I went so long without seeing him. Forever really. Long enough, I speculated, for us to become two entirely different people, and unrecognizable.
But there he is, when I enter, sitting up in bed with his reading glasses on, hospital gown backwards, chest exposed, and looking just as erudite and handsome and savage as I remembered him.
“There she is,” he says, in turn.
The nurse glances over at me and I smile, imagining myself a threat, not necessarily wanting to be. Surely she is in love with him, too.
“This is my girl, Lily,” he tells her.
No one calls me that.
Not my girl. Nor Lily. Neither. Those are names by which I’m no longer known.
“Come. Sit next to me,” he commands.
I begin to walk around the side of his bed to the chair adjacent, but stop dead when I recognize its design.
“They had this same chair in my sister’s hospice,” I consider telling him.
But then I’d have to use more words, on top of those. Which I don’t want.
So instead I judge the chair, unfavorably, and wonder, once again, when the horror of that particular death will stop sneaking up on me in the way it does.
“Sit,” he says.
I look at him, at the chair, back at him.
“I can’t sit there,” I say.
He raises an eyebrow.
“I’ll just stand,” I offer.
I go for a smile and a casual hand-on-outthrust-hip, but my stance is almost comically stiff. Internally I am very busy ordering my crazy and paranoid self not to be superstitious about the chair.
“I’d really rather you sit,” he says, and his tone holds the slightest hint of something like disdain, such that the words communicate authority rather than courtesy.
“Yes, I know. So you indicated. To which I replied, ‘I’ll stand’,” I remind him. “Shall we go through the exchange once again?”
I am consciously controlling my breathing, but feel my nostrils flare in that little way he used to notice, and hope he hasn’t this time.
“Are you being deliberately difficult?” he queries.
I consider the question carefully, knowing he fully believes the answer is yes. Knowing also that he deems anything but an immediate response a manipulation tactic.
It has always been a curious exercise, maintaining my identity in his presence.
“Here’s what we know,” he used to say, in his mini psycho-study way. And then he’d list off incidents from my history that validated his take on why I did the things I did, however minute and unworthy of examination.
“I don’t think so,” I answer now, in response to whether or not I’m being intentionally difficult.
He squints, tilts his head to the side.
I can only imagine what the nurse is thinking.
I take a look at the monitor thing. Surprisingly, his heart rate is lower now than when I walked in.
“I’m having a calming influence on you,” I mention, teasingly.
“Tell you what, Lily,” he responds. “For once in your life I really need you not to be a complete pain in the ass, and just do as you’re told.”
He pauses. Maybe for emphasis. I’m not sure.
“Do you understand?” he asks.
And I’m not expecting it, but that thing in my chest that happens lately happens now, and I feel like I’m drowning, but very privately, on the inside.
“Yes,” I say, out loud, but I in no way understand. Not one of me understands. None of me.
I brace myself, and take a seat in the pestilent chair.
“Stephanie,” he says to the nurse, “Could you leave us alone a minute?”
I fully expect her to refuse. A part of me thought she would have called security by now. But reluctantly she leaves, checking her watch on the way out, to measure, I imagine, one actual minute.
“You’re being mean,” I tell him hastily.
“That’s a stretch, Lily. Belligerent, perhaps, but I wouldn’t go so far as mean.”
“Look,” I say, standing up, fighting tears. “This is really hard for me.”
My fists are clenched and, unthinkingly, I stomp my foot on the floor, then quickly look to the door, afraid I’ve drawn the nurse back prematurely.
After four seconds, and no movement, I consider myself safe, and turn my eyes back to him.
He’s grinning, clearly amused.
I can’t help it, and smile back.
I reflect on the words I’ve just uttered to a man who by all rights should not be alive.
“This is really hard for me.”
“It’s all about me,” I say, simultaneously laughing and crying at how horrible I am, all the time, endlessly.
“Come here,” he says, reaching out a hand.
I slip over the bedside banister thing and lie beside him, on his good arm, the one not hooked to the IV.
“I knew you’d come,” he says, quietly, into my hair.
I continue crying, not for him or for me really but just because somehow it’s all too much.
I allow that at some point the tears will stop and I’ll have to figure out what’s next.
But right now, I’m snatching up all the seconds I can.