“Don’t worry my love, there’s always more money.” I can’t even count how many times you used to tell me that. You would say that when you wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate a good day at work. You would tell me that when you wanted to go see that new superhero movie. You used to tell me that when our bank account was overdrawn. I could never tell if it was optimism or delusion. Not that I ever put up much of a fight. You would always know how I would respond, that I would say something about responsibility or saving for a rainy day. You would always finish both sides of the argument as if to say there was nothing to worry about.
Overtime I found comfort in your confidence. Even in our poorest of days, you would reassure me with that warm smile on your face. The warmth of a thousand suns that would clear a path through the clouds that hung over my head when rent was due. You always found a way. In my disbelief and admiration I would call you a hustler for that is what you were. Never a day went by when you wouldn’t deposit at least a few dollars into our bank account. Some days more than others, but there was always something to put me at ease. Every day you would pound the pavement, never showing the bruises when the pavement pounded back. I wish I had known the depths of your pain, but you wouldn’t let me.
That same warm smile never left your face, long after I lost mine. You wore that smile with pride as if you were showing off a designer label. It demanded the same attention as a limited release Louis Vuitton bag or an Ivy Park jacket would. Every nurse asked where you got it from, as if they could order it online or pick it up from the store. You always told me it was one of a kind. “Just like you” I’d respond. In time I’d learn your humble bravado was yet another piece of armor to protect you from what was to come. I prayed that your armor would never fail.
Every night when you were in the hospital I would repair that armor as best as I could. I would show you pictures of Hawaii. You told me you were going to take me there for our anniversary. You’ve been telling me this for years and I’ve never once doubted you. Every year on our anniversary you show me the hotel we will stay at. We would stay in a suite with french doors that open out onto the beach. We would be able to see the sun setting over the ocean from our bed, as I fall asleep in your arms. You would tell me that no sight on the island would be more beautiful than how I look waking up next to you, with the sunlight gently resting on my skin. Those nights we would go to bed and we would dream of the island sand between our toes and the ocean spray on our skin.
Every night in the hospital before you fell asleep you would say “See you in the morning beautiful. I love you.” I always wake up before you do so I can say a simple prayer. Every morning you woke up, you answered my prayer. You would smile and say “hello my love.” Even as your smile grew softer and your voice weaker you would never fail to be that light I needed in my life. That light was always so effective in cutting through the darkness of worsening updates from your doctor and overdraft notices. You would tell me that I would need to find my own light and I would tell you I already have and I will not let that light go out. Every night when you went to sleep I could see your light growing dim and every night I would fan that flame to keep me warm.
I was brought out of my sleepless slumber by a soft, throbbing alarm coming from your bed. Before I could alert someone, a team of nurses walked into your room with a slow and steady deliberation. They told me what I already knew, my simple prayer would be answered no more. There was a generosity in the unambiguous manner in which they carried themselves. While you laid peacefully on the bed, the nurses told me what the next steps would be. For now they said, all I could do was go home and get some rest. I was never able to fall asleep without you in our bed, how will I ever be able to sleep without you by my side?
The mailbox was full of bills and coupons for a spa chain. “You’ve had a hard day, you deserve a break.” My body went into autopilot. Clean the house, do the laundry. Your shoes were all over the house as they always are. Whenever I would call you out on it you would have this innocent look on your face as if I caught your hands in the cookie jar. Your sandals were next to the sofa, your sneakers were under the bed, peaking out ever so slightly like it was a game of hide and seek. Our bed. You made the bed every morning because you knew I would always forget to. I would always chide you for the ever growing collection of stuffed animals on our bed. You would always leave a teddy bear on my pillow, holding a heart that says “I love you.”
I crawl into bed, I wrap my body around that teddy bear and inhale your scent. My tears cascade down my cheeks and my sobs echo through our quiet apartment. I stay awake just as I would when you were working, waiting for you to come home to hold me tight in bed as we drift off to sleep. I cry myself asleep in a bed meant for two, wishing it were full for just one more night. You were in my dreams that night as you are every night. We’re on the beach, holding hands as we bury our toes in the sand. You turned to me and smiled with a tranquility I’ve never seen grace your face. You say the words I’ve been longing to hear, “hello my love.”
They asked me what I wanted to do with your ashes. I picked out an urn that had rings of light blue, your favorite color. You always avoided telling me your last wishes, you weren’t built for mournful discussions. You only would tell me that I would know what to do if the time came. I longed for your surety as I doubted myself every step along the way. I tried you out all over the apartment, finally settling on the table by the window, I thought you would like the warmth of the sun. Deep down I knew you wouldn’t stay there forever. It wasn’t like you to stay in one place all the time.
I managed to fit everything in a single carry on. I packed you next to your sandals. You would appreciate the irony that I was the one spending money we didn’t have without a thought of how to earn it back. The gate agent noticed I had a one way ticket, it was all I could afford.
“Heading home?” I didn’t know how to respond to that. I attempted your patented mischievous grin and hoped it was a convincing facsimile. I found my seat and wrapped my arms around you until the flight attendant told me that I had to stow carry on bags below the seat in front of me. I was happy to sacrifice what little space I had for you. I would give you my all, just as you did for me every single day.
I checked into the hotel you had picked out for us. You were right, the view from the bed is truly breathtaking. I set you on the table by the bed so you could see it. I laid down, taking in the most beautiful sight on the island. I was already awake by the time my alarm went off. My eyes fixed on you as you gazed back at me.
I left the sandals in the room as I walked down to the beach. We were the only ones on the beach, just as it was in my dreams. There was a stillness in the air, as if the very elements were waiting with baited breath for your arrival. I released you and the waves carried you home. The sun started it’s slow walk across the ocean, greeting every rock and tree as it rose in the sky. It accepted you in it’s welcoming arms like a long lost child.
I felt the sand beneath my toes and the ocean spray on my skin. I can feel the warmth of your smile on my face as you become one with the sun. The light of my life.