You and I

   Diana, stay with me.
   I love you.


   It seems like such a long time ago that I met you out by the shore. Your pretty hair, your beautiful figure, your eyes so crystal blue they could have reflected the Caribbean and back again—there was absolutely nothing in the world that could have described your beauty, for it was too great even for painters to capture. They tried, yes, and some died attempting such a feat, but every time someone looks at you, it’s like seeing the world end and be born again.
   I love you.

   I remember the two of us meeting out at the parlor one day. A drink in your hand, a water in mine—we could’ve been two completely opposite people coming from two completely different places of the planet. You, Antarctica; me, Iceland—we were always two beautiful spirits drifting through the world while trying to survive on just $7.99 an hour, something that seems so impossible but can be accomplished if you try hard enough. We’d starve, yes, and sometimes we’d buy cigarettes in order to curb the hunger, but each and every time I looked at you my entire world would fade from view. It’s really not hard to strike up a conversation with you. You laugh, you smile, you glow, you blow smoke rings out of your mouth and into the air like it’s some kind of art form—you were always so easily approachable in that given day in time, when every time we’d come close to each other something magical would happen.
   Hello, you said, the first time we met. I’m Diana. Who are you?
   I’m Joel, I would reply, and I would stick my head up as high as I possibly could in order to make myself appear taller than I was, as at five-foot-five I was always self-conscious about my height and always tried my hardest to resemble the graceful if somewhat-awkward giraffe. But you didn’t seem to care at all, and when you’d smile at me the entire world would drip away, like we were at the frozen ice caps and watching them melt—the penguins slide, the polar bears drown, the orcas hunting the baby seals in packs and tipping them from the icebergs they lay prone upon. It’s a hard thing to describe, this feeling I’m trying to relate, but in looking at you it’s almost impossible not to think about the good things in the world and the things in life that come with it. The birds, the rain, the shame, the drain, the unforgettable moment when two forces collide and they become one, much like a storm brewing in the sky or a tornado touching down in Arkansas—we were like that, once upon a time, and it seems as though whenever I look back on it and remember just how foolish I’d been that I can’t help but love the fact that you tried to stay with me even through all the pain.
   I love you.

   We dated casually for about six months. They said we had chemistry, that we were the perfect couple, that we should get married and have three babies. Why three I could never be so sure, as it’s an odd number and it doesn’t seem to relate to anything in life, but I guess that doesn’t really matter. We stayed together for all that time even though the people around us were starting to break up. It’s a miracle, they say, when two complete polar opposites come together to create one complete whole, as sometimes heat doesn’t meet cold without creating some kind of thunderstorm. It’d crack, they say, and it would wash over the water as if it were Moses parting the great Red Sea, but it never meant that we couldn’t be together.
   One night, you told me that your brother committed suicide and that you were just as willing to join him. It’s over, you’d said, while crying your mascara all the way down your face until it formed into ugly watery trails down your cheeks. I don’t want to live anymore.
   You always loved him. Hell, I loved him too, in a way, because he was a great guy and he seemed to be the one who always cheered us on, who caught the ball at the park just as the batter was making the home run and gave it to me when I was feeling down. Your brother—God, he was an amazing man, and it’s no wonder that you loved him so much. I, too, felt it when he died, like a piece of meat being torn out of my side, like my heart being throttled repeatedly by BMW, and it hurt so damn much that I didn’t even want to think about living because without him, where would we go, what would become of the world and what, ultimately, would happen to your parents, who loved baby Josh so much that they carried pictures of the two of you together as if you were still children and not in your late-twenties to early-thirties and wearing bibs and diapers?
   I remember taking you into my arms that night, when it stormed so bad that the front window shattered and lightning touched down no more than twenty feet away from the house, and I remember the way your tears felt on my face—how, despite the feelings emanating from you, it felt as though wrong and dirty, as if you were the child chained in the basement and I was the monster coming to liberate you from life. I remember telling you how much I cared, how much I felt for your loss and how I considered it one of my own, and I remember saying it the first time and how it felt too good to be true.
   I love you.

