What will become of me? Will I be able to cope after the better part of my soul has been taken from me and if so, how? My body has aged over the past eighty years and has been weaken by a number of hardships and heartaches. And although my life’s difficulties may have sculpted an image of a rugged southerner, I know it is nothing more than a front. Some may see me as calloused and toughened by difficulties that ranged from fighting a war on another continent to losing the family members closest to me. Yet those who know me best have described me as a teddy bear with marshmallow stuffing for a soft heart. A person who has always offered big warm hugs to people who have needed them the most. I’ve never been a man’s man. A romantic, I have always looked for opportunities to woo the one I’ve loved. And from the moment I first saw Mary Lou I knew she was the one I was to love and that this love was to be most special. The kind of love you only give a woman so beautiful, she makes you feel as if God put an angel on this Earth, just for you. For me, Mary Lou is that angel.
It’s been sixty years since I first gazed in her eyes, and yet she looks more beautiful now then ever before. And although we’ve had our ups and downs, I wouldn’t have it any other way as we have somehow managed to stay together through it all, and to me, that has mattered the most. Whatever difficulty I faced, the angel God gave me was right there with me. Whatever difficulty she faced I stood right with her, by her side, being the strong-hold in her dark times. We’ve never been fighters for a cause merely to be on a band wagon for popularity. And although we’ve fought many battles and faced many of life’s greatest challenges side-by-side for 60 years, this new one seems to be one that will break even my spirit to live. You see, Mary Lou has cancer and the doctors gave her six months to live. That was a little over five months ago and as I sit by her hospital bed I know that soon God will want his angel back. It’s a little past ten at night and still I sit by her side well after everyone else has gone home. Even though she’s asleep, I don’t want to leave her side, nor am I worried about what others might say about my being here so late.
Out in the hall the nurses make their rounds and pretend not to notice my presence while gossiping to one another about nothing important. When I first arrived they tried to tell me about the visiting hours, but after looking into my eyes, they could tell right away that the term visiting hours didn’t apply to me. There’s a chill in the air as the rain outside taps on the window. The small table lamp on a round wooden table at the foot of her bed dimly lights her private hospital room. Near the lamp on the table my glasses are open and lie next to a magazine of crossword puzzles folded open to one I had tried poking at earlier. An upholstered wooden framed chair near the head of her bed has become contoured to the idiosyncrasies of my body from spending the majority of my days sitting with her when she’s awake. An old banjo, dirty and worn from excessive use, leans against the wall near the chair. On the other side of her bed, a small blanket is draped scrappily over a recliner, which had been improvised into a crude, makeshift bed.
From sitting in the chair next to her bed, my body starts to ache as I slowly get up. Slowly and quietly as to not wake her, I stand up-right and stretch, determined to get as much mileage from this tired old body as I can. Without my glasses I can’t even see the end of her bed but with well-focused determination I defy the near blindness and go against the pain of arthritis while using her bed rail for stability, shuffling my feet one in front of the other to complete my journey. Slowly I inch my way over to the table to continue a letter I started to write my Mary Lou some time ago.
I’ve always enjoyed writing her letters. Even after all this time I still continue to write her. She’s always loved getting the letters and I’ve loved watching her enjoy them. But now, I’m an old man in my early eighties and the continual beating I’ve endured has not been kind to my aging body. Even with my glasses on I can barely see well enough to do anything proper and my arthritis brings pain with every pen stroke. I sometimes wonder if I can finish writing anything, but then I take one look at Mary Lou and wonder how I can ever stop, thus denying the one I love, the letters she loves to read.
Still, I slowly walk over to the table, pull out the chair and sit down, breathing a sigh of relief when completed much like that of someone who has finished a long and daunting task. With cold, arthritic hands, I reach for the letter folded in my upper shirt pocket. It too is old and wrinkly from use and wear over time. Pulling it out, I reach for my glasses, which had been lying on the table and put them on in order to see. After opening the paper, I reach for my pen. I flex my gnarled fingers and give my thin-skinned hands a quick rub before continuing the letter I started writing her some time ago, continuing where I had left off earlier, almost as if I had never stopped at all. As I think back and remember the wonderful life we’ve had together, I can still remember the first love letter I ever wrote to Mary Lou. And even though my mind is not as sharp as it was in my prime, I can still remember how we first met. In fact, our whole life together is one of the fondest memories I have, and something so memorable is also unforgettable.