Please decide if you really want to read this story – it deals with someone dying – it is very descriptive of the pain and suffering of the person left behind.
I also write about Death as a real character that my character can talk to. This may be offensive or upsetting to some people.
I lay in bed with my eyes closed wanting to pull the blankets over my head and go back to sleep. To sleep forever. Never have to deal with the life before me, so shallow, so meaningless, and so futile. I could not think of a single reason for getting out of bed except for Lucy, my dog, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble getting someone to adopt her. Everyone comments on her good behavior. The first thing anyone says when they meet us – “she’s beautiful”. Before “hello”, before the weather, before anything else. If she had been human I would have been jealous of her hogging all the attention.
I could hear Lucy pacing in the living room and finally persuaded myself to roll over. To consider getting up. There was light coming through the window. The sun shone through the thin cotton curtains. Something we hadn’t seen in days. I put my feet on the floor and got up. The sun shimmered on the ocean and I shaded my eyes against the glare.
Lucy waited impatiently for me to find my clothes. It would have been much easier if she hadn’t had her whole head in the way every time I tried to do anything. I couldn’t even see my boots to lace them up. I tried to push her out of the way but she wouldn’t move and I couldn’t make her. Somehow I did get dressed and out the door without falling over her and down the stairs. She ran and I ran with her.
There is something magical about running up and down a beach in the middle of winter and feeling warm and kissed by the sun. And magic in ours being the only footprints on the beach. We were the first to be out there laughing in the sun. Lucy swam after the ducks and made them all squeak. But their squeaking had joy in it today and not the annoyance or despair of ice and snow. Today we would all forget winter, the cold and the wind. I threw my hands up and worshipped the sun.
I think we were there for hours. A few hours of freedom from worry. I few hours I could forget the passing days. The cards were long since sent. I had nothing to do. I’ve talked to so many people who long for that year off, the long vacation, to win the lottery and have nothing to do. They sing the praises of days to do nothing like a mantra. They’ve never lived through it. The endless hours of nothing. No plans, no commitments, nothing. Everything I do, I must generate myself. And I all really want to do is lost to me. I stare back at my paintbrushes full of dust. A spider has taken residence in them. I can’t even force my hand to reach for them. They are locked inside a force field that repels me and I do not have the power to break my way through it.
I long to pick up a brush, mix up the paints and record the glory of the morning. The sun, the racing dog flying through the edge of the waves. Pure joy of running. Being with the human she loves. The sun on the water, a sense of reprieve, that this is a special day in winter – like a Chinook blowing through and letting everyone open their doors and windows so the gloom and smoke of winter will leave their homes. A time out.
I can feel the vision in my soul coalescing from the swirl of my thoughts, so temptingly close to forming a picture and then, just as quickly, falling apart and leaving the silvery trails of its passing to haunt me with despair.
I think of life. Where will I go and what will I do? What can I settle for? Will I ever find a mundane life? Get up, go to work, come home and what? Stare at the television? To live without the magic I was born with?
I make plans for what to do after my time on the Island is done but they are only plans. Plans for a life I could never live. This is the end – and the beginning. Sometimes I think I see your face in my dreams but I can’t quite reach you. Can’t quite remember how you look, how you sounded. Even if I could paint, I wonder how I can live without being able to remember. What happens when I can’t hear your voice anymore, can’t hold your face in my dreams because I can’t see it anymore?
“Living in the past,” Micki, my therapist, says. At least she doesn’t say stupid things like, “Time heals all wounds.” Suddenly, I look up at your picture. And it’s years ago, and I’m on the phone, I’m holding the wall to stay upright, and Frances is saying, “Beau’s dead.” She went on and on about needing to tell me. Better Frances than the policeman. He was so upset over telling me, I remember thinking he needed to be comforted. Didn’t understand then. I still thought you would call me and I’d tell you that something terrible had happened. It couldn’t be so terrible if I was telling you. But you didn’t call. I’m sure everyone wondered about my sanity then. God knows what they’d think of me now, having tea with Death, having Christmas alone. All sorts of unthinkable things. Unacceptable things. But I know what’s going on this time.
Then, it’s all a blur of pain, nothing clear. A fog of desperately waiting for you and then finally, gradually accepting you were gone. I lost you. I lost my Beau. It makes me sound like some sort of forgetful, silly, stupid person that I could lose you. I’m not silly, and I would never have lost you. How could I? There was always you, since forever. If only you were lost, I would spend the rest of my life searching for you. My life would have meaning. Beau is lost somewhere and I am going to find him. And I’d know you were looking for me. And we would find each other. But we would have never lost each other. So I never say, “I lost my husband.” I say, “My husband died.” Everyone says even now, “But you’re so young to have…” and the sentence trails off into silence. They can’t say dead. And now I don’t bother telling them it was years ago. I just shake my head at them and they sometimes make soothing noises at me. At least no one tells me I should be over it. I should be over you. Yes, I should be over you, over your passionate, loving body. I don’t want to feel this pain anymore, Beau. Time. All time gives me is more chances to go on feeling this over and over. Without warning, suddenly, there it is. Just as if you died last week, or yesterday. It’s not years, it’s hours, it’s forever the same and I’m trapped here in a time loop triggered off by a sound, a smell, a thought. I walk through minefields everyday of my life hoping not to set this pain off. And yet here it is again.
