I used to write fiction.
Long before nursing, before even my education degree, I wrote fiction. It started in high school and continued through college on fanfiction sites for different television shows. As lame as it might appear, I loved writing. It gave voice to the many characters in my head and a stage to my dreams. They always say write what you know, but I didn’t. I didn’t know a thing about truly being in love, being married or having a family. I knew my fair share about pain, could research diseases and other complications to throw at characters and just wrote. The rest came, along with some acclaim from my readers. I miss writing fiction and, right now, I hate that what I am writing about I finally know. I know suffering through a disease first hand.
Today, I’m returning to fiction to give me an outlet to some of my fears. I present for you my first short fiction piece in years. For those not familiar with my fiction, single italics words are emphasized but longer passages and sentences are flashback.
He missed her.
Sundays had been their day together; the one day they would sleep in or just lounge around in bed. They would cuddle and kiss, talk of their future and for just a little while forget there was a world outside their home. After her diagnosis, Sundays had changed. She’d often sleep in longer than he would or wake in pain. He hated seeing her suffer; it gnawed at him and he wanted to fix it, but there was nothing he could do. Ever her hero, he couldn’t save her from her own body as it slowly killed her from within.
Now, he hated Sunday. The entire day was spent alone in their home and the memories would haunt him. They hadn’t had long enough to be together.
Rolling towards her side of the bed, he rested his hand against her pillow, cold and untouched. He could almost imagine her there, curled up on her side with her hands tucked beneath her cheeks. It was how she fell asleep at night, how he found her in the morning as he rose for work. He had always done his best not to rouse her while getting ready, but it was difficult. She always faced his side of the bed when she slept and the second the light went on in the bathroom she would stir.
At that moment, he’d do anything to have that trivial worry again. To look into her sleepy blue eyes as she mumbled good morning before turning away and returning to sleep.
“I miss you,” he murmured to her pillow, hand falling to the mattress, “so much.”
He could still hear her voice as she told him she loved him, the melody of her laughter still floated on the air in their home. When he closed his eyes, he could imagine the expression her face always displayed when he was near. She radiated love at him, so many people had said as much, and he always absorbed it. His love was just as plain to the world. Why had the universe deemed it necessary to take it away?
With a sigh, he swiped at a rogue tear as it rolled down his cheek then pushed himself into a sitting position. His gaze landed upon their wedding picture perched on her dresser. She had asked him to move her favorite of the pictures into their room towards the end.
“It makes me smile to remember that day,” she had explained at the time, her voice trembling.“It was a good moment and the picture comforts me.”
He hadn’t had the heart to put it away yet, but seeing it every morning upon rising from bed made the days seem so long and lonely. That happy moment when he was about to kiss his new wife was overshadowed by the emptiness of their home, their bed. She was gone now and nothing he could do would bring her back.
His hand gripped the frame tightly, staring down at the couple in the photo. It was easy to lose himself in that time, before there had been cancer and chemotherapy. Before her hair started to fall out and the weight dropped off her bones in a time of innocence where they had planned for fifty years together, babies…a future that had been crushed by one word: cancer. He had promised her that they still had fifty years; she was going to be fine. It was a promise he knew he couldn’t keep, but he refused to give voice to his fears. There wasn’t a chance he could lose her as long as he believed that she would survive. Fifty years would come, as would their babies. He just had to believe.
“I’m sorry,” he told the smiling couple, placing the picture face down on the dresser. “I was wrong.”
He trudged through the apartment, stopping to greet his three cats good morning before flopping onto the couch. He’d get to breakfast at some point and start on the list of things he had promised himself he’d get done. There were demons to fight first; memories of her were everywhere: her things, her scent, even memories of times they shared. She haunted him, even at work. How many times had she pointed out they had married on that same college campus? How often had that brought joy to her as she walked across the same steps they were named man and wife? He had laughed at her silliness, but was touched that those moments had meant so much to her. Now, he’d given anything for one more kiss, one last hug…one more time together.
“The treatment isn’t working,” the doctor said, head hung low. He wouldn’t lift his eyes from the file on his lap. “We could do more chemo, keep it at bay and buy a bit more time to come up with a new plan…”
She ran her hand over her bald head, the fingers trembling with her effort to force back tears. Her hands were thin, skin pale. She had lost so much weight that she barely looked like herself anymore. It was clear that she was fading away bit by bit, even her sense of humor had tamed and her voice had lost some of its sparkle. “It’s been a year,” she told the doctor as if he didn’t know. “I’m tired,” she confessed.
“But we can buy time,” he pushed. Her eyes fell upon her husband in the corner. “What do you think, Monkey?”
