I know someone, somehow, is picking up my brainwaves, and therefore, she will be able to put these into words.
It is my last moment. I stopped hearing the monitor’s constant beeping, registering my pulse, the yelling of the nurse struggling to revive me using defibrillators and such, then asking, shouting, for a doctor to come quick and see me. And then the doctor checking my eyes and pulse and body and all, and finally pronouncing me dead.
My husband’s sighs and my daughter’s sobs appear to be more distant as I start losing consciousness. Weird how it feels. Or better said, weird how it doesn’t feel.
The cause of my being in a hospital bed for a few weeks is that enemy or ours we’ve been unable to defeat. Cancer came to me at earlier times, but chemotherapy and drugs took care of it. For a while anyway: this is my last relapse after surviving two previous hard-fought battles, knowing it would beat me in the end.
I don’t feel anything except peace, a strange peace, the physical pain is gone. Something tells me I was a good wife and mother. Not perfect, but good enough to complement and please Jim to the best of my abilities, and providing a good example to Nadia, who’s always been a good daughter and friend. And to Jay, who I’m pretty sure is receiving the news right now. He’s spent so much money coming to see me on those false alarm previous times, that for this one I asked him not to make the trip. He’s got a family of his own to raise, and I’m too old to cause him any more trouble.
Time is irrelevant now, I have no idea whether this last moment is lasting an hour or a second or a nanosecond. All I feel is a strange easiness, but on top of that I feel lots of regret. Not about many things though, but about the decision I never made.
I know now that everything is binary, yes or no. Then, whichever answer you choose takes you to another one, yes or no again. And then it bifurcates once more, metaphorically it becomes like the weeping willow tree branches. In my case such branch is long and flowery.
Just one regret. That’s it.
I was too young, and it was a different time, so my mother insisted that I had to keep my dignity at all times. And I’ve never mentioned anything to Jim about the love of my life, this is, my eternal love, that got away.
I met Manu at summer school. He was a shy guy then, not because his coyness was natural, but rather because he was poor. It was obvious he didn’t feel comfortable among us, middle-class students who could easily afford the tuition and all. He needed to work in order to eat, let alone attend such classes.
At the beginning I was surprised to see someone wearing cheap clothes in my classroom, and then as time went by, I got curious, once I realized he answered all the teacher questions correct all the time. He was good-looking, despite his origins. I got closer to him physically, because I started seating in different chairs each time, in order to get close to him for good. A couple of times I noticed he would write what looked like song lyrics once he was done answering the quizzes, or when the lecturing was boring. Only to realize later on that it was poems he was crafting.
Despite my friends’ advice not to, I started to talk to him a few times after classes. He turned out to be very funny, and his smile was heaven. I couldn’t help but feel like kissing him every single time he smiled, it was a normal smile, everybody would say, but the shape of his lips and his sad eyes turning into deep dark slots promised adventure.
As I got to know him better, it occurred to me to talk to mom about him. She was interested in knowing more about this friend of mine, who was a poet, a funny guy, and that belonged in a different kind of societal class. She asked me about him every time she knew I saw him, and insisted in getting to know him.
The weird thing is, I realized he liked me. So, I waited for him to ask me out on a date, not to the ice cream shop or to take a walk on the park, but a real or more formal date.
For a few years after that summer we continued to see each other, although not very often. His college was just a few blocks away from my high school, and sometimes I would walk in that direction hoping to see him at least from a distance. He did the same. So, we crossed paths many times, but didn’t talk to each other much, he being busy with work and school. Even so, I felt that eventually he would ask me out, or say something to start something that would define the rest of my life.
Such words or actions never came.
I was a popular girl then. At that age I didn’t realize most of the boys wanted to approach me and ask me out not because of my fair face or personality or education or smarts. It was my hips that attracted them. Nothing else.
Even so, I was selective. I would say no to all of them, I was waiting for Manu to make a move, but after waiting for more than two years I started to feel disappointed and hopeless. It was likely he was waiting for someone like him: a smart woman that was also an artist of some sort, kind, and funny. I had no such qualities.
At least five times during those years, I felt like I needed to start the relationship, but mom, after seeing Manu only two brief times, determined such type of person would damage me for life. Believe me I know, she said, for she had divorced from his first and second husbands, deciding to continue her life unattached.
She explained about how sometimes wolves disguise in lambs’ clothing, and emphasized how difficult it would be for Manu to make a life after he finished college: most companies would not give him a job, due to his origins and lifestyle. Even if he got a job, trying to get out of the place he lived in, start a family of his own, knowing his current one needed the money he would earn, and all those scenarios, would stretch him so thin that whoever was his wife would never be happy.
