“Where’s your mother?” My father croaks.
The steady chirp of his ECG, the TARDIS-wheeze of his respirator, once annoying, are now lullabies, and my father’s question rouses me from my hospital rocking chair nap.
“She’s not here, dad.”
This next part I have to say slowly, gently. Sometimes it upsets him, others, it just makes him sad. My hand finds his.
“She died two years ago, remember?”
He looks at me, and for a moment I think he’s not only forgotten my mother, but me as well.
“Oh, oh,” He pats my hand. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Always worried about other people, never himself.
A beat. A pause. A gasping, painful breath. Silence. And then:
“Did I ever tell you how we met?”
Of course he has. Even before this, before time finally came for him, he’d tell this story at any chance. It’s his favorite story, and truth be told, it’s mine.
A dance floor. A band. A crowd of people, parting like the red sea until, her.
“I knew from the moment I met her that I was hers.”
This is where I’m supposed to chime in. I know the line by heart.
“Don’t you mean she was yours?”
A cackle camouflages a cough.
“No. I was hers. Always.”
Silence. A tear — mine. A tear — his.
Lately, I’ve been asked if I’m OK, if I’m scared of death or losing him. I’m not. I don’t want to lose him, but everyone dies, everything ends. And when it happens, more often than not, it’s not painful. It just happens, then nothing happens ever again.
But time…time is painful. Time comes for us slowly, gradually. It’s cruel, torturous and unavoidable. Time drags us along to death glacially. When it’s caused enough pain and suffering, death feels like a reprieve.
He tries to hide it, he doesn’t talk about it, but the pain is plain on his face. He doesn’t even shave anymore, and his newly-grizzled face ages him ten years more (she never let him have a beard). He’s had enough of time. He’s ready for what’s next.
Still, selfishly, I need more time with him. I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want him to leave. I never want him to leave.
He hasn’t spent enough time with his grandkids. He hasn’t spoiled them rotten.
He hasn’t told them his favorite story.