“It’s not my decision to make…” he hedged, not wanting to be the one to tell her what to do. He would feel an immense sense of guilt if she pushed on and continued to suffer the way she had. This wasn’t life.
“Are you ready to be a widower?”
Blunt, that was his wife. Was he ready to lose her?
“I can’t watch you fade away anymore,” he admitted to her. “You’re so unhappy; I promised you wouldn’t suffer.”
“We made a good dent in the bucket list,” she added. “Could finish off a few last ones…”
He nodded, looking away before she saw the tears in his eyes.
“I’m done fighting, doctor,” she stated plainly. “This isn’t a life I have. I’m ready to throw in the towel. Are you?”
The doctor shook his head. “You’re just a baby…”
She shrugged. “Cancer isn’t biased. I’m not its youngest victim.”
He pounded the cushions beside him, fists denting the cloth. Why hadn’t he talked her into one more round? They could have prevent the tumors from growing and spreading; she would still be here beside him with bright, clear blue eyes trusting that everything would be fine. That they would have their fifty years together and a baby would be the next thing marked off her life’s list. She just had to fight and had needed him to push her! Of course she was tired; it was a difficult, uphill fight that left them both exhausted. If she has just held on a little longer…
“You know I am not doing this to hurt you, right?” she asked some days later. “I love you very much, but I can’t do this anymore, Monkey. I feel sick all the time, my hair doesn’t stand a chance against the chemo and I’m tired constantly. We can’t go anywhere because of treatments, work has pretty much given up one me…and I’m just ready to take what comes.”
“I know,” he replied softly, not meeting her eyes. “But you’re going to…”
“Die,” she finished for him. “I’m going to die, Monkey, and we both knew it was possible. We didn’t want that option, we fought it as best we could, but the truth remains that I am dying. I want to enjoy what time I have left.”
“Do you remember the promise I asked you to make me?” she replied.
“Which?” he questioned, sarcasm in his tone and a small grin on his face.
“Fair enough,” she laughed softly. “The one about dying at home with people I love around me.”
He nodded again. “I promise. You will die here.”
He never regretted a promise more. Knowing she died in their home ate at him. For the remainder of his life he would remember that her final moments had occurred in their bed.
Music played faintly from the radio, a mix of things from her eclectic iPod collection. One moment she be bobbing her head slightly to a rock song and the next tears would stream down her cheeks as a sappy, love-me-when-I’m-gone country song came on. Her eyes were closed, head covered in a bandana his niece had insisted she wear: purple with dancing monkeys. Their family waited in the other room, giving them some time alone.
“I wish I was the one that had to suffer this loss,” she told him suddenly. “You don’t deserve this. You already suffered a broken heart; it’s not fair.”
“I’ll be okay,” he promised her, cupping her cheek. “I love you bunches and bunches, Honeybunny.”
Her lips curved into a smile. “I love you too, Monkey, so very much.” Her voice hitched slightly as she choked back a sob. Their lips met softly in what would be their last kiss.
“For what?” he asked in disbelief.
“For loving and leaving,” she answered.
He was glad her eyes weren’t open, because he could no longer hold back his tears. “I better let the others in,” he stated, starting to rise from the mattress.
“Please don’t leave me,” she cried, clutching his hand. “I’m just…”
“No!” she insisted. “Please, I can’t be alone…”
He sat back down. “You won’t be alone in the end.”
She nodded, tears pouring down her pale cheeks. “I’m scared.”
A knock at the door interrupted them. “Can we come in yet?” he niece demanded impatiently.
He nodded and the family and friends poured in.
They talked and sang, tried to laugh though the mood was tense. The vigil didn’t last long, and she had told them it wouldn’t. In the end, she had needed more and more oxygen to feel as if her breathing wasn’t labored. Her eyes were harder and harder to open, her energy sapped. She was barely eating and drinking. On that last day, lying on her side of the bed with her favorite of the stuffed monkeys hugged to her side, they had all said goodbye. While the family sat, remembering good times she lay as if sleeping, the corners of her lips turned up into the semblance of a smile. When their wedding song finally came onto the radio, she mouthed the lyrics for a time until finally she was gone, her last breath hanging on the words “feels like home to me.”
He hadn’t been able to listen to the song since.
People always asked how he was holding up. Friends called and visited. Family members checked on him daily. He put up the best front he could, proving he was strong enough to get through day by day. Hadn’t he survived heartache before? He could do it again, even if it was harder this time. Even if he had never loved a woman the way he had her. He had to continue on, he had promised her he would. He’d finish the parts of the bucket list they hadn’t together in memory of her. Someday, he’d go on to marry again and have children, because he had promised her he would. Fifty years with someone else.
It hurt to even consider it.
Because, if he were honest, the pain was strong as ever and he missed her.
He always would.