Hi everyone! I wrote this for the contest: Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest
I didn't win, but there were 59 entries and all of them were fantastic!
Special thanks to GrayMatters for her beta work, ScottishRose for pre-reading and PixieKat for all her support.
This story means a lot to me, I lost a good friend to cancer in October. She was only 46 and left 4 daughters and a loving husband behind. This story is loosely based on her situation.
Grab some tissues, you're gonna need them.
Consider leaving me a review, this is the first time I've done angst and I'd love to know your thoughts about how I did.
Title: I Was Broken
Picture Prompt Number: 1
Word Count: 7624
Summary: Life takes an unexpected and sad turn. A story of being broken and then saved.
Warnings and Disclaimer: Deals with illness and death.
I Was Broken
October 2, 2007
Today marked the beginning of the worst period of my life. Thirty-six years old and hit with the news that would forever change us.
Cancer. My thirty-six year old wife has cancer. I stare slack-jawed at the doctor as he tells us, in shock, a sudden chill taking over my body that I feel it down deep into my bones.
The doctor tells us she can have a radical hysterectomy with radiation and her chances of survival are high.
They tell us we caught it early, she's young, she's healthy. Really? Having cancer means you're healthy?
We leave the sterile, antiseptic smelling doctors office, both of us wide-eyed and scared shitless; afraid to look one another in the face. It seems easier at that moment to ignore the possibilities of anything not going our way.
As my warm breath puffs out into the crisp cold Seattle air, I think about losing the love of my life to a disease that scares the ever loving fuck out of me. She's my childhood sweetheart, the love of my life; I can't imagine how barren my life would be without her.
Holding my wife close, I steer us to the parking garage so we can make it home in time to meet the girls when they get off the bus.
Still not speaking, my wife and I get into our chilly car and make our way to our Queen Anne home. Seattle's a bustling metropolis and my wife and I decided early in our marriage we wanted to live in the city and raise our children with the diverse experiences they could get from living there.
As we drive, I look anywhere but at my wife. I look at the woman driving the dirty car next to us, wondering if she's received bad news today as well. Her scowling face makes me think it might be so. I will forever think of this when I drive for the rest of my life, wondering if someone has gotten catastrophic news like we'd just received.
Pulling into our driveway fifteen minutes later, we turn to look at one another, tears filling both our tired eyes. Sadness wants to overtake me, like a suffocating rag, but no; I have to be strong for my wife.
Tears are falling down her flushed cheeks. I reach over and I wipe them off with my rough callused thumb while telling her with my eyes that everything will be okay. I kiss her warm lips softly. I don't trust myself to speak yet. I have to be strong. Besides, I can see the bus coming down the street carrying our precious girls. Just how the hell are we going to tell them what is happening here? Their little minds are going to be forever altered today. Can a ten-year old and an eight-year old handle that kind of truth? I sure fucking hope so.
I give my wife's cold hand a squeeze, reaching for the door handle and making my way out of the car. I walk stoically to meet our girls and take them inside to tell them the news that will also forever alter their lives as well.
I turn back to look over my shoulder at my gorgeous partner. She's still sitting in our car, her head lowered, her shoulders shaking. Her head full of dark hair hangs down and covers her face. No. I can't watch her fall apart like that and then go and be the father I need to be to our kids.
I turn my back to her and wait the few minutes it takes for the bus to reach me. The exhaust fumes blow around at my feet, making their way up into my eyes. It gives me the excuse I need for my teary expression and red eyes.
Getting the chatting, happy girls from the bus and turning towards the house, I can see that my wife has pulled herself together and gotten out of the car. She's currently giving the girls a wide smile as she stands there with her arms wide open, waiting for them to fling themselves wildly into her embrace.
As they do just that, I feel myself smile. We can do this. We can make it; we'll be one of the success stories. There is no other option. It has to be done, for us, for our kids, for our future.
Walking towards them, I take my wife's hand and we make our way inside our warm, cozy little home. There in that safe haven we have built together, we have the roughest talk of our lives with the two people who mean the most to us in the world.
The girls handle it like champs, asking good questions and saying that their Mommy is going to be fine' she's their mommy after all, what else could she be but fine?
