BREATHING WITHOUT YOU
I held him in my arms as his last breath left his body. He'd gotten his wish, I had kept the awful promise I'd made, the promise we'd both always dreaded might come true That he would die in my arms.
My mind flitted full of memories of the night he had said those words, our wedding night. We'dspent hours making love, each time more intense than the last until it felt like we had become one. He had held me so close afterwards, his fingers moving over my body as we talked, reliving every moment of the day. Later, exhausted, our fingerslaced together, our silver wedding bands so shiny and bright, a sign of a future which we didn't know what would hold but knew would be lived to the fullest.
Then he had said those words. I remember bringing my hand up, covering his mouth, not wanting to hear them, but he pulled it away and made me listen. The fact that it could happen, would happen, was something we could never forget. We may push the thought to the deepest darkest corner of our minds, but it would always be there and we had to accept and live with it. And he'd vowed to make the most of every day, because we would never know when it may be our last together. I had tried to shut out his voice when he spoke, wondering why he had to bring this up now, casting a shadow over this day that had been filled with laughter and love.
But I knew that there was a reason for this, that in the darkness that surrounded us, he could say the words he wouldn't say in daylight hours when we would be able to see the pain and heartache etched over our faces as heexpressed the real threat to his mortality and I faced the thought of a world without him in it.
I never said a word, letting him talk, knowing that once he had voiced his inner most fears, we would never speak of it again. The promise would be pushed into the deep recesses of our minds, never forgotten but gradually covered by memories which we would make every day, some good some bad but each with their own reason to be committed to memory, to be drawn on and remembered when needed.
The sound of the door opening quietly dragged me back to the present and I heard someone say my name. I looked around, and whatever they saw in my eyes made them retreat as quietly as they had entered.
I turned my eyes back to Ben and ran my fingers down his face, before tracing them over his lips. He was so cold and I tightened my grip around him, resting my head on his chest.
We'd had 10 years together, 3,652 days. It sounded like a lot and I knew I should be grateful for every one of them but I wanted more. Every time he had been sick over the years we'd gotten through it, but this time when the cold had turned to pneumonia so quickly I had known without ever letting the thought leave my sub-conscious that we would not be going home together. I'd been sitting at his bedside for 3 days, watching as the light slowly left his beautiful blue eyes, as his skin became pale and waxen, his breathing becoming more difficult with each passing hour. He drifted in and out of consciousness, his voice getting weaker every time he called my name. The assurances that he would come through this from the doctors never came, as I had known they wouldn't. They did everything they could to make him comfortable then left us alone. My mother and the gang came and went, never staying long. I could feel how uncomfortable they felt when they entered the room, their eyes never quite meeting mine, not knowing quite what to say. I never had to voice the words that I just wanted to be left alone with Ben, they knew.
The only time I left his side was for Hunter to spend some time with his father. I had stood outside the door, counting the minutes as they ticked by.
When he finally emerged he was dry eyed but I could tell he was struggling with his emotions. I had wanted to offer him words of encouragement but I had never lied to him and I wasn't going to start now, by offering him false hope.
I heard the door open again and footsteps enter the room and stop behind me. I didn't move, hoping who ever it was would go away. I felt a hand on my shoulder and without loosening my grip around Ben I looked up at Brian.
"Mikey, we need to go."
"No. I'm not ready Just a bit longer."
"He knew you were here….you need to rest now."
"I don't want to leave him alone."
"Mikey…. You can't stay here.There are still things you have to do."
"Why did he have to die?"
"Mikey….don't do this….let me take you home."
"Five more minutes Brian…please."
He sighed and nodded his head, moving away from the bed and sitting in the chair behind me.
I sat up slowly and took Ben's hand in mine, my fingers twisting at his wedding ring, before slowly sliding it off his finger and wrapping my hand around it. I reached down and brushed a strand of hair off his forehead, before leaning in and kissing his mouth gently.
I had spent the last 3 days telling him what being loved by him and having him in my life had meant to me but there were so many things I still wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come.
I heard Brian stand and walk towards me and I leaned in and whispered the words that I had said to him every day since we had met.
"I love you."
I felt Brian wrap his arms around me, pulling me to my feet and I didn't have the strength to resist any more. He walked me slowly out of the room, down the dimly lit corridor and out onto the street. When the cold night air hit me I shivered violently and my legs almost gave way on me. I felt Brian's grip around me tighten, holding me up as he guided me to the car and we drove to our home and a life that would never be same for me ever again.
The drive home seemed endless. Brian kept up a steady stream of conversation, but I let it wash over me, the only thought in my mind was that I had left Ben alone. When he stopped the car I sneaked a look at our home. Someone must have turned on all the lights to make the place feel more welcoming, but all they did was want to make me sink lower into the seat, not wanting to leave the comfort of the darkness that surrounded me.
Somehow Brian must have got me out of the car and to the door. He held me up with one arm while he searched through his pockets for the key. When he finally got the door open I couldn't move. The thought of walking through the door into the home we had built together with so much love and knowing that he would never be with me again in it was too much to bear.
"Yes you can."
I tried to resist as he lead me inside, dragging one foot after the other, and when he closed the door with a resounding thud I jumped. I stood there, my eyes adjusting to the light, looking around the room. Everything was the same as it had been when I walked out the door 3 days ago. Somehow that didn't seem right. Four hours ago my life had changed forever, yet here, in this room it looked like time had stood still. I could sense him in the room, everywhere I looked something reminded me of him.
My eyes came to rest on the dining room table where the novel he was working on was lying open, his glasses sitting next to it, exactly in the same position where he had left them that night when he had woken me in the early hours saying my name in such a way that I knew immediately something was terribly wrong.
I must have let out a moan at that thought and I felt Brian's arms tighten around me.
I just stood there, unable to answer, my head too full of images and thoughts. I felt myself starting to shake and I knew if Brian hadn't been holding me I would have sunk to the floor.
I felt him almost drag me to the bedroom where he sat me on the bed and began to get me undressed and into bed. He tried to unclench my hand around Ben's ring but I held firm and he finally gave up. He laid me down and pulled the covers around me and sat on the edge of the bed, talking to me softly but none of his words would stick in my head.
I closed my eyes for a moment, but the image of Ben lying in the hospital flashed into my head, but I squeezed them shut tightly and made myself breathe normally, hoping that if he thought I was asleep Brian might leave.
After what seemed forever I felt the bed move as he stood and walked out the door, leaving it slightly open. I knew he wouldn't leave me alone tonight.
I turned over and reached for Ben's pillow, pulling it to me, snuggling into it, inhaling his scent which still lingered on it.
I couldn't believe he was gone. That I would never again hear his voice say my name in the way that always made me feel so special. Never to see his eyes light up and his dazzling smile cross his face whenever I walked into the room. Never be able to touch him again, taste his lips on mine, feel his body wrapped around me as we made love.
I buried my head in the pillow as my tears fell and then turned to sobs, making me gulp for air, as my body shook with a mix of anger and despair. A part of me died as he did leaving me feeling cold and empty, making me want to scream with rage at the injustice of it all. That something unseen could take him from me in a blink of an eye, robbing us of a future which we knew was never guaranteed but always clung onto the hope that maybe we would grow old together. He was the love of my life and I didn't know how I would go on without him. I opened my hand, looking at his ring which shone in the semi light and I wondered if I wanted to.
I woke to the smell of coffee and the sound of Brian's voice in the distance. For a moment I wondered what he was doing in our home and then it all came flooding back to me and I felt tears spring into my eyes.
I wiped them away as I turned over and looked at the clock, amazed to see it was 11am. I didn't remember falling asleep. I had tried to keep my eyes open because every time I closed them I saw images of Ben in the hospital. I tried to pull out memories of happier times and I couldn't. That scared me.
I shivered and snuggled deeper under the blankets, not wanting the day to begin, knowing what it was going to involve. I closed my eyes and this time a glimpse of a moment gone came to me. He had his arms around me and was nuzzling my neck and I could hear his voice so clearly "I hope when it's our 10th anniversary, we're not too tired to celebrate."
I buried my head in the pillows, letting my tears flow. In 3 weeks we would have been celebrating 10 years together. Ever since he said those words I had always held onto them, as if they were some magical number to be reached, if somehow we passed that milestone we would have forever. Had I tempted fate, should I have just thought as he did, thankful for every day, every year instead of always looking ahead, wanting more, needing more.
Images of times passed flooded my mind, mingled with flashes of him, alone and cold in the hospital and I began to shake, biting on my hand to stop myself crying out loud, as the enormity of what I had lost overwhelmed me.
I felt arms wrap around me rocking me like a child and for a split second I thought it was Ben and all of this was just a bad dream until I opened my eyes and saw Brian.
"It's okay Mikey."
"No it's not."
"It will get better. I promise."
"He was 43 years old. 43!"
"I don't know. Just be….."
