Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Holidays

It's been 6 months since I last saw him smile. I moved home in the summer of '09 after a good run at what we thought would be forever. Maybe it was just MY thoughts....MY forever. I'm the one who always saw past tomorrow, he on the other hand, at times couldn't see past the 12th hour. Sitting in my chair I paused to think, "He never could prioritize his stress." My girlfriends had all heard the story for the thousandth time; I was tired of telling it. I had long stopped crying, I had long stopped being angry. I was just settling into my life again. I had done it once before, everything now seemed routine, I was just older and so were the boys. Jake was now in the 5th grade and he had grown 3 inches taller over the summer and into the fall. He had finished his first year on the Wildcats playing football. Ethan had blossomed into an articulate 3rd grader who could outrun his older brother on the football field, soccer field, or up the street for a ball that was wildly pitched. I enjoyed sitting on the porch in the warm summer nights with a tall glass of sweet tea "easy ice" watching the boys play a rough mock of flag football which ended up tackle. I quit yelling long ago when I moved home. I seemed to have lost time while I was gone and time was most precious to me to yell anymore. I felt old and tired at times. My hair was long once again, but still not as thick as it used to be. That summer seemed to turn quickly into fall and quickly to winter and I was now facing Christmas. I had gotten through 2 birthdays, Halloween and Thanksgiving when the loneliness truly struck me. The boys were off at Doug's for the evening. I wandered through the house. It seemed so large and vacant without the noise of two rowdy boys to fill it. My heart had been empty since the day I left. I completely had removed all items that resembled our past. I knew if I had to cut him out of my life all together, I had to completely remove all mementos of him and of us. He hardly called that summer. At first it hurt not hearing from him, begging me to return to him, to us. Perhaps that hopeless romantic in him was never truly hopeless or romantic or both. There was one picture remaining. I couldn't bring myself to replace the photo in the frame like all of the others. It took me back to the time where we were hopelessly in love, forgetting the reality around us, holed up in a hotel with just each other not caring what truly went on outside of our room. Looking back, I don't think we even thought time simply stopped. "God, you were so foolish." I thought to myself the day I decided to leave it hanging on the wall. Tonight as I walked through the house, I felt the coldness sift through windows and the doors. I was wearing my favorite jeans hanging low on my hips and a long sleeve t-shirt that kept falling off of my right shoulder. I had lost 22 lbs in the past 6 months and although I was over my heartache, I couldn't put the weight back on. I slipped on another pair of socks and a sweater and stood looking out the window at the storm clouds that were gathering. I was so lost in thought that I jumped when the phone rang. "Hi mom, we're just calling to tell you that we love you!" I heard E say. "I love you too! Is everything OK?" Jake grabbed the phone and said, "Hey mom, um, can you make sure you bring cookies for our class party tomorrow? Are you going to be there?" After much reassurance I hung up the phone. I went outside and started a fire in the fireplace. I sat in front of the fire with a warm cup of apple cider while the wind picked up around me blowing the leaves in little eddies at my feet. It was at this moment I noticed I started to sweat. Perhaps I had been sitting too close to the fire. I extinguished it and went back inside. I never thought I would feel alone as I do now. I look around and notice I didn't plug in the lights to the tree. It didn't seem like Christmas this year. I wouldn't have the boys. I was going to be alone. I didn't feel like going to my dad's and acting chipper for the rest of the family it seemed I only saw at holidays. I couldn't explain the pain in my heart to anyone. Only one person would understand and he had forgotten about me 2 years prior late in August. "We never fully recovered from that time," I heard myself say out loud. I made myself quickly displace that thought as quickly as it entered my head. I hadn't wrapped a single gift for the boys and I noticed the stockings seemed lifeless as they hung by the fireplace. I tried to spruce them up a bit while I hummed a Christmas carol out loud. Even though I was still sweating I was cold. Oh my God, am I coming down with the flu? I ran and got the mail before it started to rain and that's where it first communication from him since August. I could tell before I opened it that it was a Christmas card. I threw it on the counter as if it had vehemently bitten me. I thought about