~ Sara ~
“Mom,” my nineteen-year-old daughter, Alexis, called quietly from behind me, “Dad wants to see you.” She rested her hands on my shoulders as I stared out over the lake behind our house. It was the start of fall in New York, and the crisp morning temperature hinted at the coming winter. “It’s cold, why are you sitting out here without a blanket?”
I patted her hand. “Just getting some fresh air, sweetie. I haven’t been out here long.” With one last gaze over the placid water, I sighed quietly and stood to face her. Her dark brown hair hung to her shoulders and around her face elegantly as if framing it; I gently tucked a strand behind her ear, noting again how much the color of her eyes reminded me of her father. The light blue irises were so similar in color to the eyes of the man who had raised her to be the wonderful young woman that she was today. It was going to hurt to look into them now, for a while anyway.
“Are you alright, Mom?” she asked, and I nodded out of habit. Everything I did these days was out of habit.
“Yeah, sweetie, I’m alright. How are you doing today?” We put our arms around each other’s waists as we strolled back toward the house.
She replied, but her words were lost to my ears as I took in our home. Fifteen years ago, Chester had built this house for us. It had been a dream come true for our family and had everything that we both had desired.
His concept of building the house to fit in with the nature surrounding us was idyllic. The dark-stained wood reflected the tall trees that sheltered us on three sides, and the stonework mimicked the shoreline. The glass walls around the back reflected the water. The deck ran the length of the entire back of the house and had a long walkway which extended to the gazebo I’d been occupying over the water.
As we approached the house, my heart skipped a beat, and I wanted to turn and run. I didn’t want to step back through that door and face my husband—not today—but I would, because I had to.
I wouldn’t do it for myself, I’d prefer to run and hide from this—avoid it at all costs, so no, this wasn’t for me. My steps were for my husband, and Alexis, and Kelsey, Alexis’s twin sister.
My hands shook ever so slightly as I reached for the door, and Alexis must have seen it, “You’re cold, Mom. I’ll make you some tea while you go see Dad.”
Words were not possible as the door closed behind me, so I gave her a wan smile and unzipped the sweater jacket I had been wearing, taking more time than necessary to drape it onto the back of the chair.
Alexis pulled the tea kettle from a cabinet and began to fill it with water. She was such a sweet child, always had been. So many times over the years I would stop to watch her, and pride would fill every inch of my being at the person she was.
She always wanted to help people. Even while attending high school, she’d found ways to work with charities, mostly ones that revolved around children. Recently, though, her focus had changed, and now she was considering attending business school. For what type of business, I had no idea.
I wiped my hands on my slacks and headed down the hallway toward the master bedroom suite. Before I opened the door, I paused and forced myself to straighten my shoulders and lift my chin. I clenched my jaw to stop the slight tremor of my lips and gave myself a little pep talk. I could do this; I could get through today, and tomorrow and the next day. I could do this for as long as it took.
I pushed the door open as quietly as I could and hesitated as I took in the surroundings. Our once-comfortable asylum from the world had been turned into a lavish hospital room. Our California king size bed had been removed and temporarily put in another room, and Chester’s hospital bed sat center stage, surrounded by every kind of machine that was needed for his care.
Off to the far side of the room, against the floor-to-ceiling glass window was a standard twin bed, and that was where I slept—or tried to anyway. Most nights I lay there and stared out at the stars over the lake and listened to the beeps and clicks of the machines. From time to time, a nurse would pop in and check on him, and I’d pretend to be sleeping. That was another thing I did a lot of: pretend.
Kathy, Chester’s live-in nurse, was making adjustments to his catheter, and she gave me a bright smile when she noticed me standing there. “Good morning, Sara, how cold is it today? I saw you sitting out by the water.”
Of course she saw me, everyone always saw me because from the time the sun began to climb into the sky until the time someone dragged me back in the house, I sat by the water.
That time out there in the crisp air and the silence of the morning was all I had to keep my sanity. In those moments, I sometimes relived the happy times of my twenty-three years of life with Chester. Other times, I would think of the not–so-great moments of our relationship; all couples had them, we were no exception.
