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Five Stages of Grief
Author's note: I have a had a fair share of grief in my life, as I'm sure all of us have. I was inspired to write different storylines for every chapter because the causes of grief are innumerous and cannot be summarized in just one plot.
The bed is cold.
Goose bumps cover my skin, and I shiver underneath the white linen sheets. The small amount of light escaping from between the blackout curtains lands on my nose. The rays warm it and the bright light reflects into my eyes. I scrunch up my face and roll over to face the other wall. My ears gradually start working, opening up to the world until I can hear the ticking of the alarm clock on the bedside table. The steady thrumming of running water pounds from a bathroom. Birds chirp relentlessly outside the thick glass window, aiming to keep anyone and everyone awake. I burrow deeper into the blankets and shut my eyes tightly, willing warmth into my body.
The water from the shower shuts off. Light footsteps make their way over to the bed, and the covers lift. He slides quickly into the sheets next to me, pressing against my skin. I turn around and hold myself against his warm chest. A halo of damp hair falls around my head.
I hold my head up for him to kiss me- it takes a moment’s hesitation, but he presses his mouth roughly to mine. I open my eyes. I stare.
I don’t recognize the man lying next to me. I have never seen him before in my life.
I jerk back so quickly from his touch I fall off the bed. A jolt of pain shoots through me as my head hits the corner of the table, and I feel a bead of blood trickle down through my hair. But I don’t stop scrambling backward until I am standing up against the wall.
My eyes are fully open now, and my head jerks back and forth as I take everything in.
I am in a hotel room. Dull paintings of flowers hang on the cream popcorn walls. The curtains are still mostly closed, but I can see clothes strewn on the floor, and a slept-in mattress with covers piled up on the side where I was sleeping.
And I see him- the man with no name.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Eve?”
I flinch; I almost look around to see if he’s talking to another girl behind me. But I have a gut feeling that the guy is talking to me, only to me. Except Eve isn’t me, isn’t my name.
I plaster my body against the wall as he abruptly gets up off of the bed, stopping when he sees my reaction.
He looks confused, maybe even irritated, and doesn’t answer me. He ruffles his hair absentmindedly, staring at me with a mixture of confusion and curiosity in his gaze. The guy looks at me solidly, scrutinizing my body like he’s seen it before- like he knows it.
And it dawns on me. Like the rays shining through the blackout curtains.
No. We didn’t, I didn’t…I couldn’t.
A deep cold grips me, turning my flesh to ice and setting my teeth chattering.
I know I can’t stay. I have to get out of here-home. But I stare at my going-out clothes lying discarded on the carpet, and I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I can’t think.
My mind desperately grabs for an answer.
“Hey? Did you hear me?”
“I have to go.” The words come out strangled and high, my lips barely moving to form them.
I bolt. I lunge for my clothes and rip them on as he stares at me, yelling at me to tell him what the hell is going on. His voice steadily becomes quieter and farther away as the buzzing in the back of my head engulfs all my senses; all I have is sight and static.
I slam the door to the room on his figure, not looking back as I run towards the street.
I know this place; it’s a rundown motel only three miles from home.
As I stumble forward in my strapped sandals, pieces of the night come back to me. I try to push them away with anguish, but flashes of the last twelve hours run through my mind.
I was at the bar on Tenth…I don’t remember why, I was crying…four beers…his name was Ben…my name was Eve…
His hands were rough.
But nothing happened, I keep telling myself. I repeat it so many times, it becomes a chant that never ends, an eternal circle that goes around and around like a broken record- the images in my head scream one thing, while I chant that it’s wrong, all wrong. I almost believe what I’m saying by the time I end up in the driveway.
The spare key is in the cubby behind the mailbox, and the door opens silently. I tiptoe quickly up the white carpet stairs, keeping my eyes glued to the ground. The eyes in the photo frames watch me, burning into my wrinkled clothes, and I wrap my thin coat around me protectively. I make it up to the bedroom and lock the door.
I collapse onto the bed- the blankets are dark blue, downy and deep. My mind jumps back to the hard relentless mattress of the motel, and I cringe.
My gaze flicks over to the dresser next to the bed. The deep cold that thawed a little during my run comes back, worse than before. A thin band of plaited gold sits alone on the wood dresser, a ring- my ring.
The turn of a key in the front door latch tells me that Ryan is home from the night shift.
