Summer was coming to a close. She waited for word that it was her turn to leave. Instead, unannounced, her father picked her up from the farm one afternoon. Once in the car, she slouched down into the seat and against the car door for comfort. Even though they both knew it would anger her mother greatly, her father let her roll down the window for the trip and let the wind tangle her long dark hair out into the darkening horizon. She cupped her hand to catch the rush of sweet evening air rising from the pastures and leaned her ear onto the cool metal door to listen to the roar of the car growling over old broken roadway. When she saw a moment flickering magically beyond the road – somewhere out in the fields – she would blink hard. She wanted to remember the beautiful images forever, all the beautiful parts really, and not the difficult things that nearly broke her. She wanted to fill her mind with late summer light and the lazy chirp of drowsy crickets. She let the passing landscape swallow the bad moments until all that was left was her, a dirty, tired, gnatty headed girl calmed by the soothing roll of the land across the plains.
We sipped tea and sat among tiny cross-stitched pillows. Slowly, she let herself unfold from inside her grief stricken stoicism, and she told us that he taught her what it meant to love. That he had saved every scrap of paper illustrating their life together – even the cards they had sent each other from before, unsigned and full of unspoken things. That he warmed her hands at the end of every day as they shared tales of their lives, some old and some new. That he hugged her often and gave her small gifts from each day – a flower, maybe an article from the paper – always some treasure he found. That he was there for her – all the time and without hesitation. That he held her tightly inside their own delicious existence.
I had been taken with their story from the beginning: even on the face of it, they were a study in opposites. He was an owl and she was a tropical bird. He was a spry pale German man of slight stature, wire rimmed glasses and gnarled hands. He was a widower with no children and a restless imaginative mind. He tinkered with things. He fixed objects and invented solutions to practical problems, like how to connect different gauges of fire hose valves together. He did not speak often and did not believe in God.
She was a buxom African-American woman 20 years his junior, and always had a cheery story to tell. She was a nurse, nurturing sick patients with her compassion. She listened to people in times of pain and need and touched their hot foreheads with her soft cool hands. She fervently prayed to and believed in Jesus Christ as lord and savior.
They had met over 25 years ago when she had taken care of his elderly parents. He had waited until his own wife died to seek her out again, and she had abandoned a long and unhappy marriage to be with him – and to finally be happy together. They both had an enormous work ethic and a wide streak of stubborn rebellion. He regularly sported a safety orange cloth hat and she could sometimes be seen with an ashen white mohawk and dangling earrings. They eventually married to quiet any issues of inpropriety as he declined in health. And I just loved them together. Loved.
“We were from very different worlds but in our hearts, we spoke the same language.” She bowed her head into her teacup and said quietly, “I know that I will see him again. I know this cannot be the end – it was just too beautiful to ever really stop.”
I did not remind her that he did not believe in such a thing.
She was doing an amazing job. At least everyone told her so. But at what, she never precisely understood — which was just one small issue among the myriad of her problems.
She searched her closet for something to celebrate the day. After sorting through a hundred hues and tones of black and more black, she finally found the perfect dress – in black with hints of somber shades of military. It was the happiest shade of color she possessed – plus it implied green – which was all she needed to avoid the sharp pinches of her children today.
She moved slowly and painfully beyond her time with him, and each moment was bittersweet.
For the first time in several years, she completed the day’s crossword puzzle. Alone. When she wrote in the final answer, a few salty tears kissed her chin and splashed on to the puzzle boxes. She smeared her sadness across the thin newsprint with inky fingertips.
She would continue to persevere. She knew that difficulty and pain were not reasons to give up and stop living, even in these small ways. She still had much to offer the world, even though she believed that she had failed him – and that the world had failed her.
She was only now approaching midlife but she was well practiced for any crisis that might ensue. In fact, she was confident that crisis was the one thing she could handle capably. It was the dull quiet that was going to make her lose her mind.
He whispered hoarsely, “I am so weary, so weary….” She lay beside him, touching her rounded softness against his failing body, a harsh clatter of bones. She cupped his gaunt face in her gentle hands. “Please, dear, please sleep now. It’s alright to sleep now,” she pleaded. His eyes, already dead, gazed toward the mercy in her voice. He found the warm curve of her neck and with ragged breath, said good night one final time. She closed her eyes as well, wanting to hold him before morning exposed the folly of her dreams.
Her therapist’s notes read just so :
Jan 12 – Initial visit. Patient reports she feels broken.
1/26 – Preliminary diagnosis – Patient is broken.
February 13, 2015 : Patient is broken — broken record.
2/22 —- definitely broken. For the record. Recommend starting over with a new record. And a new therapist.