With gradual ticks of the clock, I lost my wife but not her present
Many years later when I was content with my life and mending my way to an ultimate slow pacing end of life, I didn’t realise that my wife was mending hers to an early birth. Strange as it may sound, all too covered in memories of the past and recollections of the harsh realities and blissful events, this was my life now. My life and hers entangled so much that whatever she felt, I endured. She kept on reliving her past, while still existing in the present, and I kept on imagining what would happen when she’d stop.
Sarah, my wife, is 70-years-old. She is afflicted with a rare and widely unknown disease – so dragged into the oblivion that it remains still unnamed. What it does is oblivion too, perhaps even worse than that. Doctors have decided not to conclude anything and let fate take its own course. My wife, my dear Sarah is left with nothing but to relive what once were the times of bliss and grief for both of us. With time, she suffers from dementia and with gradual ticks of the clock, she retraces her steps, forgetting her present and once again reliving her past.
Sarah is 60-years-old. James, our only son died in a tragic roadside accident 10 years ago. Sarah relives it now. She cries all day long, wondering why she let him leave the house, when he was to finish his chores. I try to calm her down by consoling her that it was something which happened 10 years ago and there’s no use in grieving over a son whose skeleton has perhaps rotten away beneath the ground.
“No, you don’t understand. I let him go outside just an hour ago and he’s dead. My fault. My fault!” she cries.
She beats her head while I apply my futile efforts to bring her back, but she’s lost.
Sarah is 50-years-old. She is running around the house holding our son’s medical degree and shouting out loud how proud she is of him. A fleeting happiness it may be, but I let her rejoice it. I remember the time, the very first time it happened, when James was still alive and Sarah was still living her present. She did exactly the same thing then, the only difference was that James ran besides her as well. This time, she ran alone. I missed our son, our past, our happiness.
Sarah is 40-years-old. She puts on a formal wear, serves dinner on the table and lights a candle as she leaves the dining room.
“James is going to bring his girlfriend to meet us tonight,” she says proudly.
“You should get ready too,” she said.
As she walks down the hall in her frail body, lurching, but holding her neck high, I feel pity. She is still my wife, I think to myself and start getting ready for the dinner, not for our son – he’s dead – but for my wife who’s still alive, no matter how destroyed half of her life is.
Sarah is 30-years-old. She kisses me one day. That brings all the feelings that had been forgotten, back to me in a jiffy. She feels young to me again. Her wrinkled skin and freckled cheeks make her look old, but today, I see her young in all her majestic beauty of skin and what’s underneath it. The fervour of it is too great. She ‘actually’ kissed me, I am wonderstruck. She expresses her undying love for me and I remember what I had forgotten ages ago – we used to be so romantic but tides of time separated us in our fantasies, but somehow kept us united in a matrimonial knot. It’s like habituation I guess; we spend too much time together that the mere thought of separation instils anxiety. Love, perhaps, is the result of the same habituation.
Sarah is 25-years-old. She has gone to bed rest and can’t get up – or perhaps doesn’t want to?
“Why don’t you see? I can’t get up. I’ve just given birth to a baby, our baby!” she looks at me playfully.
“Have you decided his name? Oh wait is it a he or a she?” she asked.
“It’s a he,” I replied.
I decide to go along with it.
“I told you those kicks were of a football player! I want to name him James,” I added.
Therefore, we named our dead child James! Once again, though the anticipation was still the same as the first time. I can’t explain why.
Sarah is 20-years-old. She is about to be wed to me, the younger me.
“Who the hell are you? Where’s my fiancé George?”
She holds up a knife whenever I try to approach her.
“I wish my father were here. He’d skin you alive, you old pervert,” she yells.
Sarah is 15-years-old. She has taken out James’s old schoolbag and keeps it around her shoulders the entire day. She tries to skip one day and is about to fall, but I catch her and hold her up.
“Thank you mister, you’re kind!” she says and holds out her hand.
“I am Sarah by the way. Nice to meet you,” she says.
I shake her hand.
Sarah is 10-years-old. One afternoon I come to check on her and find her crying on her bedside.
“Angie took my crayon box from me. She won’t give it back,” she cries.
She doesn’t stop. She cries and blows her nose on the hem of the bed sheet. I try to calm her down but she doesn’t let go. Finally, I hand her a few bucks and tell her to buy a new box. She stops crying and gives me a peck on my cheeks.
“You’re so kind. I am Sarah by the way.”
She holds out her hands and I shake.
Sarah is five-years-old. Tired after a long day of cooking and cleaning, I enter the living room and feel my body breaking apart as I sit down on the couch and there it went, a loud sound of fart out of a whooping cushion. Sarah emerged from behind the door, laughing, clapping and sticking out her tongue at me. I now know what approaches.
Sarah is a one-year-old. She walks with faltering steps and mostly it’s the crawling that takes her from one part of the house to the other. I have hired a full-time nurse to feed her and to get her up into bed. She speaks in broken sentences and shows signs of deep fondness that you normally see coming from a child.
Sarah is five-months-old. She lies on her bed all day long, still, silent and motionless. Sometimes I imagine if she is dead, but she is not, because her eyes trace my face as I move about in front of her. All of her teeth have fallen out of her mouth; the nurse feeds her milk and food that doesn’t need mastication to be ingested. Occasionally, she cries when she’s not getting the attention she wants or when she’s hungry. I feel like I have lost her forever but sometimes, when I look at her, I feel like she still remembers me. The passion and the familiarity in her gaze which falls on my face, I feel revitalised.
It’s Sarah’s birthday. I have managed ‘everything’. I have asked the nurse to hold a birthday party in the bedroom. Sarah opens her mouth but only saliva drips out. She smiles brightly when she looks at me. Perhaps she does know me, but doesn’t every child of a few hours smile? Mostly not, so maybe she does know me but I have no way of finding that out.
There’s only three of us in the room when I cut the cake and blow out the candles for her. In the midst of the two of us, the nurse and me, singing,
“Happy Birthday to you,” and my wife wails.
So meaningless, yet too meaningful at the same time. Both of us know what has happened and what is about to come. A few moments of crying, and then silence. We don’t do anything. Birth has always been a decision of fate and as difficult as it is for me to say, so is death.
What confuses me at this time is the decision to mark what happened to my wife just now? Birth or Death? Never has life been so heavily heaped upon my soul that the force itself digs my feet to the ground, and I wish death comes to me before anything else. Oh, the burden of it, of life. I look at my wife, 55 years of life we spent together, 50 of which were the time moving forward, five of which were the time retracing its steps. And let me say here what I eagerly wanted to express this whole time, I don’t regret a single second of it.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.