"What's your greatest memory of me?"
As you spoke I lifted my head and glanced at you. While thinking my forehead wrinkled and that's one of the many facial motions I regret because I did it way too often and therefore, I am reminded of all the times I did it when I look into a mirror.
"Hey, are you listening to me?"you asked in a soft voice which indicated that you were used to my daydreaming as I was used to the nightmares that woke you up at night. I have never understood where the nightmares came from but still, I sat with you at night, hoping it would scare the monsters away and each time you woke up screaming and looking fast from side to side I told you everything was fine. Actually, everything was fantastic. That's why I was daydreaming so often. It's hard not to do it if your whole life is a single dream, isn't it?
"Where does that come from?" I asked trying to get a little more time. Your lips curled into a little smile that would mark your future face with wrinkles that were so much more beautiful than mine. You were beautiful to me.
"Don't you ever wonder?"
Who were you kidding? I wondered about everything. I wondered whether you and I would have had the same relationship we had if I had done one single thing slightly different. I wondered what would have happened, if I didn't choose you but another girl, perhaps a younger one. I wondered whether I would have ever seen you smile, whether anyone would have seen you smile if I hadn't noticed you sitting alone by the window and starring at the golden corn field.
"I feel bad for the aliens", you had said in a mirthless tone that had made my heart tighten even back then when I didn't know you and even right now that I was only recalling that scene. "They carve beautifully shaped circles into the corn to show the humans their affection but the people dismiss them because they don't get the message. Just because they are different. People should be interested in different people. That's how they would learn that inside, despite of all the strange and foreign looks or habits, we are all the same."
Alien means nothing else than foreign. I have looked at your face, all covered in red and brown stains, wounds you had gotten from a fire as you told me later on, but all I saw was your facial expression. You looked lonely and yet not lost. Then I let my gaze wander noticing every single face in the room. Beautiful faces, pretty faces, cute faces and the blemished one in which I saw two sad amber eyes that were surrounded by a golden ring which made doctors believe you had Wilsons' disease although it was your natural eye color. I saw how different you looked from all the others in that room who either couldn't take their eyes of you or avoided to look at you at all and I thought about your statement from before. That's when I realized that I could love you forever. Later on I wondered whether you had felt the same and whether you had known that from now on we would live together until one of us died. I just wondered.
I do. The two magical words which had way more power than the shrouded in legends three words more and more people abused not even knowing what love was. We did, although we never said these three little words to each other. For me, they didn't matter because I knew that you felt my love. As for you, you just didn't seem able to say them, although I have often had the impression that you tried to get to them. You just never made it.
At least, that is what I hoped for.
I do. I have never been married. I didn't want to. As long as you were with me I was perfectly happy.
"Then what is it? The best memory of me that you won't ever forget even if you live hundreds of years?"
"I won't ever forget you. I won't forget anything."
Dolefully you shook your head and I watched your dark auburn hair fly through the air as your wistful sigh reached my ear. Your hair had grown since the day I had met you and you used to wear it combed into your face in order to hide the burned skin on your heart-shaped face. I couldn't understand that. For me, the wounds and the scars were a big part of who you were and they made you beautiful in your own, unique way. Everything about you was unique.
"I just want to know what day will be stuck in your mind forever. One single day. One single moment. You have so many to choose from."
That was true. We have lived together for ten years now and I hoped that there were still many to come. Luckily, nothing indicated otherwise since we were both happy together living every day as if it didn't have anything to do with the one before. Although we have lived so long together we didn't have any routines. Instead, we tried out new things and surprised each other so often that it was almost more astonishing when there wasn't any surprise on that day. We didn't go to the same places several times but we tried to explore the whole city. Once, I took you bowling which made you laugh so hard that your stomach hurt for a while but the next day, you chose going out for lunch over the same bowling center. Every day was another story, every day was filled with new experiences and every day was a new life. Little by little I got to know you better and finally, I couldn't imagine not being with you. The same day I realized that I invited you to move in with me. We were both thrilled on your first day. And I was still thrilled that I have picked you today.
But then there were the nightmares. Your screams in the middle of the night. The living in the moment. We have never talked about the future or about the past. We have never talked about feelings, fears and dreams. Sure, I knew that your favorite color was purple and that you have always wanted to have a parrot just like the one I bought for you the day you moved in with me. But I didn't know how your parents have been before they died in the fire that marked your face forever; I didn't know what your goal in life was. Sometimes it seemed to me that you were happy with your life as it was, that you were happy to live at all. And sometimes you acted as if the world was going to end and you laughed and cried at once as if you didn't have the time to do it successively. Sometimes I wondered whether you loved me. Sometimes I wondered what your greatest memory of me was. Don't you ever wonder?
"It's hard to choose but I guess that my favorite memory of you is the one when I met you for the first time." Slowly I moved closer to you and reached out to stroke your hair. You smiled but suddenly I noticed the glistening tears in your eyes. I goggled at you in surprise.