throwing it in the trash, but was curious to know what was written inside. He'd always been an eloquent writer, he's probably pouring out his heart to me. I picked it up and carried it to the bathroom where I filled up the bath. I flipped the card, still unopened, through my fingers while the water filled the tub. I wanted to relax and warm up before I opened the card. I undressed and slowly slipped my body into the warm water and bubbles. I took a long breath and the tears began to stream down my face. I missed him. I had missed him for 2 years. From the moment he sent me home in August of 07 he never returned to me whole heartily. He was disconnected and scared. He protected himself but never revealed himself from behind those high walls. I was holding on tightly to a ghost. I wanted so badly for him to love me unconditionally, but he never could. I jumped up out of the bath and ripped open the envelope. There stood a small Santa Claus at the top of a hill holding with one hand a Christmas tree that he was pulling towards him...the other hand was holding a star that he was trying to place on the top of the tree. I held my breath as I opened it. The inside of the card said "Hoping your Christmas is Merry and Bright" at the bottom of the card he had simply signed "CP." I wanted so bad to hate him, but I couldn't. I did for a couple of months, but I couldn't anymore. I slipped back into the tub with a million thoughts and questions running through my head. I was sweating profusely and I felt sick to my stomach. I wondered what he was doing and if he was still living in our house. Does he ever think about me? Why in the hell did he not write anything else? I felt privileged to even get a card or that he knew my address, but I wanted more. My expectations had always been shot back down to reality with him. I could never live the fantasy with him because he was too scared and weak to hand himself completely over to me. He simply disappeared into his work, his kids, his ex and never me. I waited for the day to come where all of his problems and stress went away, but he continued to create more stress for himself and never made the time for me or for us. I miss the days where we made love on a daily basis. It slowly slipped to 5 times a week to 3 than hardly at all...I quit asking why. I quit fighting, I quit crying. It simply didn't matter anymore. I could no longer stand by him and just be a statue that ran the household. It wasn't my personality and I was slowly dying inside. As hard as I tried, I would never be his #1 girl.

I remember that fatal night vividly. I was standing in the kitchen making dinner when he came home from work that night. The boys were off down the street playing basketball at a neighbor's house. They were getting ready to go to Texas for the summer. School had just ended. It was a mild, overcast day. I had left work early because my mind had been racing about the situation that was hanging over me. I would give the old college try one more time and then go from there. Surely he knew what was going on. Perhaps he was just in a funk and needed to snap out of it. Maybe we needed a vacation just he and I. The idea of another woman had crossed my mind long ago, but all of the signs and symptoms weren't the same as when he fell in love with me. I figured since he didn't have time for me, he didn't have time for anyone else. He came in through the garage, dropped his keys onto the key holder. He walked over to the bar stool where he plopped down his backpack and went to the fridge for a drink. He was wearing jeans and black pique polo. It was a Thursday evening and the boys were leaving in 2 days. I stood in the corner of the kitchen next to the stove where I was making his favorite dish: burritos. He came over and gave me a limp kiss on the cheek his lips barely touching my face as he popped a chip into his mouth. "Smells good," he said without even looking in my direction. I could have been a completely different person standing there and he never would have noticed. This was my private hell. I couldn't stand it anymore and asked what was wrong with him. He said, "nothing, why?" If he had a paper in his hands I swear he would have opened it and continued the conversation while reading the headlines. I hated the fact that he had morphed into something he never said he wanted to be. We had once been so close, so in love, and now we were standing 3 feet from each other but it felt like miles between us. I had fought so long and so hard for something and someone I believed in...someone who once loved everything about me, but slowly turned his head day by day until he simply quit looking my direction. I was a warm body when his girls weren't around. I was someone to keep the house immaculate, put dinner on the table, and have a date to any work related functions where it was expected to bring your spouse. We hardly laughed anymore and he never noticed when I touched him. I longed