by Gregory J. M. Kasunich
He said he liked me, and that was enough.
He said he loved me, and that was enough.
He said he’d die for me, and that was enough.
He was dying, but not for me. He said it was normal to die.
He said everyone does it sooner or later. He failed to make me laugh.
I always laugh at his jokes, but not this time.
Amongst the miles of tubing surrounding him, running through him, filling and draining him I sat, unmoving and silent. Silent so I could hear the hiss and beep of the machines that kept his lungs moving inside his fragile chest. The machines: more alive than him. I sit so still, so very still and train my eyes to hold back, to stop from leaking their salty drops onto his cloudy cellophane skin, so pale it’s almost transparent.
He coughs and it rattles every bone like the bean shakers we used to make in school. Two paper plates and some hard beans stapled inside. We would make music together, late nights on the porch when the sky was an endless pool of ink, and the stars swam in nothingness. He would sing to me and I would sake the bean shaker and we would laugh until the sun scattered the stars from the sky and we awoke to find morning dew in our hair. We still make music. The heart monitors the metronome. The tubes, guitar strings. And he is the bean shaker.
It’s fast. One day, two weeks, three months, four years and your married. Studio apartment, two-bedroom apartment, a condo, a house and you have made a home. More than brick and mortar and carpet and pipes, it’s a home and it smells like your mothers cookies baking in the oven. And it smells like the pine tree in you grandfathers garden. The one he would take you under and tell you you were the queen of England, and this was your palace made of wood and bark and innocuous needles safe enough to touch. And it smells like him, like musk and man. And it smells like home. It is home. He works at nights and silently slinks in at four-thirty in the morning and I stay awake just to smell him. To touch him with soft hands and kiss him, inebriated on sleep and moving on instinct, I could see his smile with my eyes closed. I would wake up and he would still be lost in sleep and I would sit on the bed, unmoving, as not to shorten his slumber. Like a child he slept then, swimming in peaceful lucidity, and I watched losing myself in his tranquility and matching my breaths to his. And when he woke, breakfast would be there, right there where he liked to sit and eat, and everything would be covered in maple syrup, just the way he liked it and we were happy.
And the nurse says five more minutes. And the tin can intercom pages another doctor to the E.R. or O.R. And his eyes flutter open and then closed. And I know he is using all the strength he has to hold open his lids for just one more… one more… one more moment. I want to shout at him. Just tell him to stop, to fucking stop this dying shit. Tell him to come back home and I’ll make meatloaf like I promised that one night. The night you told me you missed you mother and I spent all day learning the recipe. I want to tell him to save his strength, to rest, but I can, the words lodge themselves in my throat, they cling to my uvula and dribble back down my trachea. I can’t because I know the moment those lids close might be the moment I never see his deep chocolate eyes again.
And gone, before the morning sun would finish rising. He would work so hard. I could see it in his hands and in his face. Once soft and radiant, now a little harder and a little duller. Each day, little by little, until his skin was textured like soft leather. You’re going to make yourself sick, I would say and he would scoff and tense his muscles, his strong arms, to prove his invincibility. The arms that used to hold me up. The arms that could hold the weight of the world, the weight of the universe and more, now crippled and useless, atrophied arms sprouting out of his emaciated torso like saplings covered in gossamer sheets. So withered and thin I turn off the oscillating bedside fan as to prevent the swaying gusts from unhinging his insubstantial arms. And he never complained. Tired and sore. Beat and battered. Aching and exhausted. Never a complaint. He would come to bed and smile, and when I asked why, he would say, because I love you, and that’s enough.
Two jobs to buy me the house, the house on Great Lakes Drive. The yellow one, like the sun, like flowers, so bright it leaked yellow beyond the shingles and into the neighborhood. The one you smile at because you know someone happy lives inside. Two jobs and two mortgages and two parents-in-law. He had everything to hate, but it wasn’t in him. Even then, looking at the house that would be our home, my heart swelled and though I never believed in God, I thanked him anyway. It was those years that made it worth it, it was only five years, but it would never be enough. An eternity would never be enough. After the stars burned themselves out, and the skies spilt themselves back into nothingness, I could still lay with him. But not now, the doctor said two months, maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
The years of good keep me here, watching him waste away to nothing. The years of hope and joy and love hold me to his bedside as he become less and less of the man I knew and more and more a corpse. And I would stay here forever and watch him die for everything he had been, for everything he had given. I sold the house, to pay the medical bills. I started working to feed the unborn child he does not even know is growing inside of me. I cry more tears than I knew I had, and some nights in the small apartment I run out of tears and dry sobs keep me conscious. And that is enough.