The months were passing by, and I was starting to have hope.
Not that Candy would recover; no, she was continuing to decline, though it had slowed some. Fewer periods of lucidity, but her bad moments were still few and far between, and she remained happy in her times of confusion. The hope, instead, was that I was coming close to being an elder, like Candy. And maybe, when I was… maybe my mental acuity would decline some.
Now, yes, B, that is a rather horrible thing to hope. But, in my defense, I missed my wife. I was tired of missing my wife, and I was tired of acting like I didn’t miss my wife, and I was tired of pretending that everything was okay. Like I said, B—it was for the good of our family, but that didn’t make it easy. So, on some level, I was hoping that my own mental status would decline enough that I would forget. I would remember that Candy was my wife and that I loved her, but I would forget that Candy wasn’t the same. I would forget that there was anything wrong. Candy, after all, always seemed so cheerful, even when she was confused. Maybe there was something beautiful about forgetting?
Regardless of how “morbid” it was, B, it was how I felt. The idea of not being tired anymore gave me hope.
And of course I was worried about what might happen to you. You were still a child. But, then again, you were just as far from being a teen as I was from being an elder. I was about to enter the slow decline to death, while you were steps away from becoming a real person. I wasn’t too concerned about your future. If anything happened to me, you could handle yourself.
And, I wrote a living will that specifically stated that you should put me in a nursing home. I didn’t want you to be as tired with the world as I was, especially not at that age. And it was our job to take care of you, not the other way around.
Anyhow, I had hope, and I had a plan, and things were looking up. All I had to do was wait out the ticking time bomb of memory loss that was already inside my head.
So when our birthday came around, B… I was ecstatic. Another milestone closer to happiness.
Janie: *singing* “It’s a good day! A very happy good day!”
Janie: “The sun is shining! The birds are singing!”
Janie: “Happy birthday to me!”
Janie: “And happy birthday to you, too, B!”
We sat down to an early breakfast that day while your mommy slept in. She’d been feeling a little less energetic lately—something the internet assured me was normal, for someone of her age. So I let her sleep in a little while each morning, as long as she needed.
Janie: “Good morning, Candy my love!”
Candy: “Are you the morning from down the street? Why are you in my house?”
Ah, not a good day for your mother then. But no matter. Nothing could bring me down today.
I went off to work with a huge smile on my face. This would be an excellent day, I just knew it.
And, what do you know, it was! When I got back early that day, around 6 o’clock, it was with a promotion in hand.
Janie: “Nothing could bring me down today!”
Candy: “What does this button do?”
Candy: “Hmph. Just opens it. Boooooring.”
Candy: “You again? Go back to your own house!”
Janie: “Okay, Candy. I’ll leave soon.”
Even Candy’s confusion couldn’t make me feel negatively about the world.
I changed into some comfier clothes, made us some dinner.
And Candy was much more receptive to my presence after some food in her belly.
Candy: “So… who are you again?”
Candy: “Oh! You’re the hot one! Did I invite you over?”
Janie: “…Yeah! Yeah, you did!”
Candy: “You know, my bedroom’s right through that door…”
Janie: “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
B: “Mommy! Mom! Come watch!”
Janie: “But maybe we’ll wait til B goes to bed…”
She even started playing the violin! Now, interesting thing about her memory loss—she was only losing episodic memory. Her knowledge of prior events, of her past, of who people are. But her procedural memory? Still intact. She wasn’t good at the violin, per sé. But she hadn’t gotten any worse.
And the music… I don’t know what it was about music. It was almost like it helped her remember. It didn’t always helped when I played, but I guess today… It was my birthday. It was a day for miracles. And I was greedy for them—I would hoard as many as possible.
Candy: “You know, love, we haven’t visited the club in a while… We should go!”
I wish we hadn’t gone.
Oh, how I wish we hadn’t gone.
It was too much stress on her, I guess…
Carmen: “It’s so great to see you, Janie!”
