Waking up takes a while: a vague awareness, followed by some dozing in and out, then taking stock of surroundings before opening my eyes. It is the sounds you notice most in that moment, not the feel of the sheets, or the weight of your head on the pillow, or the feel of the air conditioner, or whether you have a foot sticking out from beneath the covers. No, it is noise that reaches your consciousness first. In this case it is a faint beep coming from behind by head, regular and constant.
Opening my eyes presents me with a lot of beige and white; white ceiling, beige walls, white sheets. There is one splash of color, the blue shirt of the beauty sitting next to the bed, facing me, close enough to be holding my hand, a sensation just now making itself known. I know her…..yes, of course. I feel she should be younger, that is the memory that first presents itself. Not young, but before the small wrinkles and the grey hair. I give the hand a squeeze and I am rewarded with a smile.
“You look tired.”
She holds the smile and gives her head a slight shake. “Must be your eyes, I feel fine.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Not too long, just enough to watch you nap for a while”
“You need a hobby.’
“This one will do me fine.”
Some thought nagged for a moment, tugging from somewhere in the background but not allowing itself to be grasped. Something I should be remembering, something that needed to be done. It was gone. She still smiled, still trying not to be tired.
“How long have I been here?” I glanced to the window, trying to determine a time. Day time was all I could be sure of. Based on the greenery and flow of conditioned air I would assume late spring or summer.
“Not so long. Nothing to worry about.”
My pause was longer, chasing other thoughts that would not be caught. A couple of faces managed to stay long enough to be recognized. I turned back to find her watching me.
“How are the kids? Catch me up.”
The smile came back, slowly, and she gave my hand a squeeze and settled a bit into her chair. “Thomas is doing well, recently promoted. He and Elizabeth are happy with their new home, and the children seem to really enjoy the new school. I do wish it was closer though.”
“Grandchildren….yes. Two? Yes. And one other.”
“Yes. Two for Thomas, Maggie and James. And Renee has Joseph”
“My baby girl. And she has a son. The time does not seem to fit together right…. She is good too?”
“Yes. She and Joe are very happy”
“Just the two of them?
Her look became stern for a moment, then softened again quickly. “Yes, just them, for now. I think she is seeing someone, but she will not speak to me about it. Maybe you can get some info out of her.”
She talked for awhile, going on about the routines and trivialities of family lives. She covered school activities and milestones and the comedies life will provide. As she spoke things seemed to align in my head. The cogs reengaged in the gears of my mind, and there was clarity. Memories surfaced, some still fuzzy, others amazingly clear.
“Jamie.” I met her eyes. She smiled, nodded slightly and held my gaze. “My wife. My love, mother of our children. How could that not have been my first thought upon waking?”
I thought a saw a tear, quickly brushed away. And more memories crystallized. Less pleasant than the ones before.
“Oh, Jamie, no. How long have you been here. How long have I been here?”
“Not long, really. Just a little while”
“Dear one, you were never very good at lying. You are tired, I can tell. We talked about this, we had an agreement.”
“No,” she shook her head, “we are not going to discuss that.”
“We shouldn’t have to.” I met her stubborn gaze, though it was hard. “We discussed it ahead of time so that we would not have to now. So that decisions would already be made when the time came.”
“Not yet,” she said with another slight shake of her head.
“Jamie, love. I can tell it has been a while. I don’t know how long but I know it is longer than we discussed. And agreed to, many times over. You did not give them the documents, did you”
“No, not yet.” She was no longer staring me down, a slight quaver to her voice.
“You have to. We agreed to it, we signed the living will and the DNR, just for this situation. This is not life, for either of us. This is not the living you are supposed to be doing. You should be traveling. You should be spending every possible moment with our grandchildren, not sitting around waiting for me to wake up and wondering if I will remember you today. That is not what either of us wanted.”
“I know.” She looked back up and matched stares again. Then gave the slight shake of her head again. “But not yet, I cannot yet.”
I nodded, and reached for her hand, raised it and pressed it to my lips before speaking. “Okay, I understand. But you cannot keep this up, you cannot continue to neglect living. Promise me you will give them the document. Tell me you will do it tomorrow.”
It took some time before she answered. “I will.”
“Good. I love you, and I would never have wished this for you. It hurts me to know I have caused you to be here so long already. Now, tell me some more things I am not remembering, about when the kids were young.”
When I woke I was facing the window. It was dreary outside, a tinge of frost on the panes. I turned back to the room and found the only color other than beige and white, a red shirt beneath a beautiful face. She was not as young as I thought she should be, and she looked tired.
We exchanged pleasantries for a while before I remembered the questions I should ask.
“How are the kids?”
She smiled, took my hand and gave it squeeze.