I loved Chester to the depth of my soul, and I knew he felt the same for me. No matter what we disagreed on, or fought over, we always found a way to meet in the middle and resolve our issues. I couldn’t remember ever being mad at him for more than a day or so. We were the perfect couple, always happy to be together, even if we were only running errands on a Saturday morning or if we were entertaining society guests at our lake house or city condo.
Sometimes I thought our life was too easy, too good. Was that possible? Well, it may have been until six months ago, when Chester was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer at the age of forty-nine. Within a week, Chester went from working fourteen-hour days at his architectural firm to barely being able to get out of bed.
Much of that was the intense chemotherapy that the doctors had prescribed, but it wasn’t long before we realized that no matter what treatments they recommended, he had stage four, and there was no hope he would beat it.
I ground my teeth as I approached the bed, now was not the time to think about these things. Chester could always tell when I was upset, and I didn’t need him feeling my emotions right now. I pushed the negative thoughts of the cancer away and finally answered Kathy.
“It is cool, but after a while I don’t notice it.” I reached the side of the bed and took Chester’s hand out of habit. “How is he today? Alexis told me that he was asking for me.”
The reply wasn’t from Kathy, but from Chester. “Yes,” he responded softly, “you were gone when I woke up.”
I laughed good-naturedly, “I’m usually gone when you wake up, honey.” I brushed the back of my hand along his cheek and followed up with a kiss, biting my lip as I stood to fight off the fresh wave of emotion. I could smell the chemicals wafting off of his body. He no longer carried that sexual, musky scent about him, instead it was medicinal and antiseptic in nature.
I want my husband back! I screamed inside of my head. I want my life back! I turned away briefly to try and control my mental outburst, lest he pick up on it.
“Alexis said you wanted me for something,” I repeated when I was finally able to control my voice.
“Sit.” He tried to shift in bed.
“Chester, do you want me to turn you so you can see her better while she’s sitting?” Kathy asked as I pulled up the visitor chair and put it closer to the bedside.
Kathy adjusted Chester so he could see me more easily. His color had faded even more; he was as pale as the snow that would soon fall. I took his hand to ground myself, “What did you need to talk to me about, sweetheart?”
“I love you,” he whispered and closed his eyes. His thin throat swallowed slowly before he reopened his eyes.
“And I love you,” I echoed.
“Promise me something,” he said as firmly as his thin voice could get, and the muscles in his bony hand tightened just the slightest bit around mine to punctuate how serious he was.
“Sure, honey, anything. I’ll promise you anything.” All our lives we had made promises, and we had always held each other up to them. I wasn’t going to stop now.
Chester stared at me for a long moment as if he was trying to get my face to focus correctly. “Promise me that when I go, you’ll keep living.”
I wanted to scoff at him, but I knew he was being serious. “Chester, of course I’m going to keep living, we have two daughters that are going to need me.”
He shook his head just the slightest, “No, I know you will live for them. I’m talking about you.” He paused and licked his dry lips, “I want you to live, I want you to find someone to love and be with.”
I startled slightly, “What are you talking about, Chester? The last thing I want to think about is falling in love with another man.”
“I know that right now, Sara, but please, once I go, release me and move on with your life. I need to know you will try to find happiness again. I know that one day soon, someone will come into your life and bring you joy again.”
I could no longer hold back the emotion; the tears broke through and covered my cheeks. “Chester, I don’t want to think of a life without you. Please, can we not talk about this?”
“I know you don’t, Sara,” he let go of my hand and reached for my face. I leaned forward, and he brushed a tear off my cheek, “But, please, promise me you’ll find love again someday.”
“Fine, Chester, if that is what you want me to promise you, then fine. I’ll promise, but it might just be the first promise that I ever break,” I retorted, and one side of his mouth went up in a small grin.
“That’s my girl.” He closed his eyes and sighed, “I love you, Sara, and I want you to have a wonderful, happy, and loving life until we are together again.”
I bit back a sob. “I love you so much, Chester,” I replied tenderly, but I could tell he was already slipping back into sleep as the grip on my hand slowly relaxed.
I heard a sniffle and looked over my shoulder. Alexis stood at the threshold with my teacup. She’d heard his words—the last words he would ever say—because Chester never woke up again.