you already know how this will end.
we sit side-by-side on this bed, eyes forward, untouching and unfeeling. as you tell me you have met someone else, or else we are moving in different directions, or else you no longer love me, or else it is you and not me, or me and not you. and i flinch when you touch me one last time, a conciliatory grasp of my fingers or else a palm against my cheek, one final gaze between a pair of irises that have been magnetized to one another for years. and i push you away, hot angry tears spilling down my face, or else i drop to my knees and beg you- eloquently and desperately- to stay with me. for just one more hour, one more night, one more lifetime. or else i lash out, a wounded animal striking ferally, smashing anything and everything my hands can seek out in this room. in this room where you once laid me down against the floor and told me you would be gentle. in this room where you once kissed me on the cheek and told me you would love me forever. in this room where we sit now, strangers distant as parallel lines as you tell me we can never intersect. as you tell me we can stay friends, or else we should not stay friends, or else you want your things back, or else i can keep them all as memoirs of a time when my fingers interlocked with yours.
i find a perfume that is not mine, was never mine, rolling with a glassy amber wink below the bed. and i confront you, throwing it against the wall with a terrible, anguished velocity. dismayed when it doesn’t shatter because the bottle is plastic, a cheap replica of desire. or else i hide it in my sock drawer, returning to stare at it with indeterminable sadness and loathing through all the nights you don’t come home to me. or else i throw it out in the trash, feeling nothing but numbness thawing to relief when you call me from the office to tell me you’re working late again. and we fight endlessly as the calendars peel off the walls, conversing through broken dinner plates. and sometimes the neighbors call the cops and i answer the door with a brilliant smile, bruises blossoming silently below my shirt. or else we eat quietly, separately every night. me in the kitchen, you in the dining room, an ocean of white noise between us. stretched out through the house like tripwire, silence. and we sleep back-to-back, or else you sleep in the guest room, but we wake up early enough to hug and kiss in pantomime for our children when they tumble downstairs sleepily for breakfast. and then we sign these papers, with our lawyers sitting stony-faced across from one another like chess pieces carved out of horn-rimmed glasses and leather briefcases. or else we do not sign papers- do not even discuss them- but live two separate, pained lives in this house that is not a home. or else one day i come back to your belt as a noose, strung up in the guest room closet, a suicide letter in your hand – i have had enough. or else one day you come back to an emptied, ransacked bedroom with a hastily scribbled note on the bathroom mirror – i am leaving you.
they come to me in that hospital waiting room, my nerves frayed thin by hours and hours of fluorescent light bouncing off sticky linoleum and the same dirty, frayed tabloid magazines shuffling from one tired grasp to another. and i know how i must look, half-dead with lack of sleep, my hair in disarray, my hands arthritic and shaking with fear. and it is the doctor himself, not nursing staff, not some patient care advocate with a sickly, placating smile. and the doctor’s face is a study in stoicism, giving nothing away as he says you were given power of attorney in his advance directive. and he does not need to elaborate, does not need to tell me the tenants of your living will. we wrote ours together, your beautiful script at odds with my sloppy one. reflecting, in our old age, what it meant to prepare for the worst. and we are here now, at the end of the storm together, but you cannot hear me or feel me. you have been gone for half a year, and our home is empty with you- a museum enshrined to your memory as our daughter calls funeral homes and makes arrangements to displace me into a retirement home. i follow the doctor to your bed, a lonely corner of the intensive therapy unit, and they give me papers to sign. sheet after sheet of legal responsibility, to decide here and now that your life will end. that our life will end. that we will never know another anniversary, another photograph, another conversation. and in this moment, in this bed, your face is worn unrecognizable by time and triumphs and disappointments, a road map of a life fully lived. but i remember you as i first saw you that thursday afternoon forty years ago, in the golden autumn sunlight. you were beautiful to me then, as you are now, as you always will be. and i kiss you and say goodbye, and they disconnect your life support. your chest heaves shallow breaths, your bones nearly avian in their hollow lightness as i hold your body close to me. as the nurses avert their eyes in embarrassment, as the doctor grimly notes time of death, as part of me dies here as well, beside you for the very last time.