“Are you sad?” she asked. She sounded like she was almost smiling. I thought she also tried to suppress her smile. I think she was teasing me but I couldn’t be certain.
“Are you sad?” she asked again. “It’s okay if you are. I’d be pissed if you were not. You should be the saddest human ever.” Then she smiled and tried to laugh but she fought to stop it because it hurt to laugh, she had recently told me.
“I knew you were teasing me. You can’t trick me,” I said to her, trying to take the attention away from me and back to her.
She was in bed, always these days, and sat up uncomfortably as we engaged in the rare lighthearted conversation. It was two-thirty am, but if she wanted to talk then we were going to talk. She had called to me in her low, middle of the night voice that she had when she needed her medicine. I could sleep through anything, except her calling to me.
“I know you don’t want to answer my question. You can’t fool me, you know that.” She said after a period of silence that was long enough to make me think she’d gone back to sleep.
She smelled of medicine and bed. I could almost see her face – the light in the hallway pushed across her torso and provided a light glow to her chemo-darkened face.
She was pretty right now, even in sickness, I thought. It’s a different type of pretty; like a garden after a season and prior to new growth.
“You still think I’m pretty, don’t you?” she asked and stated. Her voice was barely registering true sound. I again thought she was asleep but here she was reading my mind, like mothers have a way of doing.
“It takes special eyes to see unseen beauty.” I said into the darkness of her room and my mind.
“You still think I’m pretty?” This time it was a only a question.
“Yea.” was all I said even though in my mind I said: “You are the most beautiful person in the world and always will be.”
“You’ll meet other beautiful women,” she started, again seemingly reading my mind. “And when you do, they’ll want to throw darts at my portrait,” She said, again teasing me.
Teasing me about her portrait that captured a moment of her eternal beauty.
I had told her that her portrait was the only possession of hers that I would keep. “That portrait will forever be the only material possession that I’ll ever cherish” I said to her defiantly.
She didn’t respond. Later in life I determined that she got the answer she was looking for.
She was breathing slowly now. I think she was dozing off. I was tired too. It was now three-fifteen a.m. and I needed to be up for work at six at the latest.
I slowly stood, trying not to make any noise. I stood over her like a guardian, nurse, protector, son.
“You won’t have a broken heart, you know.” She said, again surprising me that she was even awake, much less saying words that made me think.
“I will. And it’ll never be repaired. It’s fine. I’ll be fine.” I quietly replied with as much toughness as I could display in the middle of the night and when faced with an impossible statement.
“I know you will.” Her voice was a nighttime whisper that just breezed into my head.
“I know you will because it will be a parted heart, not a broken one.”
I stood still; holding my breath. I waited for her to speak again. To explain.
Instead, she slept.
The pain and the love. Just heartbreaking and heartwarming.