I was living, but he was dying. That was the tragic reality that we had both been faced with--that we remained conscious of day by day. Most budding couples spoke of an optimistic and fulfilling future in each other's loving company, but I was living, and he was dying, so our relationship brought no such promises.
When I had first noticed Adam, we had both been young and impressionable, still in our first year of high-school. A sudden and fast-spreading rumour had surged up at around the midpoint of that year about the short, scrawny, red-headed boy fancying the gorgeous and popular cheerleader. I was well-liked, but he was ignored.
The things I had said at the time to disregard the hopeful boy--to deny his feelings--still hurt me to this day, though certainly not as much as they had hurt him.
Later in life, when he had revealed to me that he had begun smoking as a way of escaping the torment at school, I had been shattered even more, knowing that I had no doubt contributed to his lethal habit.
However, life went on as usual from that point on, and over the course of the four remaining years at school, I had managed to forget about the little red-head. After graduation, I could barely remember his name.
The next time I saw Adam was almost ten years later.
I had just begun my new job as a cleaner at the hospital. Having been left in a financially unstable situation just over a year after my divorce, I had been desperate for any job I could get. We had run into each other in a quiet corridor, but I had not recognized him until my name had slipped from between his lips.
“Adam?” I had replied in uncertain disbelief and humiliation.
He had changed a lot, his previously skinny frame now being more muscular and his height being impressive. However, that unmistakably bright hair had remained the same fiery-orange shade as when we had been young.
I had been baffled and shy, but he had simply smiled, asking me about how I’d been doing.
Our first shocking confrontation had soon turned into a long and friendly conversation.
I had been hesitant to reveal too many details regarding my personal life, but he spoke to me proudly of his own business that he had been quickly growing over the past few years. He was successful, but I was struggling. However, it did not make a significant difference, because I was living, and he was dying; of lung cancer.
He had explained that the disease had been spreading throughout his system for awhile then, but that he had not been diagnosed until after a lot of damage had already been done. The doctors had told him that he had about six months left. He was dying.
We spoke often after that, either bumping into each other at the hospital or going out for the occasional meal at the diner just up the street.
His life seemed quite interesting, but my life seemed dull. Nevertheless, he was somehow able to bring a glint of happiness into my bland life, and for that, I was infinitely grateful.
He soon learned about my difficult divorce and how I had been struggling to make ends meet. I suppose it had just slipped out during one of our many conversations, partially because I had quickly learned to trust him enough with my personal affairs.
He had been filled with nothing more than sympathy after my confession and had promised to help me if I ever found myself in need of assistance.
I was unceasingly thankful for his compassion, wondering how I would have reacted if someone who had mocked me so many years ago had come to me with a similar story. He was selfless, and I was grateful.
Adam also revealed that he had just recently begun chemotherapy, though the treatment didn’t seem to be working. However, he had tried to remain optimistic and had assured me that my simple company had been doing wonders for him. I had returned the compliment with honesty and we had both been flattered with delight.
Our first kiss had been about a month and a half later. He had found me in tears near the building’s entrance after I had received an eviction notice from my landlord.
I had nowhere to go and had previously been struggling to cover my apartment's costly rent. I had come to the unhappy conclusion that I would most likely become homeless, living on the cold and bitter streets of the city.
Of course, Adam would hear none of my worries and simply invited me to stay with him for the time being. At first, I had declined the offer, arguing that I didn’t want to be a bother (though in my mind, I had been hoping that the arrangements could be made). However, he’d managed to cut me off mid-sentence with a swift and unexpected kiss.
I had not known how to respond, but had simply smiled back at him after he had taken a step back.
He had been my only source of comfort and joy over the past months, so I had not been not distressed; simply...relieved.
So, I’d wrapped him in a tight hug and thanked him whole-heartedly for the offer. At that moment, we were both content.
Our first date was the very next week.
Adam had packed us a picnic and we had ventured down to the local beach just as the sun had been setting. The sight had been beautiful and the air warm with comfort.
As we had stared off into the distance, I could feel him wrap his warm and safe arms around me, whispering a simple promise into my ear, “I will always be here for you” and placing a delicate kiss on my cheek.