Days later? Hours? Weeks? Do I really care? Answer is no. Today dawned in the darkness and noise of torrents of rain on the roof. Dusk or dawn. Midday or midnight all looks almost the same. Even Lucy doesn’t want to go out in this. She goes out to do her business and runs for the door leaving me to follow slowly after her. We’re cold again. I don’t want to use up all the dry wood so I have the oven full of wood again. It stinks. I’ve spent the morning choking. I did go for a walk with Lucy dutifully coming with me, looking at me hoping I’d turn around and go home again and bounding happily when I did. The waves were pounding into the beach. There were no ducks in sight. Or anyone else.
I write these words. I sometimes wonder why I bother writing them. If you are able to read them – I expect you can also read my thoughts. But maybe my written words are clearer than the jumble in my brain.
“Hello,” comes the voice from the darkest corner of the couch. I have become attuned to him now. His silent arrival no longer startles me.
Me: Hello to you. Shall I put the kettle on?
Death: No. I’ll take a glass of what you’re having.
Me: Rough night?
Death: Yes, it is. But I still felt you.
Me: I’m sorry. I promised to make up my mind. I still seem to be thinking. I have over three months left.
Death: Of course you do. I didn’t come to chastise you.
Me: Chastise. An old word.
Death: I am old. So are you, tonight.
Me: Ancient beyond comprehension. Senile and sad. I wish wisdom came with this.
Death: It doesn’t?
Me: No, doesn’t seem to. Just the pain of knowing, of feeling, of being alive.
Death: Still writing to Beau?
Me: As always.
Death: Why don’t you talk to him?
Me: Sure. Of course. Why don’t I just call him on the phone and ask him to come over?
Death: Go to where you saw him last. I’m sure he’ll be waiting for you.
Me: I’ll just walk across the ocean, go back home, and see if he’s still there, shall I?
Death: Take out your paints. I’ll be right here with you.
Me: That’s not funny.
Death: I was not trying to be funny. I’m never funny.
Me: Death is a serious business.
Death: Yes it is. Take out your paints.
Me: I can’t.
Death: Yes you can. You’re sitting at the table. Put your writing aside. Pull the paper pad in front of you. Reach for the pencil and draw. What was it like that day?
I did as he asked me. Somehow I felt if Death gave me orders I couldn’t refuse him. He broke the force fields over my heart, and my hands. They moved. I held the pencil in my hand and faced the blank sheet of paper. It no longer seemed immense or overwhelming. The pencil became just a pencil, and the paper shrank to 9 by 12 inches.
What was the day like? The sun shone. I can see the dirt path in front of me and the long dry golden grass. Dust hangs in the air from where we walked down the path. I can smell the trampled grasses. There’s the hollow where we lay that last time. I see the outline of Beau’s body and mine together, one silhouette. My pencil goes down.
Impatiently I dust off the brushes and throw water on my palette. I coax the dry paints back into life and swirl patterns of dust, grasses, rocks and sky together through the center of my palette. I find the color of Beau’s blue jeans and the light cotton shirt, white, well once white, but covered in dust markings from lying in the dirt. I can smell the sunshine and the heat. The dust in my nose, and then suddenly, I’m there again. I can see the dark blue summer sky. If I look over, I will see Beau.
I can vaguely hear Death’s voice, telling me to look and I manage to turn my head, and there is my Beau. Lying there waiting for me to be finished sketching. Smiling, he says,
“You got old.”
I laugh and cry, the tears streaming down my face. All the things I imagined he’d say if I could only talk to him. I love you. I miss you too. And I know it’s really my Beau because that’s what he would say. All the years of, “I’ll never grow up, no, not me,” and Peter Pan and Hook. And I look at the beautiful, young face of my darling Beau and laugh.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t mean to.”
“Precious Pixie,” Beau answers. There couldn’t be any other answer.
Beau: You’re so sad.
Me: I wish you were here.
Beau: I am here.
Me: But all the time, everyday, like it was.
Beau shakes his head.
Beau: I can’t
Me: But I can’t stay in this painting forever.
Beau: And neither can I. I don’t want you to live this way.
