I once read that the present state – that space between the past and the future –merely describes the time it takes our minds to process real-time events, by which point the moment is already in the past. In that sense, the present is less about time and more like a horizon, an idea used to separate perceptions; an always-fleeting line between what was and what may be. I suppose that’s true. But I also suppose there has to be an exception. Or an addendum. There must be something, some state, some word that bridges the “what was” and the “what may be” with “what is”; a moment only to be experienced in the in between, yet mounting enough to shift time and land and ideas. An experience that fuses the moments and borders of your life into a single round object suspended in the hollow of your gut. I feel I’ve experienced that maybe a couple times. And I’ve come to call it tragedy.
But even so, there’s hardly a way to sum up one of the worst moments of my life – discovering your lung disease – into a single word. It doesn’t seem possible for one word to hold such authority, it would be too disturbing to use. But if there was a more fleshed-out definition for the kind of tragedy that describes crying in front of your boss, yelling at the TV during a Divorce Court episode, and binge-eating Dominoes parmesan bites at 1:00AM, then I’d use that word to describe all the moments following that one moment.
Not that it’s all horrible – like that scene in Terms of Endearment when Shirley MacLaine erupts at the nurses so they’ll give her cancer-ridden daughter an unscheduled dose of her meds (but you haven’t seen that movie, so yet another one of my post-menopausal references is sent to pasture). No, I wouldn’t label this entire experience as horrible. In fact, it’s probably the only time in my life when I’ve walked through each day with such desperate absorption; listening deeply to every sound and squeezing every moment dry. I find myself not wanting a second to slip by without acknowledgement and validation, now knowing more intimately that this brief time we all have with one another is precious and without equal.
I’ve come to desire little more than making sure you’re warm enough or cool enough, that you have a steady supply of sour gummy worms, and that we have at least 15 seconds of uninterrupted eye-contact each day – like that scene in Deep Impact when the first comet hits earth and the tidal wave is about to kill Leelee Sobieski’s parents but instead of running they stand and stare into each other’s eyes, rubbing their dirty hands on each other’s sweaty faces in what they know is their last moment together (I know you’ve seen that movie, we both cry at the same spots).
Now, don’t confuse me with Batman; tragedy doesn’t always produce a hero (and I would look crazy in black rubber pants, like a post-Thanksgiving Hefty bag). Crying more than usual and buying you gas station candy doesn’t garner me praise. In fact, I like to think I’ve become more self-serving than anything, just with complimentary lighting and one of those Beyoncé stage fans that makes me seem 12 feet tall.
No. Behind the pretense remains the fact that I want you to be okay for purely selfish reasons. I want you to be okay so you can continue to listen to my random diatribes on the importance of feminism and somehow not roll your eyes, to put my jeans on hangers even though they belong on the floor, to pretend to like my meatloaf when it ends up tasting like an Ugg boot, and to palm the back of my neck when you know I’m about to say something snarky at a dinner party with people you know I don’t like. To always give me the first bite. To take my side when you know I’m wrong. To remind me when I should call my mom. To be the bigger person. To end up getting me the same Christmas present I got you. To give our children strong names and long legs and provide them with the kind of love, patience, and guidance I could never give them on my own no matter how hard I would try to mimic you. I want us to get to our 90th anniversary to prove that I eventually grow into my head. And I want to try getting us there with the only superpower I can fake: words.
I guess that’s all I’m really trying to say here and what I want to continue saying with these letters: “If we have the words, there’s always a chance that we’ll find the way.” And perhaps by finding the way, we’ll be led to discover and sooner accept the difference between life as it’s imagined and life as it really is; life as it must be.
So, here’s the first of many to you, my love. Unqualified and fallible as I am, I have a knowledge of your goodness. And I want to share it. For it’s the only perfect thing about me.