I didn’t understand everything she said then, but I got the idea.
Therefore, because of all that advice and the fact that Jim had insisted a few many times, I said yes to Jim to everything. Everything. Trying to forget about Manu.
But that never happened.
Manu disappeared from my life for a few years. Turns out, those were his three or so years after he finished college. I was already engaged to Jim when Manu started looking for me again. I saw him twice: the first time I wanted to see him and know how everything was going. Turns out, it was going well for him: he had found a very good job in an energy corporation, going to many countries for weeks at a time, and often.
His fine clothes, watch, shoes and all that, made me realize money had helped him be way more attractive than what most of us had initially seen. He was attractive all right, but good clothing made him even more. His car was an expensive type, I didn’t know anything about cars, but it was obvious his was a good one. He had joined a gym or something, and his muscles were now very, very noticeable.
Best of all, with all that exposure to the world, his smarts seemed to have exponentially multiplied: his flowery and extended lexicon was ever present, not in a way that anybody else around him would feel diminished or ignorant, but rather enriched by his way of expressing himself. He told me then that he continued writing poems, and that when he felt he had enough “good material” he would publish them.
We were supposed to meet and talk for an hour, it was four that flew by when I noticed I needed to leave. When we hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks to part ways, I had the impulse to turn a little more to touch his lips with mine, but he was a gentleman, and he didn’t allow that to happen. He gave me a small sealed envelope and asked me to promise I would read the contents at night, when I was in bed, before going to sleep. I promised.
The rest of the day felt like an eternity, I just wanted the night to come to read what he had written for me.
Yes, it was a page-long handwritten poem.
How to describe my birth?
The very lines you finally read:
From trembling hands and rushing ink,
my growth so swift and only for your eyes
My entire body, one page:
the one you hold in front of you, oh your face!
As he was writing, he was decreeing,
his voice so eager, so firm, so longing,
to see you again, to touch your hands, to hug you,
to give you me. A testament to what you soon will hear.
His gentle voice commanded what his hand inscribed,
not as an order, but more as ascertaining,
of love so deep, so great, so real
he can no longer hide it: his pulse I am retaining.
He wants to give you something,
he wants to take you somewhere.
One thing that lasts forever,
he wants to be your lover,
but not like those who pass,
but like he dreams and wonder.
His daily dreams of loving you, hurt so good, he cries most mornings.
He adores you, he’s set.
He needs you, confessed.
He loves you, he’s ready
To pledge, to make up for lost time, to stand for you, to tell you all, to lay down his life, to kneel to you, to be yours
I cried all night.
And the next one.
I was like a zombie for a month or so, living by inertia, waiting for that second time I would see him again. I have no real recollection of anything that happened those days, all was a blur. I started wondering whether he had written that page exclusively for me or not, in a state of disbelief. I knew he did, but my circumstances imposed the doubt.
That second time we met, I wanted to explain that I was already engaged, and that it would be better to try to put some distance between us.
Jim had heard a few times about Manu, and although they never met in person, I have the feeling Jim was always jealous of him. Even now I don’t know if it was me who gave myself out, or somehow, he found out through mom, or who knows who.
So, I crafted a plan to tell Manu that, although I liked him, it would be close to impossible to see each other again. The truth is I felt I loved him, but would not use the word Love. ‘Like’ would be the verb. I practiced in front of the mirror.
And even so I could not do it well.
“Manu, there is something I need to tell you.” I said right after we sat down, not even waiting for the waitress to offer us anything to drink.
“I know,” he said smiling, “I have something to tell you too.”
And his smile got me again. “I need to tell you, to ask…” I lost my train of thought.
“That you didn’t like the letter, I know.” He kept smiling.
“No, not that. I mean, I didn’t like it, I love it! But it’s not about that.”
“What could possibly be more important than–” The waitress interrupted, and after we ordered coffee and tea, he told her something polite and fancy that made it clear we didn’t want to be interrupted anymore, and retook the conversation. “What was I saying? Oh! Yes… about the lines.”
“Manu, you need to know I’m engaged.” I had forgotten my carefully crafted ideas and snapped.
“I am engaged. I thought somehow you knew.” I was whispering everything, leaning as close as possible to him, so that nobody else would hear me, and inviting him to approach me and speak softly too.
“Well, that’s shocking.” He was harsh. “I didn’t, how could I possibly–?”
“I don’t know, I just thought…”
“You never told me anything.”
“I kind of did, right? Always gave you hints.”
“Hints? You’ve been smiling all the time every time we talk.” He started to sound disappointed and confused.
“Yes, because I like to talk with you.”
“Talk? You just like to talk with me?”
