When Angels Cry (part 2)
(continued from Part 1 here: https://theprose.com/post/160595/when-angels-cry-part-1)
I never thought it would happen this way. Somehow, I have to make my way through the endless stream of minutes left to me, alone and missing her. Lord knows we faced mortality together a time or two. Her faith and spirit always carried us along. Even Tonya learned quite early that to love is to hurt when it's over.
The dirt in the back field was rocky, and it was hard to get a shovel into. Tonya had refused our help though. Ree and I stood and watched together as our daughter, her face lined with tears and determination, dug a grave for Max.
He had been her dog since the day she was born, and at twelve, she had made the decision herself, that his time was done. It had been hard on her. He was old, mostly blind, and could no longer run and play.
That morning, she had come to me with tears in her eyes. "Daddy... it's time to call the vet. Max peed all over in his bed, and he can't stand up to get out of it."
"Okay sweetheart. I'll call him."
"No, I'll do it. I want you and Momma to be there with me though, okay?"
"Of course. We’ll always be here for you."
She had been brave on the phone. Even later, when Dr. Bloom came out and gave Max the injection that let him fade off to sleep for the last time, she had been strong. The tears coursed down her cheeks, but she held his old paw until he breathed his last. She even stood and thanked the doctor.
I am so proud of you, baby girl. Your heart is bigger than your whole body.
She had lovingly washed the urine from his back legs, and wrapped him in one of her old blankets. I’d offered to help, but Tonya said no. Marie had grabbed my hand and when I looked at her with a question in my eyes, she shook her head. She had known this was something Tonya needed to do on her own.
The dog was almost as big as she was, but she lifted him and carried him outside. She placed him on her wagon, and when he didn't quite fit, she looked at her mother. The pain on her face was almost more than I could bear. Ree helped her tuck his feet into the wagon and fold his tail up under his belly, so Tonya could wheel him to the field.
She accepted my help lowering Max into the grave, but she again refused any assistance when it came time to fill it in. She found a big rock for a grave marker, and I was pretty sure she only let me carry it, because it was too heavy for her to lift.
After the marker was in place, she took her mother's hand. "Can we say a prayer for him?"
Marie and I both had joined her in grief, though ours was compounded by an inability to take her pain away.
Oh Tonya. I'm so sorry that you have to learn this lesson, but it was inevitable. Everything we love carries with it the seeds of pain when it passes on.
She bowed her head and led us in the Lord's Prayer. I’d never heard a more beautiful or heartfelt prayer in my life, nor one that touched me as deeply as my little girl's prayer for her lost best friend.
I listen to the thunder roll through the black sky and stare out the window at the sleeping city below. The rain continues to fall mercilessly; it was a sound that used to make me sleepy and comfortable. I don't think I’ll ever feel that way again. I'm not sure I will ever feel anything quite as much as I did before.
The tears threatening once again, I stand up, step into my slippers, and walk to the kitchen. Maybe a late-night snack will help me sleep. The clock in the living room does it's soft reminder that it is 3:30 in the morning, and I find myself chuckling.
You always said I had an internal stomach-clock, set for 3:15. It's still working, Ree. I won't get any crumbs in our bed, my love.
Our bed... our room... our life. I don't want to think any more. I grab some leftovers from the fridge; there must be twelve kinds of casserole in there. I think everyone brought me food. I wonder why we do that. Maybe it's because so many folks find comfort in eating.
Three or four bites in, I realize I'm not hungry. I know that if I continue eating, it will just make me nauseous. I scrape the rest of whatever it is in my bowl down the disposal and rinse my plate. I make my slow way back through the darkened house to the bedroom that I now must sleep in alone.
I sit back on the bed; turning, I see my reflection in the mirror. Her mirror. I hardly recognize the old man I see looking back at me. Somewhere in that lined face, lives the ghost of the man I used to be. I've gotten old.
Damn, Ree... how did you still love me when I look like this? You still looked as fresh and beautiful as you did the day we met. Okay, maybe not as fresh, but every bit as beautiful.
I reach over and pick up the last picture we took together. It was at Christmas, two years ago. It saddens me now, to realize we will never get a chance to take another one. That was one of her passions for so many years; she loved pretending she was a model, even when we only had a little disposable camera.
"Rally, James dah-ling, no one says cheese any more. It's so passé."
Her fake British accent sounded more like a cross between French and Irish, but she always made it cute anyway. She started posing for me, so I started directing her as well. "Okay, now show me your best pouty-face."
She did, and I took three pics to be sure one of them turned out okay. By the time she had done three more poses—innocent, flirtatious, and then best of all, sexy—the camera was done.
She wasn't ready to be done however, and forcefully suggested we get another disposable camera. I knew she was also going to insist on the one-hour photo to get them developed that evening, but when the mood was upon her, there was no denying her whims.
We bought three more of the little 35mm cameras with built-in flash and went to the park. We saw a lady with a pair of poodles out for a walk, and Ree couldn't resist.
The poor woman. Ree not only convinced her to let us use her dogs for our "photo shoot," but to come with us until we found the perfect spot for pictures with them.
