I reach for her hand, as I’ve done a thousand times before.
My fingers caress her smooth, delicate, dainty hand, remembering the gentle touch of them so often reaching out to my own worn, gnarled, callused palms.
I bend forward, kissing the pale, warm flesh gently, for fear it may vanish beneath my lips. A single, salty, glimmering tear slowly slips from my eye and runs down my cheek, slithering its way to the tip of my nose and dangling there a moment before finally relinquishing its grip to plop onto the crisp, white sheet. It leaves a small, perfectly round dot of moisture beside the limp arm of my beloved.
I bring the hand to my forehead, wrapping it with both of my own and closing my eyes.
Behind my eyelids the beautiful images play, and I revel in the glory that my mind’s eye impels. Visions of her glowing smile, her joyous laugh, her flowing hair. It was always such a rich, deep chestnut in color. It always whipped so madly about her head and face as these kind fingers tried to swipe the loose strands away, desperately fought to pin the stragglers back as we drove to our special place. With the windows rolled down, pedal to the metal, we would fly over the pavement still wet with rain. Pictures of the stars reflecting from those bright, dancing, piercing green eyes, the likes of which would always remind me of the eager child she once was, and make me feel young again.
It was her peaceful being, her loving heart, her caring graces that made my life worth living. Such a gem, hidden in a land of average swarms. How is it that she came to be in my life? How is it that we came to be here, in this, the most grievous, hateful state two beings could find themselves?
I think back, to when she was just a tike, playing with the kids next door. Even back then she brought joy with her, and the other children couldn’t help but be swept up by the wave of it, wherever she went. And how, as she grew older, as she matured, as she learned some of life’s hardest lessons, she faced every challenge with that unfading smile, that never-ending grace and poise of which she was composed, that endless wisdom of far beyond her years, the seeds of which she instilled in any humble enough to ask.
She was truly a gift to us all… A gift that had to be shared.
I still remember the day he came, and asked me for a moment of time. The terror in his trembling features was clear, but the one thing there to trump it filled my own heart with jealousy… the pure, passionate love expressed in his voice, in his eyes, in the very desperation to impress me that caused him to constantly be stumbling over the simplest of phrases.
It was my jealousy at the thought of losing her that nearly made me say no… and then she came, bounding down the stairs in that childlike glee, and upon seeing him there let out a girlish squeal, threw herself at him in the warmest of hugs. How could I deny her the one object of which she derived more joy then any other, even if it meant dealing that, the cruelest cut of all, myself?
But now those days seem so far gone and away, long replaced by the marish days of late, filled by tears, and pain, and an anguish unimaginable.
It is a man’s purpose to be born, and grow into a man, and take a wife, and love her, and lead her with that love. To create with her a precious brood, and guide that brood into adulthood – and perhaps, if he’s a lucky one, watch as they do the same – until the time comes for the good Lord to take him home. That is the great and right pattern of life that every man dreams of.
But, sometimes a pattern is broken, and tragedy is allowed to burst onto the scene. It destroys the good and right ways, replaces them with a bitter suffering. It plants its torturous seeds much deeper than any tool could possibly reach to remove or repair the rips that form as they grow into the ugliest of fruits.
Such is this story, and brought upon the most undeserving of souls. How cruel the twisting blade of fate, to force a man to live on strong as his precious little girl lies on a hospital bed. Wilted by pain, ruined by sickness, waiting for death’s chariot of fire to finally consume her as this bitter end slowly languishes her, day by excruciating day, hour by palling hour, minute by festering minute. How wrong it seems, that I live to be an old man, after a life so full of sins and regrets, and yet this girl, so sweet, so innocent, so naive, will never live to see her own child grow and mature to be just like her.
“D-Dad-dy?” The soft, half strangled, gentle word meets my ears, and I lift my eyes to find hers, still glimmering… but now with the tears of a pain so deep, it burns my very soul, where there used to be such joy and peace. The fingers tense just slightly, and with my free hand I caress the tear streaked cheek, gently placing the few ratty strands that remain of her once stunning mane back behind her ears. I kiss her forehead, tears wetting my face as well.
“Shhh… Shhh… It’s alright, my dear. It’ll be okay. Daddy’s here. I won’t leave you. Your going to get better, darling. I just know it. And I’ll be right here. I’ll always be right here beside you.” I whisper, begging desperately, pleading with fate and tempting myself with promises we both know can’t be kept. A barely noticeable shake of the head is all I need to know her thoughts, but much more will it take to make me believe the truth in them. I pull back, praying I’ve imagined it. But the look in her eyes denies my wish. “It’s time.” They whisper, the venomous words slipping from my own lips as though from somewhere else. I watch as the tears glaze over her wonderful eyes, already only containing half the life that used to bound from them, and spill over in trickling, steady streams.
Her frail, tender arm reaches up quiveringly for mine, seeking my attention with an urgency clear in purpose. The thin, tight lips, gone nearly blue, mouth the word without a sound, and my heart nearly stops. I grab the phone from the nightstand, frantically dialing the number that will forever remain engraved on my heart.
“Aaron…” All he needs is the sound of my voice, and before I can finish saying his name I hear the phone hit the ground. In mere moments, his steps come clapping down the tile hall, and then the door is shoved open. The poor young man stands, pale and numb, desperate for this to be a mistake. He dashes to her side, running a palm across her face, holding her hand tight within his grasp, panicked tears flowing from his eyes.
“No, no baby, please! Not yet! Just hold on, just a little longer! There’s got to be something they can do, just hang on a little longer! They’ll find a cure, they’ll find a way! It just can’t end like this. You deserve so much better!” His voice cries out. I reach my hand to his shoulder, trying to calm and steady him. It’s too late for that.
“Now’s no time for regrets.” I say to his startled expression.
She tries to smile gratefully, but winces instead. Her hand, so weak, squeezes my own.
He quickly kisses her, holding her close for what we know will be the last time. I do the same, and as her pain is slowly replaced by a strange, eerie, peaceful appearance, I can feel the life slowly seeping from her. It’s as if it sprung a leak somewhere along the way, and the janitor of fate thought it of no great importance until suddenly, without further warning, the leak had turned into a horrid, gaping torrent.
We sit on either side, a strange silence filling the room. At first it feels like a great, restful peace. But then, as a ragged exhale falls from her lips, a dreadful, morbid, heavy grief comes crashing down so hard, I can barely find the strength to breathe.
That exhale, just like any other you might take a million times a day, no different from those I’ve already involuntarily taken, and therefore taken for granted since her last… That sound that marked the end, that sound that somehow brings to mind the words my dear wife used to whisper to this angel as she would sing the girl to sleep.
“A breath can dream,
A breath can sing,
A breath can cover a beating wing,
A breath can be the beginning,
A breath can be the ending,
And you, my pet, can live in the in-between,
And the breaths will fly away.”
And it’s these very words I whisper through the silence, the tears falling slowly to the floor, as I close her eyes for one last time, and slumped low, head for the door.
For her, there’s nothing left… Nothing left but just to soar.
I reach for her hand, as I’ve done a thousand times before.