No Greater Glory
Just. Like. That.
I stayed home from work; I couldn’t leave him alone, I couldn’t leave him in the care of strangers. It had to be me.
As his doctor had instructed, I fed him a gruel mixture of eggs and milk every two to three hours. Though I had some help, the others knew I had to do it, I had to be the one for him. When the time came, I wanted to be there. Resting became naps taken intermittently by his side only to wake when he stirred. Alternating his medicine with the gruel and special glucose water, time blurred.
It was sometime on the third day, he’d stopped eating altogether. Everything ingested had been coming up anyway, and it wore his already tired body even more. The end was just a matter of time, and I could only wait, lying at his side, letting him know with every word, every touch how much he meant to me. Part of me knew he understood. I wanted to believe he thought the same way.
I took to talking to him all the time. My voice would crack, become tired and strained. Someone would hand me water, bring me food. I would sleep, wake and start over again. I told him things I never thought I’d say aloud or outside a darkened room. But then, he’d somehow changed me. Sometimes I think I was delusional, and thought he answered me back.
About a week after I’d brought him home from the hospital, it happened. It seems to always be in the early morning hours when souls decide to leave. I’d felt him stir briefly and rose to kneel by his side. An arm draped itself about my shoulders, and I looked into a pair of eyes holding the same grief I held. Despite his illness, I kissed him goodbye.
And watched him depart.
I would like to say it happened so gradually that I never noticed until it was too late. But then, that’d be a lie.
At first, he didn’t eat much any more, and that went against everything he had been. For he was the pig everyone thought him to be. He could eat his own dinner, and then steal from your plate when you weren’t looking, giving you a goofy grin when you caught him. Never really repentant, he always made up for it in the end.
A quick visit with his doctor, a bottle of supplementary vitamins and a restricted diet later seemed to help. He ate more, but nowhere near as much as before. When he started losing weight, his doctor added protein shakes at every meal for the extra calories.
Finding his hair all over the house wasn’t new. Finding it in the amounts I did was frightening. A phone call reassured that with the stress and diet change, it was normal.
When he started staggering as he walked, when he ran into walls, and leaned against whatever was handy making his way from the bedroom to the kitchen, I knew it was no longer normal. We made another trip to the doctor. Tests were performed, samples taken and his doctor sent us home to wait for the results. His blood work didn’t show anything unusual other than his red cell count was down. But given his condition before the tests, it seemed normal.
At a loss, x-rays and cat scans were ordered. And in the meantime, he was admitted as a patient, an IV inserted and he even had a heart monitor hooked up. By the look in his eyes, I could tell he was trying to be brave and not let the bustle and fuss frighten him; it frightened me. I stayed with him while the results were studied; hoping my presence would reassure him.
I became a security risk that day, after his doctor told me his prognosis. The hospital had to call for someone to come pick us up. Threatening bodily harm and life couldn’t change the facts. Luckily, his doctor understood how I felt, and didn’t have me arrested.
At our home, I wouldn’t let anyone else carry him inside, and though he could have walked from the car to his bed, I couldn’t let him. Knowing the days I could hold him were numbered, I wanted to take advantage of it every chance I got.
A brain tumor. He had days only.
Who would have thought?
Swimming was his favorite activity. Not a week went by that didn’t find us in the truck with a couple of towels, a cooler, and lunch, or dinner if it was after work. The lake wasn't far from the house, and surprisingly empty on most days except for the hottest in summer. We would swim together, lay out on the shore soaking up the sun, eat and sometimes play a little frisbee.
He loved digging in the garden, uprooting things. As annoying as it was, secretly I was pleased at how happy it made him. When he’d make messes I couldn’t live with, I’d go behind him and clean. I don’t think he ever realized I was even doing it.
Not really one for spontaneous action, there were times I would sing when something special played on the radio. His voice would join in with mine, though what he did you couldn’t call singing. But we enjoyed ourselves, and entertained one another. And I loved it.
There were things he held a fondness for that had no rhyme or reason behind them - like an old holey tee shirt, or a certain pair of leather shoes. It seemed that no matter how many times I’d thrown out that shirt, it found its way back into the house, and into his protected custody. The shoes were a lost cause and I said nothing about them in hopes they’d be the only pair.
