhale. White walls were washed out with the backdrop of old Life magazines and the gobbling of a news anchor. Oil prices had risen again. A fire in California. One celebrity went to rehab again. Some people had it great. They screwed up and the world cared; cameras flashing every which way, dollar bills falling like snow in December. If only I didn’t screw up. This was all my fault. Everything. I am so sorry dear. My love. I am sorry.
I’ve been trying to get back to the book you told me to write. Remember? The story about the damsel in distress. The typical film noir. Casablanca setting. The smoke. The lightning. Of course, the gun. It had taken me a long time to flex these feeble fingers into forty foremen, or should I say forty ferocious flanges to write something worth your eyes, something you’d approve of (I have been trying to use tasteless alliteration to improve my writing because this book hasn’t been touched in twelve months. Even the dust has begun to get old. My ancient writings look like cuneiform against the yellow tarnished pages). Your fingerprints are still washed against every page, your laugh is still imprinted in between each letter.
The idea to get back to the book has been nagging me for weeks. I was always nagged by it, but never did I feel the pressure more than now. Gravity has increased ten fold. I was on Venus, being squished into a tiny little ball of mass, and then poof. Like Venus, whose name comes from the Roman goddess of beauty, my will was a misnomer. It wasn’t will but wilted. My will gave in, and my pen hit the parchment. It’s all been rubbish so far. I moved the book from place to place: the office, the kitchen, and everything turned out futile. I moved to your ‘rec room’ but I could not turn off the distractions: you were playing a game with the dog Mac; you were reading aloud; you were singing with the birds. I wanted to give you space, so I moved again. I was a pilgrim in America, leaving a trail of stones unturned wherever I went. Why didn’t you follow them? Why couldn’t you?
I took out a stopwatch from my bag and turned it on. I didn’t want them to spend five minutes with you, only to cattle you off, claiming “It’s just congestion.” It all happened so quickly. We were ready to try again the night before, and then, you woke up, and it seemed worse than any of the other days. Your nose was bleeding. Your hands were shaking. Your mouth was a black hole where words could not escape. Now that the timer was going, everything would be all right. All we needed was time. A little more, and everything will be okay. 6 minutes. No word yet. 23 minutes. The television anchor was discussing a story about a farm. 1 hour and 1 minute. You came out. You aged one hundred years in an hour. You shook your head.
Halloween came early this year. Christmas came late. Your birthday came soon after; everyone was happy. You would of loved it. Most likely, your songs would have been louder than ever before, even though you should’ve been going through a midlife crisis. I placed streamers and banners everywhere. A big Dinosaur was parked on the driveway: “I’m only forty. I’m not extinct yet” it wrote in yellow outlined words. Mac barked so ferociously when he saw it probably because it was on his territory. Or maybe because he hated the idea of getting old.
Oh and we bought a cake. It was strawberry. Your favourite. It was the same one in that photo of you when you planted your face into the cake we made for Grandma’s 97th birthday. Everyone was wearing disco clothes because, “that’s what ‘Nama wants and ‘Nama gets what she wants.” We all danced. And then when it was time for the cake, you were attempting to balance your mother when she fell, and in order to save her from the cake, you fell in yourself. You were always such a knight in shining armour, even when we clad you in it.
The doctor thought you might have appendicitis, so we went to the nearest CAT scan to rule that out. I remember feeling the nauseous mixture of calmness and sadness. I was glad that the doctor ordered a CAT scan of your abdomen, afraid of what it might reveal. The doctor knew what he was doing though. He was not nervous. Why, then, could my hands not stop trembling?
Your name is still carved on our dinner table. “I love you darling” is carved underneath. I always find myself thumbing the engravings, attempting to merge in with them. How I wish I could. Those words have never been more true than today. It isn’t even Valentines day. It isn’t even our anniversary.
After waiting another eternity, the doctor came into the room and told you it wasn’t appendicitis. You smiled when appendicitis was ruled out. And yet, I couldn’t. I knew what he was going to say next. You had no idea. The painkillers illuminated everything in the air of a pleasant buzz. I remember the doctor sitting on the edge of a bench in the exam room, swinging one leg back and forth. His shoes clicked together each time he swung. He had done this one thousand times over. He was calm. You were smiling. I was scared. He took a printout of the scan and circled endlessly on black lumps in your lymph nodes. I nodded stupidly, helplessly. I can still hear your voice, your exact words, as the doctor told you the news. “Well, that’s not good.” It broke my heart to see your face.