"Grateful for what we had?"
"But I want more."
"You had 10 years Mikey. You always knew it was never going to be forever."
"I love him so much."
"He knew that."
"Then why did he leave me?"
"I don't have the answers Mikey."
"Should I have done something different. Made him go to the doctor when his cold wouldn't clear up. If I had maybe…."
"Mikey stop this. You know he did everything right. There was nothing anyone could have done. It was just time."
"I don't know what I will do without him."
"Listen to me. You will get through this. I know you don't think so now but it will get easier."
really believe that?"
"Yes I do."
I opened my hand and looked at his ring, tears springing into my eyes. I wanted to believe Brian, that one day I would be able to think of him without breaking down, but right at this moment it seemed like an impossibility. I pulled my ring off my finger and slid his on and replaced mine. I moved my hand around, satisfying myself that neither would slide off, the sight of our rings together somehow bringing me some comfort.
Brian was talking and I made myself concentrate on what he was saying.
"I made some phone calls. A Mr. Johnston is coming to see you at 4pm."
"You need to make some arrangements Mikey."
"You can. I will be here. We will do it together. Now why don't you go and have a shower while I make some lunch."
"I'm not hungry."
"How many times have I ever offered to cook you anything Mikey? Never. So make the most of a once in a life time opportunity."
I nodded, too tired to argue with him anymore, knowing it would be pointless anyways.
"Good…now go shower!"
He stood and I knew I had to make myself move. I grabbed some clothes off the bed and headed to the bathroom.
I pulled my t-shirt over my head, reached up and opened the bathroom cabinet and froze. Row after row of pill bottles, his name printed on them in black type, stared at me. I reached up and pulled one out, turning in over and over in my hand, my eyes stinging with tears. I unscrewed the top and upended it, watching as the tablets scattered in the basin. I tried to break it against the side of the basin but it stayed in tact. I reached for another, not even bothering to open it and tried to smash it but it was useless. My frustration turned to rage and I ran my hand over the shelf, watching as they all tumbled into the sink, bouncing off each other. I slammed the door closed and I thought I caught of glimpse of him in the mirror. I let out a wail and bought my hands up, pounding at the glass with my fists, not even hearing it when it shattered into a hundred pieces, oblivious to the pain as the shards embedded themselves into my palms and fingers.
"Jesus Mikey, what the fuck is going on in here?"
I turned my head, my eyes meeting Brian's.
"They were supposed to keep him alive!"
"Fuck, look at your hands Mikey."
I looked down, seeing the blood gushing over the tablets and bottles, mingled with broken glass but ignored it, continuing to rain blows at the mirror.
I felt Brian grab my hands and wrap a towel around them. I stood there, unable to move as he pulled my t-shirt over my head and dragged me out of the bathroom, down the stairs and into the car.
The hospital was the same one I had left hours ago. The only difference was this room was a hub of constant noise and didn't have the feel of death to it. I felt cold and numb one minute the next I couldn't stop shaking. Brian must have badgered the nurses, either using charm or scare tactics, because somewhere in my hazy brain I heard someone call my name.
Brian hauled me to my feet and steered me to a room and sat me down, hovering over me as if I might take flight. A nurse walked in, said something to Brian and I felt a pin prick in my arm and I felt myself stop shaking and my body relax, feeling warm for the first time since I don't remember when.
I could hear voices around me, words floating…Ben….died….home….overnight….
Psych. I tried to make sense of them, but everything seemed fuzzy. I felt drowsy but forced myself stay awake, not wanting the images that had been haunting me to come back.
I heard someone say my name and I made myself focus on the voice.
"Michael, I'm going to clean your hands and then stitch them, ok."
I tried to answer but it was too much effort so just nodded my head.
"I just need you to stay still for me, it won't take long."
I felt nothing as she pulled shard after shard of glass from my hands. I watched as she stitched them, but it felt like it was happening to someone else, not me, as if I was watching all this through a fog. My head was starting to hurt and it was getting harder and harder to stay awake.
"I'm here Mikey."
"Can we go home now?"
"Soon, ok. How are you feeling?"
"Close your eyes and rest for a while."
"No. I keep seeing…."
"Just try ok."
I let my eyes slowly close, holding my breath, scared to think of what images I might see, but it was just darkness and I gratefully let sleep finally over take me.
I opened my eyes tentatively, pulling myself out of the darkness. I realized immediately that I was not at home in our bed and panicked for a moment as I tried to work out where I was. The room was light and airy and I could hear a hum of conversation coming from outside the room. I felt groggy and my head ached as I sat up and looked around and realized I was not alone.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Anna. Do you know where you are?"
