“...To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you."- Basic Protestant Wedding Vow
I once believed in never-ending love. The sensation of everlasting happiness just from catching a quick glance in someone else’s eyes. It is often defined as a feeling that one possesses for another, but when you find it, love is so much more than that. Being in love is not just a feeling, but a new way to live life. Once love is found it can escalate to the point where it completely engulfs you in a world that you have created with that person. This love that I speak of is not the same love that one has for their parents, or a pet, or any inanimate object, but someone who you spend every waking moment wanting to entrance in this illusion that nothing can go wrong when you are with them. They give you feelings that impel you to act and do the most preposterous things that you would never have considered before. They are an extension of yourself that is unflawed in every way. This is what she instilled in my very core. She was real. What we had was not spurious, but to the average man, it might seem as though it was. My love for her can never fade. As time continues to pass it only can proliferate, for never could my love for her be lost.
The first time I saw her I was sixteen. Valentine’s Day was nearing and on my walk home from school, my father had asked me to pick up a dozen white lilies, my mother’s favorite, which I did every year. As I was paying for the flowers, my eyes started to drift towards the window. There I saw her. Her small circular face that still had the iridescent glow of a young child, yet her piercing big, brown eyes, bestowed a sense of wisdom beyond the age her face resembled. Loose curls fell behind her and as she continued to walk with her eyes fixed forward the faster I wished to pay for the flowers. I grabbed them and absconded for the door, promising to compensate for them later. Once I stood on the sidewalk where she had stood only a few seconds earlier, I realized that she was nowhere to be found. Never had I seen a girl so comely. I stood staring in the direction that she went imagining the route that she took and the story behind where she was going.
Later that night, I remember laying in my bed recounting what had befallen earlier that day. I almost had been charged with larceny but was able to come away only with my parents slightly admonishing me for what I had done. When I explained to them the reason behind why I took the flowers, they proceeded to jeer at me for saying something so outrageous. They do not understand and never did. They were only together because that is the natural progression that society portrays. They possess feelings of great admiration and respect for one another, but love is something that they never found. Growing up it was difficult for me to learn what a healthy loving relationship looked like. Never did I ever see my parents express a sort of affection for one another. The most intimate thing that I was able to witness was when my father’s sister passed away, and my mother tried to console him. Silently I watched as my mother took his head in her arms and let him sob into the crook of her neck. Almost instantaneous to his first tear falling upon the bare flesh of her neck was I soon ushered out of the room. I was forced to look to others for romance. I found that as I aged I became a hopeless romantic, and at the age of sixteen, this was something that other teenage boys might find repugnant. This part of me became latent. I tried not to show any emotion at all, yet watched others very intently. A thick and impermeable wall was soon built around my heart, and it would take a lot more than a terse glance at a pretty girl for it to fall into debris.
I found it to be completely astonishing that I could possibly be so smitten with a girl and still not know her name. Many times did I find my mind wandering to the idea of her. It took many years to allow myself to forget about that brief moment in time where my world seemed to pause. At the age of nineteen, I was enlisted in a war that I did not believe in. I felt that war symbolized a weakness in a nation. Never should we result in killing our fellow man to solve a conflict that can never be fully understood. I became an accomplice for my country to be used in whatever way they felt fit. A medic was what I was soon deemed. With very little experience in medicine, I learned that to survive I would have to adapt to this new way of life very quickly. Though I realized this too late. I was not fast enough. While over on the other side I became critically injured, which would result in me returning home sooner than expected.
My memory of my return is still very opaque. I awoke to find myself lying in a hospital bed with no recollection of ever being put there. A sense of unbridled fear started to rise over me. Many questions bubbled to the surface of my tongue and yet I was not able to articulate what I wanted to say. I sat there alone for quite some time, yearning to hear what my prognosis was as well as what had happened to result with me here. A nurse soon entered my room. An exorbitant amount of time seemed to pass before I was able to catch even a glimpse of what she looked like. When I realized who she was my entire body seemed to freeze. I had to focus on my breathing to try and calm myself down.
She was even more beautiful than the first time I saw her. She looked at me with the same brown eyes that I had seen only once before. The childlike innocence that she had possessed seemed to have matured with age. Her thin lips were perched in a way that made it look like she was questioning something what it was I still have no idea. She pressed her hand to the side of my face and began to speak. Her voice more sweet than I had imagined many years before. “It seems to me that you are one lucky man.” She said looking me over from head to toe. “When they first brought you in, we had no idea if you were gonna make it or not. Now look you’re conscious and everything,” she said with a slight giggle to her voice. I tried to force myself to say something to her, but my tongue failed me yet again and all I could do was let out a rasping moan. Hushing me she said, “ It will take time before you are able to speak, but good thing I am able to do enough talking for the both of us. If there is anything you need, I am Ruth, and I will be in and out all day checking on you.” As she said this she proceeded to pull the blanket up under my neck, and once she finished gave me a nod of approval, then on to the next patient she went.
