25 Oct. 2009
One Too Many
As I lay my head on the soft feather pillow, I wonder why she is taking so long to return from lunch. I could kick myself for being late for our date, but that butterfly was so tempting that I had to chase it to see if there were any more.
I heard her loving voice as she spoke to her company walking with her. I guessed she brought a friend back from lunch. Good thing I cleaned the house this morning, I thought. I have never understood how two people of our age can make such a mess.
She walks through the front door as I notice the peeling paint that I haven’t gotten around to fixing. One day I will get it done once all of this craziness blows over. I’ve been telling myself that for eighteen years, but yet I still say it every day.
The sight of only one person walking through the door does not surprise me. Another episode, I thought. Cindy had been getting better, but there were still days that she had these visions. My mind wonders. It was my fault because I didn’t meet her. When the routine gets messed up, so does her mind.
“Hello darling,” Cindy says. “Doesn’t she look beautiful? We went and had her senior pictures made and, as always, she was the most beautiful girl there.”
Frowning, I look at my wife. Regaining my composer I say, “I’m sorry I didn’t make it in time for lunch. The traffic was horrible in town; another wreck. That new light they put in has really caused more problems than there were before. This town is being ruined by these new uptown folks that are moving in.”
“Oh darling, don’t be so negative. This is our daughter’s big milestone in life, and we are not going to mess it up with all your crazy talk. These folks are going to solve our problems and keep this town from going under.” Smiling Cindy lightly kisses her husband on the forehead. Oh how I wish things were different, she thinks as she walks away.
“Time for a stroll. It’s a beautiful day and we need to get some fresh air,” says Cindy.
“Ok, well do you mind if I walk along? I could use some fresh air,” I say.
Cindy’s cheeks rose up as she smiles and says, “Sure!” She loves taking walks with me.
“Of course he doesn’t even acknowledge that I’m here,” Rachel mutters under her breath while walking out of the house.
Tramping through the fallen leaves of red, orange, and yellow, a feeling of freedom begins to surge through the girls. As the slight breeze brushes against their skin, life comes back into their bones. Cindy begins to run around with her arms stretched to the sky yelling, “I’m free, I’m free.”
A look of satisfaction crosses my face as I watch the joy that I have been missing in the last year.
Cindy had just moved back home from Rose Gardens Rehabilitation Center after being there for almost a year. I began to notice changes in her personality after the death of our three year old daughter. Rachel was diagnosed with a rare disorder when she was two. She had to be hospitalized while the hospital ran tests to find out what was wrong. The disorder was not common in children, and there was no known cure. We knew our little girl would die, but there was always hope in Cindy’s heart that something could be done.
Cindy never left Rachel’s side while she was in the hospital. She would read her stories and tell her what a beautiful future was ahead of her. The little girl would smile at her mommy and tell her she loved her and would always be with her. “I never leave Mommy,” Rachel said the morning she passed away.
Cindy was never the same after that. The counseling just made her feel worse, and finally her therapist recommend Rose Gardens. I had no other option.
I went to see Cindy every day. One day I walked in and she was talking to herself. “No sweetie, I don’t think you should do that,” she said. I continued to listen and realized that I was hearing a one sided conversation between Cindy and someone else.
“The problem is getting worse,” the therapist said. “There is an issue with memory, and we do not know if there will be a full recovery.”
I was at my lowest point and did not know what to do. I walked home that evening passing a beautiful lake. I knew the lake and had been there many times with Cindy when we were dating. As I stood looking at the sun going down on the horizon, I prayed to whoever would listen. “Please give me the courage to endure whatever trials are to come. Help me to find a way to bring my wife back to me and please be with her as she goes through these hard times.”
I felt a calm sensation come over me and thought for a second that someone might have heard my prayer. All I could do was believe that somehow things would be okay.
I returned to the home the next day with beautiful red roses. Cindy smelled the roses and told me that Rachel wanted to smell them too. “Pick her up to them so she can smell them.”
Falling onto the bed I didn’t know how to react. “Honey, Rachel is not here. She died, remember?”
A look of confusion crossed Cindy’s face. “She is not dead. She is standing right here beside me. Stop acting so silly and lift her up to smell the flowers.”
