By: Hyiwot Teshome
I have always hated moving. You might say it is because most men don't like new environments or places not yet their domain, but I think it is the packing that I hate. The fact is you have to put all your valuables, with lots of junk included, into boxes and hope against hope that every item comes out in one piece at the end of the day. That thought tires the hell out of me.
So here I am doing what I hate the most. Packing. I am almost done, though.
I have carefully pulled down all the framed pictures from the walls, wrapped them in plastic bubbles, and put them into the last boxes. All I have to do now is kill time. I have no hope my buddies will get here on time to help me move. That's another story. You expect people at 10:00 AM and they show up at 11:45 AM and expect you to be OK with that. Well, I beg to differ. I am not OK with it, but I am at their mercy today. I don't know why we don't hire people to move our stuff, even when we can afford it. It's not like we have incredibly expensive stuff that we can't trust just 'anybody' to move for us. Or is it just that we have stuff that everybody else would find ridiculously inconsequential to daily life and we are embarrassed to let outsiders know we're lugging them around every time we move?
I guess you do get to pontificate when you have a couple of hours to kill, huh?
Although we have been in this apartment for just about nine months, I can already see the clean and perfect squares and rectangles left on the walls by the framed pictures I just took down. Oh, those pictures! I think I will probably lug those around for the rest of my life. Can't trust just anybody with those, either. I will do it myself.
That big rectangle on the left side used to be the picture of her with her hair mussed up and her lips parted just wide enough to show the edges of her gorgeous teeth. I don't have any "artistic" tendencies in my bones, but I believe I spent more than a week before I finally decided to put that framed picture on that wall. Perfect lighting from the side window and all, my reasoning went. I don't think it made much sense to anybody else, but I strongly felt that was the place for that picture. It probably figured a lot in my calculation also that IT would be the first thing I would see when I came into the apartment.
Then there's the picture above the fireplace. That used to be a picture of her and I. It was taken while I was listening to her intently. Don't ask me what she was telling me, but I know I was blown away by her good looks and her smile at that moment, and drooling, the friend who took the picture never fails to mention. You can see we both had twinkles in our eyes. It was taken by one of her friends who gushed afterwards that she knew we were meant for each other by the intense way we were looking at each other. You can always find friends who think your significant other was made just for you.
The comedy is, you can find an equally high number of friends who thought the relationship wouldn't last for long because you were just too good for her/him. They conveniently tell you this after the breakup, good friends that they are. Bastards.
But I digress.
I didn't need anybody to tell me she was meant for me. I knew it as soon I saw her eyes that day. We both loved that picture. It became our favorite picture. Just like Dylan's "You Got a Tight Connection to my Heart" became our favorite song. In a moment of romantic selflessness, she decided to let me have the only 4x6 we had of that picture. She was that way. She could blow your mind with the littlest things she could think of doing to make you happy.
On the other corner of another wall is a picture of a park bench. She had me get a poster size reprint of the park bench where we had our first picnic. A poster-size picture of a bench in some park, you might say. It wasn't just a bench, she would say. Every time I see that bench, I remember how happy and hopeful we were, she would say. Who could argue with that?
So it was a poster-size reprint, damn the fact that we were running out of walls in this tiny apartment.
Then there is that shade of rectangle right above where the TV used to be. That used to be a group picture of us, with about ten or so of our closest friends. It was taken over the Christmas holiday last year. She is laughing in that picture. She was laughing throughout that glorious evening. I can still hear her laugh whenever I see that picture. I don't know how to explain it, but she had a laugh that would refuse leave your head and your memory even if you tried. No need to get it out of my head, then or now. I don't know who was cracking the jokes then, but she was laughing so hard. Could be that she was just happy that night. I was. Extremely happy.
I don't think either one of us thought that night that we had only four more months left together. Who would have thought it in the middle of that euphoria?
Then came the problems with getting up in the morning. The lazy bum that I am, I kept telling her to stay in and not worry about going to work. Call in sick, I kept saying. If you are not feeling as if you are on top of the world, I call that getting sick. So call in sick, I kept encouraging her. I always loved sleeping late into the latter half of the morning, but I had to work and pay the bills with my meager wages.
But, it finally came to the point where the smile I so loved was looking forced whenever I came into the room. I think she was trying to be brave and not have me worry, but it was showing as clearly as a just-wiped-clean mirror. So it was on to her doctor for a check up.
After the cursory bodily exams, the look on the doctor's face told me everything. Something was seriously wrong. I am not brave, I will admit, but my reaction that day was totally unbecoming. I just doubled up and screamed a silent scream as if somebody had socked me in the stomach. You would think I would try to put a brave face for her. Not me, I am selfish that way. I know when I am hurting and nothing would stop me from showing it.
Eventually, it was she who came over to me trying to comfort me. She was the one having all those pains, pains she tried to hide from me, and I was the one being comforted! She kept saying that it wasn't anything serious, but I bet she knew it right then and there that it was the beginning of the end for us.
