Second Time Around
Life is nothing but a woven book of stories, linking together like an entangled chain. By the time you realise the complexity of its linkage, you’re either at the end of the book or at peace with the mess. Ever so rarely does an effort to untangle life comes into view, yet there are hands that work furiously every day inside their own books, trying to make sense of the words, paragraphs, pages, and chapters. The nature of that effort is such that the outcome is always revealed, successful or not. Every book that opens has to slam shut.
So let me tell you about the chapter my bookmark was stuck on once; so entangled, so flummoxing and so sudden that I found myself in the hospital, trying to make sense of what had just happened. There was a familiarity around the room but it was not a good one. The familiarity was of a family of hostility, dislike and blame, and the only true recognising I sensed was in my hand. I sat beside my wife’s hospital bed, holding her hand; surrounded by her very concerned and tensed family.
The doctor arrived, with the MRIs and the scans. He told us that the brain injury was bad, and we could be looking at a possible coma if she wouldn’t wake after a few hours. Half of her family frantically moved out, sobbing. Others went out to be with them and console each other. I sat there, beside the bed, her hand in mine. I had no one to console. I cried to her. I had no one but her.
A few hours later I felt her hand twitch, and my mind jerked up from it’s tired, sleepy stance. Her breathing became heavier, and as if with a life bringing sigh, she gently and tiredly opened her eyes. My own eyes had seen no greater sight. A fresh new river of tears flowed through my eyes, as I whispered to her,
“Hey. Hey, you okay?”
She looked at me. Her eyes were the same hazel that I played hide and seek in. The depth in them when she talked was a lake I could dip myself in and drown. There was a brightness, a luminous intensity that defined her as a person. But when she looked at me, behind the hazel was an emptiness. The lights were on, but apparently, everyone had left.
I tried again. “You-you okay?”
She tried to speak. Coughed a little and said in a croaky voice,
“Who are you?”
“You were alone left out in the cold, Clinging to the ruin of your broken home. Too lost and hurting to carry your load, We all need someone to hold.”
Apparently, my life is one of those books where two separate stories are told to compare the tales of both - to highlight the discrepancies and contrasts, the riches and the poverty. Quite often the discrepancies are due to one’s own actions in the book, and I may have made it worse than it was necessary. Upon finding myself as a foreigner in my wife’s eyes, with the past wiped clean and the present rendered slight; I broke into a violent reaction that had then rendered me a ‘threat to the patient’. And quite conveniently, it was a noose around my neck to keep me away from trying to get my life back. I was not allowed to see her, contact her or try to insinuate that I was, or rather am her husband, her love.
I went to our home every day, and it was still our home. She was there on the wall, in her closet, beside me on the bed, in that photo frame beside the lamp, on my laptop home screen. She was there with me, reminding me to take my pills and to wash my socks. She still yelled at me for not turning the geyser off. She still reminded me to come home soon. She was my habit, and she was with me.
I remember how she’d arch an eyebrow every time she thought I was not doing well, and ask with a gaze that was impossible to avoid. She’d look at you with her arched eyebrow and ask the same question, “All good?” To which I would always reply, “I’m okay.” I was always okay, honestly, knowing that she was there, able to notice something was wrong, and asking me about it. That would solve the matters halfway as I felt I wasn’t alone in any of my troubles. I used to then stand in front of our picture on the wall, alone and empty, plead into her eyes, and choke on the words,
“I’m not okay. Not. Okay.”
“You've been fighting the memory all on your own, Nothing washes, nothing grows; I know how it feels being by yourself in the rain, We all need someone to stay, We all need someone to stay.”
I fought. I fought with the world in the day and in the night, I came home and lost to myself. The city taunted me, reminded me of the places where we used to be ‘we’, and now I was only me. And yet I endured the taunts, for at every cafe, restaurant, theatre and mart I could still see her nitpicking on her sugar cubes or tomatoes, or fussing over the colour of her new dress. I’d still go to the cafe and add exactly one and a half cube of sugar in the coffee, just how she liked it. I would order the pesto pasta at our go-to restaurant instead of my usual steak. I would go and window shop dresses, and imagine her in them, sometimes fussing at my choice of colour. “It does not go with my hair!” she’d say.
