“Don’t laugh,” I told him.
David and I were at our favorite Korean spa in Flushing, Queens. And I’d picked a quiet area, where people could lie out on cushy chaise longues to rest or sleep. We were all alone. He knew something was coming; he just didn’t know what. “I think we should get married,” I said.
Of course, David laughed. How could he not? He’d asked me to marry him about 15 years before, and I’d responded with a laugh of my own. When he asked me, it was a while after we’d started dating – long enough to know we were in love. But I didn’t put much stock in marriage. I’d been through a divorce. My parents had divorced. I had no faith in the longevity of love. Why not just live together?, I reasoned. Which we did, before my proposal.
What changed my mind? This rising feeling within me that no matter how long it lasted, we needed to join our hearts in this most ultimate expression of love. So in late June 2017, David gave me a sweeping bow as I stood on the balcony of a chalet in Upstate New York, fresh in my wedding dress. I descended to the grassy backyard, and we were married in front of our families and a few friends.
Then, several months later, we realized that all the advice he’d received from doctors – just take some Tylenol for those back pains; everything’s fine – was wrong. He had Stage 4 cancer.
I started out praying that David and his medical team would defeat the spread of that evil disease in his lungs and bones – and eventually his liver. Then, when that proved impossible, I prayed for David’s comfort and for guidance on how I could help him even more than I was. But I never prayed for his death, even when I could see he was declining rapidly, doped up to the max, unable to even stand up, let alone walk. Just couldn’t do it.
As I write this, his ashes are about to arrive. A friend is at hand, ready to support me.
It feels like David and I were so close that our souls were meshed into one, and someone has ripped a piece of this emotional, spiritual organism into two parts. I feel as if I’m walking on the bottom of an ocean filled with strange plants and creatures, and yet it’s oddly familiar. It’s a place I never wanted to go, but there was no choice.
And so I begin my reluctant journey that will undoubtedly take me to new revelations, new waves of despair and understanding as the months go by.
When we first fell in love, I didn’t think any of my family and friends would really “get” David and why I loved him. He was a contrarian who enjoyed debating tough subjects that people felt strongly about, like Barack Obama (who was a disappointment to him).
But to my delight, people loved David for the sparky conversations. But more than that, people who have commented on his passing have remarked that he was the most honest person anyone could ever meet. He didn’t lie, or dissemble. And at the same time he was kind. They’ve noted that his deep intelligence led him to some uncanny predictions about where the world is headed, and some of them have already come true. But more than that, he saw the potential in people. He was honestly interested in who they were, could see how they could do great things, and he spoke about that passionately with them.
I am the largest recipient of that passion. He loved my writing. He knew how high my goals were and he was right behind me, through all the disappointments and trickle of successes.
David had a huge collection of books, many of which he’d saved to read in his retirement – philosophy, history, classic works of literature. Yet in his final years, it was too hard for him to read. He watched comforting TV shows popular in his childhood, like “Hazel” and “Andy Griffiths.” And in the last month of his life, he listened to a home health aide read my book, THE JUICE, which I dedicated to him. They plowed through a large part it, both intently absorbed. Finally, even that was too much.
Last Tuesday, March 23rd, I woke up, sat beside him, told him how much I love him. And he passed away.
Through all the comments on social media, all the outpouring of compassion and love for David and me, I sense that people are holding their darlings a little closer. As well they should.
How do I process this now, in the early days of this strange ocean? I’m creating a character in a new work of fiction that is how I imagine he might be, years from now if he had lived on. The character has some unique features all his own, but at his core, he contains my David. Maybe it’s some lame-brained way of dealing with this. But right now, it’s what I’ve got.