“Manu, that’s the only thing we’ve ever done! You and I, talk. There’s never been anything else.”
“Yes, but I was waiting for you to give me an opening so I could… I was going to…”
“Oh, Becky! You know I have feelings.” His voice was now trembling.
“We all do, Manu!” My voice was trembling too.
“I mean I have feelings for you. You know that.”
“I know, but you never went beyond… what kind of feelings? Was that letter really for me? Only for me?”
“Becky, please. I know you have feelings for me too, maybe not as strong as mine, but I can see it in your eyes.”
“You never told me anything.”
“I didn’t have to use words, did I?”
“So, what were you doing then, all those times we met and went for a walk, and even when we stayed after class talking?”
“That was some years ago.”
“Well, even then I would have loved… I wanted… I was waiting for you to tell me something.”
“Something like what? I was so poor I could not even invite you… anything.”
“I was not asking for that, or anything related to money!”
“Becky. I was struggling to live, what would you have said if I asked you out? Didn’t you notice I was wearing the same pair of pants all the time? How could I then ask you anything?”
“It didn’t matter to me!”
“It did. You were in a particular group of friends I had no way to join.”
“So, then, what was your plan and ideas? Do you think I was going to wait forever?”
“No, but you knew I was studying. Once I made it, it would be different. It is now.”
“Now is too late.”
“No, it’s not. Cancel everything!”
“Are you saying you love me?”
“I’m saying we can start something.”
“But you don’t love me.”
“I love you, Becky. But we don’t know each other well enough to make any kind of rushed compromises.”
“Well, how about you? Do you love me?”
“I… wouldn’t be engaged if I… I don’t know.”
“Why did you come to see me then?”
“To tell you I’m engaged.”
“And the last time?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
“Do you love him?”
“I, I, already said yes.”
“Do you love him?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Manu, please, I’m confused. -sob- You never told me anything!”
“Perhaps. I am doing it now.”
“It is too late; the wedding preparations and invitations are all done and–”
“When is the wedding?”
“Becky. Cancel everything. Please.”
“What if I do and we don’t, what if it doesn’t work?”
“Really? After all we’d talked and felt you think it won’t work?”
“So many times, I waited for you to say something, something related to commitment, I was waiting for just a few words from you. I, I was–”
“You don’t have to wait anymore. I’m here, and I’m asking you: cancel everything. Please?”
“How can I hurt him? He’s so good to me.”
“Do I know him?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What’s his name?”
“Does he know me?”
“How could he?”
“I’ve never mentioned your name in front of him.”
“Not even in dreams? Or when you’ve been with him call him my name?”
“You don’t believe those things, do you?”
“I’ve called your name being with someone else. A few times.”
“What? What did she do?”
“‘What did they do.’ It’s been a few times.”
I looked down to the cup of tea that would never be touched, blocking everything else he was saying. I wanted to tell him it had been many times I had spent the night with Jim. That I made him happy, but that I was not satisfied. It was one night, only one time that Jim told me he had for once felt me opening entirely and enjoying the act. That particular time I closed my eyes and was pretending I was with Manu.
And now? Manu kept talking saying that if I married Jim, I would make three people unhappy for life. After a long time, he finally realized I was not going to change plans. It was a different time, and women were treated differently, and we needed to feel safe, that kind of safety society dictated. We kissed goodbye, and this time I didn’t dare do anything, simply lightly touched his cheek. The last words I heard from him were No matter how it goes at the beginning, look for me when things go bad.
Manu was wrong, I didn’t make three people unhappy. I had a good family, and I believe Jim was very happy with me.
Manu probably was happier with whoever he ended up with, I hope an artist. And I didn’t have it bad either. At least that’s what everybody around me says, despite my self-imposed lonesomeness.
Through the years, I knew about how everything was going for him from people that didn’t know we knew each other, and from the news. He was there constantly. At a particular TV show, the interviewer asked him about something missing from his life despite his success. His face was shown in a close-up when he answered. He said something about a girl he could never have, and I had a shiver feeling his eyes penetrating the transmission waves looking at me, as if imploring to look for him. I could have easily found and contact him, but I never looked for him when things went bad. Or ever.
I hope it is then only one unhappy person.
It’s not precisely the Cancer. It’s been time, and the weight of my weeping willow tree more than anything, that at last broke me. Decades of longing for something I could not get, didn’t know how to, didn’t dare to when I could. Even now, right now, I wonder what could have been. My tree of possibilities is huge. So heavy, that it is precisely it that has broken my spirit. Finally.
That pulse and beeping that disappeared a moment ago from the screen? That was just an echo: many years ago, my heart had already died.