I had blushed and smiled at his words, leaning into his embrace and taking in the beautiful scenery around us.
A few more weeks went by, filled with both joy and smiles; the same giddy feelings a young and budding couple might experience. Never had I felt so cherished and loved before. I welcomed the emotions with gratitude and whole-heartedness, feeling as though life had finally brought me good fortune. I had finally met a man who could make me just as happy as I made him.
We were happy, and we were in love.
When my mother had called one afternoon, I had told her ecstatically about everything that had happened between Adam and I. Although she had seemed glad that I had been met with such joy, she had also been concerned that our relationship had been moving too quickly.
“You’ve already moved in together?” She’d exclaimed on the other line “It’s been three months, honey.”
Although I had explained the entire situation in regards to my eviction, she had still remained skeptical.
“And you say he has cancer?” She’d said as our conversation had been coming to an end “What does this mean for your future?”
The question had brought a sudden realization and grief upon me which I had been trying to put aside.
I had not felt any type anger towards my mother, she had simply been looking out for me, but I had truly not wanted to accept the daunting reality. I was living, but he was dying.
The next day, we had our first major argument.
It had started as a small off-handed comment he’d made about wanting kids.
It had caught me completely off-guard and I had suddenly begun to panic, wondering whether what my mother had said about us moving too quickly in the relationship might have been true. The thought of having children had never crossed my mind in recent months, and the prospect had frightened me to say the least.
I had therefore replied saying that I could not have children if they would not have a father to raise them. It was a practical argument, but emotionally straining and heavy for both of us.
I had regretted saying those words as soon as they had come out of my mouth. I had not meant to bring up such sensitive topics as death and our future, but it had unfortunately slipped out.
The unhappy conversation only ended in yelling and tears, each of us sleeping in separate areas and both drowning in sorrow and regret. The strong and disheartening emotions I had felt made my heart ache immensely, and I had wished at that moment that I could have taken everything back and simply return to his warm embrace.
The next morning, I had been surprised to find a trail of rose petals leading to the kitchen where a plate of warm pancakes had been placed on a colourful plate. It had been a delightful surprise.
Adam had continued to apologize over and over for the things he had said or implied during our argument. Though I had accepted his pleas for forgiveness, I had felt that it was more so I that had been in the wrong.
That morning, we spoke openly about our feelings and emotions without shame or denial.
I had explained to him that the entire prospect of having a child scared me and that I had never seriously considered it for a while. He had understood completely, accepting my explanation whole-heartedly and apologizing for having brought up such a sensitive topic. He had made sure to promise me that he would never make me do anything I did not feel comfortable with, adding that if I ever felt scared, he would always be there to comfort me.
It had then been my turn to apologize for my hurtful words, and though he assured me I had been forgiven, the silence following the conversation had been heavy and disheartening as the realization of reality continued to sink in. I was living, but he was dying.
However, he had then whispered those three magical words for the first time, “I love you”, and suddenly all troubled thoughts had faded away as the room had once more been filled with a loving passion that could bring nothing else but joy.
Four months went by before we had found ourselves on that sandy beach once more. It had been another warm and comfortable evening as we sat watching the sunset contently in each other's company.
At that point, Adam had physically changed significantly. His treatment had caused a large amount of hair loss and he had seemed to be regaining his same skinny stature from youth. Though he had surpassed the doctors’ predicted life expectancy, it had been obvious that he had been getting weaker each day. He would sometimes go into intense and unnerving coughing fits and occasionally go days without leaving the bed, seemingly too weak to even move. However, Adam had still remained the loving man he had always been and had made sure that he was taking care of me to the best of his capacities.
I had loved him too, then more than ever, feeling myself grow isolated and unhappy whenever I had not been in his presence for some time. Some days, I would find myself digging through health books and magazines, desperately searching for some sort of remedy--some sort of hope.
Though nothing we had tried had brought a significant change, we both knew that it brought a sense of comfort and closeness between us. We had been fighting hand-in-hand against the powerful forces of death, but we were together, and that was all that had mattered.
