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Couldn't If I Tried
Two years ago, I was lost in a haze of delirium, my mind a captive of my fever. Somehow I’d gotten sick and I had to stay at the hospital as my body fought its way to health.
An unwilling slave to the fever, my mind would show images of pain and loss to me. Some were real, but others were only projections of my fears. The real illusions were ghosts of the past that I had come to terms with before. I’d see the day my dad packed his bags and left for a business trip, only to die in a plane crash that took the lives of hundreds. That was always followed by the images of my mother laying in our empty bathtub as her blood ran from her wrists, staining the whiteness red. She had tried to take her own life after my father died, apparently not able to live her life without him. They were able to save her and after she was hospitalized, she got stronger, realizing she still had me to live for, although it still hurt to think that I wasn’t enough for her when Dad was gone.
Those painful memories, however, were nothing compared to the hallucinations of my fears. Those were the worst. They were always about the same person and always had the same ending: he died. Nothing tore at my heart more than the sight of his still, lifeless body lying where ever my fever stricken mind chose to steal his life. The few times I had been able to pull myself free of my fever’s hold after those illusions, I could feel tears in my eyes, on my cheeks, and on the pillow beneath my head.
One such time, I pulled free of my fever and woke to the heat of a strong hand gripping mine and the chill of drying tear tracks on my cheeks.
“Gabrielle,” I heard a voice sigh, relief evident in the soft sound. My eyes sought the face attached to that voice. It wasn’t far. I found Alex sitting by my side, his pale eyes looking into mine. A sudden image of the last time I had seen those eyes, staring ahead blankly, never to move again, flashed in my mind and the tears began again.
“Don’t ever leave me. Please, don’t you ever leave me. No matter what,” I sobbed, tightening my hold on his hand. Confusion covered his face, but he still replied, “I won’t.”
“Promise me,” I begged. I didn’t know what had come over me, but I knew I had to get Alex to promise. If he promised, I knew he’d never let me down.
He stood and kneeled at my side, bringing his eyes level with mine. He brought our joined hands to his lips and kissed them.
“I promise you, Gabby, that I will never leave you, no matter what happens. I won’t ever leave you. I’ll always be here for you.” He smiled that sweet smile that he knew I loved.
“Besides, I couldn’t leave you if I tried.”
Everything in the hospital was white – the walls, the floors, the sheets that hid the sickness from the world – as if the people of the hospital assumed that such a pure color might heal the sick and injured. As I sat in Alex’s room, I listened to the different machines beep throughout the hospital floor, announcing to anyone that would listen that the people they were attached to were alive, if only barely. The smell of the hospital was sickening, a stomach-turning combination of the fumes of heavy antiseptic, disease, and decay. Every time I would walk down the halls, where the smell was strongest, I had to try not to gag. I also had to try not to cry.
It was disheartening to walk the hospital halls, see the closed doors, and know that the room may hold a body whose soul was trying desperately to flee. I tried not to focus on it, but the knowledge, which was never to far from my mind, occasionally crept back to the forefront of my thoughts. Sitting at Alex’s bedside, I tried my hardest not to think of death. If I did, I knew that I’d fall apart.
I clutched his limp hand in my smaller one, remembering when it would swallow mine in its warmth. I squeezed it gently, wishing some of my health could drain into him, wishing for anything and everything that would keep him here with me. It was selfish, but I didn’t care.
No one ever mentioned this part of losing someone you love to me. They mentioned the pain of losing them forever, but I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the helplessness you feel as they lay in a bed and die, while you sit to the side and watch, an audience for Death’s performance. My heart ached knowing that no matter how much I wished it to be otherwise, I might lose him.
I was losing the most important person in my life and all I could do is sit there and watch as he slowly slipped away.
I buried my face in his lap and tried not to flinch at his stillness. His body seemed so lifeless, despite the steady bleep of the machine that spoke of his beating heart. This was not my Alex. My Alex could never be this still. His hands were always drumming out some staccato beat on anything in his reach or his legs would bounce up and down as he sat on my couch, telling signs of his barely contained energy, his abundance of life.
But it was gone now. Memories of Alex smiling and laughing and just living his life filled my mind. Tears, evidence of my pain and fears, fell from my closed eyes and soaked the blanket beneath my face.
I couldn’t imagine never seeing him smile again, to never again see that serene look on his face as his fingers fluttered over the strings of his guitar, to never again listen to his heart beat as he held me close, to never again enjoy the look of love in his eyes.
“But he promised,” my mind whimpered as it tried to imagine a life without him. It broke my heart to think that Alex may not be able to fulfill that promise he’d made to me so long ago, that maybe it wasn’t in his power to do so.
Anger, white-hot and burning, coursed through me and I lifted my head and glared up at Alex’s beautiful, broken face.
“Alex, come back to me. You can’t just leave me; you said you couldn’t. Come back,” I demanded. Didn’t he know how much I needed him?
“You promised you wouldn’t leave me! You promised!”
He remained silent. Guilt consumed me when I realized what I was doing. I was yelling at him to come back to me while he lay there fighting for his life, my only thoughts on how much I needed him with me. I was so selfish.
Still crying, I stood over Alex and bent down, leaning my forehead against his. My tears rolled down my face and fell onto the pale flesh of his cheek. I gently
wiped them away and held his face in my hand. Pressing a kiss to his still lips, I pulled back and murmured, “I’m sorry.” I sat back down in my chair and held his hand to my reddened, tear-stained cheek.
Even though Alex couldn’t keep his promise to me, I could keep it for him. I wasn’t going anywhere. I would always be here to wait for Alex, no matter how long it would take.
Besides, I couldn’t leave him if I tried.