What woke me was the insistent beep-beep-beep of the little machine that was monitoring his dying heart. I opened my eyes slowly, and as always, he lay there watching me.
I got up from where I was sitting and leaned in close to him, placing my hand on his cheek. “Let go. I understand.”
He struggled for breath and mumbled something I couldn’t hear. I smiled anyway. “Go, Jake. I’ll be fine, don’t hold on for me.”
A lone tear escaped from his eye and his breathing stilled. The monitors screamed their piercing sirens.
I stepped back as nurses and doctors flooded the room, but I knew it was too late. He was gone and I was completely alone again.
Voices blurred and time seemed to slow down as I made my way towards the hall. God, I don’t belong here anymore. This is my own personal hell.
Someone cut off the horrific screams of the heart monitor and the sudden realization that Jacob was dead shot waves of horror through me. Does life ever get any easier?
For so long, I helplessly watched as a vicious disease sucked the life out of his once strong spirit. Jacob’s trembling hands, and jaundice skin showed his inability to fight the invisible murderous enemy. How much more powerless and insignificant can a person feel when watching someone they love slowly die? I wished each night to take his place, yet I was still standing there and Jacob was gone. I never believed in wishes anyway.
I placed my hand on the doorframe and looked back once. Do not resuscitate. Do not grieve for me when this cancer wins. Do not give me a funeral to remember what killed me. They were calling the time; it was 3:16. The numbers made my frown tighten, or maybe it was just the knowledge that Gabriel would be standing right outside the door.
“Hello, Gabriel,” I whispered, even before I stepped through the doorway. My insides twisted themselves into knots as I stood before him.
I looked up and tried my best to smile; trying to hold in the tears that I knew would soon flow like a great flood from my eyes. Gabriel was always so beautiful to look at. No matter when or where he showed up, he was perfect. He was leaning against the white walls of the hospital hallway and his perfection made them seem dirty against his bronzed flawless skin.
“What is your plan now, Grace?”
“Oh, Gabriel, it’s the same as always. Just keep breathing and put one foot in front of the other. Now, if you would please excuse me, I just lost my brother and I’d like to be alone.” I brushed past him, accidentally touching the edge of his arm, and I shivered.
Gabriel reached out his arm and gently touched my shoulder. “I’m sorry about your brother, Grace. I’m sorry about all of this.”
I stopped and turned towards him. Even though his voice had sounded full of tenderness, his ice-cold blue eyes held no emotion. “Thank you, Gabriel. I’m sure that one day, I’ll meet up with him again. After all, we all gotta die sometime, don’t we?” My sarcasm dripped thickly off every word. I couldn’t say what I wanted to. How many times can you say I’m sorry? How many times will I watch death take everyone, leaving me here? How much more can I endure when I’ve endured so much more than others have? How many times have I wished death would come for me? Even in death, I would not be allowed to rest, would I? Sorrow seeped through my veins. This is all I knew; all I’d ever know; an eternity here on earth.
His long elegant fingers brushed up against my cheek. “I really am sorry about Jacob, Grace. I wish I could do something. I know how special he’s been to you.” For a single nanosecond, or maybe even less, his eyes offered a smoldering glance, as if they were trying to tell me something separate from his blank expression.
He turned to leave, but I felt his halfhearted attempt at being able to do something, hang heavy and linger in the air between us.
“This has nothing to do with Jacob, Gabriel. Yes, my brother is gone now, and I will miss him, but this has to do with my being here, still alone. I’m relieved Jacob is gone. He’s been dying for years with that cancer. No human being should suffer as he did. Being here is excruciating, Gabriel, but I’m still here! So please, do not patronize me. Do not visit every so often, glare at me with those cold dead eyes, and tell me how you wish you could do something, when I know for a fact that you could. Unless you have something to offer me in way of advice or counsel, I’ll be doing what I’ve always done, putting one foot in front of the other and moving on.” My eyes welled up when I turned from him. Of course, I would miss Jacob. Someone like Gabriel would never understand any of these horrible human emotions and all this pain. I just wished it would end; I would just like not to exist in this world anymore or in any world. I just wanted, well, it doesn’t matter what I wanted, did it?
In one quick movement, Gabriel grabbed me and spun me to face him. His stern fatherly expression dissolved into a tender smile. The behavior startled me in such a way that my knees gave out from underneath me. I had never seen Gabriel smile like that. He embraced me in his huge bronze arms and whispered into my ears without saying a word.
“You are the strongest person that I have ever known. You’ve been broken more times than anyone, and yet you keep...I want so much to save you...” His embrace calmed me. I slowly pushed myself off and out of his arms, trying to distance myself from him.
The tenderness was gone and the stern father figure was standing before me as if that little slip in time of encouragement and tenderness never happened.
“Thank you, Gabriel.” And, that’s where I left him. Standing in a hospital hallway, in the middle of nowhere, thinking that I was the strongest person he’d known. As if, I had a choice in that.