   We married on the anniversary of our first year of being together. I was never good at proposing, so you took up the initiative when we were out celebrating. Cocktails, good food, a cab no more than five minutes away ready to pick us up to take us home—you got down on your knees just like I would’ve done had I the confidence to do so and said, Aaron, will you marry me? and I stared back at you as if you’d just struck me in the face with a baseball bat. It hurt, somewhat, because in my heart and mind I’d always tell myself that I’d do it one day when I worked up the nerve and when the stars seemed to align, but there you were kneeling before me, the ring in hand, the perfect onyx atop the most beautiful black band, and I looked at you and could only say three words, the words that said, Yes, I will, and then the words that I eventually said thereafter, the words that said:
   I love you.

   There was tension within our marriage from the get-go. You wanted a child, I was unsure; you wanted a girl while I, if anything, wanted a boy. We’d met halfway a few times, saying that we’d have two, maybe even the three that were mentioned so long ago, and we tried so hard over a series of several months and found ourselves unable to do it. I thought it was my fault, because being the fuckup of the family, it didn’t seem too outrageous to think I was the problem. So we went in and got tested, you and I, and when the tests came back, it happened to be neither of us. They said that your body simply wasn’t equipped to have children and that you would never get pregnant naturally. You had no eggs, they said, for fertilization, and I remember how you cried and like that night your brother died your makeup swam all the way down your face and made you look like you were some creature from a completely different dimension. You didn’t seem human, then, because no beautiful creature such as yourself ever looked like that and made their way through the world without being recognized, and it was for that reason when, in taking you in my arms, I leaned forward and whispered in your ear as softly as I possibly could:
   I love you.

   The tension in our marriage finally died down after the revelation was over. We would adopt, we said, when we were ready, though it didn’t seem we would be ready anytime soon. We went for days, weeks, months and then eventually years without ever thinking about children. It was obvious we both noticed it. You, ever so shy, would look longingly into the baby aisle and I, the traditional father, would look out into the baseball field and imagine my son being out there one day. Maybe we would name him Joshua, after your brother whom we both loved so much, or maybe his name would be Tim or John or Alexander or maybe even Bastian, as that name seemed appropriate enough for a child that the two of us shared. You, Diana, and I, Aaron, would have been perfectly content naming our child a name of glorious advances, and it would have been perfect to see our little boy out on the baseball field or at the school recital or at his first Muffins with Mom or Doughnuts with Dad, and we would both take the morning off of work to be with our little boy or girl or little boy and girl and we would, by God, be the best parents that we could ever be, because you and I, we both know that my parents were never good to me and would never repeat their mistakes even if someone put a gun to our heads and said we’d die if we didn’t do what they told us to. And after elementary school they would go to middle school, and from then on high school. Our little boy would take his girlfriend to the dance and our daughter, if we ever had one, would be led arm-in-arm down the driveway with the boy she was going out with at her side. I would be furious, I know, because I’m the type of guy who would be the overprotective father to my little girl, who would take the shotgun out if he brought her home past ten-thirty and threaten to blow his balls off, but you, you would just laugh and say that things would be fine, and then our little boy would come home alone after dropping his girlfriend off and our little girl would be walked to the front door by her date before he left to go home, and things would be fine, we knew. But never once after that initial anticipation did we ever talk about children. Not once were names raised, the idea partitioned, the excitement released, and never afterward did we ever talk about that. We would grow together—alone, I thought, as well as you possibly did, and it wouldn’t matter at all because all we needed in the world was each other.
   I love you.

