It's Always Been You

Submitted for Contest #49 in response to: Write a story that takes place in a waiting room.... view prompt

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Jul 06, 2020

Romance

And it came to me then, that every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time.

 This seems so true now. I used to listen to that song, with you. My eyes would water and you’d call me cute. You’d concentrate on the road and I’d squeeze your hand. That’s when I’d hear your voice telling me again what I know so well: that you love me.  But now that I’m living it, my only thought when I listen to that melody will be of you. 

As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409

The smell of Death. I shut my eyes and rub my hands together, focusing on the friction instead of letting my mind slip back into that enclosed, white-walled room. A net was around your head, I remember. Before they shoved me out, I saw your eyes follow me. 

And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today

How could I let myself steal oxygen from you? You were already leaving… Soon your body will be lying there on the bed, completely still, while mine will shake with sobs and cursed with life. 

As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me.

An old man sits down next to me, running a worried hand over his forehead. A woman wearing a ring on her finger alights beside him and whispers soothing words to him. I don’t hear them, though. My ears are still filled with your rasping breaths as you clung to me, the voices of doctors and surgeons bombarding me with questions when I was so distracted with you, and the constant beeps of the machines that keep you alive. 

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye.

This is where they placed me. Here, in this room where there’s only nervous paces bracing for bad news. It’s stuffy, and I tell myself that that’s the reason my eyes are red. I’ve already tried a distraction, but the magazines are lifeless gossip, and the tv remote is by the plump woman in the corner who’s actually watching it. 

It sung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds

A tear rolls down my face. I try to stop it, resist it. I see you laughing at school with our friends. I watch as you reach a hand to my face and tell me I’m beautiful. I remember running away, saying I couldn’t do that. That I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with you because of. . . because I was scared. But after you came back, after you held me and told me it was going to be all right, I knew I could never forget you. But what if I do? You won’t be there to remind me of your voice, your smile. The same feeling of ‘you and me’ is never going to be there--how can I go on with another person when I’ve known you? It’s always been you. 

And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

The nurse will be here any minute with the test results. I don’t need to see them. I already know what they’re going to say; they’re going to tell me that today is the last time I’ll see you. That this is goodbye for good, that you’re on that ship sailing west, that everything for you will turn to silver glass. And it will all be just a memory for both of us. 

I want another moment with you. I want to give you that piece of glass you found on the beach all those years ago and gave to me with a promise: that you would stay with me till my last breath. 

I was the one who was supposed to die! I was the one with cancer, with diabetes. I was supposed to go on before you and then it was gone. Then you were hit, and the hourglass ran out. The time’s up. What I wouldn’t give to see you safely next to me again! I would give my life if I knew it would do any good. But here we are--you, with tubes and wires attached in every possible place, chemicals flowing steadily into your body through plastic--and me, stuck in the waiting room where there’s no comfort, no reassurance, no one telling me it’s going to be okay because it’s not. You’re leaving, and I have to stay.

If only I had savoured every passing minute with you. If only I had answered your calls, picked up the groceries. Even the little things seem like such a joy now that they’re gone. My mind floats into a haze of grief-tinted memory as I recall ‘our’ moments. 

You had planned the summer. We would graduate, and celebrate a little before going on to our careers. I remember the excitement, the tenderness in your voice as we drove to that cabin in the mountains. There it was just us, the newlyweds and graduates, alone with the birds and the hills. We sang in the morning, teased at night. We stayed in each other’s arms. Until you collapsed on the floor.

More tears. I’m well aware of my blotchy face and silent whimpers, and the old couple beside me can probably see my shaking, winging hands. I notice in my peripheral looks of pity. But what can they do? Besides, it’s doubtful I’m the one dealing with the most grief here. 

My eyes flick to the tv screen in the corner, and for the millionth time today I wish I was alone. By some miracle, Star Wars is on. You would say something like it being long enough, or would offer some small comment on the Rebellion’s victory. But for once my lips don’t smile and my eyes don’t brighten as I watch evil being defeated. While my logical side insists light always wins, there’s still a part of me that wonders if darkness will ever really be subdued. 

Finally the nurse comes around and everyone lifts their head. But I’m remembering What Sarah Said. That “love is watching someone die.” 

It takes a soft nudge from the elderly gentleman at my side to gain my attention. 

“Mrs. Fairbank?” The nurse is a few feet away from me, pursing her lips. I feel my throat tighten, and, twisting the silver band around my finger, manage to give a slight nod. Whatever is coming next, I’m not prepared. But as she gently speaks the next words, I cling to your memory. 

“Your husband is gone.”

Your husband is gone. I feel like screaming. Ringing reverberates in my ears, and fighting against what I know to be true, I tell myself that she’s got it mixed up, that you’re really still there in that room, hooked up to the beeping machines, hanging onto dear life. But would that actually be better? I shake my head and begin to quietly sob, forgetting about the nurse who probably still stands in front of me in pity.

I rise from my seat, shakily staggering out of the building as I adjust and readjust my purse. My car answers my keys, and when I slide in, I lock the doors and lean forward onto the steering wheel. I’m vaguely aware of a small picture sitting in front of me, where the gas gauge is. This is, or was your car, so it surprises me a little. But when I rub my eyes and my vision clears just enough to see it, the tears start up again. It’s me. And written across in your handwriting is what I used to say to you: “It’s always been you.”

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