We end up having a wonderful evening with our girls, playing games and eating pizza. At the end of the night when we slip into our bed, the sheets silky around our legs, I pull my wife closer to me and we finally shed the tears together that have threatened the entire day.
Holding her to my body, as tightly as I can, I whisper softly in her ear, "Alice, I love you. We WILL get through this. You'll be fine, it can't go any other way."
She snuggles closer to me, squeezing me as tightly as her little body can and answers me the only way she knows how.
"I know, Edward, I know. You and the girls are my world, there is no way I'm leaving you."
Cuddling into her, we make slow, sweet love. I am reverent with her body, touching her and pleasing her the ways I know she likes best. My wife, my lover, my best friend.
After we're done, our breaths panting into one another's ears, I look down at her, kissing the tip of her perky little nose and say, "You make me so happy, Alice. Fuck, I love you so much."
"I love you too, Edward, I'm so lucky."
We fall asleep that night with peaceful smiles on our faces, happy in the knowledge that we can't be harmed, our bubble of love protecting us at any cost.
Little did I know that this day will be one of the last good days we have. Ever.
September 22, 2008
Almost a year later now. What a difference a year makes.
What started as a simple diagnosis of cancer of the female organs has since been upgraded to colorectal cancer that was hidden and festering its poison into my wife's blood stream, fissuring and traveling like the fucking weed of hell that it is and making its way into the places that would hurt her most.
She's survived a complete hysterectomy, a removal of a portion of her colon, her small intestine and my God, as if the colostomy bag wasn't humiliating enough, now they were thinking about hooking her up with a bladder bag as well. Yes, the fucking cancer had decided to take her bladder with it. Why not, right? Because apparently when you're young and beautiful, cancer likes to make you ugly. It likes to take all the things that don't matter and make them matter.
No hair, no eyelashes, no fucking eyebrows. My beautiful wife has nothing. She is mortified; she wears a wig and tries to hide everything the cancer tries to expose. I tell her I don't care, I love her no matter if she has hair or not but she swears she doesn't do it for me, that she does it for herself. I let her, because honestly, at this point, I'll let her do anything that makes her smile, even for a moment.
I see her fear and I feel my own. Hell, I can smell the damn fear rolling off of us in waves.
I know this isn't going to end well.
She doesn't want to give up, she wants to fight until her last breath. I'll back whatever decisions she makes, because at the end of the day, it's all up to her. She's the strong one, I'm weak and useless. I cry in the shower, sobbing my tears into my hands, trying like hell to be strong and failing miserably. I don't know if I'll be able to do this.
She says she'll fight until she has nothing left. I hope she'll remember she does have me and our sweet girls who love her no matter what.
Bedridden now, she can only do limited things. Her cancer has robbed her of all the wonderful things in her life. Only thirty-seven years old and she can't even comb out tangles in her girls' hair after their baths.
I do it all now, on top of working sixty-five hours a week to pay for any and all experimental treatments she might need or want to try.
Desperation is a funny thing, it makes you say and do things you ever thought you'd do. It makes you hate people, it makes you want to kick someone's ass for suggesting you just accept your circumstances and make the most of the time you have left. It makes you angry, really fucking angry.
Driving home from work, knowing my sister-in-law Rose is there taking care of Alice, I find that I just want to escape. I need to get away.
I end up pulling into the local bar. Getting out of my car, I walk in to see a greasy bartender wiping down the bar with a towel that looks as though it has seen better days. I know how that towel feels.
I sit at the bar stool, blowing out a breath of frustration at my circumstances. I am clearly feeling sorry for myself these days.
I order a Jameson on the rocks, knocking it back like it's kool-aid after the greasy guy serves it to me. He asks if I want another. I nod in response, not wanting to speak.
I sit and stare at the tumbler of whiskey, the legs of the alcohol dripping down the inside of the glass. I pick it up and swirl it around more. I like the way it catches the light, the amber color looking like fall in a glass.
I knock it back in one fell swoop, feeling the burn but not relishing it as it flows down my throat. I sit and ponder a way to pull myself together before I get home. I have to be strong for Alice. For the girls. Hell, I have to be strong for myself.