It did not take much time for me to know that I was utterly and completely in love with her. Every time that she would attend to me, she would tell me some new story about herself. I was a willing participant to this, for I spent most of my time hoping just to hear her voice. When I finally regained my ability to speak it seemed that she started to spend more and more time in my room. I felt that the feelings I had for her she seemed to be reciprocating. I began to find every part of her to be fascinating. The way she would tuck her curls behind only her right ear when nervous. Or the way her smile would take over her entire face when she would laugh making her nose scrunched and her eyes close. I worried that she was not able to see how fond I had grown of her, for the wall that I had built years before was too strong for her gentle hands to tear down. Then one morning after what had seemed like days, but had actually been many months, I was leaving for my walk through the garden outside which I did once every day, and she asked if she could join me. Gladly I accepted her offer and taking her on my arm walked her through the only beauty, besides her, that could be found in that awful place.
This walk was one of the last that I ever took in the hospital, for soon I was completely healed and ready to return to as normal a life that I was able to find. I often look back and remember the months I spent there and think that if it were not for her I would have died there. What else did I have to believe in besides the hope of seeing her each day? It was the last day that I was going to spend in the hospital and I had big plans to tell her how much she meant to me. I was going to explain how I had seen her once before and had not been able to stop thinking about her since. Tell her that she saved my life and for the past few months had been some of the best I have ever experienced and yet I was located in a place as dismal and bleak as a hospital. When it came time for me to bid her adieu, all I could do was take her in my arms whisper in her ear that I am very thankful for her, then turning to leave without saying furthermore she stopped me and kissed me on the cheek. Her delicate, rosy lips brushing up against my brisk and unruly face. I quickly turned embarrassed that something so beautiful had touched me while I was so rugged-looking at the time. Without knowing what else to do, I managed to force myself to give her a small smile, trying to conceal how I really felt. She then asked the nurse who was escorting me out if we could have a minute and once we were granted that she took my hand in hers.
The conversation that followed I remember only bits and pieces of, for I was too caught up looking at her and focusing on every detail to make sure that I was able to recount for her beauty after I left, that my presence in the conversation was lacking. I do remember that this was the moment I first expressed my love for her, by looking into those captivating brown eyes and telling her that I loved her. A look of shock soon tore through her face, but then soften as I told her everything I had planned to say earlier but had not. When I was finally finished with my long winded rant she looked at me and said, “Grayson, I love you too. I have known from the second that you were brought in you were different.” I looked at her and I could not help but let the idiotic smile fill my face. With a little hesitation, she said, “This isn’t the end of us, it is just the beginning.” After she said this I could not control myself anymore, I knew in this moment that she was all I wanted. All I needed from here out. I lifted her with ease off the floor almost interrupting her last sentence, and without thinking about what I was doing kissed her. Not knowing what I was doing, I seemed to have startled myself as well as her. I felt the walls that I had built come thundering down, for there was no need for them now. It was now her role to protect my heart, and this she did with the same grace and devotion that she did with everything else.
Life moved rapidly for us. Before I even knew what happened we were moving into a tiny two bedroom house. The day we moved in was one I will never forget. All day we had spent moving our belongings into the house and were so exhausted after the day came to a close. We were lying on our makeshift bed which consisted of her old mattress and some purple and green throw blankets, she was resting her head on my chest playing with her new rings, I was dozing off just enjoying being in the company of someone like her, when she looked up at me and said, “ Don’t you think this house is us?” I looked at her with a slight bit of confusion, she continued, “ Think about what is going to take place here. All the memories that we’re going to create together. It just boggles my mind.” She giggled then kissed me. Then we returned to the way we were until she fell asleep, for I stayed awake watching her chest fall up and down, thinking that I will never let anything hurt her. It is amusing to look back at the promises I made to myself, promises that I did not fulfill. If I only had kept that one to myself, maybe she would still be here.
Our relationship was not always perfect. I had trouble finding work, making money sparse. This created unneeded tension for the both of us. Living solely on the salary of a nurse we barely made it by some days. We had nights that we spent screaming at one another, not truly irate with one another, just upset with how we were living. This is not how we pictured our lives together would be. My love for her never faltered through it all. When I was finally able to find work at a local wellness center, things seemed to be looking up. We began to allow ourselves to be happy again. Enjoying the little things in life. I would leave earlier than her and would always make her breakfast no matter how much of a hurry I was in. I would leave her small notes expressing my love for her, which I found out later she kept. Before I left for work each morning she would look at me and say, “Grayson, I love you too.” Just like she had the first time. She was the reason I was happy for many years. Until she left me forever, without even saying goodbye.