Me: I can’t live this way. Let me come with you – can I come where you are? Can we be together?
Beau: Hush, darling girl. You can’t come with me now. Someday, not now. Look at me. You’re older than I ever was. You know things, been places, experienced life I never got to. It’s not the same anymore.
I just sat and cried. I could hear him. I could see every movement of his eyes, his lips. All I wanted was for that moment to last forever. More, I wanted more. I wanted to go back to that moment, the first time it happened. I wanted it to be real, the time in between gone and lost forever. To have never happened. To have never experienced it. I stared at Beau, savored every detail, tried to etch the exact color of his eyes into my memory with deep cuts that would never fade. The sound of his voice, the shade of his skin, the color of his hair in the sunshine, the highlights of red and gold.
Beau: You will forget again, and then sometimes you will remember. But you can never come back here again. I’m here, one last time, to say good-bye.
Me: I always wanted to say good-bye. See you, touch you, tell you how very sorry I am. I should have stayed with you. Come with you. Never let you go alone.
Beau: It had nothing to do with you. Life happens and sometimes Death finds us before we feel ready.
Me: I would have never been ready for you to die.
Beau: I know, Pixie, I know. You’re not ready now. You still hope I’ll come home somehow and take care of you again. But you’re taking care of yourself now. I’m proud of you.
I want to beat on his chest with my fists and scream that I don’t know how to look after myself. That the world is full of dangerous and evil people and I can’t do this anymore. I don’t say the words but he still answers them.
Beau: Yes, you are looking after yourself. You came here. You got Lucy. There are people who love you. You can choose to be alone or you can be brave, my darling brave girl and let people near you again.
Me: I remember you telling me I was brave. Told me I could do anything. Without Lucy I can’t go out the door alone.
Beau: But you have Lucy. You have Sanctuary here for a while. And you will always have my love. Always. But I’ll be part of the past now, you’re going farther than I ever got, Lia, and I can’t help you anymore.
Me: I only need you to be here with me.
Beau: Then you don’t need me at all because I will always be with you. Look at the outline in the grass – it’s not me, not you, it’s us together. But when you get up and walk down the path, it will only be your footprints in the dust now.
I look over at the path and I see my footprints coming and going. This is where I last saw my Beau. The last time I ever saw him. I went off to finish my sketch and he stayed. Stayed here forever waiting for me to come back. I did come back the next day and stare at the outline of our bodies in the grass. I sat there for hours knowing that if I just turned around he would still be there. I never did turn around. Someone finally came and took me home in the dark.
Beau: This time I want you to turn around. I’m still here.
He smiles at me encouragingly.
Suddenly I feel so angry with him. For leaving me alone. For not being there and allowing terrible things to happen. For leaving me without a future or hope.
Beau: (taking his hands from his face and leaving the tears there. He was never ashamed of crying.) I would have protected you with my life only I don’t have it to give anymore.
The anger flows out of me into the ground. It’s not my anger anymore. I feel the pain still. And I want to stay here with Beau. Now. Always. If he doesn’t a life to give me anymore, I will take death with him.
Beau: And now I want you to get up and walk down the path into your own life.
Me: I can’t. I won’t. Please don’t make me.
Beau (gently): I won’t make you.
Me: Is there anything you need me to do? I throw flowers over the falls on the anniversary of your death.
Beau: Oh, Pixie, you’re so precious to me. Always. All I want you to do is be happy.
Me: I can’t be happy with you.
Beau: You were happy for a moment on the beach in the sunshine. Soon you will have more moments of happiness, and then whole hours, and –
Me: You sound like Micki.
Beau: perhaps I do. (He laughs. A glorious sound. The sound of our love and the past where I was safe and loved and didn’t live in fear every second). Doesn’t mean I don’t believe it. But now, you really do have to go. I can’t stay here anymore.
Me: When can you come back again?
I see him shake his head. He still smiles. That lovely heartbreaking smile. Shy, tinged with sadness as if he never really grasped the happiness that made him smile, as if it slightly embarrassed him to be happy. I never forgot that smile. I’ve drawn it a hundred times.
Beau: Go now. Just like on that day. Only this time, I’m looking at you. I love you Pixie, you are the most precious thing in my death. Goodbye.
I try to keep his face in focus through my tears. Somehow I find the strength to stand up and walk to the path never taking my eyes off him.
Me: Goodbye. This time I’m saying goodbye. My love. I loved you then and I love you now.
Beau waves. I know if I don’t leave now he won’t be there in a second and I can’t stand to watch him disappear. I need to think he’s always there, sitting in the sunshine waiting for me. So I force myself to turn away. I take two steps and find myself back at my desk, in the dark with the rain pounding on the roof. Death has left. Lucy is asleep. I feel more alone than I have ever felt in my life.