I stand up suddenly and throw the money for the drinks on the bar as I feel the alcohol going into my system, warming me and making me feel stronger.
I get in my car, drive the two blocks to our house and sit in the driveway, trying like hell to muster the courage to go inside and face what waits for me every day.
My beautiful, caring, best friend is dying. In the most inhumane manner possible. Slowly and painfully. This is the hardest thing I've ever been through and honestly, I wonder every day if I'm going to make it without her. I don't think I can.
Who knew back when she was diagnosed that her dying would be the easy part?
November 3, 2009
Yes, another year has passed. We live for every moment, the girls helping to take care of their mom. It's the sad reality of our lives now.
Alice isn't strong enough to walk anymore. She still makes me take her to chemo two times a week, although for what, I'm no longer sure. There is no hope left. But she refuses to give up, dreaming of a miracle that is not to be. I feel guilty for thinking that every time I look into her beautiful hazel eyes and she looks so hopeful when I'm feeling so hopeless and helpless.
She tells me, begs me to understand. She wants whatever time she can have, even if it is painful and limited. The girls and I are the most important thing to her.
We try to make things fun, we play games, we watch movies, we take small journeys to the park, where the girls taking turns pushing the wheelchair that Alice is now a prisoner to.
I'm having a harder time holding my shit together. Just last week I exploded at an employee. I told her to fuck off. I'm not proud of that moment, it made me feel like less of a man. I apologized profusely, ending up crying like a baby, telling the poor girl my sob story and making sure she understood it was all me and not her. She was very forgiving and even told me she understood what I was going through, having lost her mother to cancer when she was young.
I've managed to keep myself together at work since then. I need that job, Alice needs me to have that job. Hell, I need the job for the escape it provides me, although the guilt that thought causes sometimes crushes me.
Heading home for the day, I pull into the darkened driveway, the rain splattering again my car window, the wipers making their rhythmic sound, back and forth. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. It was hypnotizing. I just sit there, afraid to go inside, afraid I don't have what it takes anymore to be the man I need to be for my wife. I feel guilty for wanting to restart the car, rev the engine and head as far away from this fucking nightmare as I can.
But, no, I can't do that to Alice, to our family. I have to man-the-fuck up and get myself in order. Check my conflicting emotions at the curb. Be strong for my family. But some days, it is so hard.
Walking inside, I find Alice laying on the recliner, our girls on either side of her as she gently rubs their heads in her lap while they watch television. I can see the glimmer of sadness in her eyes as she looks up at me.
I walk forward slowly, stopping to bend down and kiss her gently on the lips. Her face is aglow with a fine sheen of perspiration. My heart sinks as I realize she's running a fever. Not a good sign, not at all.
"Edward, I think I need to call the doctor, babe. I'm not feeling so good tonight. Rose just left and I'm wondering if you could call her and Emmett back over to stay with the kids while you take me to the ER?" she asks, her voice breaking with uncontrolled fear.
Both the girls' heads pop up off her lap, staring into their mother's frightened eyes, looking for some security and finding none. The tears in their eyes absolutely gut me.
I nod, call Rose and get Alice ready to go. The girls are hovering over their mom, scared out of their minds, eyes wide in terror. They aren't talking, just rubbing Alice's arm gently, kissing her cheek softly and taking every part of her in that they can.
Rose arrives minutes later and corrals the girls into the living room after they say their goodbyes and hurry homes, so I can carry Alice to the car.
After securing my frail wife into the seat, buckling her in and shutting her door, I run back into the house and call the hospital to let them know we're on our way.
Rose hugs me tight and tells me Emmett is on his way and that my parents are on their way to the hospital to wait with me. I nod sadly, wishing Alice had her own parents here to help her, but since they passed early in our marriage from a traffic accident, my family is the only lifeline we have.
Rushing back out to the car, I get in, buckle my seat belt and look toward my wife. She's so small, so delicate and so fucking sick with the god-damned cancer that is eating her from the inside out. I back the car out of the driveway to head towards whatever destiny awaits us.