I am running from the truth. As hard as I can for as long as I can, I deny the past and the memories. I deny them the satisfaction of engulfing me, of taking my tight shell and cracking it open, so that I may see the evil I have shut off. The evil I have cut and torn from myself and locked out. It scratches on the windows with dagger-like nails, and I shrink back from the agonizing sound. I know it will eventually get in- maybe I will let it in. But right now, I curl up into myself, close my eyes, and rock back and forth. I chant to myself while the nails scrape in the background – anything to forget.
The gun is cold in my hands.
I have never wanted this, never thought it would get this far. I have told myself every day for the past two months that I can take it, but every day I know deep in my subconscious that the declaration of “I’m fine” is getting steadily weaker.
My upstairs room is dark, illuminated dimly by the one lamp I have on my bedside table. Clothes litter the floor, laundry from two weeks ago that I never found time to put away. Posters of rock bands cling to the dark blue walls, a few Playboys-courtesy of my step-dad- sit untouched by the door. My trig homework lies scattered on the desk, discarded for the gun I hold.
My hand shakes slightly, as my feet nervously spin the swivel chair back and forth. I can’t see my face, but I can picture the paling of my already-white skin and small beads of sweat silently running down my temples. My mom calls from the kitchen that I’m going to be late for school, but my eyes refuse to budge from my index finger on the trigger.
It was my third year in high school I fell in love with Brian McCarthy.
He sat behind me in my metals class, close to the heater in the back of the garage where the class was held. I knew a lot of the guys in the class-mostly from the basketball team- so he was one the few faces I didn’t recognize.
I walked into the airy garage first day, backpack hanging lightly from my shoulder. Laughter and shouts bounced off the walls when the guys saw me, and I have them a tentative wave.
“Hey Josh, get over here!”
I started stepping over to them, but the loud screeching of the late bell interrupted me. Mr. Brenin immediately ordered everyone to their seats, and the guys booed loudly as the slowly found where they sat. I moved the back of the class- I hate sitting in the front, too many people staring at the back of my head- and plopped down into the desk in front of Brian.
“So, first thing’s first,” Mr. Brenin eyed us all suspiciously. “Look around you- these are your cell mates. You will work together, suffer together, and cry together. This class will be the death of you, so you might as well meet the last people you will ever see alive.”
We all snickered- even if he didn’t seem like it, Mr. Brenin was the most laidback teacher in the school. He overdramatized everything.
“Come on, daffodils, turn around and introduce yourself to the person sitting…behind you.”
I smiled (I was going to love this class) and turned around to look at the boy sitting behind me.
My first impression of him was his black hair- longish pencil-straight black hair, covering his face as he bent over a pad of paper on the desk. I figured he was one of those rocker dudes, because he wore spiked bracelets and a long metal-linked keychain from jeans that matched his hair.
He held a black pen in his hand, and finished a long stroke with it over the notepad. He lifted his face and leaned back against the seat, stared intently at me with light green eyes.
His face was surprisingly soft- his facial features blended into each other easily, not at all like the sharp angles I’d been expecting. What really caught my attention though was his shirt. A smiley face stared out at me from the center of his grey T-shirt.
“So what’s your name?”
He was abrupt, but I recovered and said, “Josh.”
He nodded slightly, warily eyeing my letterman jacket.
I felt like turning around right then because of how awkward it was getting, but then I glanced down at the notepad on his desk. The close-up face of a young girl was drawn in pen, her eyes looking away from me and filling with tears.
Usually I would have dismissed it- the drawing was pretty depressing- but there was something in her face that drew me in, I didn’t know what. Brian must have noticed me staring at it, because he shifted his body to look at his work from a different angle.
“What do you think?”
“It’s amazing, did you do this yourself?”
I glanced up at him and he nodded. I could tell he was trying hard to make it look like he didn’t care, but I could clearly see the small smile that was playing on his lips. His obvious pride made me smile, too.
I asked about how he drew so well. He seemed hesitant at first- I could guess people asked him that a lot but weren’t really interested. But I must have seemed interested enough because he started talking and he didn’t stop. I’m nowhere near artistic, so some of the things he told me didn’t make any sense, but he looked so into it that I let him go on.
Five minutes later he was showing me how to shade, and then Mr. Brenin called us to order. Brian and I laughed, and I turned around to listen to the teacher.