for the old CP. He lit up only for his girls. Time seemed to stop for them. The rest of us became obsolete. He just quit loving me that August. When I approached him with my concerns, he looked right through me. He was quiet for a good 5 minutes. He was staring out past the balcony. His jaw was clenched and I could see his temples twitching. He was adamantly thinking about what I had just brought to the table. I couldn't tell if he was carefully choosing his words or if he was digesting my revelations. He turned to me and said, "If you don't like it, get the fuck out. Isn't that what YOU said to me a couple of years ago? Only I'm not kidding." He than grabbed his backpack and headed down the hall to his office where he closed the door. I stood there in the middle of the kitchen trying to wrap my hands around what the hell just transpired. I was just trying to get our life back on track. I so wanted it to be the way we dreamed it would be. I immediately started hating fairy tales and everyone who read them out loud to little girls at night before they drifted off to sleep. I was still standing there in the middle of the kitchen when the boys raced in with raging appetites. I had them sit at the table where they each devoured 2 burritos and part of a salad. I had barely touched any food on my plate and he still was in his office. After dinner the boys went back outside to jump on the trampoline while I put the dishes away and did more of their laundry before their trip. I sat and wrote them letters that I would tuck into their suitcase only to find them and read them later in the quiet of their rooms at their dad's. It was long past 11 when he emerged from the office. I had kept his dinner in the oven just in case he was hungry. The boys had long showered and gone to bed. I was still awake reading a book in bed until I could fall asleep. I remember reading the book, but not comprehending a word on the pages before me. He walked into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. It was the side farthest away from me and I knew he wasn't going to say anything good. For the first time in his life he was struggling to find the words. He simply put his head in his hands and began to sob. I crossed the bed in one simple motion and wrapped my arms around him and held him tight. Was he back? Were these the flood gates that I had been waiting to open for so long? I didn't care, he was allowing me to hold him and he was finally expressing emotion. He pulled back and looked me in my eyes and said he couldn't do it. He didn't have it anymore. He had hurt someone 2 years ago and never recovered. The memory of the night standing in the Barnes and Noble parking lot came flooding back to me. I had heard these words before in another time and place, yet they were back to haunt me. I felt my heart jump to my throat. It was suffocating me to speak. Once it had fallen to my stomach, I let go of him completely and utterly numb. I don't know if he ever said another word to me, I no longer could hear a single word spoken. I got up and walked to my closet and pulled out my suitcase and began packing; I was leaving and going with the boys. My head was racing with a million things to do lists. As I rushed around the room trying to get things organized I hardly noticed that he still sat on the edge of the bed with both of his hands together his forefingers resting against his lips. He had no idea I was even there he was deeply engrossed in another world. We both eventually went to bed. I couldn't sleep at all and remember reaching out to touch his back like I always had. I heard a faint moan of pleasure. It brought a small smile to my lips as I rolled over realizing this would be our last night ever in the same bed. He never said a word to me over the next 36 hours. I was hoping for a "stay," a "don't go," or even an "I'm sorry." I didn't get a single word. He stood there at times just staring in a zombie like state. Not at me, but at what I don't know. I had a taxi come and get the three of us early Saturday morning. I had written a long letter to him and placed it in his journal. It was the same journal that I had given to him on his 34th birthday. He hardly wrote in it, but carried it with him religiously. I left a detailed sheet of what to do with my personal effects and also the boys things. I tried to hide my emotion as we pulled away from the curb. Jake grabbed my hand and told me he would be back like all of the other times. In my head I wanted to believe him, my heart knew better. I noticed him draw the curtain back from our bedroom window. Since I hadn't slept there the night before he had no idea when I was actually leaving. The suitcases were packed and ready by the door the night before we just had to grab them and go. As the taxi pulled away from the curb I forced myself to stare straight ahead and to not look back...not even for one last time. I vowed to never look back from that point forward.

