Written by: Yi-Wen Lin
They had promised “Till death do you part,” but he never understood how cruel of a sentence that was. No one warned him that in most cases death wasn’t sudden; in most cases death was long and ugly. He also neglected to realize that maybe he didn’t want to part, especially through death. What if he wasn’t ready to give up her wispy voice or the soft brush of her skin? What if his heart literally ached at the thought of not seeing the shimmer of her burnt-honey eyes every day? Why didn’t anyone warn him that finding love could also lead to a cold bed with too many pillows and far too much space?
It was getting to the point where he wasn’t sure which days were worse: when she was so frail and weak that he thought a speck of dust would crush her, or the days where she was laughing at the sink while doing dishes; hope restored.
They both lived for the good days. The surprising days where she welcomed guests, asked him to go for a walk with her, or played house with the grandkids. The days where she was the first one up, and he flashed back to when they were in their thirties, and she rushed around the house to kick the kids out of their beds for school. The days where the wheelchair was forgotten because her legs remembered how to carry her. The more of those days she had, the less they believed the doctors.
He couldn’t remember the last “good day,” though. It couldn’t have been that long ago, could it? A week? Maybe two? No more than a month, right? Why did she have to have good days if most were bad? Why did it look like she was winning her fight when the next week saw her the frailest she’s ever been? How could she eat a hamburger with a pile of potato salad when nothing wanted to stay down two days later? Why couldn’t he protect her from this?
That was his job, wasn’t it? It always worked before. She was in trouble, and her Knight in Shining Armor saved the day. That was the deal.
She’d give him the strength, and he’d use it to protect her. She hated her work? He’d help her find a better job. She was nervous about getting pregnant? He helped her get in shape as they ate healthier. She was running on two hours rest? He took the kids for the weekend. The house was falling around them? He’d fix it. They were running out of money? He’d take an extra job. No matter what was wrong in her life, he always managed to find a solution before. Why was he failing now, when she needed him most? A husband’s protection wasn’t supposed to have only a forty-year warranty.
She didn’t seem to care anymore. She’d shush him and cradle him like he was one of their children. She’d tell him that he needn’t worry. She’d kiss the tears from his eyes and give him the same thin smile she was wearing when he first met her. Their nights were spent with her reminding him of their years. She’d laugh about how terrified she was when their middle child had flipped his bike and broke his arm. She’d coo about their wedding night. She’d get fired up recalling the horrible neighbor they had who used to let his dog crap all over their yard. She was done making new memories, and just wanted to reflect on the ones they already had.
He wasn’t done, though. As much as he tried, he wasn’t done. Whenever she talked about their first dance, he only thought about them sleeping away from each other because her legs could no longer climb the stairs to their bedroom. Her reminiscing about their children starting high school would remind him that she wouldn’t know their grandkids as teenagers. She’d complain about how fat she had gotten after giving birth to their youngest, and he’d silently beg for her to get even half as heavy again.
He wanted his curvy wife who spent her days working in a bakery – sampling all the bits that baked off wrong – and her nights covered in mud from her garden. He wanted the woman who had a dance in her step as if she were listening to music every minute she was awake. He wanted to remember her strong and young and rosy, like she’d be able to do with him.
He would always be strong and virile in her eyes, even with the streaks of grey throughout his hair. He’d always be him to her. It wasn’t fair that he had to be left with this shell of his wife. It wasn’t fair that he had to watch her wither away when she didn’t have to watch him do the same. It wasn’t fair that he still had a good twenty years left, and she was going to leave him alone.
He had forgotten how to be alone. He had forgotten how to not have her with him each day. Who was he without her? Was there a him without her? He wasn’t supposed to find out. It was the two of them. It’s been the two of them since they were eighteen. Now she was leaving him, and he’d have to figure out who he was. He was too old to figure that out.
This wasn’t the agreement. This wasn’t what he meant when he agreed to “Till death do us part.” She was his strength, and he used it to protect her. He was her sanity, and she used it to guide him. That was the deal. Now she was weak, he failed as a guardian, he was going insane, and she wouldn’t be around to help him find his way. It was all wrong.
He never should have agreed to “Till death do us part.”