After reaching the hospital, getting her into a wheelchair and them taking her in for testing, I sit and wait in the sterile-looking waiting room I've sat in what feels like a hundred times over the last two years. The television on in here but it's just background noise, like a static rushing around my head.
My mind is running a loop of despair through my brain like a roughly woven tapestry; a full-on tangle of dark thoughts and disparaging images that are of my own making, scaring me more than the truth ever could.
My parents show up a few minutes later asking if I've heard anything from the doctors yet.
I start to let them know I haven't when I hear the ER room doors whoosh open and see Alice's oncologist come walking out, his face stoic, his lips in a grim line. In his hands is a clipboard with some papers attached to it.
"Edward, I'm sorry to see you here. I'd had hopes that the newest chemo would help Alice get a bit more time, I know she wants that badly. I've got some bad news though, it seems as though she has an infection, it's in her bladder. I'd like to do the surgery. I know you both wanted to avoid it as long as possible, but it's been a year, it's time. It won't prolong her life, but, it will make her more comfortable," he says quietly, his face impassive.
"If she doesn't have the surgery, what happens?" I ask him, hearing my voice shake with emotion, almost afraid to hear his answer.
"If she doesn't have the surgery, she gets sicker and dies from the infection," he says, rubbing his hands along his jaw roughly, looking into my eyes now with so much sympathy I think I might vomit from it.
"She wants more time, I know it's hard, but I feel like if we do this surgery, she could get a bit longer. Although, I must warn you, her immune system is so repressed that she may not even survive the surgery."
"Well, I know it's what she wants. More time with us, more time to see her girls," I answer softly, my eyes searching out my parents, who stand beside me taking it all in, catching things I might miss and being the support system I need.
"Oh, and Edward?" the doctor says seriously. "You need to consider hospice now, Alice hasn't got much time left, regardless."
I nod as he hands me the clipboard with the papers that require my signature to cut my wife open like they were gutting a fish, removing yet another part of her cancer-laden body so that she might get a few more days, weeks or months with us before she dies. The pen feels like a dagger to my heart as I sign on the X to make it all happen.
After letting us know we could go talk to Alice before they take her down for surgery, her doctor walks away, back through the mechanical ER doors, back to that smelly disgusting place that I hate with my entire being.
My mom pulls me into a gigantic hug as I sob relentlessly onto her shoulder, dampening her coat with my hot tears.
She and I hold each other like that, my dad's arm around us both for what feels like hours, but is actually only minutes, before a nurse walks over and coughs to get our attention.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Cullen? I need you to come back and see your wife now, sir. We are going to need to get her prepped for surgery and I know you'll want to see her first."
Nodding to her sadly, I turn and my parents and I walk into the ER to see my gorgeous wife.
After Alice has surgery and is under anesthetic, sleeping peacefully, I head home. The pre dawn light is comforting on some level, making me feel like there might be some hope for a brighter tomorrow in my soul. I need to funnel my emotions in a different direction, for my wife, making her last days on earth ones that she can appreciate and somehow find a way to enjoy.
Returning home, I kiss Rose, hug Emmett and send them on their way, after thanking them profusely for staying with our girls all night.
Then, I sit at the table with my head in my hands wondering if I'm prepared to make the call I've always dreaded. Hospice. It's like the nail in the coffin; we are admitting that it is over, that the hope is extinguished. The final chapter of my story with Alice.
I manage to avoid it for a while. I'm getting really good at avoidance these days. I call in to work, make coffee, get the girls ready for school and out to catch the bus on this cold November morning before I go back inside the empty, quiet house and stare at the phone for an hour.
Finally I grow some fucking balls, dial the number the hospital has given me and speak with a lovely woman named Mrs. Cope. She's the director of the local hospice unit that we will be using for Alice.
She assures me that the nurses assigned to Alice are special. They will help us as much or as little as we want. Coming at night, through the day, whatever we need, they're there for us.
I decide to go with one nurse for ten hours a day. Only while I'm working, for now. I can handle the evenings and the weekends alone with the girls and family.
Mrs. Cope agrees with me, saying we can change our minds at anytime we deem necessary. She says that the nurse will start as soon as Alice is sent home from the hospital in two days.
