My mind was dark.
I wouldn’t open my eyes.
Not after her death.
I was all alone.
Days passed. My muscles ached from little movement. But my mind wouldn’t stop moving. Replaying the same thing, over and over. Her last breath in the hospital bed, as cancer won over her body. Her grip loosening on my hand as God stole her away. It was like my mind was purposely being cruel by pressing the replay button on the worst moment in my life.
I couldn’t keep living. Not without her. I had no purpose. What was the point?
What if I could just lay here and die?
The loud reverberation of my apartment doorbell woke me from a deep sleep. I shoved a pillow over my face, not having a care in the world if my neighbors thought I was rude for ignoring a visitor.
I moaned. The first sound I had made in a while. My throat felt hot and scratchy. Raw, like my injured heart.
I buried my face further under my grimy pillows, wishing I could wallow in my misery peaceably. But my intruder wasn’t going to give up.
“Cade?” came a soft, worried voice from the door. When I didn’t answer, it came again. So soft and fragile. “Cade?”
“Go away!” I snapped, lifting my head up just enough to see the burgundy entrance door from my open bedroom one. I flopped back down, exhausted and bitter. Why me? Why? Couldn’t God have taken someone else, someone who didn’t matter to me? Why couldn’t He have let me-
“Cade!” The voice came more sternly this time, but still soft and heartfelt.
“I said go away!” I screamed, anger bubbling in my chest, threatening to explode. I heaved a pillow at the door, as if that would change anything. The pillow harmlessly bounced off the peeling paint and tumbled to a stop on the floor. I stared at it, my eyesight fuzzy from crying.
Why me? I wondered again. I fell back onto my bed. The one I hadn’t gotten out of for what seemed like years. Nothing would be the same. I couldn’t live. I just couldn’t do it.
A soft jangling sound caught my attention. Keys. Whoever was at my door was unlocking it and was going to barge in and ruin my mourning time. I rolled over, burying my face in another pillow. How many times had I done that? Unexpected tears filled my eyes and added more wetness to the pillowcase.
“Cade?” The voice came tentatively from the foyer as the front door creaked open. I didn’t move. What was the point? I heard soft footsteps pad into my apartment and stop at the door. Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed to laugh. What would people think if they saw me now? Responsible, pastor's-son Cade Stewards? Then, like it always did, my thoughts reeled back to my new wife. We had been married for almost three months.
The bed sank a little bit by my feet, indicating someone was sitting there. I didn’t move. Didn’t acknowledge the pitying eyes that were sure to be sweeping the room at this very moment. What was the point?
“I’m so sorry, Cade,” the voice whispered. My eyes widened in recognition. It was Mrs. Alma, from next door. The crazy hamster lady. Yes, she had six hamsters, I think. I didn’t really care, though.
I felt a gentle hand rest on my ankle. I twitched, for it was the first human contact I’d had in a while. Mrs. Alma dropped her hand and waited. Waited for me to do something. What was she expecting me to do? Suddenly, my stomach growled in a hungry protest, loud enough for Mrs. Alma to hear.
“Oh, honey, are you hungry?” she asked. Her weight lifted from the foot of my bed and I heard her footsteps come closer. I shied away, not wanting her to touch me again. Not wanting the gentle, loving touch of another woman ever again. I still wouldn’t look at her. After a moment, she said,
“I’m going to get some soup from my apartment. Wait right here,” she murmured, and hurried out the door. That was funny; wait right here? Where was I going to go? I giggled like a little child, then tears began to seep into vision as the monster of grief and despair curled its cruel talons around my stomach again. I lay in bed, breathing heavily. Did I want to eat? Yes...no. I was starving. But the thought of eating ever again curdled my stomach like old milk.
The front door creaked open again. I should oil it. But I wasn’t going to. I was never going to do anything again. A warm, comforting smell filled the stuffy room. My stomach perked up its ears like a dog. I turned my head ever so slightly to see old Mrs. Alma slowly walk into my room, a full, steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup in her hands.
“I thought this might make you feel a bit better,” she said quietly, setting it down on my nightstand. In spite of myself, I slowly rolled over, avoiding Mrs. Alma’s serene gaze. My stomach growled again. I reached over and grabbed the spoon, filling it with warm broth. I brought the spoon to my lips, but I didn’t drink it. I watched the sparkles that seemed to swirl in the broth. They swirled around each other, dancing like fireflies.