"Is something wrong, sweetheart?" Your raspberry-lips trembled but you blinked your tears away and focused your gaze on your hands. What was it that made you avoid my gaze? What could there possibly be that would make you look away?
I couldn't ever stop staring at you.
"Why is it your greatest memory of me?" you asked in a low voice, clenching and unclenching your long fingers that made your hands look like the ones of a pianist. Not knowing what to do I took one of your slim hands into mine and hold it tight, tried to take by that your sadness wondering that after all this years you could still make me speechless and not only in a good way.
"It was the day I knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. That made me a happy man. The happiest man of all. Since then you have been my sunshine that enlightened my life and filled it with warmth, light and life." I meant every word I said and I felt that I meant it. Every time I saw you or every time I thought of you a calmness and happiness went through my body as if I had swallowed a ray of sunshine. The first time it happened I knew immediately that I loved you.
"What if I told you that you won't?" Your voice was so quiet that I almost didn't hear your terrifying words. However, I did and they made me freeze with fear. Therefore, I couldn't answer. Either way I didn't know what to say.
"The nightmares that have kept me awake at night weren't just nightmares. Every night when I go to sleep I see terrible things. All of them concern us. Sometimes I dream about the day we met and I have to watch turning your back on me and picking another girl. Other times I dream about going out alone and not finding my way home, no matter how long I try to get there. I even hear you calling my name and I think that I just have to turn right in order to see our house but when I turn there I only see a dead-end-street. Yesterday you stopped calling."
"I would never do that" I assured you. "In fact, I would leave the house in order to search for you and I wouldn't go home without you."
"You would if I were gone long enough. And that's okay because you would deserve to continue your life if something happened to me. I would want that for you."
"But I wouldn't want that. Before I met you my life seemed meaningless. I had a boring job and no family. Now even my job seems perfect to me although it hasn't changed a bit. You have given me a sense of life. You are the sense of my life. You are all I ever wanted even back then when I didn't know it."
"You have given me a life at all. If you hadn't invited me to stay with you I would have still been alone and I don't know if I could have borne it for that long. Probably, I would have broken down."
"You wouldn't have. You are the strongest person I know."
"People don't break down because they are weak. They break down because they have been strong for too long. Nobody can bear everything. That's why we need friends and loved ones who help us even when it gets hard. Especially then when it gets hard. That's why I want to thank you."
"You don't need to. We have saved each other."
"We have. But would you be able to carry on without me?"
"I wouldn't want to. Why are you talking about that? Do you want to move out?" My heartbeat became faster, as fast as if I were running although I couldn't have sat more still.
"Never. But what if something happened to me and I had to go?"
"Nothing will happen to you." I believed that. I hoped for that. I believed that I hoped for it. I hoped that I believed in it. I had to since hope was the force that people needed in order to be able to survive.
"No", you admitted. "Nothing will happen to me or to you for that matter."
Relieved I sighed deeply. So you weren't going to leave me and everything was okay. That was just a panic attack caused by your dire nightmares. I had to find somebody who could help you to deal with them as I sadly didn't seem to be able to be that guy.
"Nothing is going to happen to me; something has already happened to me", you whispered and I almost laughed. Almost because one second I thought you were joking. However, your face proved me wrong. It was totally stern.
"I went to the doctor's office this morning, just a normal check up" you began to explain in a strangely calm voice that made the whole thing seem even less realistic. "I didn't expect anything to come up since I didn't feel sick. But I am. I have been for a long time."
My lips formed soundless words I wasn't able to say.
It took me a while to accept your words and to stop believing that that was a morbid joke of some kind because accepting your words meant accepting your fate. The dream has turned into a nightmare. Now I understood your fear at night. It's difficult not to fear anything if you have so much to lose. If you have a loved one to lose.
"Do you remember how long we have known each other before we moved in together?" you asked one foggy day. I was starring out of the window and trying not to remember my own thoughts: I could have never stopped starring at you. Now, I could hardly look at you afraid to see how your sickness has distinguished your body, afraid of the feeling I would get when seeing you hurt, when seeing you fade.
"Six months, three weeks, one day", I replied reflexively.
"Do you know how much we have done within these months?"
I nodded, unable to say another word.
"I want to do that all over again. I want to see the same movies, I want to visit the same museums and I want to go to the same places. For once I want to relive our past. Six months, three weeks, one day. That's how long I have. And I want to spend it with you and with our memories. I want to relive it in order to remember it for eternity, even if there is nothing left of me that is able to remember anything." Your last words made me clench my fists. Only your sooth voice could calm me down: "Please."
You leaned forward and wrapped your thin arms around me. That's the first time that you hugged me. Normally, I was the one who searched for closeness. After a while you wanted to pull away but I didn't let you go.
I promised that I would never let you go.
SIX MONTHS, THREE WEEKS AND ONE DAY LATER
Much time has passed since you told me the terrible news. A terminal disease was residing inside of you and it was eating your body up from the inside. When you were younger I used to say that you were so cute I wanted to eat you. Now this menace was being realized in a horrible manner. Your thin arms were even thinner, your body even skinnier and your Wilsons my nickname for your eyes popped out of your pale face. The auburn hair I have loved so much wasn't colorful anymore but almost ashen and yet, I loved it even more.
