The Final Hour
I couldn't have hoped for a better morning. It's 10:30 and the sun is shining brightly for what seems like the first time. Johnny's gone outside to tend to those prized roses of his, the ones that seem to bloom so early and last all summer long. I remember the day he asked me to marry him; he presented me with a little bouquet of those pink roses, all tied together with a little pink bow. He could be very romantic, when he wanted to be. I remember by my wedding day, when those same roses where pinned back into my hair, freshly hot and curled. If only you could have seen the look on his face when he saw me for the first time at the altar; the surprise in his eyes is something I've never forgotten after all these years. We were married on June 18th over sixty years ago next month. Sixty years! Can you even think of any other person with those kinds of bragging rights? Of course, it wasn't all perfect. No marriage ever is, really.
There were times when we fought like cats and dogs, sniping and cursing at each other like a couple of crazy people. We fought over which house to buy, how to raise the children; that he didn't seem to work enough, that I seemed to work too much. We fought when he told me he was going to retire early once he got his tenure, and once he did we fought over which house we were going to retire to. In the end the fighting would stop and a decision would be made – a decision I usually preferred. But at the end of it all, I knew we still loved each other. We loved each other despite our imperfections; he made me want to be a better woman, and I like think I made him want to be a better man.
I remember the day your mother was born, and when we brought her home for the first time. She was so small and still, but so happy from the very beginning. It was an easy delivery and she quieted down very quickly after the doctor spanked her to make her cry. Bless your grandfather's heart; I think he was a little bit terrified when he saw she was a girl. Our first child had to be girl, when he secretly hoped for a boy. But he fell in love with her the moment he saw her, and knew that she was his little girl forever more. I don't understand people's desire today to know what the baby is going to be. Many of my friends tried to convince me to find out the sex, but I just dug in my heels and refused to do it. I was determined to have this surprise. It's only one of life's few pleasant surprises you'll ever get – why spoil it when you can just paint the walls yellow and white?
I remember watching her grow, watching her look at the world with wonder and excitement. I remember watching the same in her brother, your uncle, and all the questions they would ask me. Mommy, how do the birds fly? Mommy, where does thunder come from? Mommy, what does this say or that say; what's a "roll-in-the-hay" mean? Well, there were simply some things they would have to find out for themselves, I suppose. I remember watching them leave for their first days of school. I remember getting them ready for their parties and proms. I remember your grandfather eyeing your mother's date suspiciously, conspicuously polishing his shot gun from the armchair in the corner of the living room. Poor Michael Jenkins - I think he almost suffered a panic-attack! I remember your uncle getting his first job during high school, and working his way through college; and I remember your mother wining her scholarship, and graduating proudly a few years later. But I also remember the harder times, too, the moments that truly make me stop and think about the choices I have made.
I remember the times your mother ran away from home, angry for this reason or another; and when she was arrested one night for skinny-dipping in the neighbor's pool with her boyfriend. We never saw Chris Rickets again after that, though I secretly think your grandfather had something to do with it. I remember when she was given her diagnosis from the doctors: Bi-polar Disorder. I remember how much it scared her, how she was afraid to take the medication at first. I remember how your uncle used to get bullied throughout school, how his job at the auto-shop made him happy because he could get away from all the torment. I remember when he came out to me and your grandfather, and I didn't handle it well at first. Not as well as I should have, I think. I remember how he was angry with us – with me in particular – and didn't speak to anyone but your mother for almost a year.
But eventually, those hard times passed, and were replaced by better ones.
I remember how proud I was when your mother started feeling better and made it through her last two years of college with flying colors – and an understanding husband to boot. I remember how your uncle canceled all of his accounts when his bullies graduated to social media, adamantly telling his friends to call him or come over whenever they wanted to talk. There's more than one way creative way to stand up for yourself, after all, and he was never bullied again I'm pleased to say. I remember when he brought his boyfriend home to meet us for the first time, and when your mother announced she was pregnant with you. I remember the day you were born, and the day your brother was born, and the day you two began to talk and walk and run around in the gardens, much to your grandfather's dismay.
I remember the day I received my cancer diagnosis and the day I thought I beat it. I remember when my remission ended, and the doctors found it had metastasized in my bones. I remember how your grandfather cried when he heard the news, given to us only six months ago. Somehow it seems longer than that. But as tiresome as it is, as scary as it may sound, I want you to know my little darling that I am not afraid.
There are many things I will never know until after I'm gone. I'll never see your uncle and his partner marry, or get to meet the beautiful twin girls they'll one day adopt. I won't be able to comfort your mother, or you children, when your father dies in a car crash four years from now. I'll never get to see you grow past seven years, or attend your wedding, or witness your brother's first son being born. Yes, there are many things I'm afraid I will miss. But there's something I want you to know, my precious darling, something I need you to remember before you start to despair.
I am an old woman now. I have lived my life the way I have wanted. I will treasure every memory, every moment I have shared with you and our family. I don't want to leave you – not now and not this way. But there's no need for me to fight, though you may not understand. There's no need for it, from me at least, because I know you're going to be alright. You may not see me again after today, but I will still be with you. On the day you lose your father, on the day you lose your mother; on the day you marry your one true love, and on the day your children are born. I will be right there. Through all the good times and the bad, I will be right there. Because that's how much I love you. How I wish I could tell you goodbye, just one more time my dear. How I wish I could tell you everything I've see and learned. How much I will miss you.
It's 11:03 now – an hour has passed since your grandfather went to pick me roses. He's come back in a hurry, because I can't speak very well now. He says my breathing is difficult and called your mother and your uncle, and they have brought their spouses with them. I'm thankful for that. There's never enough time it seems, but I will take whatever I have left – every second was simply that precious.
For Margaret, in loving memory.