I’ve spent most of my life living like I’m invincible, like nothing that happened in life could touch me. I was arrogant because I had built the walls around myself so high that I thought nothing could possibly breach them. I knew it was foolhardy to love someone, to let them in. My walls were strong enough but I was too weak to keep them up, not in the shining face of my beloved, my wife, my Tina.
Even now as I gaze at her calm and reposed face, deep in restful slumber, and I am overcome with the conflicting emotions of such a life lived. I love her so deeply I cannot even fathom the depth of it or the sheer impossibility of such a phenomenon, but I was foolhardy to have let her in. Just like mom, just like daddy, my family always leaves me. And this time, I fear that I’ll be destroyed, utterly and completely destroyed. I just got her back and I’m going to lose her again.
I take her hand in mine and stroke the smooth alabaster surface reverently as I gaze into her sleeping face. Even frail and pale and motionless, her beauty unfolds before my very eyes. How I love the way her skin stretches over her bones. She’s my life, our daughter is my life, but like Juliet, I don’t know if I have the courage to face it this time. She can’t leave me. I just won’t let her…I just can’t…
The gentle beep of the monitor is the only hope I cling to. It’s not steady, and it’s not strong. What I wouldn’t give to trade places with her. She deserves our daughter more than I do. She deserves to live more than I do. And I would give my life for hers without thought or hesitation. If I could only make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places; I’d be running up that road, be running up that hill, with no problems.
I reach up and stroke the hair at her forehead. ”Come on baby…” There’s no response but the weak, irregular beep of her heart. I squeeze her hand as a tear escapes my eye. ”Come on darling…” Nothing. I sit on the edge of the bed and gaze at her wonderful face. She is beautiful but motionless. I close my eyes, ’God let me steal this moment from her now…’ I hold her hand to my chest but it’s limp with dead weight. ”Come on angel…come on…” My voice is choked with emotion. ”…come on darling…” I stroke her face and the tears fall harder and faster. ’God, please, please…let me exchange this experience with her…’
No one hears me. I’m just talking to myself, just like I have been for the last four days. ”T…don’t leave me…please…” I kiss her lifeless hand and cry piteously. ”T…if not for me, then for our daughter…don’t you hear me?” I gaze hopefully at her face. ”Our daughter needs you damnit! T…please…Angelica needs you. You haven’t even met her…don’t you want to?” I smile through my tears. ”She’s beautiful T…just like you.” I kiss her hand again. ”She’s so tiny, and she’s struggling…just like you…” The tears are so thick in my eyes that everything appears to be viewed through a foggy kaleidoscope. ”They say…they say that she will make it T…but with you…” I cry harder. ”…they just don’t know. Only you do…” I stroke her hand. ”Talk to me T…tell me you’re going to be okay…let me hear your voice…just once…at least one more time…”
She doesn’t respond but I won’t be deterred. She’s in a dark place, just like she was almost two years ago, and just like then, I refuse to leave her there. I will see the light shine in the hazel depths of her eyes again, even if I have to follow her into the dark to see it. They will shine just like they did when we accepted Malcolm’s offer…
BANG! The sound was so loud through the open patio doors that it almost sounded like a gunshot. ”How could you do that Shane?!”
Hurried footsteps walked quickly past the back gate and we all got to our feet to walk to the side windows of the house and peer out. ”Carmen, I’m sorry…Carmen, just listen to me!”
”NO!” Carmen stopped and turned to Shane who skidded to a halt a few feet from her. ”No, I don’t want to hear excuses. It’s over…”
Carmen had angry tears in her eyes and a large bag in her hands as she turned and resumed her hurried stride to her car. Shane followed at a run.
”Carmen…I…I love you…”
Carmen threw her bag into the backseat and opened the driver’s side door before her broken eyes met Shane’s gaze. She snorted an incredulous laugh and said, ”Fuck you…” before entering her car and skidding away. Shane stood there in stunned silence and something I had never seen before happened. She put on hand to her stomach and bent her knees like she was going to collapse, as tears fell freely and openly from her eyes.
