Shades of Grey


The room may have been pretty once, but not anymore. The wallpaper was stained and ripped in places, the ceiling had cracks in it and wet spots from leaks when it rained. The tiles on the floor weren't perfectly aligned, and some spots were higher than others. The light was almost fluorescent, making it seem more like an examination room than a patient's room. The television took five minutes to turn on, and only seven channels weren't white noise.

He liked it better with the shades open. During the right time of the day, the sun would illuminate the entire room, hiding the imperfections and filling it with a light that poured into you. The curtains were drawn most of the time, because all she really did was sleep, and the light burned her eyes when she was tired.

I close both locks below the window
I close both blinds and turn away

He took the wilted lilies out of the vase on the nightstand and filled it with new, bright yellow sunflowers, because he knew they were her favorite and never failed to make her smile. Only so many things could make her smile these days, and when she did, it lit up her whole face, and she almost looked like herself again.

She winced, even in her sleep, but it was normal by now. He had learned from her that you don't have to be awake to feel pain, to cry. He lightly brushed a strand of her pale yellow hair from her forehead, even though there wasn't much left. Even now, she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Sometimes solutions aren't so simple
Sometimes goodbye's the only way

Her face scrunched up and she whimpered, and he took her hand in his, lightly rubbing circles on the back of her palm to sooth her. She stirred and her eyes fluttered open, landing first on him, and it took every bit of strength he had to generate a real smile.

"Hello, beautiful," he whispered, and she returned it with a grin and closed her eyes, letting out a sigh.

"How long have I been asleep?" she asked.

Since you first got to this hospital, he was tempted to say, but he would never.

"It doesn't matter," he said, and she opened her eyes again, looking around the room.

"Why are the shades always closed?" she asked him.

"The nurses close them when you sleep," he told her, like every time, "They just keep them closed a lot, so you can rest."

"But I don't sleep that much," she said, "Do I?"

It was a rare luxury for her to be awake. There was only so much silence he could bear when she was asleep, and there was always that fear of her not waking up that sat in the pit of his stomach.

"No, not really," he lied to her, like always, because that's what he did for her.

She looked away from him and fixated her tired gaze at the window again, watching the little bits of sunlight peek through, "The sunrays are almost grey," she whispered, "Why doesn't anything have color anymore?"

Nothing really did, and he didn't know how to tell her that. Her world was blanketed in shades of grey now; she had lost her color, the room was dull. Her tests and therapy were never definite, and her life had become a waiting game. They were all waiting for the ball to drop.

And the sun will set for you
The sun will set for you

"Do you want me to open the shades for you?" he asked her lightly.

She pressed her lips together and shook her head, "Can you just lie with me? Just for a little while?"

She didn't have to ask, but he let her anyway. He laid next to her, and she was scrunched up on her side, her back to him. He wrapped his arms lightly around her, always amazed at how fragile she felt now. She held onto his arms, her hands cold and bony, and she used the crook of his arm as a pillow, letting out a small sigh.

And the shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in grey
And the sun will set for you

"Tell them to stop sending me things," she whispered, and it was barely audible with her back to him. Friends and teachers and classmates kept pouring in 'Get Well Soon' cards, writing words of encouragement and expressing excitement to see her healthy again. She knew they didn't mean any harm when sending the cards and they thought they were helping, but they really weren't. It pained her every time she knew someone was clinging onto a hope of her getting better, praying for her to make it through this.

It made giving up so much harder.

In cards and flowers on your window
Your friends all plead for you to stay

"OK," he said, but he probably wouldn't. He wouldn't be able to make them understand that she wasn't going to get better, that cancer sometimes wins. That even the most beautiful, amazing girl is not above modern evils, evils that take away everything that makes her, her.

And, partially, he couldn't tell them just because he couldn't say it out loud. Saying it made it real. He wanted more than anything for it to not be real.

Sometimes beginnings aren't so simple
Sometimes goodbye's the only way

She wasn't part of the plan for him. Last year, he didn't even know who she was. She wasn't the girl he thought he would fall in love with. She wasn't tall and skinny with supermodel figure. She didn't cheerlead and wear short skirts and drive a red sports car. She was, in a sense, just ordinary. But there was something about her that hit a nerve with him. She had the sort of innocence that had mystified him, that had shown him more about the world and himself than he ever dreamed of. And, somewhere, he had fallen in love with her. It took her telling him she was sick to realize it, to get the worst feeling of dread in his heart that he couldn't explain. It was when he realized that he could not imagine his life without her that he knew how much she meant to him.

And the sun will set for you
The sun will set for you

She started coughing with a force that sent tremors through her, that racked her body with pain that he could feel just by holding her. He immediately got up and grabbed the plastic bin that was on the table next to her bed, putting it under her head just in time for her to empty her entire stomach into it.

He held her hair back with one hand and rubbed her back with the other, soothing her and telling her it would be ok. He tried not to wince every time she retched with such a force that would thrust her entire, tiny body forward. He tried not to cry when he saw her tears.

Seventeen wasn't supposed to be like this.

It was supposed to be ACTs and prom, driving with more than one other person and R-rated movies. It was supposed to be sneaking out late and sleeping in, dates every weekend and high school drama. It was supposed to be college visits and applying for scholarships, thinking of majors and looking to the future.

Now, it was chemotherapy and radiation, several hour long surgeries and sleeping the day away. It was restless nights and late emergencies; it was losing too much weight and most of her hair. It was just getting through the day and not worrying about tomorrow since no one knew what was going to happen. It was pain and tears and heartbreak.

It was watching her die.

And the shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in grey
And the sun will set for you

She sighed heavily and leaned back against him, closing her eyes with tears lightly rolling down her cheeks.

"It's OK, baby," he said, putting his arm around her and kissing her head.

She didn't look at him, just keeping her eyes closed, "I don't want to be here anymore," she said in a shaky voice.

"I know," he said. He wished they would let her go home, too. She wasn't getting any better here; he actually thought it might all be killing her faster, "They might let you go home soon, though."

"No," she said forcefully, opening her eyes and staring directly at him, "I don't want to be here. I don't want to be anymore."

He couldn't breathe. He couldn't say anything to that. He knew she was suffering, he knew that she didn't have any hope left. But hearing her say it, hearing her say that she would rather be dead, shattered the pieces of his already broken heart.

And the shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in grey

She closed her eyes and started crying, and he held her closer, letting the tears he had been holding back roll down his face. He could feel her heart beating against his own, two going at a different rhythm but fitting together. He wondered what it would feel like when it was only his beating, without hers to complete his. He wondered if he would ever be able to love someone else again, or if, when she died, she would take his heart with her.

For now, though, he wouldn't think about that. He would wait with her, wait during her last days, and listen to her heart beat with his.

It was all he had to hold onto.

And the sun will set for you