It was a cold morning in early January and I was beginning to show signs of my age. I usually tried to not picture myself as an old man, but for some reason could not help myself. My hair that was once full and a deep brown seemed to now resemble the snow of which I was stepping on making my way to my car. Age was much kinder to Ruth, I thought. Nothing really changed about her besides some gray could be seen in her hair. That morning was different, though. I had made her breakfast like I normally do and set it at her spot at the old, beat up kitchen table. As I was leaving to go fulfill my usual errands for her she came out of our room, and for a small moment, I saw the girl I had seen when I was 16 years-old. I looked at her and said, “I fall more and more in love with you every day. To me you are still young for in my mind you have not even aged a day. The most beautiful woman to ever walk the surface of this earth and I am blessed with her presence. What made me so lucky?” She giggled and shooed me away telling me to be home by lunch, then kissed me and told me she loved me like she did every day.
I did as I was told and returned home by lunch, but only to find her asleep. I kissed her cheek then left the room to let her be. I made myself dinner eating alone, which to me seemed peculiar. She always would come out and eat with me, but still I had no intention of stirring her slumber. When I finally went into the room to check on her, it reminded me of the time spent in the hospital where she would check on me all day; now it was my turn. I touched her arm lightly kissing her cheek yet again. She did not move. I looked to see if I could see her chest expanding at all and when I saw nothing, I froze. I froze like I had years before because I knew before the doctors arrived, I knew she was gone. Gracefully she went like she did everything in her life, leaving me behind to pick up the pieces of my own shattered heart.
Not a single tear had left my face while they were carting her off. It seemed like complete and utter chaos, tons of people came to the house and looked at me with pity-filled eyes saying blankly that they were sorry. Then I was left alone. When I began to process what had happened this is when the tears started. Once they came I had no way to stop them. No control over anything it seemed. All I wanted was her. She was the only person who could possibly help me surmount anything, so how was I supposed to be able to subjugate something as great as her. I blamed myself for this happening to her. I should not have left her that morning. I should have woken her up when I could have. There were so many things I could have done to protect her and yet I had failed.
Many nights I spent without sleep, reliving my life with her. Every ounce of that house beheld some memory with her, good and bad, just like she had said it would. It seemed like I was starting my life over which seemed ridiculous at my age. I know that she would not have wanted me to dwell on her passing for as long as I did, but again I had no control over anything it seemed. To me, it felt like the part of me that made me who I was had suddenly disappeared. I was lost without her. I always promised her that I would never leave her; never did I ever imagine she would leave me. Sometimes I wished that I had never let the wall fall because it was excruciating trying to salvage what was left of my heart. When I think of how selfish these thoughts are, it makes me realize how despicable it is to think like this. She gave me so much in her life. I should be grateful for what I had when I had it. It is unobtainable to some, yet those who find it do not know what they have. Now, I am able to realize what I had and cherish that I had it. Love and cherish her forever.
I was in the guest bedroom poking around searching to find a good book to read to help take my mind off of what today was, my first Valentine’s day without her, when a letter fell out from the one I so happened to pick up. It was addressed to me and obviously written in Ruth’s handwriting. I debated opening it because if Ruth had wanted me to read it why would she have not given me the letter? Then felt that it was somehow fated for me to find it and quickly tore open the envelope. Many tiny pieces of paper fell to the floor, and behind all the pieces was a letter. The tiny papers I could instantly tell were all the notes that I had written her each morning. She had kept them. Picking them up brought tears to my eyes making me think of my love for her. I took a deep breath before reading the letter. I had no clue if I was ready for this or not.
My dearest Grayson,
I never really could find the words to express what you mean to me. This
letter I have written what feels like a thousand times and still I do not know if
I can say it quite right. Waking up every morning it was always a goal to put a smile
on that face. You make me feel like I am more than I am. Never have I been happier
than when I am wrapped up in your arms. You tell me every day how beautiful I am
and yet I have seen myself age and will never understand this part of you. My life
without you would not have been complete. You made me whole. You made me the
way that I am. I want you to know that not a day went by during my life with you
where I did not feel loved. In fact like how you said your love for me grew, I would
fall for you every morning all over again.
The love that I have for you is bigger than us both. I have realized that both
you and I are habitual creatures. Making our lives together seemed very planned and
regular. To me, we were not this way. For every day was a new adventure with you.
I was just waiting to embark on the next expedition. Promise me that if I am the one to
leave first that you love me enough to say goodbye and move on. I hope that is not
what is comes down to this, but it is what has to happen. You know that when you are
upset it hurts me just as much as it does you. I love you, Grayson, and hope that you
never forget the love, memories, and laughter we shared.
To the love of my life,
With that, I let loose the emotion that I had been holding back for too long. Sobbing uncontrollably. I love you too Ruth, forever and always even after death do us part.