I didn't think it was possible, but I love you even more today than I did yesterday, Marie Jacobs.
I was still getting used to the sound of that. We had been married for three months at that point, and every day was an adventure. I was sometimes afraid of how much I loved her, but mostly I just enjoyed it and our new life together.
"Okay, now I want you to climb that tree, and give me your best ‘come hither’ look, while lying on the bottom branch." She was already half-way up the tree before I finished saying it. Sometimes we just clicked on the same wave-length. That was one of the million reasons I knew she was my soul mate.
We didn't know it at the time, but that shot of her lying on the branch would become somewhat famous. Life magazine bought it, and my Ree was a star for a month.
I sit up and blink at the sunlight shining in my eyes.
"Ree! Can you close that curtain?"
My voice is swallowed by the room. I realize that I am in my recliner, and on the heels of realization comes memory; there is no one here to answer me now.
The sun is shining through the sliding glass door that opens on the small balcony. I'm not sure what time it is. I'm not sure of much right now, except that the rain stopped sometime after I dozed off, and that my old chair may be great for watching football games, but it wasn’t meant for old men to sleep in.
My back is going to be screaming at me all day long. I wonder if we have any aspirin... We... I think I hate that word now.
I stumble to the bathroom and can't help but notice - all of her things are still scattered around the sink and on the medicine cabinet in front of the mirror. Her denture case is still there, though it is as empty as her side of the bed will be from now on.
I finish using the toilet and hear myself laugh; no one will mind if I leave the seat up now. The sound of my laughter rips something loose inside me, and the grief floods into me. I grope my way back to my room and fall to the floor next to the bed, as the tide of pain and sorrow rises like a tsunami, washing away all coherent thought.
Oh Ree! I need you like never before, and you’re gone.
I'm not sure how long I sat there, the sobs clawing their way out of my chest, hot salty tears pouring from my eyes, and the dull ache of loneliness, pain, and fear thumping in time to the beating of my heart.
I do know when I finally felt able to breathe normally again, my eyes were tired and sore, my nose was plugged completely, and my diaphragm felt as if I had been working out for hours.
It's strange how a deep bout of emotional release can leave you so tired, especially right after waking. My tears helped take the sharp edges off my pain; it would always be there, but I could now stand again.
I made my way back to the front room and gaze at the black and white photo on the wall - the one of the impossibly young couple who had just gotten married.
Is this my new normal?
The word "forever" echoes in my head. Suddenly I hear the preacher's words on that day, so long ago. The words we both repeated.
'Til death do us part.
I had no idea, literally no concept, of what those words actually meant. It's just now sinking in; this parting is permanent, at least this side of Heaven.
The sun shone brightly on the grass, and the birds sang sweetly in the trees overhead. We had over 80 people with us that day, and the folding chairs in the back yard were full. I stood there on the small platform, nervously talking to my cousin Fred. He had offered to be my best man, since my lifelong friend Aaron had come down with the flu the day before.
The flu my ass! He’s just hungover and still mad because I no longer want to spend my Friday nights hanging out with him and the boys at Dell's Bar.
I heard the music start. That single tune that can only mean one thing. Here comes the bride. I turned and there she was, her father walking next to her with tears streaming down his face.
She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, and I forgot how to breathe as I watched her approach. My balance threatened to send me tumbling to the ground.
As her father placed her hand in mine, everything made sense. All of my confusion and doubt vanished, and the world became crystal clear and was in sharper focus than it ever had been before.
This was where God meant for me to be. This woman—this magnificent, gorgeous, beautifully happy woman—was the one He meant for me to be with. She was my one and only. My soul mate.
I held her hand as she stepped up on the platform, my eyes glued to her face. Slowly we both turned and faced the preacher who was standing before us, beaming.
Nothing has ever felt this right. These vows will be etched in my heart and soul forever, Marie.
My reverie is broken by the door opening. As stupid as it sounds, there is a split second of hope that I’ve been dreaming; this whole thing is nothing but a nightmare and she’s only been at the store.
I get to lose you all over again, Ree. I guess that's also part of my new normal.
I turn as the truth asserts itself to find Tonya standing there. My baby girl. She holds out her arms. I match the gesture, and she runs to me, embracing me in a grip that feels like she’s drowning. Maybe she is; I feel that way as well.
"Oh, Daddy. It hurts so much."
"I know it does, sweetheart." I release her, holding her at arm's length. "We’ll get through it together - the way Mama would have wanted us to, okay?"
She nods as tears course down her cheeks.
She's as tough as you always were, Ree. I'll do my best to be just as tough.
A movement catches our eyes, and we both turn and face the glass doors.
The balcony overlooks the city, and everything is still wet. The rain must have stopped more recently than I thought. On the railing was a giant yellow butterfly, slowly fanning its wings.
I can almost feel the smile that breaks across Tonya's face. Yellow was always her mother's favorite color, and butterflies her favorite photographic subject. Sometimes the signs are obvious. She was still with us.
Thank you Ree. I will love you, and miss you, forever. Save me a place on a cloud next to you, and I’ll see you when my turn rolls around.
(c) 2016 - dustygrein