What’s it like?
She never married and hasn’t had any family for years, but she’s always had friends. Some have visited, though not that many people come to see her anymore. Who can blame them; it drags on so.
She is surprised that none of them has ever asked, “What’s it like?”
Were she the visitor, she’s pretty sure she would ask. But perhaps not. Maybe, like everyone else, she might wonder (assuming that they are wondering) but would consider it somehow unkind or impolite to bring it up. As if it were not always right there, the proverbial elephant in the room.
It’s probably just as well she doesn’t have any family left, she thinks now, because that means there’s no family to leave behind.
She hears the voice in her dream.
“What’s it like?”
Well, for the past several weeks, she answers, it’s been like floating deep within a pool bathed in pale silver moonlight, awareness rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the tides. Until recently, the waters were turbulent and I was frequently battered by crashing waves of pain. But it’s calm now, thank goodness, and I drift in and out on gentle swells of consciousness.
As long as she doesn’t dwell on what it all means, it’s not so bad, really.
She slowly becomes aware of the hum of life outside her room, but she’s reluctant to leave her dream world. Eyes still closed, she lies still and hopes she can fall asleep again.
She’s not sure what awoke her. She’s become so accustomed to the everyday commerce of this place. Life goes on, or it doesn’t, played out to a soundtrack of announcements from the speakers in the hall, the conversation of the nurses and doctors as they go about the business of saving lives, the soft, but pervasive beeping coming from the machine at the side of her bed, and the occasional squish-squish of rubber soles moving across the floor of her room. For the most part, it all happens with little drama. The controlled urgency of the floor staff responding to a Code Blue or the grief-stricken reaction of a family just told that a loved one is gone gets caught in eddies of melodrama now and then, but that’s infrequent. The rest just floats by her, barely making a ripple.
Snippets of conversation and occasional laughter drift her way from across the hall. Visiting hours are no longer restricted to brief periods in the afternoon and evening. Family and friends are welcome to come anytime, but old habits die hard. The majority still come between six- and nine-o’clock at night. They are here now, pushing sleep out of the way.
She opens her eyes and sees that darkness has crept into her room. The door to the hall is nearly closed and only an inch of light manages to peek around the jamb. The sky outside her windows is almost black, and soon she’ll be able to watch the moon as it crosses the sky. She’s grateful that she has the room at the end of the hall. Because it’s situated on a corner of the hospital, she has the luxury of two windows, giving her a wide-screen view.
She knows that for many at this point in their lives, the nights are the worst, the place where the terrors lurk in the depths of darkness. But the night is her favorite time. It brings a peace that is hard to find amid the flurry of activity during the day.
“You’ve always had a thing for the night, you know. There’s nothing new about that.”
The deep voice comes from the corner of the room, where she can just make out his tall form. Neither the voice nor the comment it makes somewhat sardonically surprises her. He’s been here before. She can’t see him clearly (and she’s really grateful that, in the dim light of the room, he probably can’t see her -- and her bald head -- clearly either), but she knows that he’s leaning against the wall, his long legs casually crossed at the ankle. He’s wearing a plaid flannel shirt, sleeves rolled to just below the elbow and his thumbs are hooked into the pockets of tight jeans that are faded at the swell of his crotch.
He’s her only regular visitor now, excepting the medical types, of course, and she’s always glad to see him. After all, just look at him.
He’s right; she knows that. She’s always loved the mystery of the night. Daytime bathes everything in the harsh light of reality, leaving little to the imagination. It’s always seemed to her that anything is possible at night.
Like him, for example. He always comes at night, never in the daytime.
“Of course I don’t. I’m not about to compete for your attention with the cast of thousands hovering around you.”
The smile in his voice warms her.
Oh, you exaggerate, and you know it. There is no ‘cast of thousands.’ Not anymore, anyway. Just the doctor once a day, the nurses and the odd technician. She sighs. I’m lucky if I see ten people a day.
“Just as well, if you ask me. They come bearing needles, false smiles and platitudes.”
They haven’t always, not at the beginning. Back then, they came bearing hope.
She hears a faint snort of derision from the corner.
It’s been an odd journey, the progression of this disease, kind of like sitting at Mr. Toad’s side on his Wild Ride. As she careened through endless months, then years, of treatment, her emotions have been tossed up and down, back and forth, emerging into the bright sunshine of hope only to plunge unexpectedly back into the darkness of despair.
It started with four words: “You have ovarian cancer.”
In the beginning, the doctors were optimistic. “We think we caught it early,” they told her reassuringly. “We’ll need to remove your ovaries, but we’re confident that with chemo and radiation after the surgery, we can beat it.”
Like anyone drowning in terror would, she grasped a hold of that lifeline and clung to it with all the strength she could summon. In the end, it hadn’t been enough.
Slowly, a pool of light begins to fill her room as the moon makes its way across her windows. The soft glow caresses her face. She resurfaces and realizes that she drifted off again.
Oh, it’s a full moon tonight, she thinks. I love the full moon.
“Only the best for you, my love.”
Thank you for that. I just wish it were a little closer, like it was in Miami that time. Oh, what a moon that was! So huge and golden, and nearly close enough to touch.
She knows that she is fully illuminated now in the wash of moonlight. She thinks to raise a hand to her head, and but then thinks better of it. He’s not bolting from the room in horror, after all. She draws a deep breath, taking in a little unaccustomed courage along with it.
Yes, it would be lovely if the moon were just a little closer. In, fact, it would be lovely if you were a little closer.
She holds her breath, waiting to see what he’ll say, dreading the rejection she's come to expect in her relationships with the opposite sex. She hears the faint rustle of his jeans as he moves toward her bed.
“Glad to oblige.”
He reaches her bedside and, to her astonishment, carefully climbs on the bed to stretch the length of his body against hers. Very gently, he takes her into his arms and draws her close.
“Actually, I think I can oblige on both counts. It’s time, sweetheart, time to come with me.”
As she sinks into the strength of his arms, she feels at peace. His last words take her breath away.
Yes. Yes, I’d like that.
What’s it like? Oh, you have no idea. It’s everything she hoped for.
The last thing she hears is the unbroken whine of the bedside machine she leaves behind.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory