Today was not a good day. Sometimes when he leaves early and I get home late I forget the fact that he’s a piece of what he once was, but then I see him. I hear him ask me to help him tie his shoes and see his grey face and his frail body and I remember that I am slowly watching the strongest man I’ve ever known wither away into nothing; it breaks my heart; I feel broken and all alone. There are days that you can barely understand what he’s saying and I thank God that he and I never needed words to communicate, just the blue eyes that he has and he gave me. He is stubborn, despite everything else, and that reminds me of him. I watch my Mom watching him. I watch my Mom watching me watch him. I tie his shoes, and wipe his nose with my sleeve, and cry myself to sleep. I light his cigarettes and rub his hands, his scabbed achy hands, I cut his food and help him stand. I forget what it feels like to not be scared.
There’s this moment every day, when I hear him down in the kitchen at five in the morning; I hear him making coffee, or his feet clumsily hitting the floor, and I wake up in a sleepy haze, just long enough to hear his coffee cup touch the table, or to hear him grab his keys, and it’s the safest I ever feel. I remember having bad dreams as a kid, and staying up hours just to hear him turn on the coffee pot, and in that moment, I knew I was safe and all was right with the world. I want to live in that sleepy haze forever, the smell of coffee, the morning air, the quiet lull of the radio in the background as he gets ready for his day; I want to know that he has more days.
Lately he tells me things that I think I’m supposed to remember when he’s gone. He told me the other day that I need to believe in things and tonight he said “Stephanie,” and I turned to look at him and he said, “I love you.” It wasn’t always something he said a lot. As much as I feel sad, I feel angry too. I suddenly hate girls who get to have their dads, while I’ll lose mine. I want him to see me look like a cupcake in some frilly, big white dress someday; I want him to meet my children, and now I know instead, I’ll look over at my husband in the hospital and say, “can we name him James?”
As miserable as I am, and as all-consuming as it is to know he won’t be here for long enough, I am trying to stay positive, because if anyone can beat the odds, it’s him; I am also so blessed to have so many wonderful memories with the man I call Jim.
I remember falling through the ice in our backyard pond a few years ago, and I feel that same feeling of falling now, I screamed and before the water even began to take me under, he grabbed my sweatshirt and pulled me up; I wonder who will pull me out of life’s dangers and uncertainties with one hand now? Who will save me when I need saving, and advise me when I need advising?
I think about the day he asked me and my brother to stay home from school to ice skate and play hockey, and I wish I could live in that day for the rest of my life. My guilty stomach ache, my brother teasing me, and Jim’s full cheeks, him grinning as I out skated my brother.
I think about how excited he was when I got my first ever cell phone, he told me on Christmas Eve that he couldn’t make it work, that I wasn’t getting the one thing I asked for, and I cried and was a total grump, only to find it in my stocking the next morning, he always had a good poker face, even now. I miss the days when my biggest worry was what I would get for Christmas, now it’s who I’ll have to live without. I miss the days when life was simple and I never thought that there would be a world without him.
I want to go back in time, I want to be five years old and every pile of leaves he rakes, I jump into. I want to be little enough that when I come in from a snowy day he’s decisively choosing how many marshmallows I want in my hot chocolate. I want to be in my Christmas pajamas as he reads aloud Twas the Night before Christmas; I want to spend the rest of my life in a forever long Christmas Eve Day; I want this all to be a bad dream and I want to hear the sleepy coffee pot wake up, and hear Same Old Lang Syne playing on the tired-eyed radio as he sleepily lights a cigarette and calls for my Mom to get out of bed. I want him to yell up the staircase that it’s time for me to wake up.