Of the many trips taken, I’d have to say the shuttles to Quatre’s were his favorite. It was as though there he felt he could be himself. To be wild, be free. No one seemed to mind his enthusiasm and exuberance. I embraced it, for with him, I too was free and I too could be wild.
Many times over the years together, he’d lay curled at my back. Often too hot for me, instead of moving him, I would open windows or turn on the air conditioning. Having him there felt right. Sometimes, when it was just the two of us, I’d tell him things I couldn’t say aloud. Things I knew would hurt or couldn’t be forgiven if said to others. I knew he’d keep my secrets. I knew his feelings for me wouldn’t change no matter what. I never missed a chance to tell him how I felt, and though he could never say it, I believe he felt the same.
In our second year together, near Christmastime, Duo asked me what gift I wanted. I remember it was late on a Saturday morning, and neither of us wanted to move. Duo was on his back, and I was sprawled half over his body, my head on his chest, our legs entwined. I would like to say his hand was in my hair, like it was so many times, but that detail wasn’t a certainty.
Before that year, I’d never celebrated Christmas growing up the way I had. And after peace came, it’d never been part of what I did. Duo’s question, asked quietly in a very sated voice, needed thought. Why my first gift ever had to be special, I wasn’t sure, but just knew.
Our first year together was so tumultuous the season had come and gone before either of us felt like giving anything to the other. That next year had been one of revelation and discovery. We woke up to the fact we were doomed by some chortling force of fate - we were destined to be together. Maybe it was the common experiences, the shared emotions neither could vocalize but knew anyhow. I liked to think I was the itch he couldn’t scratch without my help. Whatever it was, we were together in it.
Something to symbolize who we were, what we were to each other, I’d told him. Something we could share and know what it meant.
That afternoon, we went shopping. Having a very vague idea of what could show our relationship, we started out in jewelry stores. I’d found a pendant I liked, but it didn’t fit the meaning I sought. Duo looked at matching gold bands, and I agreed - one of these days. Maybe soon, but not then.
Over the course of the month, nothing was left undiscovered. Between signs and tapestries, specially printed books and memorial bricks, I couldn’t decide; they all felt wrong somehow. Almost at his wits end to please my growing obsession, Duo brought home several catalogs of houses for sale, thinking a residence we’d choose together was what I desired. The home we had more than satisfied me, even if it’d been his long before I moved in.
Despondent over our lack of success, I flipped through the photographs anyway. Duo sat at my side, and together we listed out each home’s features. But none of them felt right. It was in the second book the epiphany happened. All this time, it’d been material things we sought and what I wanted was an intangible. Pointing to a picture in the book, I told him that that was it. Duo agreed, his eyes lit with the same emotion I know was reflected in my own.
The first two stores we went to didn’t quite have what we looked for. Ranging from several hundred to several thousand, the cost made no difference; I didn’t feel the pull I knew was needed. There was a couple we could have settled for, but even Duo knew they weren’t right and we moved on.
The third shop should have been our first. Castoffs with rough edges, we too had been given another chance at life, and in this place I knew we’d find what we were looking for. Down the dingy aisles, and noisy interior, what we sought waited for us as well. A short bit of paperwork later with both of us contributing to the cost of the purchase, we went home.
That night, we made love slow and tender. As though our symbol allowed us to show what we felt in a new way, each touch and every kiss had meaning, and held the emotion we rarely spoke of. Whether he looked down on me or I him, even when we lay side by side, our eyes told the story, and it was hours before we slept.
Since it had been my idea, I felt I should be the one to get up that first night. Stumbling down the stairs in the dark, mumbling and cursing under my breath, I made my way to the cordoned off kitchen. The noises stopped as I drew near, but knowing they’d start as soon as I left, I dropped to my knees and pulled aside the gate.
He came at me with his tail wagging, planting his paws on my thighs. His tongue licked my face, causing me to sputter and curse some more. I heard Duo laughing behind me and I tossed a curse over my shoulder while I was at it. Pulling on the collar, I managed to settle him down some and looked him in the eye. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what he did.
Duo moved forward, dropping to his knees at my side. I looked at him, saw the concern in his blue eyes, and smiled despite the tears on my cheeks. He embraced me, and accepted the wet kisses given as I had. Without saying a word, Duo understood, and I knew he had done the same. He fell in love too.
Just like that.