"I can't believe that it has only been six months", you whispered weakly. Since Sunday you couldn't get up even if you tried. Since Sunday, I didn't go to work anymore. Since Sunday I didn't cry anymore. Not because I wasn't sad or because I had accepted your death. I just didn't have the tears anymore but this didn't mean that I didn't love you. It only meant that I had to be strong for you. I have been weak for too long, just like you have been strong for too long.
"I can't believe anything of it", I replied, caressing her head. "I couldn't believe how old you looked although you were way too young to die. I couldn't believe that I have lived one week almost without sleep. I couldn't believe that a creature as wonderful as you could leave the planet. Ever. I couldn't believe that fate was that cruel.
We have relived the months before you moved in with me in the exact same manner we have experienced them for the first time. We have even eaten the same food and we have tried to talk to the same people. One day we even tried to say the exact same words but we couldn't remember them all. That was okay because there were new ones, better ones. The words you say when you have already known each other for a decade are often of a greater worth than the first words you say to each other although poets and writers try to prove me wrong on that.
"It's okay", you whispered sleepily. Your eyes closed and opened again several times, like a flower in a time lapse. Your eyelashes reminded me of the symmetrical petals that adorned every flower. "I won't ever be gone for good. I will watch over you and protect you just like you have done it for me every night."
"I wish that I could protect you", I breathed. "I wish I could be the dying one."
"Nobody else does because that would be a great loss for the world. You know the fact that you live
means that you have to do something with your life. You aren't finished with it yet. I don't know what it is you have to do but I bet that it's magnificent. I would even bet my life on that." Your laugh reminded me of a cough.
"What's your greatest memory of me?" I finally asked. I have wondered for months now. Was it the day we met? Was it the day you moved in with me?
"My greatest memory of you
It's definitely the 23rd of October."
The skin of my forehead wrinkled again. When I looked into the mirror I could already see how that motion carved lines into my skin. I didn't care.
"Why is that?" As far as I was concerned, there was nothing special about this day.
"It's the day that you got yourself the car you have always dreamed about. That's the first thing you have done for yourself since I had moved in with you."
"Everything I did for you I did for myself, too."
"That's sweet", you answered smiling and your eyelids fluttered again. A few days passed in the time lapse as the flower closed and opened several times. "But I just wanted to see that you didn't give up who you were for me. That I didn't stop you from having the life you wanted."
"You haven't stopped me. You have enhanced my life."
"I know." Again you laughed your cough-laugh. "But you were so happy. And you lifted me up and called me your girl. I have never been that happy again."
"You are my girl."
"I know", you repeated. "And there is one thing I want you to know."
"Yeah. Although I have never acted like it or said anything I want you to know one thing."
Your breath ended sharply now and started again but the time there wasn't any breath was longer now. With each breath you took my heart moved and it stopped when your breath did.
Your amber eyes looked at me and suddenly, you seemed alive, healthy and strong again. Your gaze was so powerful that I expected you to claim that it was April Fool's Day or something. But you didn't. Your words were even more wonderful than that.
"I love you, daddy", you whispered and I felt that you said the truth. "I have loved you since the day that you have decided to adopt me."
After saying that you died leaving me with a new greatest memory of you.
I didn't even have the time to respond.
You have been right, sweety. As usual. I still had something to do with my life.
After I have recovered slightly from the terrible loss I have suffered from I went out. For the first time since I have adopted you I visited some old friends. I visited my family. And I told all of them about you. Everything. Not just the great parts but really everything. After telling them how you graduated from high school I related them how difficult it had been to make you go to school every morning. I told them how lovely you were and how much you loved to bake and surprise me with a plate of self-made cookies and then I told them about the time you refused to cross the main street for weeks because one day you had seen a dead frog there and you didn't want to desecrate the place of its death. I told them about your strong suits and your flaws because I didn't want them to remember a perfect girl. I wanted them to remember you, to remember a human being.
One day, I met a woman who noticed the pictures of you in my purse when I was paying for a coffee. She asked for you and bought me a coffee when I told her your name. We talked about you for hours. I didn't tell her that you were dead because you were never dead to me. Eventually, she found out but she was great about it. She still liked to talk about you, was even more eager to learn everything about you as she knew that it was impossible for her to meet you in person. There was one thing I told her all over: I told her how much I loved you. Every single day I told her that. I abused the words as if I wanted to make up for the time I have wasted. I told her as many times as I should have told you.
Two years later we got married.
I would have really liked her to be your mother. I know you would have liked each other.
Of course I regretted that our life together didn't last long but I didn't get depressed because there were so many beautiful memories I had and I shared them with my wife. There wasn't one memory to single out because one single memory couldn't describe the person you have been. But there were three words that described the most important features of you and please, listen to me my little angel, my protector, because I want you to know that one thing:
I loved you.