You had cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Stage four. No loss of hair, that endless beautiful black hair of yours, could save you.
I am crying now, darl. That’s all I can do. My tears fall on these these yellow tarnished pages, and for a second, it looks like soft rain falling on a sea of dandelions. For a second, it looks beautiful, as if there was a meaning behind it all. Maybe there was.
We went home soon after. For most of the drive, neither of us said anything. The car was silent. Surprisingly, I even kept the tears at bay, welling up in my eyes, not letting me be weaker than you. You were the one who was sick, not me. You always were the strongest of us two. I had to be strong. You wanted me to be strong. But at one point, as we turned by your favourite store, I lost it. I screamed, just one word. Fuck. I was so afraid. So, so afraid.
I remember when we were fluttering through pictures of mausoleums. You always joked that you wished for your ashes to be sprinkled into doughnuts so everyone could enjoy your death. “Krispy Craig,” You’d say with a face twisting itself into a grin. I laughed. I said, “’Don’t be so foolish. This is serious, all of it”. And then, that is when you said it; the words that you never wished you had to say.
“When King Lear finally sucks in his last breath, do you know what Shakespeare chose to wrote? ‘He dies.’ That is all. No elaborate metaphor, no brilliant description, no words of wisdom. Just those two words. Nothing more. And when I pass, despite the seriousness, despite the laughter, despite the life prior to those two words, I want you to know, simply, that ‘I died’.” After those words bravely sauntered from your mouth, I held on to you, wishing that my kisses could pass my life into you.
I carved those two words onto your tombstone because you did die, love. If only I was there to die with you. If only I had cancer instead of you. I am a blind coward. Might I but live to see thee in my touch, I’d say I had eyes again, as Shakespeare would of said. And so, underneath those words, I wrote three others that Shakespeare didn’t even think of. I love you.
Now on this day, one year since your death, twelve long months ago, I sit in front of a book filled with black blood. What importance could it possibly have when you’re gone? The love of my life never to come again. You used to sit beside me reading the recent psychology journal as I wrote. Your hand rested on my leg. But now, the chair where you sat was empty, no one sits in it, the cups you made tea in have not been used, and most of all, my leg is shaking and cold. So I started to cry, pushing the book away, tearing out yellow page by yellow page. No one was there to pick up my pieces.
Then I heard your voice. You weren’t reading in your office, or singing outside the bedroom window, or stuck in some memory, but you were there behind me. You whispered, “Write.” Words are what you wanted me to use. I placed a photo of you on the chair smiling. It was from our honeymoon. You were wearing that goofy Hawaiian shirt. The smile on your face was equally goofy. There on the chair, you were happy to see me work again. Happy to see me.
I wrote, love. I wrote a lot.
The timer that I started from the moment we walked into the earth shattering walls of the hospital until shortly after you walked out of my shattered Earth, I stopped forever when you said, “Where’s home?” 6,409 hours, 57 minutes and 43.6 seconds, and I hope you are home now. When asked what you were doing in those last 43.6 seconds, I said to a friend you were waiting. I think back to that day when they were placing you in the mausoleum with your final words summing up a life, and I realize I am wrong. You breathed. You pulsed. Your heart beat. Your mind created. Your soul ingested. 43.6 seconds is a lifetime. So, I should of said that you lived. Oh how beautiful you looked doing it. How beautiful you looked after it.
And while my clock ticks and it tocks, I will try to remember this day. Each day will be hard, but I will use these seconds leading from today to finish the book. It’s what you want right? Writing is what you want me to do. It makes you happy. Making you happy is all I care about. Making you happy is how I love you. I will write mountains of pages. I’ll turn pens scribbles into little men that ascend to the top of Mount Everest.
But, I remember. I do. I remember you always said, “mountains have been conquered,” so after all that writing I have nothing else to do but wish you were here. I wish we were together. I wish I could whisper my name into your ear. I wish cancer was a thing for my stories, not ours. And yet, wishes are as useless as tears.
Can’t stop them though.