Not the End

By Caity Henderson

 

The beginning of the end

Everyone knows the sound from the hospital show when heartbeat peaks end and there is only a glowing green line. Funny that it happens like this just as she crosses over from one side to the other. The living to the dead. The end to the beginning.

And yet this is no TV drama. She is smiling though she does not breathe. I pretend to see a bead of light escape her lips. I have watched her spirit seep out of her for weeks now in

the hospital bed that seems to grow as she shrinks.

This is no supernova. Instead the transition happens gradually. I am in a galaxy of her passion, her love, her existence. I harvest starlight.

 

The middle of the end

The house is full of flowers holding their breath, home-cooked meals from family friends in strange dishes that don’t match my plates and bowls, stacks of untouched condolences in colored envelops.

Every walk down the hallway is a new funeral for something else she’ll never do, somewhere else she’ll never be. I found her favorite book with her notes in the margins, the birthday card she gave me last year, her blue jacket with a movie ticket and a gum wrapper left in the pocket.

My friends brought me a hibiscus bush that isn’t blooming. They stood in the flower section of King Soopers counting the buds—one, two, three. Though I water it religiously so I have something to do, I don’t see a single flower. I’m sure the air is far too toxic for delicate, cream petals. Instead, the buds remain closed pinheads, green leaves layered to protect the heart of the flower, and I wish I could curl up into myself like they do because lately I am tired of the way my heart pains me, waking me up in the middle of the night pounding like rain. And then the tears flow freely with nothing to catch them.

So this is the apocalypse. I am baptized by fire in my brave new world.

 

The end of the beginning

Here in my lonely bed last night, I decided I would stop sleeping with ghosts. I have grown weary from waking up in shadows, the space left behind forming an invisible burden, a palpable sorrow. Too many nights I slept right on the line between life and death, nursing my grief under fraying blankets and translucent sheets, but there is no light in this room.  

Before she was a ghost, she promised she would always stay with me, but this wasn’t a grim threat to haunt. This was an example of love that never dies. And now I cannot decide where to place the separation anxiety that threatens to consume me. Perhaps I will hold it in my palms and let the grief slip through my fingers like water. Perhaps I will wear it like a crown or wrap it around my wrist like a bracelet. Anything is better than its shape now: the noose around my neck.

The dead cannot love the living; the living cannot love the dead. When it is all said and done, there are only memories left, and though I cannot tally them, the moments mean a great deal. How the sky churned within its own shadow and opened up to pour the one afternoon on our walk. How we went to the beach and buried each other in the sand when she would be buried in the ground months later. We didn’t know then.

Tonight I will sleep in the dark, not in the hands of those who have left me behind. She is not the monster under my bed, and it is painful to let her go. I wish I could love something made of smoke, ashes, dust, but it has gotten in my lungs, and this emptiness threatens suffocate me in this lonely room.

Tonight I will learn to love memories instead. Perhaps I cannot recall exactly how it felt to hold her hand or the precise sound of her voice, but I will settle for this. I will place my grief in picture frames and reminiscent stories and letters upon letters to the ghost that has moved away, out of this house, out of this room, out of this bed. I will not sleep soundly tonight. I will toss and turn with a new kind a grief for things that eat me whole. I will check the clock and look for what I lost between glowing red letters. My dreams will not be sweet. But this is the agony of the living.

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