Now he was forcing me to look back. I still had the card in my hands. It was soaking wet from the bath. I couldn't control the tears and I sat there and sobbed for what seemed like an eternity. After awhile I composed myself and retired from the tub and into my silk pajamas. I called Dee Dee and asked if I could swing by the Dr. Trotter's office for some Tamiflu samples. She said she would have Trotter run a flu test, but yes, she would set aside a few samples for me in the morning. I walked to the closet and pulled out a box. I got into bed and opened the lid. There before me was every letter, every card, every room key, every note, every picture, every little thing that we shared between us all in that box. At one point back in August I had thought of burning everything, but just couldn't pull myself to do it. Why can't I do this??? I knew why and it was a reason I needed to further bury deep into my soul. I just wanted to be loved, to be important in someone’s life. To be touched the way a man touched a woman when they loved each other deeply. I never realized that one day it would be gone without a reason, without an explanation, without any regard. I sifted through the pictures laughing at some, crying at others, but simply smiling on the inside. The pictures were constant in the beginning and then they slowly minimized to special events only. I still deeply loved a man who couldn't love me in return. I hadn't looked at a man since the day I returned from there. I stopped longing to be loved because I knew I didn't want anyone but him, that he was not ever coming back to me, and no one could fulfill the emotion I kept vigil in my heart. I fell asleep somewhere around 3 in the morning. I woke feeling worse than the night before and dragged myself into the Dr's office. I chatted with Dr Page who candidly told me I looked like shit with his quirky smile. Dee Dee worriedly stuck me in a room and scurried off to find Trotter. She came back with a few vials to retrieve blood, swabbed my throat and gave me a cup to get a sample. I asked her if she wanted my first born child thrown in there as well. Trotter came in and asked immediately about my weight drop. I told him the story of my life in a quick 60 second run down. He still was concerned. We talked a little more while he did the usual lung check, lymph node check, throat, eyes and ears. He sent me home with my samples, but told me to stay close just in case. I went home and returned to bed. I slept until 6 PM that evening. I didn't have the energy to get up for food. I called Doug and told him to keep the boys until I had the samples in my system for over 24 hours because I didn't want the boys to get sick before the holidays. Doug informed me that I had missed their party and that Jake was devastated. I felt completely horrible on top of feeling completely horrible. "Please tell him that I am sick and have been in bed all day." My energy was fading fast so I excused myself and hung up the phone. I woke the next morning to a phone call from Trotter's office asking me to come in. I pulled a jacket over my PJ's, brushed my teeth and put on some shoes and went into his office. Dee Dee was waiting for me at the front and took me into Trotter's office and sat me down. She said he would be in in a second and walked to his phone and paged him. She sat next to me and stared at me. "You're freaking me out, Dee Dee, stop staring at me. I know I look beautiful, but holy crap you're giving me a complex!" I was trying to sound upbeat even though I was feeling miserable. Trotter walked in and sat on the edge of his desk. He must be busy I thought. He looked me right in the eyes and told me I didn't have the flu. "This is the worst cold ever cause it's kicking my ass!" I said still trying to be upbeat. I knew there was something else because a Dr doesn't call you in to tell you that you don't have something. They don't take you into their personal office to tell you good news. "I'm sending you to a specialist to run a battery of tests. I'm sending you to UT Southwestern where they are working and experimenting on the latest drugs. I'm sending you to the very best, because I care about you." "Fucking spill it to me Trotter. You and I have always been straight and candid with each other, don't stop that trust now." I stated. I could feel myself sweating and getting heated from the rush of anger that was building inside of me. "You have chronic myelogenous leukemia. By your cell counts it is in late stages of progression. A specialist will be able to tell you more. There are drugs they are experimenting with, chemo and radiation treatments, but your best bet is to find a bone marrow donor." I sat there speechless. The same heart sick feeling I had back in Washington came rushing back to me. I couldn't choke out the words. I felt my body get 300 lbs heavy, or so it seemed. Trotter continued, "I know you're adopted so you narrow your options of donors from your family. We can start testing your kids, but it's very painful and I don't know if you want to put them through that. We're here for you to help you in any way that we can. Do you want me to call Doug?" The only person I wanted to call wouldn't care anyways. I called Susan. I called my dad. I sobbed when my dad answered, I couldn't get the words out, Trotter had to take the phone and tell him. I drove the 2 miles home after I had convinced Dee Dee and Trotter that I was OK and I wasn't going to drive my car into the nearest brick wall. My dad met me at the house. I broke down and uncontrollably sobbed. What was I going to do? There was no cure. My best hope was to get a transplant, but most likely would sit at the bottom of a donor list. I wanted to go and