It was always those first few minutes of class that we talked, and maybe the last few if Mr. Brenin was done “working us to death”. We talked about everything- the sports he didn’t play, the drawings I couldn’t make, school. His nose creased a little when he laughed, and he got in the habit of calling me “Pyro Boy” since I got busted by Brenin for messing with the blowtorch. I acted like it made me mad, but I really didn’t mind. The drawings in his pad were in general really sad, but there was something about them that felt real.
The weird thing was that whenever my other friends came over to talk to me, he would shut down. I could almost visibly see a shield fall over his face when Jeremy said hi to him, and while I talked to Jeremy, Brian bent his head down over the notepad and drew. He shut everyone out but me, and I didn’t know why.
Brenin knew it was kinda stupid for a metals class to take any field trips- where would we go, another garage? But he didn’t care, and he sent permission slips home for the bowling alley the last week before winter vacation.
Jeremy and the rest of the guys I usually hung out with had given up talking to me when Brian was around. They must have figured the eventually the weirdo would get too weird for me, and I would be the perfect jock again. Truth be told though, I had a lot more fun that night with Brian than I would ever have had with the team.
I sucked, and Brian was a freaking natural, so really what I did all night was cheer him on and be irritated when my ball went in the gutter. But Brian got the idea of using the launcher- you put the ball on top of this metal slide and pushed it into the lane, like the kids used- so I sucked a little less afterwards. He used it too, and he moonwalked like Michael Jackson every time I hit a pin, which only made me burst out laughing.
We stood by the old jukebox for about half an hour, arguing about songs.
And then it happened. I was in the bathroom, washing my hands, and Brian came in. I said hi, and he just stood up against the back wall, waiting for me to be done.
I started talking about trying another bowling round- maybe I wouldn’t suck as much this time- when he kissed me.
His hands held my shoulders in place, so that I couldn’t move away. I didn’t even really think about it, I was too surprised to do anything. His lips were soft- not that I noticed or anything.
And then Jeremy came in, yelling at someone outside the bathroom.
He saw us, or I guess he did, because the next thing I knew I was sitting down hard on the sink and Jeremy had Brian pushed up against the wall.
“What the hell did you do that to Josh for?!?”
Jeremy slammed his fist into Brian’s lower jaw, and he crumbled to the floor.
I stared blankly at Jeremy as he screamed at me, wanting to know what Brian had done to me, what had happened.
The next thing I knew, Mr. Brenin had come in and dragged both Brian and Jeremy out of the bathroom. I stayed in there for a few minutes, dazed and still feeling the buzz of Brian’s lips on mine.
I figured the Jeremy told everyone in the school about what happened at the bowling alley; I also figured that he made Brian out to be the biggest gay-monster in history. And I did nothing to stop him.
I tried to talk to Brian a few times, but he never responded to me. Mostly I hung out with Jeremy and the guys, and when they saw him walking through the halls they yelled horrible things, threw stuff, some of them even made like to jumped him.
One day Brian came to school with a black eye and a bad limp, but he never said anything to anyone, especially not to me.
This was the time where I stayed holed in my room a lot. I thought about that happened mostly. This is also when Mike, my stepfather, started bringing me Playboys from the local drugstore. Mike had heard about Brian, and I guess this was his stupid way of bringing back to the reality of things.
It went on for months like this.
One day, Brian didn’t come to school. I didn’t think anything of it- he was probably trying to avoid me. But then he didn’t show up the day after that, or the next day.
I guess he had gotten tired of being bullied, because a week later that principal released the information that Brian had overdosed and killed himself.
And I never did anything.
Only afterward did I realize what I was, what we could have been.
Mom calls to me again from downstairs, but I don’t respond.
Jeremy did this. He made Brian look like a fool, a monster. He made him feel like no one on this earth would ever want him, and I helped by not doing anything. But it wasn’t me, Jeremy had killed Brian.
I heard mom’s feet pounding on the staircase, and I quickly stashed the pistol in my backpack.
The room is blue.
Not a royal blue like you would find in the wardrobe of some European monarch, or a blaring turquoise, choking out everything else but its own hue. Rather, it was a light blue; a soft pastel blue, the crisp color of a clear winter morning. I would never call it a baby blue; Scott argued jokingly with me about it, but I found the name just too cliché. It needed to be unique, something you wouldn’t find anywhere else: so a winter’s day blue.
