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No Questions Asked
“We’re dating. I don’t ask questions. I make decisions.”
November 15th, 2011. Certain events in my life have since escaped my memory, but I can still clearly picture the way she looked in our high school uniforms. Her hair has grayed and her face has developed a life line of folds, but her skin is as soft as it was the first time I touched it. Her Doc Martens sit in the corner as a remembrance of her early life, and though they are no longer worn, she stares at them often with a tinge of sadness in her chocolate eyes.
I’m nearing 70 now, and she will be 71 in a few months. We both have a ring on our fourth finger, left hand. This detail may seem silly and non-essential now, but it is actually quite essential to my story. Holding hands wasn’t always easy. People stared and occasionally made faces, but she always ignored them, squeezing my hand tightly. I was a little more self-conscious, but she assured me that it was okay.
My children don’t understand and never fully will why being able to hold her hand and walk down a grocery store aisle makes me smile. Nobody stares anymore. Nobody questions us with their eyes. It is always, “You two seem so happy” or “Your children are so well mannered. You and your wife must have raised them well.” My children also don’t understand that when the word “wife” moves through that stranger’s lips so easily and casually, I want to cry and hug them and thank them. When we were younger it was never a guarantee that we could ever use that word.
I remember when I realized I had a crush on her. There seemed in my mind to be no possibility that I could ever be with her. I can recall going to her house countless times and wishing I could tell her. Little did I know that she was wishing the same thing. I stayed shocked for a long time after she told me of her feelings for me. Sitting next to her today with graying hair and folding skin, I am still sometimes in a state of disbelief.
This is not just a love story. It’s more than that. It’s a story about discovery, trust, family, and hardship. Being in a relationship is never easy. Even as a high school student, I knew this. I came across different kinds of relationships everyday-- relationships meant to last forever and those that last in spite of a lack of happiness or commitment. The worst type of relationship, though, is the type you have to hide. The one you want to tell everybody about, but cannot. She and I had that relationship for quite a while.
By the time we started dating, I had yet to come out to my parents. In their mind I was a boy crazy teenage girl with dreams of marrying Leonardo DiCaprio. It came as a big surprise to them when they finally found out. My parents handled things very differently, as they always had before. My mother was angry; angry and in denial. No matter how many times I told her, she refused to believe that I was with a girl. She may have died still saying that it was just a phase, but now that I’m almost 70, I think “just a phase” was probably the wrong thing to say. My father handled it in a completely different way. He didn’t say anything about it. When he finally did, it was usually just to make a joke.
After I was done hiding the reality from my parents, I had to hide the relationship from the school; I had to hide things from the rest of my family. After a while of hiding, I just gave up on it. I was tired of it not being okay. I was tired of people not knowing. Most of all, though, I was tired of people telling me who I could and could not love.
High school couples were often frowned upon for using the word “love.” It was said that they could not comprehend the meaning, and nothing would ever come from their relationships they thought were “forever.” To me, love has always been and still is something that isn’t fully comprehensible. You just feel it. A Webster Dictionary couldn’t define the word for correctly, because the feeling is different for everyone. I knew at a young age that there was a difference between infatuation and love. I could tell when I was infatuated with somebody. It was never infatuation with her.
My grandparents were always the couple I looked up to the most. They were together from the age of 17, and they didn’t stop seeing each other from that point on. My grandfather was always there for my grandmother during the rough patches in her life; he stuck with her no matter what. They were deeply in love their whole life. They were completely devoted to each other for years upon years, which was a big deal then. I wanted something like that for myself.
She has skin the color of chocolate and eyes to match. When she smiles it is big and bright and filled with all the memories we have shared. Her hands are coarse on the bottom and soft as baby’s skin on the top. They tell the stories of her life; past and present and future. She is old now, nearing 71, but none of this has changed. None of it ever will. She has aged gracefully. She believes she could hop on a motorcycle at any time with me on the back. She continues to be stubborn as hell and refuses to be taken to a home. Some days she forgets my name but she remembers my face, and she remembers that she loves me, so she tells me so until she remembers my name as well.
She always feels terribly after, and I always tell her the same thing:
“Don’t worry, love. It’s okay.”
She always answers me with, “No. It’s not.”
I never cry anymore when she forgets my name is Sierra. The first time it happened, her mouth looked as if it knew what it was but couldn’t quite put it all together to say out loud. She made the sound for the letter “S,” then her mouth twisted into a grimace as she failed to form the rest. I cried as she struggled, as I always did when she struggled with anything.
“You’re not allowed to cry anymore,” she told me a few days later.
She has always told me the same thing. Never because she thought it wasn’t okay to cry, but because she simply didn’t want me to be sad anymore. She said it made her sad, too. So for her sake, I always tried to keep a positive attitude about everything. After the first time she forgot my name, I told her I would never cry about it again.
In our old age, we continue to curl up on the couch together the same way we did when we were young and full of the life we had yet to live. Our hands never fail to lock together even as our bones grow weak and arthritic. I still wake her in the morning with an “I love you,” and she still opens her eyes and looks at me like I’m the best thing that has ever happened to her.
It is harder each day for me to walk. I can feel myself on the line between heaven and here, and I know she feels herself at this line as well. One day I sat up in bed with the notion that today would be my last. I told her this through tears and she sat up next to me and rocked me in her arms, rocked me like when we were young and I was in pain.
“It’s our time. I don’t ask questions. I make decisions,” she whispered softly in my ear.
From the first day we were together she had always made the tough decisions that I couldn’t. My mind raced back to the day we started dating, then went forward from there. The wedding, the children, the small moments we sometimes took for granted... The phrase “I saw my life flash before my eyes” had never rung truer than in that moment.
My brain couldn’t make the decision for itself-- to stay on this earth or to move on. So she took my hand and squeezed it as tightly as her aging self could withstand, and she made the decision for me, ending just as we had begun.