My life-long friend sat beside me, holding my hand as I lay crumbled in bed. Her eyes were rheumy from too many tears, very uncharacteristic of her; I was used to her carefree, bawdy laugh – just one of the many things we had in common.
“Is there anyone you’d like to talk to … besides me, that is?” she asked, already aware of what my answer would be.
“If you mean a priest, you know better than that” I whispered in reply. “No. I’m ready to go. And you’ll be on my heels, toots!” My friend cackled; she knew I spoke the truth but it did not frighten her. Like me, she had enough of this mortal coil.
We’d been through a lot together, she and I. We thought of each other as sisters, not just best friends. There was only one secret I never shared with her or anyone and I would take that to my grave. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
We had both lost our husbands a couple of years earlier; hers went first and mine followed shortly after. We were there for each other through it all. Part of me was relieved my husband went before me; he had always been the stalwart in our marriage, a steady rock who cared for our family without complaint. He was stronger than me; I always knew that and at times it made me feel ashamed because I doubted I could do for him what he did for me. He cared for me even when he was exhausted and ready to drop. How he cried seeing me in pain; he thought I didn’t know but I could hear him weeping late at night. He loved me with all his being until his last day; he slipped away in his sleep without a chance to say goodbye – perhaps the kindest way for both of us. It would have killed him if I’d gone first, leaving him alone.
“I’m so pissed off” I said, making my friend laugh again.
“Tell me about it!” she replied colloquially. “I feel your pain, sis.” And I knew she truly did.
Damn this arthritis, this crippling disease that turned me into a twisted dried up old vine! “Remember when I was a hot number a thousand years ago? My melons were nice and firm back then!”
“Haha!! They called us ‘The Honey-Do Twins!” and we both laughed again, happy memories of our once supple bodies dancing around in our brains.
“What the fuck happened?” and again we cracked up. Our laughs turned to coughs and gradually we calmed ourselves. I strained my eyes to look at my dear friend; at this point, my mouth and my eyes were my only body parts that moved on their own without pain.
“I’ve got one regret” I whispered. “I should have fought harder. I let this damn crippler control me. I should have pushed myself, done more with my family and friends. I pray they understand and forgive me. I wanted to spend more time with them, live a fuller life; I just hurt too damn much.”
Tears ran down my face and my friend wiped them away. “Do you want me to call your sons?” she asked.
“No, not now. Wait till it’s over. I can’t bear to look at them.” Even now I’m thinking of myself. What a coward! “Kiss me goodbye, sis. I’ll see you on the other side. I love you very much, you know.”
My friend leaned over from her wheelchair; she gently pushed my hair aside and kissed my cheek, our salty tears mingling.
“Goodbye, my dearest friend. I love you” she murmured, even though she knew I could no longer hear her. “I’ll be right behind you.”
NAR © 2022