“I’m still not sure I should be going to this honey.” Greg looked at his wife through the reflection in the mirror as he combed his hair or at least what was left of it. His father was bald by 60 so Greg felt lucky to be 65 with any hair at all.
“ You need to go to this party. Its good for you to get out again.” Mary was always encouraging her husband to try new things. She had always been adventurous one, once she convinced Greg to take her on a trip to Africa. He never could say no to her.
“I know, I know I need to make some friends or meet new people. It's just... hard. Why you can't come with me?.” Greg turned to Mary and stared at her as she leaned against the bathroom door frame. There was never a day that passed where Greg didn’t marvel at his luck. He met Mary in college. He was studying in the library when she came strolling in clutching a bag tightly against her chest. Greg always wondered why she choose to sit next to him, but when she did he couldn’t help but stare as the bag in her arms seemed to wriggle on its own. That’s when she leaned over and opened the bag inside was a small kitten probably only a month, old one of its ears was in bad shape. Together they nursed the kitten back to health keeping it a secret until campus security found out and forced them to rehome it. Greg always said he fell in love with Mary when she cried giving the cat up, but really he knew he had to marry her the day she sat down next to him in the library.
“You know I can't go with you, dear. Besides it's just an office party you already know everyone who is gonna be there.” Mary laughed. Greg loved that laugh how it started low but faded into highnotes. Mary always had a way of bringing laughter into a room. Even on their wedding day her vows had everyone rolling. Even when he found out about his father's death she managed to coax a smile out of him. Even when the doctor told them they would never have kids Mary still managed to make the world seem brighter. Greg was the rock in the relationship sure, he held fast and true and settled Mary’s restless soul, but Mary she was the sun.
“Your right, your right. I just am nervous I haven't even been to the office in weeks, and I cant get my tie on straight.” Greg said as he struggled against his neck tie. Despite years of wearing one he always needed Mary’s help getting it just right. In reality he knew how to tie it himself he just loved the excuse to have her close.
“I told you that you needed to start learning how to do that on your own. Now take the top part and fold it over the bottom correctly.” Mary said firmly. Even on the day the doctor told her she was dying she managed to make Greg laugh with a dumb joke about the weather. Greg felt so lost that day like the oxygen had been sucked straight out of his chest. The scariest moment was that night when Mary finally broke down and cried in his arms. He held her close and promised to help her get better no matter what the doctors, or the cancer, or anyone else said.
“Right again my love. But my tie never looks as good when I do it myself. I'm helpless without you.” Greg said those last words like a joke but in his heart they felt true. Even though he was taking care of Mary psychically, picking up pills, driving to treatment, holding her hair when she got sick, it felt like she was still taking care of him. On the good days she Mary would cook and sing in the kitchen, her voice was certainly not stage worthy but it was perfect for small houses and sunday mornings. On the bad days she would sit in bed and write, page after page of recipes, instructions, and jokes. Just in case she always told Greg. He hated that phrase and those pages of writing that burned holes through his heart every time he thought about them.
“Don't say that. You are not helpless without me. You are strong and brave and incredibly kind. You can make it anywhere in this world if you have just a bit of faith in yourself.” Mary’s smile made it impossible for Greg to disagree. The weeks and months that followed the doctor's appointment were both a nightmare and a gift. Everyday felt like it needed to be held onto and saved in a glass jar. Greg stopped going into the office in order to take care of Mary. Some days he wanted to scream into the sky as he watched his wife flicker like a candle in the wind. Other days he was content to whisper all the world's poems in her ear. Greg would never understand how glad Mary was to have him as her rock during those months.
“ Are you sure you can't come with me? I just hate the way they stare.” Gregs voice sagged. It was 5 months after the first doctors appointment when they found out Mary’s cancer wasn’t responding to treatment. This time it felt like Gregs whole body was going to give out. Mary didn’t cry then, instead she smiled at Greg and asked to take her dream trip to Africa. She had always wanted to see the lions in the wild.
“Im always with you dear.” Mary said. Greg looked at her as he finished with his tie and exited the bathroom. Mary walked behind him as he went to the front door to get his shoes on. Greg felt a familiar lump in his throat.”
“Not like this.” The words scraped through Gregs chest as they exited his mouth, rattling around his rib cage and echoing against his unbeating heart. Two weeks after Africa Mary’s heart stopped beating, Greg felt like his flatlined at the same time. Without his sunshine everything felt cold and distant outside was an endless dark night. But here in there house surrounded by her furniture, her clothes, even those letters he hated see her write, Greg couldn’t help but see her. He wasn’t delusional, Greg understood Mary was dead but alone in there bedroom and in her kitchen it felt like she was still there. But Greg knew letting his memories haunt him forever wasn’t what Mary would have wanted.
So he made plans to return to work. Tonight was his welcome back party and every piece of Greg wanted to crawl back into bed and stay there. He wasn’t sure how he would handle the festivities, how do you find joy when you cant even find your heart beat. But Mary loved parties and Greg knew that she would have pushed him to go to this one. So, he finished putting on his shoes and opened the front door.
“Will you still be here when I get back?”
“I'll be here as long as you need my dear”