I thank her, letting her know how much I appreciate her services. She responds with a click of her tongue, saying in the gentlest of voices, "Oh, Mr. Cullen, you needn't thank me, it's our honor to help you and your family during this time. Honestly, it is."
My voice catches on a sob as I hang up the phone after telling her I'll see the nurse in two days.
I sit there, arms resting atop the hard, cold, wooden kitchen table and have the breakdown that has been coming since the diagnosis. I bang my fists, I break some dishes, I cry and rant and then collapse in a heap on the cold, hard ground, bawling like a baby and screaming out to whatever God will listen, "WHY!"
After laying there for what seems like hours, blubbering to myself, snot running down my face, tugging my hair out in frustration, I get up and clean up the mess I'd made and then take a shower. The girls will be home soon and frankly, they didn't need to see my spectacle. I want to take them with me to see Alice after dinner.
I'm supposed to be the rock for them. Claire and Abby are our world and when Alice dies, they'll be all I'll have left of her. I can't let them see me looking like I've given up, even if it feels like I have. I have two days to figure out how to explain to them that a nurse is coming to care for Mommy and that she isn't going to get better, not at all. This will probably be the hardest thing I'll ever have to do in this life, besides bury the woman I can't imagine living without. But I can't let myself think of that right now. I'm broken enough.
Turns out, I needn't have worried about telling the girls. When the girls and I went up to visit her after dinner, Alice gently tells them that the nurse is coming to our house and that she is going to be going to Heaven soon to be with their grandparents. The girls lay with her on the hospital bed and Alice makes sure to answer all their questions, hugging them close and making it all okay.
I stand there in the room, silent tears running down my face as I watch the woman I love explain to a twelve- and ten-year old about her own mortality. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment and honestly, I don't think I've ever loved Alice more. She is amazing; so strong, so giving and so fucking special.
Surprisingly, the girls take it well. My mom always says they are resilient, that kids can handle more than we think they can. I guess she's right, because two days later when Alice comes home and the first hospice nurse we've ever met comes to help, my girls are like strangers to me. They offer information like seasoned professionals, telling the nurse where she can store her things and offering to help in any way they can. I am a lucky man, in so many ways.
That nurse is a godsend. She is so sweet to Alice, befriending her and not ever treating her like a victim. She talks to her like they are long lost friends. I sit and listen to them giggle when I get home from work; chick talk, discussing that vampire guy Alice is so into. Jackson-something-or-other. The nurse's name is Bella. She is amazing and sweet and everything Alice needs. Actually she ends up being her friend, all our friend.
January 17, 2010
Bella is the only nurse we have for about ninety days. We make it through the holidays, and around the middle of January, Alice takes a turn for the worse and makes the difficult decision of letting go.
I come home from work, lay my suit jacket across the kitchen chair and lean over to kiss Alice's cheek. I spy Bella watching me out of the corner of my eye and know right then something is up.
"Bella, I know this goes above and beyond, but, would you be willing to entertain the girls for about a half an hour so I can talk to my handsome husband?" Alice asks her sweetly.
"No problem, Alice, I'd love to," Bella answers as she gets up and makes her way up the stairs to the girls' room to keep them occupied for us.
"Okay, she's totally in on whatever plan you've hatched," I joke, sitting down in the chair next to her while throwing in my signature smirk for good measure; Alice never could resist that smirk.
"Oh, yeah, you caught me," she says, with a weak roll of her eyes and a smirk of her own.
I take a moment to look at my wife, I mean really look at her. Even with her bald head, her lack of eyelashes and brows, she'd never appeared more beautiful to me. She still has the spark in her hazel eyes that I've always loved and right now, those eyes staring back into mine just remind me of what a gorgeous woman she is and how fucking lucky I am to have ever had any time with her at all.
"Babe, seriously, I need to tell you some things. I need you to listen, I mean REALLY listen and do not, no matter what, do NOT interrupt me. Think you can do that?" she asks seriously, her face staring into mine with a sense of purpose I'd not seen there in a good long time.
I answer resolutely, "I think I can, no, I know I can, I promise you, babe. No interruptions."
She starts speaking, her voice soft and faint, clearly nervous but needing to say what she needs to say.