I ran out the door and asked for Cindy’s therapist to be called. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what to do.
Cindy could not accept Rachel’s death and had created her in her mind. Cindy was so damaged by the death of her child that she kept her with her by creating her inside her head. To Cindy, Rachel was a real person.
I asked the therapist if there was any way to cure Cindy and she explained that it was a waiting process. “Some patients can be cured of this disease with therapy and others live with it their whole life. This is a day by day thing, and no one knows how it will turn out. You must decide if you can be part of Cindy’s life. You will not be looked down on if you walk away. We are here to take care of her and that is what we will do.”
I went home that night and lay in bed wondering what I should do. “I don’t know if I am strong enough to be there for her. I don’t know if I can take the reminder of my daughter every day,” I said to Cindy’s sister, Stephanie, that night on the phone. I told her everything that was going on and needed her advice on what to do.
“Marriage is for better or worse. It can’t get any worse than this. You made your vows and you must honor them. Of course it is your decision, but that is my opinion. She would stick by you if the situation was reversed,” Stephanie said.
She was right. Cindy had always gone to Stephanie for advice, and she always did what her older sister said. It was now my turn. For Cindy, I would stay, and I would do everything in my power to bring her back to me.
The next day I met with Cindy’s therapist. We spoke about options for helping Cindy deal with her emotions and how we should react when these episodes present themselves.
As the days go by I don’t know if I can stand the moods that Cindy has. I brought her back home because I felt that she might get better in a more comfortable environment. One second things will be fine, and then, out of nowhere, Rachel is there.
“John, will you please help your daughter with her coloring?” I hear from the kitchen. This is getting to be too much. It’s one thing for her to talk and interact with the imagined child; but now she is requesting for me to.
“I’m busy,” I say. The therapist said that we need to keep things as normal as possible, so I don’t get too upset. After a few minutes I walk into the kitchen and I see Cindy sitting at the table coloring a Cinderella picture.
“Try to stay in the lines sweet heart. You are getting so much better at your coloring. My little girl is going to be four years old next week. Can you believe it darling, our little baby is growing up.” I turn and walk out of the kitchen and go to the garage. I open the fridge and grab a beer from the top shelf. At times like this I want to drink the whole twelve pack, but I love my wife and know I need to be there for her, so after two bottles I return to the kitchen.
Cindy is pinning the drawing on the fridge. I stand there and look at the half colored Cinderella. The blue dress has been beautifully filled in with Cindy’s strokes. The flowers that Cindy left for Rachel are untouched. Things have to get better, I think to myself. I don’t know if I can do this forever.
I lie in bed looking up at the ceiling. I can see little spots that need to be touched up. How does that paint on the ceiling come off, nothing even touches it. Cindy went for her morning stroll. I usually go with her, but the recent events have caused my blood pressure to rise, and she told me to stay in this morning. I have aged in the last fifteen years, and time has not been good to me.
I decide to have breakfast ready when Cindy gets back. I have made reservations at a camping retreat for this weekend with the church, so I get the tickets out and set them at her place at the table. I want to surprise her. Today marks the anniversary of Rachel’s death, so I want to keep our minds away from thinking of her.
“Oh it’s such a beautiful day today, I hate it that you don’t feel well.” At forty years old, Cindy still looks just as beautiful as she did my junior year of college when I first saw her walk into the registrar’s office. Through all the stress, time has not done her injustice. The light glistens off the sweat beams on her forehead as I welcome her back with a light peck to the cheek.
“I’m making breakfast; I had hoped to have it ready when you got home.”
“Great, I’ll take a quick shower, then we can eat. What is this on the table?” Cindy asks as she walks to her spot. “Tickets to the camping retreat? John, you know we can’t go with them this weekend. We have Rachel’s graduation tomorrow night. How could you forget your daughter’s high school graduation? I have put up with a lot from you these last fifteen years, but this is where I draw the line. You are not ruining this for her. It’s time to snap out of it!” Bursting into tears Cindy runs up the stairs. The bathroom door slams shut.
Cindy had never shown this type of aggression before. Even with her disorder, she had always been very calm and never seemed frustrated or confused. I was the one who always seemed affected by the situation.
