A Sunday Story, inspired by things that are hard to explain.
“He wants to see you,” his mother said simply.
And Paula didn’t wonder.
She didn’t wonder why he’d want it to be her after all these years, after fifteen. She didn’t wonder how she’d explain this to her husband or who would get her daughters off the bus and she didn’t wonder what it would be like to be near him again.
She did not wonder.
She just answered.
“I can be there in a half hour.”
And then she was gathering her things and she was remembering. She was remembering everything as she reached for her purse and fumbled in the drawer for her keys and slipped into her flip-flops and rushed out the door of her house, rushed out of her whole life.
She remembered bonfires and ocean waves, legs interlaced. She remembered fighting all night and broken beer bottles and betrayal and forgiveness and holding on. She remembered the fierce pull of their love and their despair and she remembered laughing so hard it hurt nearly as much as the crying.
But the memories seemed not from decades before. They seemed to have no dates on them at all, like visions that had lived with her all this time, hovering always right at the opening of her heart, swirling in the center of her thoughts, because she had never let him go.
Minutes later she was leaving her driveway, leaving more than that really, pulled easily from scrubbing the kitchen sink and waiting for her twins to get home. Instead she was suddenly speeding out of her well-manicured neighborhood on her way to the hospital to say goodbye to the greatest love she had ever known.
Or maybe not. Maybe not to say goodbye.
After less than thirty minutes she was there, pushing buttons on the elevator panel and asking for directions and thinking of their wedding and their apartment and their fights and their crushing love and remembering when it was all over even though it never was.
And then she was in the doorway. She was at the threshold to everything and she did not wonder. She just stepped inside. She stepped in and there he was, in a bed with his eyes closed and not looking any different from when she loved him because she’d really never stopped. She had never stopped loving him and now she could hardly stand up with the weight of that.
With all of its weight.
His mother turned then and she stood and moved slowly to Paula with her arms outstretched, as if all the years didn’t matter, as if none of it had ever ended, as if Paula’s girls didn’t exist and Michael didn’t exist and the love in this room could be all there ever was.
“Paula,” she breathed, as she wrapped long arms around her and pulled her in close so that Paula recalled the fresh scent of vanilla and coffee and softness. All of their laughter came back to her then, and their sobbing and screaming and promising and saying goodbye, but never really saying it.
“There has to be more they can do,” Paula said.
“There isn’t,” his mother answered simply.
“But maybe . . .”
“No honey, there’s nothing. And he wants to be done. He asked only for me to get you. He wants you to be with him when he goes and he’s ready.”
And Paula didn’t wonder.
She didn’t wonder why he’d want her and not his wife. She didn’t wonder where his children were. She didn’t wonder why she’d ever left him and how she’d ever let him go again, because she never had and she never would.
His mother walked out of the room then, but Paula didn’t see her leave. She felt it. She felt just the two of them there, as it had always been, their love and pain filling up every corner, pushing everything else away.
Walking slowly toward him, she did not think to sit in the chair or to perch on the edge of the bed. Instead, she let her purse fall to the floor and her shoes slip from her feet and then Paula lifted the blanket.
After fifteen years that seemed like not a moment at all, she lifted the blanket to crawl into bed beside this man she loved so much and then suddenly hot fat tears began to flow down her face and soak her heart because there was so much room.
He had already made a space for her.
He had never filled it in.
Heavy with grief and love and loss and joy, Paula climbed into the space he’d made and pressed herself against him, this body and soul she had loved for so long until they could no longer be together but could never stop loving. And then she felt him move. She felt his arm slip behind her and rest on her back and she felt his head turn in as his lips brushed softly against her forehead and all of her broken pieces started moving around inside her heart, coming back together, reminding her.
“Thank. You,” he breathed.
And Paula looked up. She looked up into heavily lidded eyes that were like windows, but mirrors too. She could see out and she could see in and she had not felt this much like herself in fifteen years. She had not felt this at home and at peace and this true.
But still she did not wonder.
She did not wonder why she’d left all those years before and why she’d tried to make herself into someone else and why she’d pretended that it had worked and that she was meant to be a wife and a mother. She knew now. And she didn’t wonder why it had to take this deep, deep loss for her to know.
This is what it took. This could be the only way.
Paula reached across him then and she pulled him in and he pulled her in and she held on with a kind of power she’d never had before and that she understood immediately. Without any doubt she finally knew things she had been trying so hard to know.
Then every word he’d ever said to her began to play and she felt every touch and every bit of pain and love and fear and peace so that she pulled him in more and more and more and he pulled her in too. He pulled her in and he gave her everything that she could not receive all those years before, and she took it all in and then she gave it back to him and they surrendered. They surrendered every single thing and then restored all of the broken pieces and made them whole and full and true.
And it went on like this. It went on like this for a time that felt like all the time, but really it was only moments. It was only moments of breathing each other in, their skin and limbs and beating hearts allowed to be one, to be where they had never left.
Her tears got hotter and fatter then, and his arm was heavy and warm behind her and she saw them getting up from that bed and walking away together and then . . . just like that . . . on her next breath in . . . he slipped from this world. He just slipped, and she felt him go and it was unbearable and beautiful and he was still holding her and there was still so much room and so she filled it up with a deep breath and then . . .
She went with him.
He took her with him and she felt herself go and she was finally real and she would never not be real again because she knew everything now.
Suddenly she knew everything that ever mattered.
And she did not wonder.