get my boys, hug them and never let go. All I could think of was that stupid t-shirt you see high school kids wear: Life is football, the rest is just details. Except mine would say Life is Cancer, the rest is just details. Over the course of the next few days I went through a battery of tests. I had no energy and the days went by in a blur. The boys were emotionally drained, but I tried to stay positive as best as I could. Susan asked me if I wanted her to make any phone calls. I was screaming yes on the inside, but "no, I'll be ok" is what came out. The prognosis was grim and I was further along then what anyone had imagined. As each day went by, I grew weaker and frailer. My kidneys went first. I began to have numbness in my joints and often couldn't get out of bed. I hated the boys to see me this way, but I didn't want a day to go by without them. Christmas was cancelled in my family because no one felt like celebrating. I tried to encourage everyone to go on as usual but they all refused. Doug had taken the boys to a movie so I could sleep that Friday night. I had been in bed for the past 3 days too weak to move. A catheter had been inserted to prevent accidents. I was heavily sedated when he sat by my bed and grabbed my hand. I slowly opened my eyes to see who my visitor was. His cheeks were tear stained and I could tell that he too had lost weight. I tried to smile, but my limpless body couldn't move. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and as I tried to focus I saw the back of Susan slip from the room. She had practically moved in to care for me. As I refocused on him, he laid his head on my chest and silently wept saying he was sorry, repeatedly. I just laid there and let him speak. I was too weak to try and I had said everything I wanted to long ago. He stated that he didn't know why he withdrew. He said he first withdrew by spending so much time staring out of the window in Bellevue. He tried to live like a recluse during those difficult days when I wasn't around. It was during that time he built his wall higher. The guilt ate at him. He was torn between loving so many people. He was afraid to fall again and get hurt, he didn't know how to separate his emotions equally; he kept going on...I raised my hand and whispered for him to stop. I didn't want to hear the excuses. Looking at him my feelings of love for him all came rushing back in one big emotion. I was beyond crying because life was too short to feel sorry for myself at this point. I wanted him to know I was OK and he need not carry this burden with him forever. He said the past few months were hard for him to walk around the empty house with my ghost following him into every room. He sold it and moved into the corner condo we used to stare into in Bellevue. He told me he was not leaving my side and was going to take care of me, make me healthy. Susan had tried to explain to him in the car from the airport that I wasn't going to get better. There was no match for a donor. This was it and it was only a matter of days. He leaned over and kissed my forehead and stroked my hair as the tears fell from his face. I slipped in and out of sleep, but was glad to see him each time I opened my eyes. He was holding the Christmas card he had just sent 2 weeks prior to him sitting there. It was weathered and crunchy and you couldn't see his signature anymore. I explained between short breaths about the bath. He crawled into bed and curled up next to my lifeless body. Recounting every last detail of our relationship being so vivid as if he had just watched a video recounting every daily moment we shared. I tried to muster laughter, but didn't have the strength so I simply smiled. He explained that he was going to be tested in the morning to see if he was a match. I told him he most likely was not. He cursed me for being a fatalist which brought another smile to my lips and he cursed me for not seeking any treatments. He reminded me that I had never been known to stop fighting for something I believed in. I didn't want to waste time being sick from drugs, dependent on others when I went through the gut wrenching side effects. I didn't want my kids to see me in that horrific manner. I wanted at best to be left in bed on the days that I couldn't walk, lying there peaceful and serene. He touched the wet washcloth to my forehead to wipe away the sweat. He pulled the blankets tighter around me to keep my body from shivering. He kissed my hand, then my cheek, then my lips. He whispered "I love you Terri Wilhelm, I always have." as I drifted in and out of sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night he drifted off to sleep with my box lying next to him and our pictures scattered all over us. He had lay in bed with me and read every email between us and every instant message conversation that night long into the early morning hours recounting our affair and the love that spawned from it. At 7 AM Susan came and woke him to take him to the hospital to see if he was a bone marrow match. He was curled up against my body with his head resting on my chest. He lifted his head and said, "Today is the day I am going to make you better. I'm going to be your hero; I'm going to save you." He kissed me gently on the lips as to not disturb my sleep. Then he began to that moment he knew I was gone. He knew by just looking at me. I had a peaceful smile on my face. I had died somewhere in the middle of the night listening to him relive our life together. I had simply fallen asleep with the man of my dreams. The one I longed for, the one that finally came back for me. He wanted me to make him my last love; I hope he knew that he was.


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