Knowing that breakfast would be pointless, I cleaned up the kitchen. I walked over to the trash can and threw the camping reservations away. There’s no point in trying to discuss this, she will never agree, I thought.
Not knowing what to do, I walked down to the basement. I always felt at peace around all of the things that we had accumulated before Rachel’s death. I saw the old chest that held our wedding photos and china that was given to us as a gift from Cindy’s great grandmother. It had been her and her late husband’s, and she wanted to keep it in the family. The old dart board was on the wall still showing the score from the day Cindy had come down and told me the news. I remember her face, glowing, as she told me that I was going to be a dad. We had wanted this, but not this soon. I had just finished my bachelor’s and was fixing to go on to grad school. She was just going into her second year at the university. She pulled me to her and told me that with love like ours, we could make it through anything. Staring at the board I wondered if she was right.
Removing the tape from a box labeled pictures I pulled back the flap to stare into the face of Rachel as a baby. She was the most beautiful creature, wrapped up in her little blanket. Her little birthmark under her eye made me think of shooting stars. She was my star given to me by God, and I knew that nothing could ever hurt her. I had been wrong. She had been taken away from me. Tears began to flow from my eyes. Until this moment, I had never allowed myself to grieve for my daughter because I had been so worried about Cindy. But as I sit down on the floor the tears continue until there are no more.
I hear Cindy downstairs walking around and turn to go up the stairs. I need to talk to her. It is time to put an end to this life. I feel that I have let this go on for too long. It is time to put a stop to the madness. I will prove to Cindy that Rachel is not real, I tell myself.
I search from box to box looking for the right one. I know it’s here somewhere, I think to myself. Finally I see the box. Written in red crayon says, “Rachel’s drawings.”
As I rifle through the dusty box I come across the old pictures that Cindy said they had colored together. These will prove that Cindy was the only person coloring. A look of shock envelopes my face as I see that the drawings have been filled in where Rachel’s coloring would have been. That’s weird, I think. The interesting thing is that half of the coloring is in the lines and the other half seems to have been colored by a child. The colors begin blending together and I feel an extensive pain in my head.
When I come to, Cindy is standing over me in a hospital bed. I am confused, and I don’t know where I have been. There is a young woman sleeping in the chair by my bed. She looks familiar to me, but I cannot place her.
“Since when do the nurses sleep on duty?” I ask and gesture towards the young lady.
“You can see her?” Cindy asks me shocked.
“Well of course I can see her, I’m not blind. I have a terrible headache, but my eyes are fine. Why am I in this hospital bed?”
“You had an attack this morning. The doctors ran some tests and it looks like your tumor has grown. They are going to have to try to remove it. Are you sure that you can see the girl sleeping in the chair?”
“Yes, I see her, why are you making such a big deal out of it?” Cindy can tell that I’m getting agitated, but she is so excited that she can’t help herself. She rushes to the girl in the chair and shakes her up.
The girl sits up and turns to look toward me. “Daddy!” she calls as she runs and throws her arms around my neck. “I knew you would come back to me.”
As I’m wheeled into the stadium, I can’t help but smile. I get the best seat in the house, I think. Her name is called and I quietly watch as she walks down the aisle and takes her diploma. I have missed so much, but I got to see her walk. As she walks back to her seat I remember that day.
We were standing in the hospital room. The line was flat and the beeping wouldn’t stop. Doctors rushed in and placed the paddles to her frail little chest. “Clear,” I heard. Nothing. “Charge it. Clear.” Still nothing. I couldn’t stand the beeping anymore. I went to the chapel and prayed. No one knew that the tumor had been growing in my brain for the past six months. As the words flowed out of my mouth the tumor was spreading.
I didn’t hear the doctor say, “We got her back.” When Cindy ran to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders I didn’t hear what she said. My daughter had died, I saw her die. I would never hold her again.
For fifteen years I had thought that Cindy was crazy when the whole time I had been projecting my problem onto her. I will never be able to get those years back, I thought. The fog faded from my eyes as my little girl ran toward me and jumped into my lap. She wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “I never leave my Daddy.”