by MD Maurice
a brief rendition of a final conversation with a friend, for assignment 49
|Word Count: 997
Setting: The hospital room where our last visit took place
Plot: Dealing with the days before the death of a friend
Beginning: The call comes in with the bad news
Ending: The after effects of not realizing the visit would be the last one.
My boyfriend and I were just finishing our coffee that Monday morning when my cell phone rang. It was not you as I had expected, but your sister. She told me you had died sometime during the night. Even though I’d been preparing for that news for weeks, it was still impossible to hear and to accept.
I had almost not made it to see you that past Saturday. You had been in the hospital for two weeks and the prognosis not good. You had called me and asked me to come. It had been a long week and I was tired. I had a ton of things to get done before the work week started again and I was considering putting off my visit. But, you had insisted you had something important to tell me and I could not refuse.
Ryan offered to drive me to the hospital, a charitable act given how difficult you’d made our lives in the past few months. Before your hospitalization, you were little more than an angry voice on my machine slurring insults. Early on, my new boyfriend had deemed you a problematic ex-lover and a constant source of strain in our fledgling relationship. I left him in the waiting room, his face stoic and his hands buried in the pockets of his jeans.
My mind was filled with images from the past five years with you; impossibly sweet moments of passion and joy and those of bitter disappointment and anger. Being with you, living with your addiction had turned me inside out. Leaving you to save myself had taken every bit of resolve I had in me. Now, the foundation on which I had begun my new life seemed suddenly flimsy under the blinking, buzzing hospital lights. I wondered what new heartbreak awaited me at the end of the corridor.
Your door was closed. My knock seemed amplified in the empty hallway. You called out for me to come in. You were lying on your side, wearing that awful red and black checkered flannel I’d bought you a few Christmases ago. It was buttoned down over your bloated belly and covered arms that were battered and bruised from too many injections. You were badly jaundiced but your eyes lit up for me and seemed less yellowed. There was no chair and you patted a spot on your bed. I stalled in the doorway. I hadn’t been close to you in so many months. I wasn’t ready to be within intimate distance of your failing body. I wasn’t sure my heart could take it, but I willed myself to sit down beside you.
You asked me about Ryan. I told you things were good. You told me how nice I looked.
“I look tired.” I corrected.
You stretched out fingers that were so swollen with fluid that they could no longer bend. I took your hand in mine. You told me you only ever wanted me to be happy. I told you that I thought I was. You looked at me for a long moment, and then flashed me your trademark grin.
“Will you come to my funeral? It’s okay if Ryan comes too.”
I broke apart then, my anger and my fear no longer providing a buffer for the tide of grief that pressed back against my soul. Your smile dropped from your face, you cupped my cheek and begged me softly not to cry for you.
I ran wet eyes over your body, so horribly ravaged by the alcohol. I asked you if there was much pain. You insisted they were keeping you comfortable. I asked you how long they said it would be. You answered that it could be hours, days, weeks, maybe a month.
“But you know how stubborn I am, I might still beat this.” You said, without conviction.
A few times your head rocked back into the pillow and you closed your eyes. As I would rise to leave, they’d fly open and you’d ask me something else about work or my family. I knew you wanted to keep me talking, keep me there with you a little longer. It was getting harder and harder to keep my emotions at bay. The tears were flowing down my face, soaking your blankets. I was fighting a loosing battle with myself.
I wanted to ask you; “why you couldn’t have stopped? What could I have done?" I wanted to call you Grasshopper again and make you smile about something silly. I wanted to tell you how much I loved you, that you’d been my best friend. I wanted you to know how terribly I would miss you. I didn’t say any of those things though. Instead, I thought about the errands I needed to run, the afternoon waning away outside your window and Ryan waiting for me down the hall.
As I stood up to leave, your eyes were watching me. I said I would be back, Monday maybe after work. I told myself that I’d spend more time with you, maybe even give you the absolution I knew you sought. I wanted to get back to my new life, to all the wonderful promise of things that you’d never share in. I touched your hand and kissed your forehead. I told you I would see you again soon.
“Hey…Grasshopper, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming” I said, reciting a favorite movie line. My voice caught hearing your delighted laughter.
“I was hoping you were going to tell me that young cricket.” You said, smiling widely at me.
I didn’t know it was to be our last inside joke, our last shared laugh.
As I passed out into the hall, I heard say you loved me. Your acclamation hung unreciprocated in the air between us and my heart ached with the knowledge of it. The thing that haunts me most is that I just walked away without another word, never knowing it was for the last time in our lives.