One day, as I finished my coffee, with exactly one and a half cubes of sugar, no less nor more; I saw her walking towards the cafe. I passed it off as a mirage, I was indeed imagining her everywhere. Until I saw her come to the door, pause, blink confusedly, look about, catch my eye and frown, and then slowly walk in. I sat on my table paralysed, unable to pinch myself, unable to breathe, unable to comprehend that my silent wishes have been fulfilled.
She ordered her coffee and looked for a place. Stars seemed to align again and no table was spare, except a chair in front of me. She looked in my direction and our eyes met. She slowly walked over, gracious as ever, and asked, “Excuse me, can I sit here?”
I nodded very slowly. I stared at her, took her in hungrily. My eyes didn’t wet at all; for a blurry image of her, so close to me, would be a waste. Her hazel eyes now had depth, but I felt I didn’t know the insides of it. Her hair was the same, luscious as ever, except she had kept it.. open. She never liked to keep her hair open on the table. Before I could notice more she moved for the sugar jar, and I instinctively said, “one and a half?”
She blinked. “Excuse me?” I straightened myself. “Um, one and a half cubes of sugar? For your coffee?”
She smiled politely. “Ah, no, I like it a little sweet. I take two.”
I smiled and passed on the jar. She picked it and added two into her cup. I watched her every movement like a star stuck child, like a teenage boy looking at his prom date. She was mixing the sugar when she looked up and asked me, “ I’m sorry for just putting this here but, you don’t suppose we’ve met before?”
I looked at her for a few seconds. Built up my courage, and said, “No, I don’t think we have. Nice to meet you.”
“Hear you falling and lonely, cry out, Will you fix me up? Will you show me hope? The end of the day, I'm helpless, Can you keep me close? Can you love me most?”
A new chapter had turned in my book. Maybe the chain was untangling. Or maybe not. What do you call the hope of things getting better and the harsh break of the illusion, that hope is nothing but a torture method? I think it is called reality.
And yet, she still hated late night outs. She was still very environmentally conscious. She was still extremely punctual. She still had the same caring air about her. She still wanted to be on the good books of everyone she met. And within there, she was still the woman I loved.
I remember how I proposed to her. It was a solemn, peaceful evening atop of a hill, and I had asked her to say out the five people she’d never want to lose. The catch was, she also had to mention what would be the best gift for them. And as expected, I came the last, and she said she would gift me a ring. Her perceptive qualities ruined the surprise, but it was a fun proposal. Hints of that perception, the ability to read people, to scan me was still there. My love was still in there somewhere.
“You've drunk it down and now you've spat it out, Nothing tastes like the things you had, So tear it off, why don't you let them go? We all need someone to stay, We all need someone to stay.”
My life was healthy. I started eating steak with her. One and a half cubes of sugar had risen up to two. My book was at the climax stage where I was anxious to take a peek at the final pages to see how everything unfolds. Alas, there was no way to do that.
Her family contacted me, and warned me about trying to make her remember her past. Little did they know that the memories of our past were just a benchmark, one I had broken it multiple times already. It was the memories I was making with her that mattered the most - a new sprout out of a fallen tree.
Torn between our conjoined past and our yo-yoing present, I needed to know where to be, what to do and how to feel. Torn, conflicted, I needed to ask if what I was doing was correct. I needed to know if my story of re-finding love ends this chapter or not. Sunken face and darkened eyes became my look, and one fine day, while eating a steak, I could feel her gaze on me.
I looked up, and she had her arms crossed, eyebrow raised. “All okay?” She asked.
I grinned. “All good,” I replied. “All good.”
“You can still see where the water was, In a line at the top of the chimney bricks, Sometimes, something so broken can never be fixed. So we saved a few things that were spared, And brought it to the ground, Cause you always build it better the second time around.”
It was time. I had found love again. No, it wasn’t the same woman. No, it wasn’t the same love. It was something more. Something new. Something better. I believed I had done all the effort to make her fall in love with me again, and yet, she fell in love with a different me and I fell in a different love with her, again. She was not my wife anymore, but I sure wanted to make her my wife again.
So I took her to the sea. I asked her to say out the five people she’d never want to lose. The catch was, she also had to mention what would be the best gift for them. And this time, I came the first, and she said she would gift me a ring; and put in my palm our old wedding ring.
“I'm sleeping more and eating again, I'm starting over like a factory town, And you always build it better the second time around, You always build it better the second time around, You always build it better the second time around.”
Quote lyrics from 'Someone To Stay - Vancouver Sleep Clinic' and 'Build It Better - Aron Wright'.