Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Heart

My wife lay dying in the hospital bed and I could not leave her side. We’d been so careful. We knew her heart was bad. We knew. We didn’t try to get pregnant. We tried hard not to. Birth control, condoms, rhythm—all of that. Everything but abstinence. That wasn’t possible. We were so in love that keeping away from each other was almost painful. Through the years when our work schedules didn’t co-inside and we had to schedule “dates” and the years we spent apart and spent only a week together every three months—we were so in love, beyond the depths of anything I’d ever dreamed possible. She was part of my soul. My very being would crumble without her. She was all I had and all I wanted. Now, she was about to leave me but not for want of staying.

She needed a new heart. If it were up to me, I’d rip my own chest open and take the beating muscle from within me and give it all up to her. Just to keep her breathing. Just to keep her alive to love me. But I couldn’t. No matter how much I wanted to. My heart couldn’t be give to her. We had to wait for someone to die so that she could live. Days and weeks passed after the baby died. His tiny body couldn’t develop and her ailing body couldn’t hold on to him long enough to give him the chance to live. I’d lost my son, just a few months before we were expecting to welcome him. Now, I faced loosing my wife. It was all slipping away.
The hospital around us didn’t exist. We were still each the only thing the other saw. When we were together, nothing else existed. It had been that way since we started dating. We were just kids then, in college, waiting to take on the world. We’d been through all those same struggles that all young couples go through. Post graduate separation, when she moved to Kansas and I went home to California—the long distance between us seemed easier at the time. Now, when I was facing a lifetime ahead without her, I didn’t want to get started. We used to drive each other to the airport after a short week of exquisite bliss and say that the sooner we got on that plane, the sooner we’d get started on the inevitable time apart. I knew I’d see her in Heaven, on the other side of this life, but I didn’t want to get started on that time apart. I wanted this short visit to last for 1000 more years.

I sat in the chair beside her bed, listening to the beeping of machines that kept her lungs breathing and her heart, however fragile, still beating. She wasn’t ready to give up. She wasn’t ready to loose hope. Having her fight so hard kept me optimistic. If she was willing to go on waiting, then so was I. The thought of taking her off life support never crossed either of our minds in those days. She was a fighter and, I was going to fight right along side her.
One dreary October morning, things changed. There were no donors. None. Nothing that could reach into the darkness and save her. We prayed and prayed, but nothing was coming. Still, my beautiful wife hung on, clinging to my fingers as if they were feeding her life. As though she knew something was about to happen, she turned to me and said,

“Baby, I need you now. I need you to fight for me. Don’t let me go.” I just looked at her, not understanding what she might have meant. When her machines stopped their steady rhythm of beeps and went into one long beep, I panicked. I let go of her had and screamed for a doctor. They were with her in seconds and managed to bring back the familiar beeping, but she didn’t wake back up. Her eyes closed and her hands limp, my angel looked peaceful.

“What was it?” I asked. “A heart attack?”

“Listen, Jack, you’ve got to prepare yourself. She won’t take much more of that.” The doctor had told me, just minutes after she’d stabilized…sort of.

“What are you saying?” I demanded.

He sighed, stripping off his gloves. “Jack, your wife is going to die. She’s going to. You need to get ready for that. You might have to make a tough decision in a few days. Those machines will keep her alive, but it won’t be much of a life to live.” He put his hand on my shoulder, but I just stared at him, my eyes narrow, my lower lip quivering. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to strangle him…but his heart would be no good for her, so I didn’t. This man, this doctor was telling me that soon, I’d have to make the decision to let my wife die.

But wasn’t that what I’d promised God I wouldn’t do? When we said our wedding vows, we promised to love each other in sickness and health. She was sick and I still loved her. Nothing he said would change that. Shouldn’t I do whatever I could to keep her alive? Hadn’t she just asked me to fight for her? She couldn’t fight anymore. She was tired. She needed me to take over and keep the fight going. She needed me to wage that battle and fight for her. Fight as long as I could. There was nothing wrong with me. I had all the energy in the world left to fight. But what could I do?

I went back into her room and sat with her, holding her hand and brushing her hair. I finally let the tears fall. They came washing over me like a gentle waterfall, washing me clean and emptying the sadness, even for just a moment. I needed to cry with my wife. I needed to hold her for just a little while. As I looked at her, I willed her to open her eyes and look at me. Just look at me. Just let me see those grey eyes that I get lost in day after day.

“I can keep going if you can.” I said to her. But she didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t look at me. But those beeps kept on beeping and I knew she was in there somewhere. She’d told me to fight for her. She’d told me not to let her go. I’d wait for her. She waited four years for me to come around and finally tell her how I felt about her. I could give her just as much time if not more.

We’d met in college, living in the same building. We flirted shamelessly but I never had the nerve to ask her out. Once in a while, I’d “run into her” in the cafeteria and we’d have breakfast together. I think she “ran into me” once in a while too. We would talk for hours about nothing, just looking for an excuse to knock on the other’s door. For a year, I tried working up the nerve, but I just never got there. The next year, she moved to another building and I rarely saw her. Once in a while, somewhere on campus, but it was just a casual, ‘hey, how’s it going?’ and that was it. College was almost over when we wound up in Introduction to Earthquakes our senior year. Of all the electives in all the world, she walked into mine. Cliche, I know, but that's what I remember saying to myself. We had study session after study session in the campus coffee house and talked about everything except earthquakes. When the class was over, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. God had brought us back together and I wasn’t going to let her walk away from me again. I kept calling her and we kept our “study dates” even though now we were studying different things. Then one day I just kissed her. It felt like coming home after a long walk, falling into bed after an eighteen-hour day, a hot bath on a cold January afternoon. It was the beginning for us…again. We had six months before jobs separated us, and even though I was sure it would end somewhere in the middle of Kansas, she kept us going. She put out so much effort, writing me letters and sending me big bags of M&M’s—they were my favorite. I’d told her once how I wanted to buy a bag of each kind and separate them by color. She said I was silly, but for my birthday I got five canisters of M&M’s—one of each color. I don’t want to know how long it took her to sort them. But she listened to my silly ideas and the ones that were possible, she helped to make happen. She made my dreams come true. I couldn’t let her leave me. I just couldn’t.
She hung on in that hospital room for months, peacefully sleeping, her breathing in rhythm with that same beeping. Both of our parents told me that it was over. I should let her go. She wasn’t really alive any more. She wasn’t really in there. She was gone and had been gone for a while. It was gentle at first, but then they got angry. Demanding that I put an end to her suffering. The doctors even said that she might be experiencing some pain. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. She asked me to fight for her. She told me not to let her go. I still felt her. I could still sense her love behind the closed lids of her eyes. Her heart was still beating and I knew what she wanted. I knew she wanted to keep going. She just needed a little rest so she could continue the fight when she got just a little stronger.

I was adamant in keeping her. I didn’t want to let her go anymore than I thought she wanted to leave.

And that’s all I have! I’m stuck. No idea what happens next. If anyone has a suggestion, I’m willing to explore it.

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