I stand barefoot in the small room, my toes digging into the soft carpet. The carefully subtle clouds drifting along the walls seem like they should be moving, pulled along by a gentle breeze. Colorful shelves line the room, laden with dozens of stuffed animals and clothing and baby boots and blankets for all occasions. The crib is what keeps my attention: it is positioned exactly in the middle of the room. My sister was an interior designer, and she said that was the best place for it, so of course that’s where it stays. It is light mahogany, intricately carved bars spiraling up to connect with the top bar.
I stay far away from it, about ten feet, but I don’t have to look at it to be able to recall every detail to my mind. The blankets are Sherpa, a winter blue matching the paint on the walls, presents from my cousin Ella. And I can see him lying in the blankets, his light blue eyes hidden under his heavy sleeping eyelids. His mouth would be slightly open when he slept, the perfect picture of trusting innocence.
It all started seven months ago. Well, not everything, but that was when my stupid hope flared for the first time in years. Scott and I wanted a child. More than anything, I wanted to be a mother, to be able to say that I was one. I wanted to bring someone into the world, teach them everything I knew, all the mistakes they would and wouldn’t make, wanted to be the person they looked up to, wanted to feel the new kind of pride you only feel for someone of your own. Scott was okay with the idea.
I got pregnant a month later. We went to the doctor together (Scott almost couldn’t keep from carrying me into the reception room), and he told us that he was happy for us. I told my mom- she cried; she told my dad- he cried too. I think he might have called Scott, but they never said anything about it. My best friend, Kellie, chewed my head off when I tried to take a sip of her martini on our night out. Scott was the worst- he would do everything for me, from opening every door to taking food out of the oven for me. I couldn’t exactly say I was annoyed with that.
And then, it was gone. The warm glow that had been growing steadily inside me went out, a candle flickering out. The doctor didn’t know what happened; neither did I. A month after the morning where Scott was spinning me around the bathroom floor, I was left feeling like a casket, an empty husk with nothing left inside. Of course Scott was still there; I guess that helped a little. I couldn’t imagine not giving up after that.
And then there was Annabeth Benning.
I learned her backstory when we had our first sit down. She was a sophomore at Baltimore Community College, majoring in medieval literature; her ex was a junior, that’s all I learned about the father. She was five months in when we met her, taking a little extra time to sit down on the deep couch with an embarrassed smile. She told us she wanted to be able to decide who her baby went to live with, she felt that was her duty. She also said that she had only started looking for adoptive parents a month ago, on the urgent insisting of her mother, and that we were the best people she would be able to find.
It was only a month after my miscarriage, but I knew this had to happen. It was fate; this girl and I were connected, and my miscarriage wasn’t accident. I figured God only had me suffer through the loss so that I would be rightly grateful for this opportunity; and I was.
So the journey began. The endless psychiatrist appointments with Annabeth and Scott, making sure we were all mentally and emotionally ready for the adoption. Of course, I never developed the classic baby bump, but I did get all the other perks. Ella came from Santa Barbara in California to stay with us, to help transform the storage room into a baby haven. I searched the black hole of the internet endlessly for everything having to do with new mothers. It was exactly as if I was the one having the baby.
Annabeth didn’t want to have an ultrasound; she said if she knew the sex of the baby she might become too attached to it. So I was okay with waiting. Scott and I polled our family and friends for boy and girl names alike, which was difficult because there was a very diverse preference for names. We finally came up with the names after weeks of deliberation. A he would be Rain Jerrod; a she would be Isabel Stephanie.
My baby shower was in early May, a classic tea party with fanciful hats (Ella’s idea) and finger sandwiches. Ella decided on a theme which mixed the pink and the blue; everything looked like a patchwork pastel quilt. I have a small family, but Scott’s was considerably bigger, and it was quite a feat getting all of us seated at the tables in the backyard. My mom gave me the crib.
Annabeth went into labor on May 24, around ten at night. She called us on the way to the hospital, and Scott and I arrived there ten minutes after she was placed in a room. We waited outside of the room for five hours, since we weren’t close enough to Annabeth to feel comfortable sitting in her room. Her labor was long, but uncomplicated. The nurse gave me my baby boy, and I held him with my latex-gloved hands while he squirmed weakly. Scott stood behind me and held me gently, kissing my hair while he gazed intently at the infant in my hands.
We took Rain home two days later; my parents were waiting for us, saying they wanted to stay until we seemed comfortable. But I wanted to be alone with my husband and my baby, so they left a few hours after we got home. I realized it was selfish, but it was instinct for me. I needed peace and quiet, time to hold my son and make sure he wasn’t a fabrication of my imagination.
