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Marcus was going to stay over his sister June’s house for a few days. She and Rhonda had been like sisters. So she needed him as much as he needed her right now. He could tell that his wife’s death had really hurt her. He walked into the kitchen and sat down with a mug of coffee. In the next room he could hear June and her son talking.
“Mom you said I could go see her before she…” Bobby trailed off.
“She didn’t want you to see her like that. She was very sick, and that’s not really something for a kid to see.”
“But I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” Said Bobby.
“Neither did I.” Marcus muttered into a cup with “Rhonda” written on the side.
Marcus had never taken a sick day in all the year’s he had taught at Thompson Elementary. Today he needed to take a sick day, not for him but for Rhonda. For the past few weeks she hadn’t been eating much, and seemed to lose a lot of weight. Her gums were also bleeding, and this morning she woke up with a fever. Marcus decided something was wrong, and made her go see a doctor. That’s where they were now, sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for results of the blood test. The doctor came in and pulled his stool closer to them.
“I’ve got some bad news,” he said, “you have a low red blood cell and platelet count. We think you might have AML.”
“What’s that?” asked Rhonda.
“AML is acute myelocytic leukemia.”
“But I thought only children could get leukemia.” Said Marcus.
“No adults can get it too. There is treatment though. We’ll need to start intense chemotherapy in order to kill off as many leukemic cells as we can. This is probably a lot to take in right now. I’m so sorry.”
With that the doctor got up and left Marcus and Rhonda to think about what he had just said. Marcus moved closer to Rhonda and took her hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, “I’m not sure. I thought I just had bad gingivitis. Looks like I’m
going to have to cancel my new gym membership huh?”
“I would think so. You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry you’ll see you’ll be fine. I know it.
“I hope you’re right.” She said.
“Me too,” he said, “me too.”
Rhonda started her chemotherapy treatment a few months after that doctor’s visit. The doctor said that the point of chemotherapy is to kill off as many leukemic cells as possible. Unfortunately chemotherapy also kills cells that are needed. So Rhonda has needed frequent blood transfusions to get her red blood cell count to increase. After her chemotherapy it seems that all she wants to do is sleep. Some days it seems like she might slowly be getting better. Today is not one of those better days. The doctor said that the chemotherapy has been killing the blood forming system in Rhonda’s bone marrow. They will need to replace it with new healthy bone marrow through a transplant. He also said that finding a matching donor can be time consuming, and that even if a donor is found Rhonda’s body might reject the new marrow.
“Rhonda do you have any siblings or other close relatives?” the doctor asked.
“No,” she said, “I’m an only child, and any other relatives have passed away by now.”
“Can I be her donor?” Marcus asked.
“Well we can see if you are a match, but it’s highly unlikely. If it turns out you aren’t a match then we can put Rhonda on a transplant list.”
“Wouldn’t it take a long time for me to get a donor from a transplant list?” Rhonda asked.
“Well,” the doctor said, “it can take a while to find a donor that’s a match. Marcus I can make you an appointment to get your bone marrow tested, but I you need to know that it will be a very painful procedure. So if you change your mind it’s no problem, it would be perfectly understandable.”
“Thanks but I’m not changing my mind anytime soon.”
Marcus was on the operating table. He was partially dopey because of the anesthesia. He could see all his surroundings. He mostly concentrated on the ceiling above him, trying to ignore the large needle with a syringe being put into his pelvic bone. As he tried to count the dots on the ceiling tiles he thought about the children they could never have. He imagined what they would look like, and what they could have been when they grew up. Hopefully none of them would choose to be an art teacher like him. He should have picked a career that had some money in it. That way he wouldn’t have to fix everything around the house. He hated always having to fix broken things. He hoped he could fix Rhonda though. Then maybe he could make up for the life they could have had. Instead of having cookie walks at school, instead of bargain hunting at every store they went to, and instead of having the average lives of average people. Well, maybe they could have had more, their lives could have been better, and he could have been better. Marcus hoped that he would be a donor match. Then he could fix Rhonda, and maybe she would forgive him.
The pencil quickly went across the page. It created an oval that once had olive colored skin. It kept moving as if it wasn’t even touching the paper. It went on to make large eyes the color of grass, and a nose that fit the face perfectly. Next it went on to make her mouth, eyebrows, ears, and hair, exactly as Marcus could remember them looking. Then a long slender neck wearing the string of pearls that he had bought her on their 10th wedding anniversary. He stopped drawing there. The rest didn’t matter, just this headshot that froze her in time. He didn’t want to go on to draw the legs that had deceived her, or the hands that he had held when she died. There it was done. It was Rhonda, not the sickly Rhonda that he couldn’t help, or the Rhonda that had died while waiting for a transplant. No it was the wife that he remembered, and that was now immortalized in a frame. She would forever be in Marcus’ memory as a frozen portrait of his past. He would have to live with her memory, but without her. He knew that he would have to help her see the world through his eyes. That way she would never die. Marcus made a lot of drawing like this. Some of them were of things that they had done together, or important times that they had shared. He drew Rhonda’s life as he remembered it. He then put all of these in frames and put them around his house. Each week he would go and bring flowers to Rhonda’s grave site. There was a green space of grass right next to her site. That one was reserved for Marcus. As he looked at the reserved plot he thought about how long it would be before he used it. He hoped that when he died he would be able to see Rhonda again. Probably not though, because she would be in some special part of heaven that only the truly perfect people can get into. Marcus knew he wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but he hoped that when he died Rhonda could forgive him for not being able to fix her.
At work Marcus had started talking to his coworker’s more. He went to the staff Christmas party, and accepted to have dinner with Sheila. Sheila was becoming a close friend, one that he felt he could confide in. She had just started working at the school a little over a year ago, but she already knew about Rhonda. She even went with Marcus to see her grave sight. He hated to admit it, but he liked her company, and she seemed to like his too. Marcus found that each day was becoming easier, that he would call Shelia or June if he missed Rhonda. When he called Shelia she would listen, and would sometimes come over to visit with him. He found it nice to have another person in his house. He and June would talk about past times, and it seemed like they only remembered the good things. They never mentioned when she got leukemia. They never even mentioned that she was dead. She still seemed very alive to both of them, and Marcus hoped that that was the way it would stay. So far he was fulfilling his promise to himself; he was keeping Rhonda alive in his memory. He was slowly starting to realize that he couldn’t change the past. He saw that he could not change that Rhonda had become sick, or that she had died. He came to see that he didn’t need to be mad at himself, because it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t need to be mad at Rhonda or anyone else either, because it wasn’t really anyone’s fault except fate. Fate is what had brought Rhonda and Marcus together. It had also ripped them apart. Maybe fate was bringing Marcus and Sheila together. Marcus imagined that Rhonda would be able to hold the remote of fate, and that maybe she had picked Sheila for him. He was now able to see that fate is not a person he could be mad at. It wasn’t something he could blame. Marcus now saw that fate was simply an element of life, and that sometimes tragedy can lead to happiness.