I don't remember what the doctor ever said, but he went on and on about everything turning out to be a false alarm and her being back to her old self in no time, etc. But just in case, he said, why not let him take some samples? If we have to, he went on, we might temporarily admit her and see if we can't nip this in the bud.
What is getting nipped in the bud was us, I retorted to myself. It was typical doctor talk. When they say it is not going to hurt, it will hurt like hell. When they say it was nothing serious, it would turn out to be REALLY serious. When they say it is just a precautionary move, it tends to become a losing battle. Typical doctors.
I was a zombie all week while we waited for the results. Of course the results came and she got admitted to the hospital and everything progressively got worse, except for her smile. She kept that smile up for me.
I used to go home at night during her hospital stay and try to comfort myself by looking at the pictures of her on the wall and listening to some music. Reading books was out because I was in dreamland after a couple of pages. I would crank up Bob Dylan and listen repeatedly to his "Blood On The Tracks" CD. I kept looking at the picture with her lips just opened to show her teeth and listened to Bob Dylan wail,
"…Look at the Sun, sinking like a ship
Ain't that just like my heart babe, when you kiss my lip…"
Again and again and again…
Every night I left the hospital, she would kiss me on the lips and say, "See you tomorrow", but I kept having a sinking feeling it would be our last kiss. I tried to do stuff I thought would cheer her up. I would try to comb her hair and she would say, "But you like it all mussed up…." I would try to take pictures of her and she would resolutely say, "No. Maybe tomorrow." I am immensely grateful for those refusals because I don't have any pictures of her from the hospital. Why do you need any sad pictures when you have healthy pictures adorning every little space on the walls?
I guess I was right, because one day I went to the hospital early in the morning, and found her in an oxygen tank. I could hold her hand and massage her feet, but we never got to kiss after that.
One of her doctors said we needed to talk. This was after about a week in the oxygen tank and I knew what he wanted to ask. I just said to go ahead and do it, before he even opened his mouth. "Just let me be there when she is gone," is I asked.
He nodded and left. Late in the afternoon, I was called back into her room and left alone with her for the rest of her earthly life. They told me she passed away at 8:00 PM, but her hands went really cold way before then. But I couldn't let go. I held her hands until they finally came in and asked for a few minutes to prepare her. I don't know what "prepare" meant, but I knew it wasn't for me.
My feet failed me after I went out the door and they finally had to get me a wheelchair. Called our buddies and my parents right from the hospital. I had one of my buddies drive me to her parents' nursing home and told them the bad news myself. I sat there with them for a couple of hours with none of us saying a word that we could understand. Just mumbling to our selves, I guess. But every now and then, her mother would ask, "Right?" and it would really rattle us. Fortunately, she never expected an answer from us. I finally left for the apartment and found out I couldn't live in that apartment for long without her.
I asked for Dylan's "Shooting Star" to be played at the funeral service. She was my shooting star, after all. She brightened my life tremendously but was gone before I knew it. Now I am in the dark for my "shooting star" leaving me unexpectedly.
They played the song at the service. I can't say a lot of people were impressed by the choice of songs, but that is the trouble with Dylan. It usually takes him a couple of decent CDs to come up with a really excellent one, but even the excellent ones are drowned by his nasal drawl, dammit.
But, his lyrics! His lyrics are killers. I sang along silently while he went on:
"…Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you
Tomorrow will be another day
Guess itís too late for you to hear
All the things that you needed me to say
Seen a shooting star tonight, slip away…"
It's from his album "Oh Mercy"
Oh Mercy, indeed!
Finally. I hear a buzz at the door and I have a feeling it's my buddies. I open the door and there they are. "We didn't make you wait, did we?" they ask in unison. "No," I say. "I had some last minute packing to do. I am actually happy you guys are late."
Little do they know it was my memories I was packing "at the last minute." I tell them there is some food in the oven for everyone and they devour that in nothing flat. Everyone then grabs a box and heads for the elevator. I don't think I like the way they are handling the boxes, especially the ones with her clothes and albums of her pictures.
I should have written "Fragile" all over them. That's the way I feel inside, anyway. Fragile. That way, they would have been careful to my satisfaction. Oh, well. All the boxes are out of the apartment and into the van in minutes. I am kind of hurt by this. You would think our life together would have meant at least a couple of hours of work for these overfed friends of mine.
I get in the back of the van for the trip to the new apartment and we head out of the parking garage. We haven't driven more than a couple of blocks when I "remembered" I had left something back at the apartment. I tell them to give me about five minutes and I head back to our apartment. They are not very happy about this, but, hell, I waited two hours for them, didn't I?
I just had to go back and say my goodbyes to my memories of that apartment. I don't have to turn in the keys at the front office for the next six hours, anyway.
I get an eerie feeling as soon as I open the door of the apartment. The apartment is devoid of stuff except for the imprints all those boxes have left on the carpet and the clean squares and rectangles on the walls. When I look at the walls, I hear her laugh and see her smiles all around me. I am taking it all with me, I promise myself. So there I am, feeling at once happy and sad…feeling her warmth all around me while standing in the middle of an otherwise empty room.