He left me once. A long time ago. To teach me a lesson, he says now.
“What lesson?” I ask. But I think I know.
But he just smiles and kisses me and tells me he loves me. Always has, always will. As if I never knew.
It’s my turn to leave him now.
In this small house, I measure out the time that remains. I've become miserly, penny-pinching the days and weeks, reluctant to spend even one.
He's angry with me. He says I've given up, and I have, but not in the way he means.
I've given up pretending that anything else matters but here and now and him.
I sleep in the afternoons. Rehearsing, I say, but he doesn’t see the humor. He draws the curtains and lies beside me, one arm wrapped tightly around my shoulder as if to anchor me in his world.
For months, I didn’t dream. But now, in this house, away from the machines and the lights and the doctors, my dreams have returned.
I dream about my mother kissing me good night. When I ask her if she loves me, she hugs me tightly and whispers in my ear, “To distraction, silly boy.”
I dream about my father. We skate together again on the lake, his breath a frozen cloud against the endless blue.
And I dream about Starsky. Always about Starsky.
He's finally forgiven me, I think. For leaving him when I said I never would. It’s a thirty-year old promise, I remind him.
He knows I’ve done the best I could.
We rise early now. He brings me coffee and we drink it on the porch. For an hour each morning, before the pain grabs hold, we have our old life back. It's enough to see me through. He understands that now. When we lose this time, this one good hour, which will happen soon, I know, we’ll learn to say good-bye. One heartbeat at a time.
And I will teach him the lesson I never had to learn.