Janie: “And you! It’s been a while.”
Janie: “That’s it! Good focus, Carmen! You’ve really improved.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Not now. And not here, our place.
What was happening?
How could this be happening?
I wasn’t even an elder yet. But Candy was…
No. Not yet.
Reaper: “…excuse me?”
Janie: “Please! It’s not her time yet! We still need her here!”
Reaper: “I cannot speak to the latter. But I am quite certain that it is, indeed, her time.”
Janie: “I’m not ready yet, it’s not my time. She’s my wife! And… and it’s my birthday!”
Reaper: “Til the end of your birthday.”
Reaper: “That’s how long she has. Til the end of your birthday.”
Candy: “Janie? What happened?”
I looked to the Grim Reaper, aghast. Then wrapped Candy in a bone-breaking hug. She hadn’t called me by name in… in months, probably.
Reaper: “And an extra gift. For a few hours, she should have her memory.”
I never wanted to let her go.
By the Creator, I was going to have to let her go… Only until the end of my birthday… Could my birthday never end? Was there a way to make that happen?
Candy: “Thank you for saving me.”
I didn’t tell Candy the Reaper’s condition. Her limited time. I wanted her to be happy, not waiting in tense anticipation of her soon-to-end life.
It was all I could do not to cry.
Reaper: “Yeah, whatever.”
I couldn’t be selfish with this. My mother… I wasn’t there for my mother, when she passed. I was away, at a club, unable to be there in her final moments. B, you were young, but… I didn’t want to deprive you of the last moments with your mommy, of the opportunity to be there to say goodbye.
We headed home.
I held her hand the whole time.
Candy: “I can walk down the stairs myself, love…”
Janie: “Just let me have this?”
To this day, B, I despise the Grim Reaper. I will never forgive him. You know, we were friends, officially. We had a certain rapport. I’m sure that’s why he gave me the extra time.
I will never forgive him.
The moment we arrived home, Candy went to the bedroom to change her clothes. She wanted to look nice for B’s birthday party, for the pictures. And I went to make the cake, of course. I certainly wanted to prolong Candy’s borrowed time, but I didn’t want to risk her not being there for B’s celebration.
As it happened, nothing I could have done would have helped.
Candy went outside, to admire the sunset she nearly had not seen.
Candy: “No! Janie!!”
Candy: “I thought I had time…”
I was unaware. Again, I was unaware of a dying loved one, passing from this world entirely alone. I was baking away, working on a damn birthday cake, naively trusting the word of the damn Grim Reaper. Who trusts death? Who is that stupid?
When I finished the cake, I called for Candy. No response.
I called again. No response.
I went to look for her.
Janie: “No. No no no no no.”
Janie: “How could this happen?”
Janie: “REAPER! You promised!”
He was unsympathetic.
Janie: “You swore! You said I had her through my birthday!”
Reaper: “I guess I lied.”
Janie: “But, but my child! It’s her birthday as well, don’t you have a heart? Let her mother see her become a teenager-just a few more hours!”
Reaper: “No. It is her time.”
In the span of a day.
The morning felt so long ago. That distant time when I said there was nothing that could bring me down…
Janie: “I’m so sorry, B.”
Janie: “Be strong.”
Janie: “My brave little girl.”
My birthday was anticlimactic. I couldn’t bring myself to even blow out candles. It was as if the death of my beloved… my beautiful Candy… it aged me infinitely, in moments. What effect could blowing out candles possibly have?
I wasn’t processing anything. It didn’t feel… real to me. The house felt strange. Our room felt empty. My body felt wrong-how could my body feel wrong?
I let B have the cake.
Janie: “I’d tell you happy birthday, but… Just blow out the candles.”
B: “Yeah. Couldn’t be happy anyway.”
B: “I miss Mommy. And she’s only just left.”
Janie: “Me too, darling. Me too.”
We went to bed.
What else was there to do but end the day.