I looked to Tina and we gazed at each other for long moments. When I looked back out the window, Shane was crouched down fully, barely holding herself together. I made my way out the back of the house, through the gate, and approached Shane from behind. She didn’t look up as she felt my hand on her shoulder, so I crouched down next to her and wrapped my arms around her. She let me hold her for a few moments but it didn’t last long. She stood abruptly, adopting her everything is peachy expression, and I sighed as I watched her retreat to her house. Fuck…
I looked back to the windows with a heavy heart and stood to start towards Shane’s door. I heard a rough scratching sound where my foot caught against something on the concrete and I looked down. There’s a key. I crouched down and picked it up. It was a standard house key. I shut my fingers around it and closed my eyes. This must be Carmen’s. I stood again and made my way to Shane’s backdoor.
I looked through the window on the door to see Shane standing rigidly still in the living room. ”Shane!” I knocked on the door. I saw her head turn and I could see her profile, but otherwise, she didn’t move. ”Shane! Come on! Open the door!” She turned her head forward again obviously planning to ignore me. I turned the knob to find it locked. I decided to give her one last chance to stop this nonsense of her own volition with a loud banging on the door and a shouted, ”Shane!”
I watched her through the window and she still didn’t budge. I could feel the anger rise up in me. Why anger? Because my friend was following the same path to personal destruction that I did, only she was fully aware. It didn’t have to be this way. I put the key in the lock and turned the door open, walking through with quick, determined strides and shutting the door.
She turned to see me place the key on the kitchen table. I strode over to her and crossed my arms over my chest. ”I won’t let you shut me out Shane.”
She looked me in the eyes and her gaze was so piercing it was almost menacing. Her words were laced with barely contained anger, but Shane is nothing if not well contained. ”None of this would have happened if you had kept your word. Why Bette?”
I furrowed my brows and un-tucked my arms. ”What do you mean?”
She stared right into my eyes and calmly said, ”You’re the only one who knew. Why? I…I trusted you…”
I could feel my mouth drop open. ”Shane, I haven’t breathed a word to anyone, not even Tina.” Her countenance was so accusingly disbelieving that I felt it impale me to the floor like a spear. ”Shane, I didn’t say a word.” Her face started to crumble and she looked down. When she finally tracked her eyes back to mine, she swallowed the pain and the tears that were trying to valiantly to fall. Why wouldn’t she just let them?
Her face looked so broken, and so utterly disappointed and sad that I wanted to reach out to her but I couldn’t do it. Despite her hurt, her aura pulsed with warning. Then, out of nowhere, her face morphed into a dramatic frown as she reached her arm back and swung, hitting me hard in my face. My head snapped to the side and I had to swallow the stinging throb of it.
I reached up and rubbed my jaw and let my anger and hurt wash over me. She bent at the waist, pushing on her bent knees with her palms and I was glad she didn’t look at me again. I was far too angry with her. I didn’t say a word as I left, shutting the door hard behind me.
I looked to my home and hesitated for a moment as I let all the negative emotions swirling inside me go. I love Shane, and she knows it. If she didn’t believe that I kept my word to her, then there was really nothing more to say to her. The rift that this moment created hit hard in my gut as I made my way home.
Malcolm and Tina were standing in the kitchen, Tina hugging him tightly and crying. I smiled as I stepped forward and they both turned to me with brilliant smiles. It was a terrible dichotomy, feeling this happy when there’s so much hurt just twenty feet away, but as I gazed at the joyous face of my wife who came to me and took me in her arms, there was no way not to let it in, let her in. Her joyous tears turned to joyous laughter in the crux of my neck and I beamed at Malcolm over her shoulder. Meeting his eyes, I allowed the seriousness of my gratitude to shine on my eyes as I mouthed the words, ”Thank you.”
His smile turned almost shy as he nodded his head and gave me a knowing look. I squeezed Tina and we both cried harder as he left the room to give us some privacy to glory in this moment together. I buried my face in the hair at Tina’s neck as she continued to shake with happy, relieved laughter, and breathed deep of her calming lavender scent. Thank you Malcolm, thank you…