You’re supposed to make love the night of your wedding day, but John and I did not. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can. We were exhausted. Our day started at the crack of dawn to get ready and was filled with constant adrenaline, standing, travelling, photos, socializing, speeches, dancing; before we knew it, it was 3 am and we had no energy left for anything else.
So, the night of our wedding day, John and I just sprawled our clothes across the chairs in our fancy hotel suite and crawled into bed. Both laying on our backs, looking up at the beautifully painted ceiling, we sleepily recalled our favourite moments of the day. Like when his father was the first to get on the dance floor and make a total fool of himself, and when my maid of honour made half the room tear up with her beautiful speech about how happy we’ve been from the very start.
I nuzzled my face into his collarbone and murmured, “This has been the best day of my life.”
“So far!” John said, kissing my forehead and then leaving his face to rest there. “There will be better.”
“How could that be possible?”
“It is, because every single day with you is happier than the last. Fifty years from now, we’ll be 73 and sitting in rocking chairs on our porch holding hands, and that will be a better day than today because I will have spent my life making memories with you.”
I smiled serenely at the thought of that, closing my eyes and relishing in the warmth of him next to me. Between us, his thumb absent-mindedly stroked the back of my left hand. I looked down at the new gold band on my finger and startled, jerking my hand away.
It was not John’s hand touching me. Some old man’s hand was in my bed, thin and wrinkled and covered in little purple veins. I scrambled backwards in a quick, panicked motion and fell with a thump off the side of the bed, dragging the blanket down with me, exposing him. Horrified, I watched as the rest of John’s youthful body rapidly wrinkled and thinned, his skin going transparent and his eyes clouding over. The life was being sucked out from him right in front of me and I didn’t understand. Remembering how to breathe, I gasped in frantically and screamed.
I kept screaming until my ears rang and my vision went black.
Over my own screams, I could hear a child calling for her mother. No, not a child. It was an adult’s voice. A grown woman was yelling, “Mom! Mom!”
She was calling to me.
I stopped screaming and her face emerged from the darkness that had engulfed my sight. I just stood and stared at her, this woman who must have been in her late forties, with a few grey streaks in her auburn hair and John’s icy blue eyes. I knew with certainty that she was my daughter, but I was only twenty-three, and it made absolutely no sense.
I reached out to her, desperately wanting to understand, and caught sight of my own wrinkled, flabby arm. Suddenly, I did understand, and I desperately wanted not to again. Flashes of recovered memories came to me. The doctor telling me that I still had a few years before the Alzheimer’s would render me unable to live alone anymore. Maya’s face when I told her, crumbling only for a moment before she stiffened up and set to finding the best long-term care residence for me, ever the lionheart. My son, Liam, trying in vain to shush his kids when they commented on Grandma’s progressing forgetfulness.
A moment ago I was young and radiantly happy, with a long life ahead of me full of things to look forward to. But then in an instant, it was over… All those years were already spent. My husband, my sweet John, was long dead from cancer. My darling little children, adventurous Maya always covering her pretty dresses with dirt, and bright Liam reading books aloud to his teddy bears, had their own families now, leaving them little time for visiting me at this residence. Not that there was much for them to gain from seeing the shell of what was once their mother. The emptiness of it crushed my chest, forcing my breaths to be shallow, unsatisfying.
A nurse gently took my arm, smiling kindly, and suggested that I sit down. I did. She then turned to my daughter and asked, “Are you alright, dear?”
Maya, visibly shaken, took a moment to collect herself but did not answer. “Does this happen often?”
The nurse looked sad. “Yes, unfortunately it happens daily. Normally we are able to…”
Her voice became muted as I was hit by a dizzy spell. I reached for something to hold onto, realized I was already sitting down, and clenched both fists as hard as I could to try and retain my consciousness. The nurse said this happens to me daily… I felt my mouth filling with saliva as I tried to hold back vomit. What kind of life is this? How could anyone survive having their heart ripped out and turned to cold, dry dust in front of them every single day?
A choking sound escaped from my mouth and the nurse turned her attention back to me. “Are you ok, sweetie? Would you like a drink?”
I stared at her blankly, overcome by a sudden exhaustion.
“Did you hear me, sweetie? Would you like a drink?”
John was holding the refrigerator door open, looking over his shoulder at me expectantly. I was sitting at the rickety dining table, a plate of half-eaten food in front of me and another across the way. Boxes took up much of the space in the kitchen, filled with things each of our parents had gifted us for our first apartment together. “Oh… Yes, iced tea please. Thanks, hon.”
He reached for the jug and poured two glasses, a few drops of condensation falling to the counter. I felt a hint of unexplainable foreboding… I tried to remember what I had been thinking about before John snapped me out of my daze. As he leaned to put the iced tea back into the fridge, he smiled at me, that beautiful smile of his that still made me ache years after meeting him. He picked up one glass in each hand and took a step toward the table, and I stood up from my chair and closed the distance between us. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him hard, surprising him. I felt him shift a little as he put the glasses back down, still kissing me, and put both his hands on the small of my back. As he pulled me closer to him, the strange unease melted away, and I felt like nothing could ever be wrong in the world.