May 15, 2018 by Sarah Van Goethem
In Your Eyes
One of us is dying.
Not like when you ‘accidentally’ got me pregnant when we were twenty. We couldhave actually prevented that, but I guess if I had to choose, if I had to go back in time, I wouldn’t avoid that, because we have her now. We have three of them now. The point is, we could have prevented that. But that’s different than this.
If there was a way to thwart this, I don’t know what it was.
And now we’re dying.
The nurse comes to the house now, it’s gotten that bad. I can’t tell which one of us she doesn’t trust, but I can see it in her eyes, when she asks the questions and knows our answers will be different. And she nods her head and her voice is all sweet and syrupy and her eyes sympathetic and I think you like her more than you like me these days and I have to find a reason to follow her to her car and tell her privately how you lied. How you tell her you’re fine when you aren’t. But then she turns it around and asks how I am, no really, how am I doing? Like it matters.
You even lie to yourself.
But not me. I’m honest to a fault. And it’s killing me. The knowing. While you dither your day away in a state of denial, I wallow in the facts, the statistics, the horror of the situation. And at night, when I finally try to find peace in the ritual of sleep, you pace the floor, step after step, one step closer to death’s door. The darkness of night brings reality to you, and you cling to me, you clutch at me like you’re drowning, but the swells are too much, and I can’t save you, and you’re pulling me under. And the terror in your eyes is in my heart.
My hands are going numb sometimes, like pins and needles, they fall asleep and I clench them and try to make them come back to life. My right leg feels the same, heavy and hollow and it scares the shit out of me and I jump on the kid’s trampoline in the backyard until I collapse because I can barely breathe any longer. And then I lay there laughing because this doesn’t happen to young people that have a whole life yet to live. It’s ludicrous.
We said “I do,” at the church where both my grandparents and my parents were married, a tradition passed down. And I wore the white lacy dress with the crinoline underneath and flowers in my hair and I saw in your eyes that I was beautiful. And my grandparents were there, and my parents, all together still, which I suppose is almost peculiar in the grand scheme of things, but it fed my expectation that we would be together until we were old. And I said “in sickness and in health,” but I didn’t know what I said; I didn’t know that the sickness portion could be a reality so soon. And I feel betrayed now, deceived by unrealized opportunities. Or maybe by you. Or maybe just myself.
The children will be orphans if we both die. That thought makes me panicky, makes my heart beat faster and my palms go sweaty, and when I pass you in the hallway sometimes I glare at you, because I am just so sick and tired of it all and I didn’t ask for this and neither did you, but there’s no one to blame and anger is a funny thing when there’s no direction for it. And in your eyes is sorrow, and I see me, oppressive and hard-hearted, but even I know its self-preservation, a means of survival.
And then I feel guilty. Embarrassed by my own fallibility, my failures at being a worthy caregiver, in short, by being human. But you’re mean sometimes too, maybe not quite mean, but something like that, something unpleasant. Something that shuts us out, the kids and I, like a veil between your world and ours, like you’d rather be alone, like you’re pulling away from us. Maybe that’s the way it has to be. We each die in our own way.
But other times, oh other times, the memories of our youth, so fresh on our heels, the remembrances of our free times, of laughter and your strong arms around me, my refuge and protection against the world, makes me place my hand on your head and beg God to take it all away. And the look in your eyes, the absolute tenderness that lets me know I am your dearest of all, and that you know I would give just about anything to make it go away, to have you back, to separate you and it. Because it doesn’t seem right that you are made to endure this. That I am made to suffer this too.
The diagnosis was given to us like a head on collision. No matter the sterile room, the ageing oncologist with his white hair and round glasses, the controlled environment and structured setting. No preparation could ever be enough for a glioblastoma, a deadliest of brain cancers, a havoc-wreaking tumour with the sophistication of a lady and the shrewd cunning of a mad- scientist. Something so complex and multifaceted that they offer us no hope. On the paper in black and white: Prognosis, one year. And here we are, after the crash, in critical condition, both of us with life-threatening injuries.
And you ask me, in all earnestness, with no jealousy, with only love in your eyes, if I think I will find someone else after? And how do I answer that? It’s a question lacking an answer, because I don’t know the future, I don’t know anything except the gravity of the situation right now. But you answer it yourself, with a kindness outside of my current understanding, and I know in this moment that it’s you who is dying, and not me.
“I want you to,” you say, and tears fall from your eyes and streak your cheeks and your head is in my hands and I kiss the tears away, and I know my heart has broken and there is no repair.
And I lay in the hospital bed with you as the end is nearing, and I am curled up in your arms, like in the beginning, like how we started out, only then we stared up at a blue sky and a future of castles in the clouds, and now I stare at fluorescent lighting and tiled ceilings on my own because your eyes are shut and you are sleeping. My auburn hair cascades over your arm and I pull that arm around me tighter because it doesn’t do your bidding any longer. Nor does your leg on the same side, or your speech for that matter. But when you open your eyes they are as blue as always, unchanged, like the sky and the ocean, and in them I see me, scarred and broken, and I’m uncertain again as to which one of us is dying. So I sacrifice myself.
“It’s okay,” I tell you, “You can go.”
It’s what I’m supposed to do, I read that in the books, the ones that tell you what it’s like at the end, because I have to know, I can’t have any more surprises. But I know that I mean what I say, because there is no life here anymore, not like this.
“Whatever’s out there, it’s got to be better than this,” I tell you, and I know you’re scared, but you nod your head, and I see acceptance in your eyes. Yours and mine.
I tell you I love you, and you say “LOVE. YOU,” back. And it’s halted and thick and I know it takes effort, but I never forget it.
Your eyes close then, never to reopen. Sealed is the mirror to my soul. Your feet grow cold, I know because I lift the blankets and touch them and the life is going out of you, first at the limbs and working its way up to your core. Your breathing gets slower and further apart, and the last one comes in a gasp and the exhale pours out long and empty, and that is all. Except the crying I hear, sorrowful sobbing which haunts my dreams still, the weeping of the dead, which apparently, belongs to me.
It was you who died. In the end, the rational and reasonable answer is that you died. I watched it happen and somehow sight makes things more real. Feelings, emotions, aren’t given as much validation. If they were, then I died with you.
And somewhere we are dancing in the rainbows, in a ribbon of light that flows through the blue of your eyes. The place I always saw me.