"Edward, you know I love you. I've been so lucky, having had you for the past twenty-three years. You're my everything, you and the girls. I want to talk to you about a few things actually..." she fades off, leaning over to grab her water and suck it through the straw, as if needing the liquid courage that she probably wishes was alcoholic in nature.
As I watch her gather her courage to continue, I feel my eyes fill up with tears. None fell yet, but they are blurring my vision in a way that makes this all feel like a dream. Like it's happening to someone else.
Taking a deep breath, Alice looks me straight in the eyes and says firmly, "I've made a decision. I'm done with treatment of any kind. I can't do this anymore, I'm tired, I'm always feeling sick and my God, Edward, I haven't had hair for two fucking years!" The last part came out quite loud. She's trying to hold herself together, but her tears are spilling over onto her cheeks.
Grabbing her face gently in my hands, I take my thumbs and softly wipe her tears, kissing along their tracks as I comfort her with gentle words and loving strokes along her face.
"I know, babe, I know. You've been so strong, I'm so sorry this had to happen, you've been so strong," I whisper to her, leaning in close to her ear so she can't see my own hot tears falling.
"Wait, now wait, I need to get the rest of this out before I can't anymore! Back the truck up, Edward!" she says firmly, pushing on my chest to move me away from her neck and ear.
I sit up straight in my chair as she composes herself to continue whatever it is she needs to say.
"Okay, here it is. In a nutshell Edward. Do not detour from my wishes or I'll haunt you forever," she manages to joke, and even throws in a wink for good measure.
"I want to be cremated, I want my ashes spread at that beach we took the girls to three summers ago. You know, Rialto Beach, down by LaPush? It was so gorgeous and we had the best time there," she says wistfully.
I nod my consent, my eyes full of tears. Alice smiles softly at me and continues.
"Alrighty, and then there is the other thing I want. You'd better make it happen too or I swear to all that is holy, I'll never forgive you," she says, pointing her finger sternly at me.
"You must and I mean MUST find someone else to love when I'm gone. I want the girls to have a mother, I want you to have a wife, I want you all to have happiness. I've loved you for as long as I can remember and Edward if I can't be here to make you happy then I want you to promise me you'll find someone who can. Promise me, right now!" she demands, almost panicked, her whole body shaking.
"Of course, babe of course. Whatever you want. I can't imagine ever finding anyone as good for us as you, but I promise to try," I say, not meaning one bit of that promise. As if I'd ever be able to replace the love of my life. The girls have my mom, she can mother them till the cows came home.
Relaxing, she lays back on the pillows and sighs deeply.
"Thank you Edward, I feel so much better now, clearing that all up."
Suddenly, she pops up again and looks me straight in the eyes.
"Do not let Emmett teach them how to burp! You know he'll try and damnit, it's disgusting for women to burp like a man!"
I can't help it, I laugh. I laugh and laugh until both girls and Bella come down to check on me. Alice is smiling widely, clearly satisfied that her wishes are going to be granted.
Kissing her cheek I lean in and whisper, "You've got it, my little rough and tough cocoa puff. No burping tutorials from Emmett."
I kiss her on her cheek again and rise to get dinner ready for the girls, who are clamoring to lay with Alice.
Bella is watching me with a small smile and follows me into the kitchen.
"Edward, I just wanted to say, I think it's time to bring night time nurses in to help with Alice now. I know she is discontinuing with treatment and honestly, it's going to start getting a little rougher from here on out. There will be medications to be given for her comfort and monitoring that will be needed 24/7. I highly recommend you allow more of us to help," she says softly, her hand resting on my arm.
Feeling the heat of her hand, I look down and then back up to her. She really is such a wonderful friend to us. Alice and the girls adore her. I'm only lucky enough to be in her presence a few hours a day but am so glad to have her help.
Nodding, I tell her to set it up and make it happen. She smiles gently and walks over to the other side of the kitchen to call her supervisor, Mrs. Cope.
February 15, 2010
This is it. The day I've been dreading.
This morning started just like any other with the night nurse leaving and Bella coming to take her place. They exchanged information while my beautiful wife lay in a drug-induced sleep. At this point their only goal is to make Alice as comfortable as possible.
