He took her hand in his, gently but firmly, and noticed how thin her skin had become. He could see the network of veins and arteries clearly through the paper-thin skin. The cliche is correct, he reflected, our skin does become like parchment. He didn't think he had ever seen real parchment, but he was sure that the skin of her hand--and his own as well--looked like parchment.
With as much strength as her tired, ancient body possessed, she contracted every muscle she still controlled in one final struggle against the pain and against the approaching death. Her eyes were squinted shut, as though refusing to look her future in the eye.
Now he said to her, "Look at me, dearest. Look into my eyes." She didn't seem to hear, so he repeated it, a little louder. "Look at me, dearest. Look into my eyes." He pulled on her hand ever so gently with that second injunction, and he succeeded in capturing her attention for just a moment.
Her eyes winced half-open for an instant and then clenched shut again.
"Open your eyes, my darling. Look into my eyes and remember how we were." He paused for the idea to penetrate her agony. "Remember how we were when we first met."
This time her eyes opened fully and gazed into his, and then snapped shut. . .but opened again. Now, alternately, she was looking into those eyes she had shared over fifty years of life with and then slipping back to drown in pain, more pain than she felt she could survive.
As he gained her attention, first in instants, then brief moments, then longer ones, he continued talking in a voice that was at once firm and loving. Sometimes, when she would retreat into the pain, his voice would add a hint of stridency that took it almost within recognition distance of harshness.
"Remember the way we were. See how young we were. Look at our bodies, strong and vibrant and limber. Can you remember all the things we could do with those bodies?"
Now he had her attention. His conversation had connected, albeit it a tenuous connection, like the ones that link rescue workers with those threatened by fire or flood. It was as though 911 had called, and she tried to hold on for safety.
"Notice that in all the changes since that time, one thing has remained constant. Our love has never weakened. Like our bodies, it has changed form, once fiery, now mature, but its strength has never waned. I love you as strongly and as powerfully today as when we first met. In fact, as my physical strength has lessened, my love for you has become, proportionately, all the stronger. It is, at this moment, the most powerful thing in my life.
"I know it's the most powerful thing in your life right now as well, and I want you to call on that strength to save yourself."
In fifty plus years together, she had taken the lead in their relationship. She was more reflective on it, quicker to put attention on the relationship, and generally guided it in the direction her judgment said was best. Now, in this moment of great pain, she relaxed her grip on the tiller and listened to his words.
"I want you to look into my eyes, remember how we were, and let go of the pain, my love. Come to me. You will be safe in here, and neither of us will every be alone. For over half a century, I have known we were meant to be together. Even when we quarreled, I never doubted that.
"Let go of the pain, now, and come to me. Be with me. We'll never be apart."
Her resistance to the pain melted away as she now gazed fully into his eyes. As her body gently relaxed away from his, her being moved toward him, into the eyes. Once she had slipped away from her agony and into her salvation, she let the abandoned eyes slowly close. The old face took on a sense of peace, the hint of a smile on the withered lips.
His body felt transformed as well. His brittle, bony frame seemed to take on substance. It felt more robust. He felt whole, complete. He was flushed with a sense of well-being. Somewhere in the new depths of his self, he heard a voice. It spoke to him gently, lovingly.
"Thank you," it said.
(c) 1999 Earl Babbie