I open the window, allowing a light breeze and the neighborhood noises to come inside. The curtains flutter, a horn sounds and I am reminded of another time. Slowly, I make my way around the bed, stopping when I reach my chair.
“There was a time when I was just like our neighbors—always in a hurry, needing to be somewhere, trying to make a dollar. Yep. But that was a long time ago. Back then, I thought I had it all figured out. Work hard. Pay the bills. Take care of the family. It’s what my father did so that’s what I did. Hell, it’s what I taught our boy, John, to do.”
My easel is situated by Martha’s bed, across from the window, which offers a surprisingly wonderful view of a dogwood tree. Picking up the paintbrush, I dip the fine bristles into a dab of paint and smear it around on the pallet before gently adding the color to my canvas. I pause long enough to look at Martha, hoping that maybe I’d see a glimmer in her eyes. I don’t.
Martha was my high school sweetheart, the first girl I ever kissed. As faithful as the day is long, that’s my Martha. I think she deserved better than me.
“Remember how we always talked about going on that vacation? You wanted to go to Paris and I wanted to see the pyramids…” I chuckle, patting Martha’s leg with my free hand. “I should have taken you to Paris…”
I continue to dabble paint onto the canvas. “I called John, yesterday. But he wasn’t home. Laura said something about him working overtime. Said she’d have him call. Maybe she forgot to give him the message…”
I glance at Martha, her eyes have become window into the bleakness of Alzheimer’s. And once again, I feel the loss of her companionship, her quick wit, her constant support. Tucking my hurt in a little box, I lock it away and focus on my painting. “You know, Sweetheart, sitting here with you, painting and all—I reckon I have time to wonder what our life would have been like if I had followed my dreams. Who knows? We could have lived in Paris—me painting and you learning to cook French cuisine… Who am I kidding? You probably would have taught the French a thing or two about cooking!” I smile to myself. “You deserved Paris. Instead you got me…”
I remember how pretty she looked, standing at the train station, waiting to welcome me home. It was thoughts of her that got me through boot camp. It was thoughts of her that accompanied me to Korea and it was thoughts of her that kept me going during my time in that frozen hell.
Laying down my paintbrush, I turn to her, lifting her soft, delicate hand to my lips. “I must be the luckiest man in the world, having you for my wife. I don’t know why a girl like you would have ever wanted someone like me.”
Clarity. I see it in her eyes. No matter how fleeting, I pray for these moments. “Lo-ve you,” her voice croaks.
“Martha,” I cry as the spark fades away… And this is why she deserved Paris—because she loves me.
(Originally written in 2014)