When the top of the sun had been the only light remaining, slightly peeking out from above the horizon, I had felt myself lean on Adam’s shoulder, gradually growing tired. Then, from the corner of my eye, I had seen that he had pulled out a small box. He had opened it gently and we had both stared into each other's eyes with love and passion. It was a promise ring. He had simply smiled back at me, his beautiful grin creating slight dimples in his cheeks as I felt him wipe away a few stray tears of joy from the corners of my eyes. Without a word, I had nodded, one hand still on my mouth as he had slipped the beautiful jewelry onto my finger.
“I will always be here for you.” He had whispered into my forehead where he had placed a delicate kiss, repeating that same vow he had first told me months before; and he had kept it.
He had then laid a gentle hand on my slowly enlarging stomach where a sense of hope and joy had been growing, and pressed another gentle kiss to my belly-button before wrapping an arm around my shoulders and holding my hand as we stared off once more into the distance.
Though the joy I had been feeling was immeasurable, I knew what the ring had been meant to symbolise--hope for our future. I had tried to suppress it, but that lingering and troublesome question kept coming back. Would we have a future? The sad truth was that I did not know, because I was living, but he was dying.
It was two months later that I sat on our bed, crying.
He had been sitting beside me, a hand on my back and the other trembling as he held the small and blurry but significant picture of our lost-child. The ultrasound had only been taken a few weeks before when the growing fetus had been seemingly healthy. However, when the aching cramps had begun earlier that morning, the blood flushing down the toilet bowl had only seemed to confirm my devastating suspicion.
It had been heart-breaking, really. I had taken time to think after our first disagreement and had decided whole-heartedly to be courageous and brave. For him. For us.
I had figured we could raise a beautiful child together and create long-lasting memories as a family. Though I had remained uncertain of how long he actually had left, I knew that one of his last wishes had been to see his own child, and I had therefore been determined to make him happy.
The loss had proved to be a big devastation to both of us; a hope and wish for a brighter future having simply slipped away.
We simply sat silently in each other's arms that day, the occasional sob escaping to fit the depressing mood.
The last time I spoke to Adam was on a chilly winter’s morning.
He had been lying in bed, feeling especially sick and seemingly unable to get up. He had been getting weaker and weaker every day, and the devastation it brought to both of us had been disheartening. However, neither of us dared to mention anything about the slightest lack of hope, still apparently determined to win the battle against the dreadful disease.
That morning, I had brought him breakfast in bed before leaving the house to run a few errands around town. I had recently found an interesting tea recipe in a health book that had been seemingly able to help heal certain damages in the respiratory system. I had been ecstatic for Adam to try it, but first had to pick up the ingredients.
After having set down the tray of food, he had whispered a few unintelligible words to me, for he had been losing his voice. I had simply decided to place a light kiss on his lips and whispered “I love you.” He had smiled up at me with adoration one final time before closing his eyes and drifting off into a seemingly light sleep.
When I had returned home later that afternoon, I had found his body cold and stiff.
A pen had rolled onto the floor and by his left hand lay a single piece of paper on which was written the word: “I love yo-”
He had not been able to finish.
Now, as I sit in the ancient rocking chair, recollecting old memories, I find myself once more holding that paper to my slowing heart--a sad tear sliding down my aging cheek.
I look down at the still-glistening ring on my old wrinkly finger as a gentle smile spreads across my lips, remembering his sacred promise.
We had decided to start a relationship--a life together--even though we had known that his days were numbered. I had definitely not expected to commit my most profound love and devotion to somebody I knew would not stay with me for long--who was dying of an incurable disease. If you’d have asked me weeks before meeting Adam what it was that I wanted most in a relationship, I would have likely replied that I wanted to spend a long, passionate life with my partner and be able to grow old in each-other's company. However, Adam and I had cherished every day we had, ultimately both making each other's lives worth living. In the end, though we hadn't had much time together on this Earth, Adam was the love of my life and I didn’t go a single day without thinking of him.
I could feel my breath slowing as a sudden tightness in my chest emerged, and then I knew that soon, my time would come.
I closed my eyes, as I felt my weakening body go slightly limp, and finally thought to myself “He may be dead, but soon, we will both be alive on the other side.”