Well, he wasn’t, unless a fabrication can keep you up for seventy-two hours. Scott and I sang and rocked him to sleep, put him down in the crib blankets, and repeated the process when he woke up an hour later. But I loved every minute of it. I was so stupidly joyful, I didn’t even realize how utterly miserable I was.
The psychiatrist had told both me and Annabeth countless times that the biological mother legally had four days to change her mind, and reclaim her baby, before the adoption was finalized. I never worried about it that much, partly because of my blind excitement, and partly because Annabeth seemed so adamant about giving her baby to us. Whenever the doctor brought it up she would shake her head and say there was no way that would happen. It seemed like such a small window anyways, it would be gone before we knew it.
I never thought about it- until we got the call from the adoptive agency on the afternoon of the fourth day.
I had called everyone I could think of, asking if there was some way I could keep my baby, if there was some legal loophole. No such luck for me, and he was gone.
So I stand here in the room, staring at the crib without seeing it. I close my eyes slowly, praying. I pray to God that when I open my eyes, Rain will be sleeping in the crib, his tiny hand lying limp next to his dreaming head. I pray that if he isn’t, Annabeth will call and say she has changed her mind again.
I have to keep hope that something will happen. I’ve got to.
God, please bring my baby back to me.
I stare blankly at the pain pills in my hand. One for my headaches, two for my chest-aches, one for the pain, one for the anxiety. Two big blue anti-depression pills.
My hands shake hard as my chest tightens up, unable to hold onto the sobs that will soon be racking through my body, tearing out every bit of self-dignity and strength. I glance up at my face in the bathroom mirror, stretched taunt and pale over my aching skull.
I dash the pills into the sink, flush them down with water. And fall onto the tile floor, curled up and crying.
Ever since I was ten, I had wanted to join the army.
My dad had been in the force that recaptured Iwo Jima from the Japanese in World war 2, and over and over again I begged him to tell me the stories. I began to know them so well that I could continue to narrate my father’s great adventures way after he had already started snoring.
I took all the military-preparatory classes and tests in high school, and I made it into the Pennsylvanian training program with flying colors. Boot camp was the hardest week of my life, but I made the best friends a man could ever ask for- ones that always had your back, no matter what. I earned my dog tags, and that was proudest moment for me. I also got in the best shape of my life, but that’s beside the point.
March 6, 2004, I married my high school sweetheart, Molly justice, in her parent’s preferred church. There we were- Mr. and Mrs. Winslow- married as we had expected to be since freshman years. It seemed just the same as always…not implying it was anticlimactic, because I would be a dead man if I ever said anything like that to Molly.
She was absolutely set on living in a Santa Barbara condo, so we moved onto the beach two months later. It took forever- the decorating. Every time I moved the furniture to a new place, she would sit on it for a minute, thinking, and then say it had looked better before. I didn’t really mind though, especially when I saw the excitement on her face at every step of the way.
Then my brigade was given assignment overseas in 2008. We weren’t sure how long I would be gone for, but I couldn’t very well stay. Molly cried for me, but I told her I would do everything I could not to die. She told me she would kill me if I did. I believed her.
We were sent to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for training for a few months- I wondered how soldiers in the world wars could have stood sending letters to their women and then waiting for weeks to get a reply. I just texted Molly, and called her every night after dinner.
August 2009, the 81st brigade combat team, with me intact, made the fifteen-hour airplane ride to our stations in Iraq.
My friend Bernie Andolinez and I were set up in Baghdad, protecting the civilians and guarding supply lines. Our platoon was made up of foot soldiers, no specials. Bernie was pretty good with the M16, and I joked with him about being in the gunner’s best friend- no one messed with me because of him. Really there wasn’t any drama in the group except for the stuff we stirred up for pure entertainment.
It was early July. The dust winds were worse than usual, spraying sand and grit into our streaming eyes every way we turned. Our head covers kept the dirt from getting lodged into our mouths, but they also choked us slowly so that we had to lift it up for breath every few seconds. Inside the houses weren’t much better, as sand piled up on the corners on the boarded-up windows.
A group of us were going to pick up some supplies a few miles out of town, just some gasoline and artillery. I told Bernie I would drive lead.
