I looked in the mirror this morning and saw a stranger staring back at me. I stared and stared at this woman that I do not know. I don't recall those haunted eyes or tired smile.
Am I waking from a dream? What a horrible nightmare. It was the darkest of dreams. It was a dream of illness and death. I could not escape. I ran in circles while the people I loved most in the world fell ill around me. I ran and ran. I cried tears that would not fall while screams of denial echoed through my brain. I watched in helpless horror as one by one they wasted away before my eyes. I held hands with paper skin as they fell cool and grey. I searched for a vestige of recognition in eyes gone mad from pain.
A shadow fell over my world as the first one fell. So young. Shuddering, shallow breaths. Pale skin and sunken eyes. “Don't leave me. Please don't leave.” I hear the pleading words that my voice won't form. I cannot hold her to this earth. She was too fragile for this frozen place.
My cold heart broke at the death of the second. He was responsible for my life on earth. A distant man. I didn't love him but there was a time that I wanted to. My tears fell like rain as I stood by his grave. “Goodbye Daddy”.
I'm walking now through a mist. Hands reaching out to me. Needing me. Leaching the life from me day by day. This surreal place cannot be my life. Why oh why can't I wake? I pinched myself and it bruised. But it must have been a dream.
I continue to stare into the glass. Who is she? This person in the mirror that surely cannot be me? I don't recollect that gauntness or the defeated droop to those shoulders. I don't remember limp, lifeless hair or creases between the brow.
No, certainly it was a dream. I will walk away from this mirror. I will walk away from that tormented soul staring back at me from the glass. That dark, terror of a dream...I stood by the bedside of the third one as she looked at me with fear in her eyes, “I'm afraid. What if I don't wake up?” I comforted her. I loved her like a mother. I reassured her. I stood by her grave watching them lower her coffin into the waiting earth. Not a tear fell. Numbness.
The fourth. Husband. Endless months watching him decline. Four days and nights by his hospital bed. That last breath like a sigh of relief. Looked at the clock. 1:34a.m. Must remember to tell the nurse. Phone calls. Arrangements. Pretty bouquets of flowers to mock my pain. Trays of food causing my stomach to lurch. Tears...when will I have time for tears? What if when they come they never stop?
From the depths of my sorrow a phone ringing. “Hi Sis.” Not my sister of blood but of heart. “They are going to intubate... have to induce a coma.....may not wake up.....If I don't see you on this side I'll give Al a kiss for you...” How could this be happening? My friend. My best friend. How could you leave me when my husband died yesterday? Twelve days she lay silent before her spirit departed the bonds of this existence. Wait!!! Wait!!! Take me with you!!! No...I must stay.
It must have been a dream. Slowly I awaken. Weeks...months...awakening to this new life I never asked for. A world I no longer recognize. I reach to remove sunglasses that aren't there. Why is this world so gray? I stare at that woman in the mirror. It wasn't a dream.