Today I told my girlfriend that I was dying. We’d been through a lot in the last few months and were a month away from moving in together. The look on her face was as I’d imagined it would be. Her pale blue eyes wide and stunned, brimming with tears. Her mouth formed a soft little “O” as though she was about to say something like “Oh my god, how could this be?” or “Oh, you poor thing!” but her voice couldn’t seem to sync up with her brain and produce an audible response. Her head was curiously tilted to the right and her hair framed this whole shocked expression that is forever burnt into my mind’s eye.
She shook her head as she fluttered her eyelids rapidly in an effort free herself of the stunned silence. The movement freed the moisture from her eyes. She stared at where the tear stains landed in her lap a moment, breathing deeply. “H…h…how? F…f…from what?” she asked and she lifted her head to meet my eyes.
I was sitting on the coffee table across from her, our knees so close to touching it felt like they actually were. My elbows rested on either knee as our gazes met, then I looked down and stared at the floor.
“You remember that physical I had 2 weeks ago?”
“My doctor called to schedule a follow up appointment and I saw him this morning.” I took a deep breath through my nose, and quickly exhaled it through my pursed lips with a sigh. I paused a moment to collect my thoughts.
“Well? What is it?” She asked clearly eager to be there for me, on the edge of her mental seat, dying to be the person to hold me and tell me everything would be all right.
“Cancer.” I blurted. “It started in my colon and has managed to spread itself through my entire body.”
“Can they remove it? Treat it? Anything?” She practically begged, knowing that if they could, I probably wouldn’t have said I was dying in the first place.
“If they tried to remove it, there wouldn’t be much of my insides left.” I looked up from the floor and gave her the grim ‘almost smile’, “And I don’t want to waste the rest of my life curled in the foetal position with poison coursing through my veins all the while wondering if a simple cold is going to kill me before the chemo even reaches the cancer.”
“How long do you have left?” she asked, her bottom lip quivering, as if it already knew the answer. Her hands reflexively grabbed mine in desperation.
“Three to six months.” I whispered, and that’s when she started to cry. It wasn’t the soft weeping type of crying either. It was that loud wailing crying you get when you scold a small child. It starts off as a low hum and leads into a howl like a siren. When her lungs ran out of air, she shuddered as she resupplied them with oxygen, unconsciously sucking her bottom lip in with the force of it as her eyes dart around the room as if she’ll find an answer on the walls of her apartment that will make everything all right.
She continues on with the siren and deep wracking breaths to the darting eyes loop for about fifteen minutes. Every once in a while her eyes would stop on mine with the “Is this for real” question in them. Each time her eyes ask, I purse my lips thinly together with that grim smile that isn’t a smile and nod my head. I’m doing well to keep myself together at this point. I’m such a trooper.
After a quarter of an hour passes she lowers her pre-bereavement intensity to about a 3 from the 10 she was at and asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
I pull my hands from hers at that point and rub my face with my palms. It is the act of a man who is at his wits end. It is the gesture of a man who is trying to come to terms with the dark avenue where his life has chosen to smash all the street lamps. I lower my head and use my right hand and pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to stifle the tears.
“We haven’t been together that long…” My mind is a mess as I stumble to try and remember her name. “….Brittany. I couldn’t possibly ask you to go through this with me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She blurts, clearly offended that I could possibly think that way. “I want to be there for you, you need me now, more than ever.”
I smile at her softly, now she’s trying to be the trooper, so I begin to set her straight. “I can’t let you do that.” I say, allowing my eyes to drift to the ceiling. “I can’t bare the thought of you seeing me as I begin to slip away. I don’t want you to remember me as some shell of a man. I want you to remember me as I am now: strong, healthy and vibrant. I don’t want the gaunt, withered husk I will no doubt become to be the lasting memory you have of me. Please, consider this my last request.” I lower my head quickly in what appears to be a sign of defeated wariness.
She places her hand under my chin and lifts, when our eyes meet; she smiles in spite of her tears. She sniffs sharply and sloppily wipes her nose with the back of her left hand. I guess grief tends to strip us of our civility. She leans forward and moves her hand to the back of my head and pulls me to her. Our lips meet and I can taste the loss she feels, as if I’m already gone. She kisses me softly and for a moment whispers, “If that’s what you need from me, then okay.” The right corner of her mouth turns up in a wicked half grin and she says thickly “At least let me give you something to help you remember me.”
She stands up then and smiles down at me as I look up at her from her coffee table, the tears still running rivulets down her face as she shouldered herself out of the innocent print summer dress that she was wearing. She reaches down, takes my hand and pulls me up to her. Our eyes meet again, only this time there is a hunger in hers. It’s as though she has something to prove now. It’s like she wants to show me, but mostly herself, that because she will be my last that she has no choice but to be the best I’ve ever had. It’s as though her grief has unlocked something primal and my awareness of this makes me instantly hard. She smiles knowingly as it presses against her and turns to leads me by the hand to her bedroom.
______ ______ ______
I wake up four hours later, the smell of sweat and sex still heavy in the room. I breathe it in deeply and look over at her sleeping, content but clearly exhausted face. She is splayed out, lying on her back. The sheet from her bed is wrapped around us like a snake and it takes me a few moments to carefully disentangle myself from it. I am careful not to wake her up and yet I am fairly confident that I could easily climb up onto the bed, put my feet on either side of her and jump up and down and still not wake her.
I swing my feet to the floor and grab my underwear and jeans from their nesting place strewn overtop of her night table’s lampshade. I chuckle for a moment as I also disentangle them because it looks as though I had been wearing my underwear over inside out pants. She had practically ripped them from my waist and down my legs after pushing me to the bed, leaving me to fend for my member because she surely would have torn it clean off along with my clothes in the heat of the moment.
I turn my jeans right side out, or is it outside in, whatever, and pull the note from the back pocket and stand it against the lamp on her nightstand. I quickly pull on my underwear and pants and grab the balled up t-shirt I had been wearing and leave her room, silently closing the door.
As I cross the living room, I pull on my t-shirt. My ball cap and sandals are waiting for me at the door and within minutes I am out of her building and heading down the sidewalk to my car that I had parked a short block away. I think back to the note I left her and smile.
Remember me as I was today and know that I will
never forget you. I pray that we will meet again in the
next life where our time together will not be as short
I walk in a contented deliberate manner back to my car, whistling some random unrecognizable tune. Every so often, the early evening breeze blows in such a way that I can smell her scent on me. It reminds me of how she was and my mouth can’t help but spread into lazy, satisfied grin.
For me, sex can be broken up into four categories: garden variety, make-up sex, break-up sex and a kind of heathen sex that is so very primal that it can only be experienced when you are fucking for your life, or in this case when she was fucking me for my life, for the rest of my life and for my last time for eternity.
My problem is that I’ve always been pretty good at making up and telling a convincing story, but I’ve never really had a knack for breaking up with someone.
As I continue towards my car, reach into my pant pocket and pull out the pay per use cell phone I bought just before I met her; it’s the only connection she has to me, and toss it into a trash can.
I’ll call the phone company and report it stolen in the morning.