I had to think carefully for a moment before I answered.
"Yes. Do you remember what happened?"
"I hurt my hands." I looked down at them, seeing the criss-cross of stitches over my palms and snaking their way up my fingers.
"That's right. Can you tell me how you did that?"
"I broke the mirror."
"What about him?"
"The pills were supposed to keep him alive."
"And you were angry because they didn't?"
"Are you still feeling angry?"
I thought about that for a few minutes.
"Because Ben died?"
I felt myself flinch. That was the first time anyone had spoken those words to me out loud.
long were you together?"
"Only 10 years."
"And they were happy years?"
"They were perfect but…"
"I wanted more."
"And you feel cheated because they have been taken away from you?"
"Yes. He did everything right and that still wasn't enough. I keep thinking that there could have been something I could have done…"
"I don't know."
"Michael, what you are feeling are natural reactions to loosing someone you love. Anger, blaming yourself, feeling lost and wondering how you are going to get through this."
"Everytime I close my eyes I see him. I left him alone…"
"And you are feeling guilty for doing that?"
"Do you think Ben would want you to be blaming yourself for something which you had no control over?"
"Did you ever talk about the fact this would happen?"
"Sometimes….but I always got upset. He was the one who was going to die and he always ended up having to comfort me. He was always so strong but I should have been the strong one, and I tried, I really did, but the thought of losing him…."
"And now that it has happened you are angry at him for leaving you alone?"
"Yes…no….He always told me that whatever time was given to us we should make the most of."
"Do you think you did that?"
"I loved him."
"Did he ever ask for more than that?"
"And he loved you?"
"Oh God yes."
"Michael, it sounds to me that what you and Ben had was something very special….something that not many people are lucky enough to find, and because of that his death, the feelings of guilt you are having, the anger at yourself and in some ways, at Ben, for leaving you alone are overwhelming you at the moment. You still have a lot of grief to work through yet, it is going to take time….I know, everyone is going to tell you that…but it is true…do you understand?"
I nodded my head, knowing that everything she was saying made sense, but still the thought of not having him my life ever again, living with only memories, made me shiver.
"Can I go home now?"
"I would like you to stay for a few more hours. The Lorazepam will take a while longer to wear off and I would like you to try and sleep a bit more first. I have spoken to your friend Brian and he says he will stay with you when you are home. I also think it would be a good idea for you to talk to someone, it would give you a chance to sort out a lot of things in your own mind. Would you be willing to do that?"
"Good. I will come back in a few hours and see how you are. There will also be a nurse along before you leave to change the dressings on your hands."
I watched as she left the room then laid down, pulling the covers over me. When I closed my eyes I caught a glimpse of Ben. His blue eyes were sparkling, he had a wide smile on his face and I could see his lips moving and I concentrated, trying to see what he was saying and I fell asleep as I worked it out…I love you Michael.
The next few days passed in a blur. I managed to get through the funeral without falling apart, due in no small way I'm sure, to the pill that Brian made me take every morning when I woke.
I still cried myself to sleep every night. My dreams continued to be filled of him, mostly happy times and when images of his last moments intruded I could now push them away. The counselor I was seeing said they would fade in time, but I wasn't sure I wanted them to. They some how bought me comfort and I was no longer terrified to close my eyes at night.
I still hadn't sorted through his things. I knew in my mind I was not yet ready for that, and no one pressured me to do so.
Hunter and I had gone away for a weekend together. We spent it talking about Ben, what having had him in our lives had meant to both of us. I think I convinced him that although we had lost Ben far too early, he still had a long life ahead of him. At 26, he was young enough to believe and hang onto that.
I still ached for him at every moment. Silly things could make tears spring into my eyes and I avoided places where we had spent time together. Our home echoed of emptiness everytime I closed the door, visions of him still sneaked up on me unexpectedly, causing silent tears to stream down my face, but I got up every morning and found the strength from somewhere to face the day.
Today was a month since I had lost him. The sun was shining brightly as I walked out of the jewelers store, giving promise of better days ahead. I looked down at my hands, the scars still red and livid, never letting me forget that night, but like everything else, time would make them fade. My new wedding ring looked as shiny and bright as the one he had so lovingly placed on my finger years ago, and I knew my decision, to have his ring and mine melded together as one, had been the right one. I would go on breathing without him but he would always be with me and I knew I would love him always and forever.