I hear the night nurse telling Bella that Alice had been very agitated in her sleep through the night, she'd been thrashing and moaning about taking a plane ride and seeing her folks.
Bella looks at the other nurse, Charlotte, and gives her a knowing look as she glances up and sees me staring.
Walking over to me, she quietly leads me into the kitchen and explains gently what is happening.
"Edward, I'm sorry, this is it. Alice is preparing for her next step. I'm not sure if you plan to allow the girls to be here or not, but you'll need to make that decision soon. Alice is dying Edward."
Swallowing hard, I give a curt nod. I run my fingers through my hair and grab my neck as I contemplate what to do.
I decide to let the girls have the choice about what they want to do. At twelve and ten I feel they are able to make that decision for themselves.
I make my way up the stairs, feeling as though I am walking through, thick dense mud. Reaching their door, I slowly open it to find them both still sleeping on their beds.
Sitting down next to Abby, our baby, I gently wake her up before leaning over to the opposite bed to wake up Claire.
They both stare at me wide-eyed, knowing something has or was about to happen.
"Babies, Mommy is getting ready to leave us for her own mom and dad. Bella thinks it's going to be sometime today. I know this is hard, but I need to ask you both if you want to be here or if you want to go to Uncle Em and Aunt Rose's for the day?" I explain as gently as I can, looking into their sweet little faces as I hold it together as best I can.
I was doing great, or so I thought, until Claire grabs me in a death grip and hugs me as close to her as she possibly can. "Oh Daddy, no. I don't want Mommy to die," she cries, her whole body shaking with sorrow.
Upon the breakdown of her older sister, Abby is right behind her in her grief. The three of us sit there, sobbing together, holding one another close.
Hearing a soft knock at the door I look up to see Bella standing there with tears in her eyes.
"Edward, I'm so sorry, but you need to decide. I've called your parents and they're on their way."
Nodding, I hold the girls closer, whispering words of comfort as I try valiantly to make it all better but knowing I can't.
Suddenly, Claire pulls away, wiping her hazel eyes—Alice's eyes—and says, all the while looking just like her mother, "Now wait a minute, I don't want Mom thinking I'm a baby, I want her to know I love her and I want to be with her when she gets to see her Mom and Dad again."
Abby takes it all in with her wide green eyes, her messy red hair sticking out in all directions, looking just like me when I was little. She nods in agreement and they both get off their beds as they wipe their faces and turn slowly towards the door.
Seeing Bella standing there, Abby runs to her as Bella crouches down and takes her into her open arms.
"Bella, you promised my Mommy you'd be with her... you promised to help her go see Grammy and Grampy. You're gonna be here too, right?" Abby asks hopefully.
"Oh, Abby, baby, I promise to do just that very thing," Bella answers sweetly, looking at Abby like the sun rises and sets in her eyes.
Bella, can I have a hug too?" Claire asks, rising off the bed and starting towards Bella's arms.
"Absolutely my sweet girl, absolutely. Your momma is gonna be so proud of you two," she says tenderly, her eyes moist with unshed tears.
Standing up, I head towards the door to say my final goodbye to my wife.
It isn't long after my parents and Emmett and Rose arrive that Bella tells us all it's just a matter of time.
The girls stand on either side of a sleeping Alice. Her breaths are becoming more and more shallow.
"Mommy, we love you, thanks for being the best mommy in the world," Abby says through her tears.
"Mommy, I promise to be a good big sister and to take care of Daddy. I love you more than the whole world and I'm so glad you got to be my mommy," Claire adds, sobbing through the final bit and causing us all to gasp as we try to catch our breath and make our own good-bye's.
My mom kisses Alice softly on the cheek, thanking her for the wonderful grand-kids and the honor of being her surrogate mother. My father, usually quiet, grasps Alice's hand and kisses it over and over, telling her how much he is going to miss her piss-and-vinegar attitude and how much he loves and adores her.
Rose and Emmett take their positions next and say nothing, deciding instead to sing softly Alice's favorite song.
"Now I'm free from all the things that take my friends
And I will stand here till the end
Now I know I can take the moon
Stuck between the burning shade and the faded light
I was broken for a long time
But it's over now, it's over now
Mm it's over now,
It's over now..."
