She's beautiful. Her long silky brown hair frames her delicate face as she sits on the bitter kitchen floor. She's huddling over something I can't yet detect but the way she is sitting sends shivers down my spine. How did I get this lucky? Her slim, five-seven, 130 pound frame makes me think back to when we got married, thirty years ago. She still had her mind back then, we were so young. As I'm standing here, watching the love of my life on the floor, I realize she's gone. She's savagely eating curdled milk out of her brittle hands. To her it's delicious buttered popcorn, freshly popped from the steaming hot kettle we don't have. The luscious brown locks that once felt like home to my hands are now matted in knots of madness. Remnants of last week’s dinner still stain her clothes. How did we get here?
I wasn't much of a young man back in my day. I mostly stayed to myself and let life walk all over me. I had a grade point average of 4.0 in high school and college wasn't much different. I was a struggling writer, trying to get a job anywhere I could. When I wasn't in class I was waiting tables, busting my ass for money that wouldn't stay in my pocket. The only joy in life, for me, was escaping into the sweet oblivion that was my mind. If I could've supported myself without working, I would have. If I could've gotten by in life without making any friends, I would have. If I could've been alone forever, I would have.
"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" I looked up from my morning crossword puzzle only to have my heart stop inside myself.
"Umm, uh nnn..." I tried to speak but the words wouldn't come out. I was staring at the angel herself. Her long dark beautiful hair fell over her shoulders as she beckoned towards me. Her almond eyes stopped my breath and I began to sweat.
"Oh, that's okay. I can just sit over here," she said politely. She walked away and I lost all hope in something that never was.
The next day, I went back to the coffee shop to do my morning crossword puzzle. Secretly, I was hoping that she would be there. I wanted to show her that I wasn't just a tall dark haired dork but a cutting edge playwright on the brink of fame. I stumbled inside through the frost covered doors. Never did I seem to grow into my size fourteen shoes. After adjusting my jacket I looked up, scanning the small intimate cafe for her dark almond eyes. The soft recording of jazz music invaded my ears as I squinted to find her.
Shit. Of course, she wouldn't be there. Why would a loser like me get so lucky? I nonchalantly walked to the counter to place my order.
"What can I get for you this morning, sir?" asked the young employee.
"Columbian, black." I never was one for fancy drinks. A hot bold cup of coffee was what I needed to jumpstart my day. I grabbed my coffee and walked to my usual table by the window. I peered out into the busy streets of Chicago. This was my home. For six years, I did my morning crossword puzzle at the same table at the same boring coffee shop. Every morning I stared out the same old window, covered with condensation from the morning air. I dreamed of having my name lit up in city lights. I strived to be someone, to be anything but an awkward individual who never could get a date.
"Hello again," said the gorgeous woman. There she was, standing in front of me glowing with the morning sun.
"Hello," I shyly replied.
"Do you mind?" She pointed toward the empty hardwood chair sitting across from me.
"No, not at all." My heart was beating through my chest and I could feel my blood rushing through my entire body. Breathe. I couldn't make an ass of myself, like I did when any person of the opposite sex acknowledged my presence. Just be cool.
"So you're a writer?" She pointed towards my coffee stained manuscript.
"Oh, yes, yes I am. Well, I'm trying to be at least," I glared at my unfinished manuscript that was sitting on the table like a pile of bricks. I tried to look up, make eye contact with her, but gravity had other plans for my face.
"So are you a student?" she asked. Her smile caught me off guard as it reminded me of the heavens in the sky parting just for me.
"Umm, ye...yes," I said.
"Oh, yea? Are you a student at DePaul?" she asked. By this time I was sweating profusely, hoping she couldn't see her own reflection in my forehead.
"Yes. I'm a graduate student, second year." I said slyly. The table began to vibrate from my rapid leg quivering underneath it. With grace she sipped long on her coffee. Time frozen, I stared directly into the vast beauty of her confident eyes. I thought about saying something but the silence spoke more than I ever could. She was wearing little makeup. Her small pouty lips glistened in the sun from her clear lip gloss she applied every twenty minutes. When the moment came when she realized I wasn't speaking, she titled her head ever so gently and stared out the window. From that moment on I knew that I had found a treasure that I couldn’t let go.
"God damn it Dean get in here, I can't breathe!" she screamed. Flash forward thirty years from that moment in the coffee shop to where we are today. I'm standing in the aphotic hallway, peering ever so slightly from behind the wall.
"Dean, they're coming, they're coming! Come get me you mother fuckers!" I can't say exactly what went wrong with her. She was perfect when we met. Never did I think I would have to bathe her night and day. When I said "I do" I never realized the sacrifices I had to make to keep her safe, from the world, from herself.
"Marcia," I said quietly. "Marcia, dear, put down the food and let's take a bath." She glared at me with her almond eyes but these eyes I do not recognize. They're mad eyes during the roughest moments. They speak of night terrors and delusions. They scream with pain and anguish. They tell stories of a once beautiful woman whom I knew long ago. I took her by the cold brittle hand, trying to get her up off the ground. When she finally stood erect, her eyes locked with mine.
"Dean?" she asked, her hollow eyes now tearing up. "Dean, is that you?" At that moment, I knew what I had to say. I said it every time as not to confuse her more than she already was.
"Yes. Yes, Marcia it's me." Lies. Having the love of your life become violently ill is one thing. To have her confuse you with another man, is another. Words are but only tiny specks of black on a page. Her words are daggers slicing into my soul. My soul is frozen, so it can't develop more scars that will never heal.
"Let's go take a bath Dean," she said. The corners of her brittle mouth curved upwards, showing me that I was not the man she remembered, or loved.
"Ok Marcia, careful now." With half of her body weight on my left side, I took her slowly to the bathroom. I had already drawn the bath, lukewarm with a lilac fragrance just how she liked it. My hands trembling, I reached to disrobe her. This pink flimsy nightgown in which she lived in everyday was soaked with spoiled milk. The pungent smell invaded my nostrils as my eyes glistened with heartbroken tears. Her once soft buttermilk toned skin was nothing more than a harsh sheet of sand paper. I couldn't get near her on the bad days with lotion. I stopped trying.
"Dean, darling, tell me a story," she said with a slight smile on her face.
"Ok, well, get in the bath and then I’ll read you a story," I replied dismally. I wasn’t sure if she could read the expression on my face. However, she was in her own little world now; plagued by unsoundness. I watched her get in the bath gently. With quiet mind, I trudged to my office and picked up a story I knew all too well. I sat down on the edge of the tub and looked at my wife. She smiled at me and beckoned me on with those hollow almond eyes of hers.
"Read to me Dean," she said excitedly. I took a deep breath and began to read.
"Till Death Do us Part by Jack Sanders."