By Elisabeth Zguta
I was sitting at the kitchen table pretending to read the newspaper. I turned the pages and made crinkling paper sounds that implied I was involved in my task. The kids were running in and out of the room as they got themselves ready for school. Their feet made clattering and pounding noise like drums out of synch, no rhythm just racket to be heard.
My wife was gathering the lunch bags and handing them out as the last of them passed by her. She gave them each a kiss on the head as they departed, and her face glowed with loving thoughts. They were off as they raced for the bus, but I had no clue which one was in the lead this time. For some reason I didn’t feel like watching them today.
Finally it was quiet. You would think that the silence was just what I wanted, but somehow the house was too still. In a few moments she would walk over and ask me ‘what's wrong dear’ in her nurturing voice. Or she would at least try to start a conversation, both of which I was in no mood. Hoping to beat the punch, I folded the paper, laid it on the table, stood up and tied my robe. I shuffled in my slippers quickly towards the door, making my exit, hoping to leave the room without an inquisition.
"Are you alright dear?" she asked.
Darn it it’s too late. The question was in the air before I was safely out of ear shot. I slowly turned; hoping something intelligible would come out of my mouth.
“I'm fine dear. I'm heading for a shower and then off to my desk."
I nippily left the room, ignoring her stare that was burning into the back of my housecoat. She knew something was wrong, she always knew. Either it’s woman’s instinct, or just her keen observation, but my wife always had the knack to know when something was amiss. How do I tell such a sweet woman, the one with a kind smile and bending ear to all in need, how do I tell her I want to be alone?
I did as I said I would, and showered and dressed. Now at least I felt human, but there was that nagging thought in the back of my head, Why me? Why was I the one who ended up on the receiving end of this sentence? Not literally of course, no one actually passed me the ball. It was just genetics, from my mother's side.
Yesterday I had been diagnosed with a progressive disease, one that would ultimately lead to my demise. I had some time left before the end of my days, not sure exactly how much, but some is better than none. Unfortunately it will be a long journey filled with prescription bottles, blood tests, x-rays, sonograms and whatever else they dream up in the very near future.
So how do I tell my family? I don't want to spoil their lives, as well as mine, do I? ‘They have a right to know’ my doctor emphatically said to me. ‘The brave person would find a way’. Was this to imply I was not brave? I wasn't sure if I was. Maybe I am faint in heart, but at the moment I didn't care much. It was my disease, it was my problem.
Okay, all right - I knew I had to tell her, she did deserve to know. My wife would hate to be left out of such a life changing event. She would be sad if I didn’t trust her and shared my problem, I knew that much. She was a lovely person, and strong. I would find a way to tell her soon.
Eureka -I needed to make a plan to make sure they were all taken care of when I was gone. I gulped at that thought, the finality of it all suddenly felt real. I was going to die. I needed to deal and prepare, and find a way to survive the time I still had on this earth. I certainly didn't want to waste my time, becoming a person looking for pity. A bucket list was the last thing I wanted to do. I went to my desk to think.
I pulled out a binder and grabbed a ballpoint pen and started writing. First I drew up a list of things I wanted in my will, easy enough since I had no pot - not even piss for the pot. Shaking my head, I decided to focus on what I did have, and what was most precious to me. My thoughts were flooded with everyone I wanted to get in touch with while I still had all my facilities left, and the capability of movement. One last chance to see the people I cared for, and tell them so. Tears rimmed the edges of my lids, and I wiped them as quickly as they appeared. No pity here. I cleared my throat and thought more intently. What was most important to me?
Of course I wanted to spend more time with my family, and give them the quality time the kids deserved. I needed to tell my wife how wonderful she was, and that I would be waiting for her on the other side - so stay happy. Maybe a few more unforgettable nights together could be shared. I needed to touch base with my siblings too. Maybe we could do a few reminiscent visits together, that would help keep my spirits up.
As I sat there writing this all down in my wire bound notebook, I began to get a nagging jag in the back of my mind. Nothing painful, just that nuisance feeling when there was something you were forgetting even though it's right in front of you. I hated that feeling, but it was not to be denied. It followed me through the rest of the day. It lingered in the back of my mind as I went to bed that night. I was forgetting something - something important.
That night when I finally fell asleep, I had a dream. Maybe it was more like a vision. I could see it plainly in my sleep's vision. It was a reenactment of something that happened to me long ago. It was an accident. It happened before I was married – No, that's not right, I was engaged. Yes and there was my wife, then my future wife. She was holding my hand and crying. I had been hit by a car and badly hurt. My body was mangled and twisted. There was blood everywhere, no wonder she was so afraid. I remember that day well, and now the entire emotional trauma that swished back and forth in my mind was being relived in this dream, this vision from the past.
In my dream, I remembered my fear. I thought I was going to die that day too. The pain seared through my legs and my head was pounding, it felt like it was going to explode. My forehead was ready to burst out and splatter over the pavement. Then there was some noise, sirens coming and going. The sounds were loud one moment and fading the next. I tasted the blood in my mouth, like I drank rusty water. I wanted to spit it out, but was afraid to because I would get my lovely girl dirty. I had thought she shouldn't have been there, to see me like that, all covered in dirt and unsightly. She sat beside me holding my hand. I was frightened, but glad she was there giving me support.
I woke from the dream with a start. Sweat was pouring off my forehead as if I had a fever, soaking my pajamas. I was breathing heavy, like I had been crying. I hoped my sobs didn’t wake the wife. I gently pushed the sheets away from me, and quietly slid out of bed. Pushing my feet into my slippers I watched my dear wife, who was lying there so sweetly beside me, like an angel dreaming. I hoped - deep in my heart - I hoped that I would come out of this situation too.
I decided to go back to my desk and write. It was better to quietly pen away in my office than to clunk around the house, possibly waking the gang, and disrupting the schedule. A brood like ours desperately needed that schedule to keep the sanity for us all.
I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and started to write. The dream had opened my eyes, and now I knew what I wanted to do - what I needed to do. All these years had gone by since that day of the accident. The day I almost died. First I had been in pain, and then I healed my body. Then I was angry, and then I just tried to forget it ever happened so I could get on with my life. That was what I needed to do. Deep down inside I knew I had forgotten a step.
It wasn't all that important to me, at least I didn't think it was until after that dream. But now I realized it needed to be finished, I needed to do this one last thing to close the door on that day, that accident, that first time I faced death.
I started to write the letter to the man who was driving the car that hit me that day. He had been reckless, yes. He was charged and went to court, and fined, all of those - yes. But never in all these years had I ever forgiven him. Now I realized I needed to do that, as much for myself as for him. So I wrote...
Dear John Smith,
I forgive you for your reckless act. I hope you have forgiven yourself too, and moved on to become a better person.
Your Victim from the car accident
After I signed the letter and addressed the envelope, I thought to myself that I truly hoped he had become a better person. I think I was improved and had become stronger, and now I have the strength to face this new challenge. I felt positive all of a sudden and knew I would talk with my wife the next day. Together we would get through it, with love never failing to keep us together.
I turned off the light and went back to bed. Now I was able to sleep soundly, with a positive thought and a hope in my heart.