I don’t know why I did it. Lead convoy is the most dangerous position in a caravan, because you were a thousand more times likely to get hit by land mines or attacks. I know it was our tent’s turn to drive lead, and it was either Bernie, eighteen-year-old George, or me. I told Bernie it was fine, he had four kids at home, and I only had Molly…anyways I did.
We got to the supply west of town all right, and I was breathing easier as we loaded the cargo into the trucks. It was only a ten minute dive back to the station, so I turned on the radio. Bernie looked at me uneasily for a few minutes- we weren’t really supposed to attract extra attention to ourselves. But then Bruce Springsteen came on, and I knew he was sold. Bernie sang along in his scratchy voice, and George doubled over in the backseat laughing.
“Hey Winslow, say hello to the next American Idol!”
I heard the whizzing in the air, but there wasn’t any time to turn my head toward the sound before it hit. The front window shattered, and the canvas ceiling burst into flames.
I was flying. No wait, I wasn’t. I was strapped in, kept in my seat, as the jeep flipped over and over again. One second I was defying gravity, the next my head slammed against the dashboard and I blacked out.
There was never any pain. Which surprised me, because you would think…
I woke up three days later in a New York hospital. Tubes were sticking out of me everywhere, sucking blood out of me and pushing other stuff into me- I felt like I was in an alien spaceship.
Molly was passed out next to me in a visitor’s chair, her head lolling backwards against the wall. I woke her up, and she started weeping and throwing her arms around me and kissing me everywhere she could.
I tried to lift myself up, and my unbalanced weight lifted my left leg right up off the bed.
But where my left leg should have been- nothing. My left ended mid-thigh, the rest of it lost into oblivion.
Once I had calmed down, Molly explained to me that when the windshield shattered, half of it had broken off and cut straight through my thigh. My nerves, muscle, and bone were severed three-fourths of the way through, and they couldn’t save it.
She told me what my commander had told her- that the convoy had been attacked by rebels hiding out in the dunes. George…he was dead. There was a secondary explosion when the gasoline caught fir- he was stuck and the guys couldn’t get him out in time. Bernie was fine- he was waiting in the hospital for me to wake up, but I told him once he saw I was ok to go home to his family.
Six weeks later, Molly pushed me out of the hospital in a wheelchair.
The bathroom door-handle jiggles, Molly asking for me to come out.
I stay in silence. Even though I know I’m being cruel to her, I can’t face her like this. Eventually she gives up and I hear her footsteps echoing down the staircase.
I stare down at the stump of my left leg.
The shredded flesh has finally begun to reconnect, melding into the raw muscle and bone that was exposed by my sudden dismemberment. Before when I looked at it my stomach leapt into my mouth and I had to look away and breathe deeply to keep Molly’s dinner down. Now that I looked at my mutilated leg and I don’t react at all.
I know I am useless now. I can’t work to support Molly, I can’t go anywhere myself without her, and even in the house she is helping me every second. And when I try to help her, like reaching up to get a spice from the cupboard, a bolt of agony shoots through my body and I crumble on the floor. Molly tries to help me up, but I scream at her to leave me alone, that I can get up myself. I stayed there on the floor one time for two hours.
I am a deadweight, a failure to my wife, my country, and myself. is that a man? You’re only a man if you can walk, my subconscious tells me.
All these thoughts and more lodge themselves in my brain, and refuse to budge no matter how much I beg them to let go and leave me alone.
My misery finally breaks through, and I cower on the bathroom floor, my body spasming from the dry sobs escaping my mouth. After three months, my eyes couldn’t make any more tears, but that doesn’t stop the grief from tearing me apart.
Horses are stampeding over my heart, each of their hooves digging a little father in, bruising it a deeper black and blue. A massive drum beats in my ears, drowning out the sound of my own whimpers.
A soldier doesn’t cry. He doesn’t show weakness, and he never disgraces himself. But I’m not a soldier anymore- I am nothing.
Molly comes back up to check on me. She knocks softly on the door, and I stare at my bottle of pills on the sink as she calls my name.
“Elizabeth, why are you reading that? It seems so morbid.”
Beatrice tries to grab the newspaper from my hands, but I snatch it back so that she can’t reach it. I know she won’t lean over me to get it, and so does she. I smile triumphantly and place the paper back in my lap as she sites back in her visitor’s chair.
“Why would it be morbid, Bea? Listen to this: ‘A new study shows that one-third of cancer patients survive currently, and the number is expected to increase dramatically in the next decade’. That’s wonderful, why wouldn’t you want me reading it?”