Leaning down, Emmett kisses the top of Alice's head and Rose kisses her cheek, both wiping their tears as they walk away.
I walk up, grabbing her hand in mine as I lay my head next to hers on the pillow. It smells like Alice, lovely and sweet.
"My love, I know you have to go. I'm going to miss you so much, but I know you'll be with us, with all of us, inside our hearts and minds every day. I love you so much," I cry, my shoulders shaking hard.
I rise, and Bella is standing there with tears pouring down her face. I realize she is waiting for her turn.
I grab her hand and pull her closer, nodding my consent.
She gives me a weak smile, reaching down and rubbing Alice's arm gently. She speaks ever-so-softly as Alice begins what is her final journey in this life.
"Alice, I thank you for your friendship, you've got no idea what it's meant to me. Sweetie, it's time. We talked about this. This was what you wanted, surrounded by all the people and things you love the most. It's time to let go and move forward, go, be at peace. No more pain, no more sorrow, just peace."
We stand there, waiting and watching. Alice's breaths become more and more shallow. A small smile lights upon her face, and suddenly, she is breathing no more. It is over.
I cry, torrents of tears, knowing I'll never get to see that smile again but amazed at the gift of receiving it one final time.
The funeral is four days later. It's small and intimate as she wanted. I decided to take her ashes to Rialto sometime over the summer. I'm not going to go in the winter when it was gray and dreary; I want to remember the moment like when we spent it there with the kids, those few summers ago.
July 4, 2011
"Dad, Claire is being rude again," Abby says snarkily. Oh, the joys of raising teenagers.
"No, I'm not! She's just immature, she doesn't understand the importance of beauty products!" Claire responds angrily.
My God, how does one handle this shit? Teen aged fights... I never realized being a father to two teenagers can be so damned difficult.
"First of all, Claire, we are camping, do you really need beauty products to camp?" I ask, looking at her for an answer as I roughly rub my face, my hands going up into my hair all the while wanting to pull it out by the roots.
I can't help but notice the smirk Abby gives her as I make that comment.
We'd gone to Rialto beach to celebrate the Fourth of July as a family. It means a lot for us to come here, the sights the smells... it's as if Alice is with us. But, camping with these two is getting on my nerves. Never have two girls been more opposite, yin and yang.
Claire is the spitting image of Alice, almost the same age as the day we met. It's absolutely uncanny. I love it. Abby looks more like me but with a bit of Alice's personality, full of piss-and-vinegar, as my Dad loves to say. She keeps us all on our toes.
"Dad, you never know when a cute boy might show up!" Claire whines. Oh yes, teen aged girls whine, they whine and whine and whine.
I hear Abby chuckle and mutter under her breath, "Who cares, boys are dumb."
Let's hope she continues to adopt this line of thinking for at least a few more years.
Suddenly I hear loud laughter, obviously due to my distress of the situation.
Looking up, I smile widely, raising an eyebrow and ask teasingly, "You got anything better to offer there, chuckles?"
"Well of course I do Edward. I wear lip gloss at the beach, I can say for a fact that there are cute boys here..."
"Yay! Bella took my side!" Claire screams in victory, doing a little dance.
Winking at me as I stand and make my way over to her, Bella smiles and adds, "Claire, please be nice to your sister, Abby please recognize that Claire isn't hurting a soul by wearing lip gloss and Edward, please kiss me."
I pull her close and kiss her softly, just like she asked. I can feel her smile against my lips.
Alice made a good friend in Bella. She'd helped us all through a tremendously difficult time in our lives and honestly, our relationship felt like it was divine intervention. We've been together as more than friends now for about nine months. She fills a void in all our lives that I never thought would be filled.
The girls love her, Alice had loved her and honestly, I love her now, too.
She doesn't know it yet, but tonight, during the fireworks, I'm going to give her a ring. I'm going to ask her to complete our lives and be a part of our family.
As I pull away from the kiss, I can see both girls smiling up at us, happy and content. I know that Alice would have loved this, and who knew, maybe she had some hand in it all.
I was broken, but it's over now.