   There were times when I harshly considered that something was wrong with you—not mentally or emotionally, but physically. I loved you far too much to allow my eyes to stray from you for more than a few moments, and when you started reacting badly to even the most simple of things, I told you to go to the doctor. You said no, that things would be fine, that you were just having a bad day, but eventually your bad days started coming every day and it scared me so much that I demanded you go to the doctor otherwise I would drag you there by the ear myself. And so you went, and for a long while I sat in the waiting room, waiting for any news, but you never did come out. It took me a long, hard while in thinking about just might be happening—about what could be wrong, about what might not be wrong, about what might be going on behind the curtain that I couldn’t see. And then, after a long while, someone came out, but it wasn’t you. It was a nurse, and by the look on her face, she bore bad news. And it was I who stood up and walked directly toward her as she walked directly toward me, and for a long moment she flinched, as if I were about to strike her, before she delivered the ultimate news: She has multiple sclerosis, she said, her head hung low and her face completely devoid of an emotion. She then told me the most horrible news, the news that I never wanted to hear once in my entire life. She said, point-blankly, It’s an incurable disease.
   It was then and there that I realized my life would change, for without you and your health the world would never once be the same.
   I love you.

   Life continued on as life does when you are struck with an incurable illness. They say there are five stages in the Kübler-Ross model, otherwise known as the Five Stages of Grief. The first is Denial, and during which time after your diagnosis we denied all the things that were likely to happen to you in the coming years, it seemed as though we were simply kidding ourselves and not thinking of what could and what couldn’t happen. The second stage is Anger, and while I know you were less angry than I was, I begged and pleaded with God or the Gods or some Higher Force or Nothing At All for you to be all right—for this disease to vanish, and for you to be healthy and for everything to be just fine. This Bargaining—this third stage—continued for quite some time until, eventually, I succumbed to Depression, the fourth stage of the Kübler-Ross model. Both you and I suffered this tremendously, and at one point I remember you telling me to get on antidepressants. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to blow my fucking head off, because I wanted nothing in the world to do with seeing you slowly decline in health, and I did as you asked and got on the antidepressants, even though they made happiness false, and eventually things transgressed and came full circle. Acceptance, they say, is the Fifth and Final Stage, where Grief ends and where Healing begins. But that didn’t matter at all, because in seeing you decline each and every day, I couldn’t help but wonder just how long I had until eventually you whittled away to nothing. I knew only one thing.
   I love you.

   And here, it seems, is where the story ends, as you’re lying in a hospital bed with tubes shoved down your throat and attached to your arms. It’s been five years since you’ve been diagnosed, fifteen years since we met and, ultimately, some seven years since your brother died. It seems as though you’re going to join him here in this very moment, and while your family has gone home from saying their final goodbyes and I’m sitting here writing you a letter which will probably never see the light of day after I put it in your coffin, I feel as though my whole world is about to end. You were my everything, Diana, and you will always be my everything, because you and I—God, we were perfect for each other, and still are and always will be. It doesn’t matter if you leave life and eventually go on to Heaven, or Hell, if it even exists, or Nowhere if what science says is true: That God and Heaven and Angels and Cherubs and even Mary, Jesus and Joseph don’t even exist. It hurts, wondering just what might happen and where you might go in but a few moments, as your heart monitor slowly but surely begins to fade and your breathing becomes more and more sparse, but there isn’t much I can do. Hell—there’s nothing I can do in this moment, in this instant, in watching you die, but I know in my heart, my mind and my soul that there’s only one thing I would ever, ever say to you. And if you could hear this right know, you would hear these words, and you would know that life has come full circle—that things, as painful and hard as they’ve been, have eventually worked out.
   You may not be alive right now—you may even be dead, so far as I can tell, as you’re barely breathing and they said you’ve since succumbed to a coma—but you know what I’m about to say. You know what words have been on my mind ever since you’ve been in this hospital bed and since you’ve come full circle, as I’ve said before. You know it in your heart because I’ve said it to you so many times, and when you finally are buried, and when you finally are underground and resting with God or Satan or Nowhere At All, you will hold this letter in your hands, my final token to your life.
   You and I, Diana… we were meant to be together.
   Things weren’t meant to work out this way.
   I love you.

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