“Oh, don’t be cruel to me,” Beatrice chides, a mixture of confusion and melancholy on her face. I chuckle quietly and pat her hand with my wrinkled one.
“Don’t look so sad, sister, it never has flatter your face. Come one, tell me the gossip. I get so bored being holed up in here, with nothing but my magazines.”
Beatrice takes the hint gladly, and embarks on the long narrative that I need to distract myself.
“Well, Marilyn has settled in well. You know, I told her when she started the other job= the secretary one with that one company- I told her she wasn’t going to like it. She’s so independent you know, it’s no wonder she got bored too quickly. Anyways, she started with the teacher’s program and she doesn’t get paid so George is working more to help with money. I can tell she really loves it, Elizabeth. It seems like something she’ll be amazing with.”
“How are the kids?”
“Luke just finished his sophomore year last month. I’m worried about him, he’s a good boy, but he’s so reckless. I don’t want him to end up like Paul…”
Beatrice glances up at my quickly, trailing off when she sees my face. Paul, my youngest son, had died in a drunk-driving accident ten years ago.
“I’m sorry, Beth.”
“It’s all right.” My voice is scratchy, and I take a sip of water from the plastic cup on my bedside table. Beatrice still looks guilty, so I smile faintly and reach for her hand, caressing it comfortingly.
“How are the others? Did Justin finally get that one badge he’s been wanting?”
“Do you like it, Grama?”
“It’s beautiful daisy. You are quite the little artist, just like your mommy.”
Jennifer grins widely, and her red hair bounces on her shoulders as she reaches out to hug me. I wrap my frail arms around her small body, holding her softly but firmly.
I let her go and look back to my drawing from Jennifer. There are two people standing on a green hill (the larger one labeled GRAMA, and the smaller one labeled JENNY) under a purple sky.
“It’s night time, so the sky’s purple,” she explains. I tell her that was a very smart thing to do.
“So, Jenny, tell me something about your day.”
“Um, Evelyn came over to play Barbie’s with me. she didn’t like Barbie’s dress so she switched it was the green one.”
“Oh well, I’m sure you two had fun.”
Jennifer nods. All of a sudden her face brightens and she jumps out of her seat. “Grama, you’re coming to my recital, right?”
“Oh yes, your mom told me about your piano recital this weekend. I’m sorry darling, Grama can’t go this time, she has to stay here where the doctors are.”
Her smile disappears, and my heart sinks. She sits back slowly, a contemplating look on her little seven-year-old face.
‘Grama, when can you come home?”
We’d been over this before, but I took her hand and repeated myself again.
“Jenny, Grama can’t come home anymore. I need the doctors to take care of me.”
“Well mommy and daddy can take care of you, and I can help.”
“Yes they can, but I don’t want to make them sad all the time.”
“Why would they be sad? You’d be with us.”
I hesitated, and Maria saved me as she opened the room door, poking her head in.
“Come on Jenny, time to go home.”
Jennifer scampers over to her mother, pulling on her pant leg.
“Aren’t you going to talk to Grama, Mommy?”
“I already did this morning on the phone, love.”
Maria comes over to me and squeezes my hand. “How are you feeling mom?”
I smile at her, glancing quickly at Jennifer examining the children’s book piled up in the corner.
“I’m fine, dear. Just fine.”
At night I lie in my incredibly-uncomfortable hospital bed, thinking and meditating. I know I’m dying, and that there is nothing the doctors can do. Breast cancer is very serious business, and they just didn’t catch it in time.
I couldn’t stand the thought at first- not existing. Not being there for every moment of my family’s lives, not joining in the joy or the sadness. What would it be like, to die? That’s what I wonder about most I think.
But now I have reached a breakthrough in my pondering. That, even if I’m gone, I will still have left my family with memories and experiences of me. I would like to think I have made a difference in some lives, but I would never ask them directly lest they started thinking depressing thoughts.
I’m past the depression- I have realized that I have had a wonderful life. Even the small bumps in the road look like nothing now, and I’m proud of that.
It’ll always be sad, I can’t deny that. But I can keep from dwelling on “impending death”. I want to go home soon, to be with my daughter, so I can have those few last memories. That would be nice.
Anyways, Sean will be waiting for me when I go. He said he would wait forever, and I haven’t doubted him yet.