YOU, ME AND A MAN NAMED BILL
The Police called to tell me what had just happened. My phone clattered to the pavement as I sank to my knees, the humdrum sounds of the busy street fading into insignificance. A foggy greyness hovering at the outside edges of my vision grew darker and thicker, and then there was only blackness! And silence!
“Stand back, give her some room!”
“Should we call an ambulance?”
“Here! Lay her head on this,”
“Shouldn’t you loosen her scarf? She might choke.”
The jumble of voices sounded tinny and faraway to my ears as I swam groggily back to consciousness. Struggling to open my eyes, I found myself lying in the standard recovery position, surrounded by a small crowd of concerned faces. I had apparently only blacked out for about thirty seconds, but it was enough to numb the edges of my shocked senses. Just enough to enable me to answer all their well-meaning questions, but not quite enough to prevent one of them ushering me directly to the nearest café for a cup of hot sweet tea.
“For the shock,” he said.
He has become a pillar of strength to me over these last four years, has that man. Even without knowing the slightest thing about me that day, Bill insisted on driving me to the hospital and waiting there with me throughout the blur of that first devastating afternoon, patting my hand and forcing me to drink even more cups of disgustingly sweet weak tea from the vending machine as I waited for news of you.
When they finally wheeled you out of the operating theatre and I was allowed to see you, the greyness threatened to engulf me all over again.
Your poor head was completely swathed in bandages so I couldn’t even see your eyes.
Narrow transparent tubes helping you to breathe!
A long drip connected to your stiffly bandaged arm!
So many tiny wires and snaking tubes linking so many parts of you up to a multitude of mysterious machines.
Electronic beeps! Mechanical breaths! Flashing lights! Clinical smells!
It was four years ago that you had your terrible accident.
The doctors told me even then that you would never regain consciousness, but I refused to believe them. I would not leave your bedside, be it day or night. I would not! I could not! I replayed that morning’s conversation over in my head again and again. I replayed the first time I ever saw your face. I replayed our first kiss. I talked to you. I cried. I dried my tears and I hoped. I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in. I cried again.
I remember Brenda from the morning shift was my favourite of the nurses tending to you. She was so gentle when she had to move you, and spoke to you all the while. It was she who eventually managed to persuade me to go home for a change of clothes and to rest. Brenda told Bill, who used to come and sit with me in the afternoons, to take me in his car. Brenda has gone now. She was replaced by Margaret, and Margaret’s replacement has since been replaced. I’m afraid I don’t know your new nurse’s name.
Bill is still here. I do not really know why he still comes after all this time. I think he is lonely. He tells me I need looking after. I suppose I do. I cannot even seem to shop or cook for myself properly anymore, let alone look after that apartment of ours. I feel like I am rattling around in an empty tin box when I am there all by myself. He sometimes persuades me to go out for a walk in the park with him. He has a little dog you know, a Jack Russell terrier. You would have loved Bobby. He is exactly your kind of dog, full of energy and always off rummaging in the undergrowth, getting up to Jack Russell terrier-type antics. He is black and white and all grey around the muzzle because of his age. He is very old, a bit like his master, I suppose. I think you would have got on with Bill too. You both have the same sense of humour. That is probably why I like him. Our little strolls in the park with Bobby have helped me. The first time I agreed to go, I went along just to humour him. It was my way of thanking him for his time. I would not leave your bedside for over twenty minutes though. I realize now that it was those tiny breaths of fresh air which helped me to retain a grasp on my sanity, to regain my will to stay alive.
This morning I had my regular weekly chat and update with Doctor Slater, the latest medic assigned to your case. A most straightforward and knowledgeable young man, we get along very well. Even though I know he is very busy, he always takes the time to answer any questions I have about you. He has been looking after you for the past last nine months. Today he seemed solemn as he led me into his office.
“I’m afraid your husband’s condition is deteriorating,” he said.
As he continued his speech, telling me all about how they could continue to keep you breathing and assuring me that you were not in any pain, his voice grew distant and I could see only you in my mind. But the ‘you’ I saw was the real ‘you’, the fun-loving, energetic man I married forty-six years ago. You are the love of my life. You always have been, ever since the day we met, and you always will be. Through my tears, I saw your face and I heard what you wanted me to do for you, what only I could do. I understood what Doctor Slater was telling me, even though I don’t think he ever actually uttered the dreaded words out loud. So that is when I gave my permission for him to help you leave me. That is why I am saying my final goodbye to you now, my love.
Yesterday was my seventy-first birthday, and during our little daily walk in the park, Bill told me he loved me. I wept then, and I sit here crying again now. He will never replace you, but I believe you would have approved of him. I have told him I do not love him, but that we can be companions. I do not think I have very much time left here in this world, so please wish me well. I will miss you, and I know in my heart that we will be reunited before too long. Until then my love, goodbye.