Her face was the last thing John saw there in that hospital bed with the beeping sounds and sad thin sheets. Her eyes were the placid blue of the reef in the afternoon, a kind of wistful hope shining from her while she held his hand at the end. Her hair was close cropped and grey and her oval face lined with worry and years and the love of a man she’d walked through hell and back with.
John’s eyes remained open, and he saw her for who she was, for who she had always been, and he perceived this not with his eyes but with his soul, floating, unfettered now and able to walk through a door to yesterday, lingering above each memory, tasting the truth of each moment as though for the first time, savoring the fleeting preciousness in a way he wished he had before.
A tumble of long dark hair falling over her shoulders the first night they’d met so long ago, sultry and whispering, her skin smooth and pale in the night, an eager vulnerability about her which seemed to fill a deep need in John, a missing piece he hadn’t known existed until he met her. The rush of falling in love, the wedding down in the Keys beside the ocean, when she put on his ring and life stretched out before them full of possibility.
He saw their first child born, her lying on the table of this very hospital, on a different floor, a happy place of life and rebirth. Her face shimmering with sweat and the tears in her eyes when John placed the infant against her breast. He saw her on the beach, the waves surging while she held a small child’s hand, giggling and laughing, the sun bright and warm and good.
The journey darkened then, and John found himself drifting through a murk he would rather not face, a certain truth which makes a man hurt. He saw her anguished tears and heard her sobs and felt a deep pain emanating from her wounded spirit. There was a bitter taste to that time, to those memories which wrapped around each other until they became years interspersed with moments of light, but which were not well lit, and there was a heaviness in that time, and the darkness had a kind of weight. There were demons there, and they were mean and bent upon destruction.
He heard the angry accusations, the shouting and the denials and felt a loneliness creeping cold into his bones, for it was in both her and him back then, and now it felt worse than it did at the time. Perhaps because it was done and there are things a man can’t take back even though he wishes he could, and sometimes it’s years and that’s a hard thing to face, there at the end. There was an eroding of the soul, a depletion of spirit which caused her to retreat into herself, and neither of them knew it until it was almost too late.
The journey was not yet finished.
There was rebirth and renewal, and he saw her shedding the weight she’d gained over the course of four children and a decade and she was emerging again like a rose which has lain dormant through the cold hard winter, only to blossom once more under the kiss of the warm spring sun. She laughed and sang and danced and looked upon him with eyes bright again. Her canvas was fulll of color and swirls of crazy dreams and she found a truth and validation in her art because it was meaningful and good and true and there was healing in it.
Her childish nature radiated from her, not in a petulant way, but in the way of wonder and glory, and she grew, becoming herself at last, transforming into the woman she’d always wanted to be because she was finally discovering who that woman was. He watched her gaze in awe upon the streets of Florence, a glass of red wine in one hand and her head tilted back to embrace the gentle sun. He felt the wind rushing at his face, top down, her singing beside him as they crested the Golden Gate Bridge, driving without a destination in mind for the journey then was the purpose, the little things and shining moments of glory. The years were happy and tinged with a sort of golden light and they went by too fast.
Her face was the last thing John saw, and that was how it should be.