That made me think of my wife. When we went to the senior prom when we were still youngsters. She had looked so beautiful, with a long red dress and auburn hair in an elegant updo. I remember when I saw her, I wanted to run to her and sweep her up in my arms and kiss her. I wanted to be close to her. I wanted to hold her in my arms, and never let go. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
That would never happen now.
A single tear rolled down my swollen face and plopped into the broth on the spoon. It swirled, transparent for a moment, then submitted itself into the brown color. I tentatively placed the spoon back in the bowl, not having taken a sip. I laid my head down on my elbow, tears tickling my cheeks. Mrs. Alma smiled at me sympathetically when I finally met her eyes. I was glad she didn’t say anything to me. That would’ve prompted me to respond, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to lay here, and let someone else see how I was hurting. I wanted her to pity me, to tell me how okay it was to be this depressed when I just lost my newlywed.
Hours passed. Mrs. Alma sat in my desk chair, a supportive presence in my personal cloud of doom. Eventually, I slipped into an uneasy sleep. And when I awoke, Mrs. Alma was still there. Shame washed over me for my inhospitableness towards my neighbor. Not because I cared, but because my wife would’ve been disappointed. I slowly sat up, not meeting her gaze. I fiddled with my fingers, then laid my head on the headrest of my bed. Mrs. Alma waited. After a while, I finally spoke.
“Why did He do this?” I whispered. My voice cracked, making it hard to understand what I said. Mrs. Alma understood fine, however.
“Why does He do a lot of the things He does?” she asked back, matching my whisper. I felt irritated at her for not giving me a straight answer. But really, what was I looking for? Her to say that my wife was coming back? That it was all a joke and I could live with her for the rest of our days? I wasn’t senile. I knew that was impossible.
“There is no humanly possible way for me to understand what you are going through right now, Cade,” she whispered, kindness and sympathy filling her eyes as she spoke. “But I know that He did this for a purpose. We cannot see why, but we have to trust.”
My emotions wrestled with each other in my chest, twisting and turning painfully. I thought I was sad. Then I thought I was angry. Then I acknowledged that I was confused. I dropped my head into my hands, a loud sob escaping my dry lips. Mrs. Alma sat beside me on my bed, but thankfully didn’t touch me.
“It is such a tragic thing, death is,” Miss Alma whispered. “But you can choose two paths. Despair and wither away like Satan wants you to, or grow and flourish into the person that God has created you to be. One is hard, one is easy.” She smiled. “You do not need to choose now, but I think we both know which Emily would have wanted you to choose.” With that, she left.
I imagined I was the strongest person alive. I imagined I could take on any obstacle, and succeed, because God was on my side. But could I really? I knew God was with me, but what difference did that make?
I glanced at my shirt, noticing it was baggier than before. I slowly lifted it up. I stared at my protruding ribs. Had those been there before? I glanced at the cold bowl of soup still sitting on my nightstand. For the second time, I reached over and grabbed the spoon. A couple noodles came along with it, and I didn’t hesitate to gobble them up. I ate the whole bowl in a matter of minutes.
Nothing had ever tasted so good.
A burst of defiance wormed its way into my heart. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, taking in my dirty stocking feet. They made me think of her, and how she would always chide me for leaving them on the floor. Tears pooled in my eyes, and I felt like burrowing into my blankets again. But I didn’t. By some miracle, I found the strength to stand. I hobbled over to my window, unsteady on my unused feet. I took a deep, calming breath. The shades in front of me reminded me of her, and the day we picked them out. I had wanted the orange ones, but she thought the green ones would look better in our room. Of course, she’d been right.
I found myself smiling, my lips unaccustomed to it. I reached up with shaky arms and pulled the shades apart, relishing their soft feel. Dazzling light pierced my eyeballs, forcing me to shut them momentarily.
Once my eyes adjusted, I gazed out at the familiar view. The one Emily and I had chosen this apartment for. Beautiful green hills rolled playfully underneath the fluorescent sunshine. Willow trees dotted the hills like scattered dice, blowing in the gentle breeze.
I stood there in awe, appreciating what seemed to be taken for granted more often than not. God’s Creation. If he could build this in seven days, he could heal my shattered heart.