“You’re sure about that? There’s no wiggle room?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m sorry.”
“Huh” I grunted. “It’s just not how I saw this going.”
I don’t know if I’m doing this right. But like, is there a “right way” to take this news? You live your whole life thinking you’ve got time. ‘I’ll get married, when I’m ready’, ‘I’ll have kids, later’, ‘I’ll write that book, some day’, then BAM! Some asshole doctor comes along and tells you you’ve got 6 months to live. Can you believe that?! SIX MONTHS!
That’s not very nice. It’s not the doc’s fault. This is karma or genetics or just general bad luck or bad life choices. Who the hell knows? Alls I know is this sucks.
People play this game all the time: ‘What would you do if you only had 6 months to live? Hurdy Durdy Durdy’. It’s all fun’n’games until a doctor is the one who’s asking. Then it’s real. And you actually have to answer it. All of a sudden every life choice you’ve ever made flashes before your eyes.
Every trip you said no to because you didn’t have the time or the money.
Every drug you turned down because they’ll kill you or whatever.
Every chance you didn’t take because Fear was the ruling factor in your life.
That bucket list you never got to is laughing in your face right now, like the taxi driver from ‘Scrooged’: Loud, unrelenting, and more than a bit terrifying.
What do you do? Do you kick into high gear and tackle the list full force? Or do you let the ‘Ghost of Bad Decisions Past’ win as you drown your misery in a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? (Hey, you gotta cross at least one thing off the list, am I right?)
That’s a good enough place to start as any.
Time to dig out the ol’ cash hoards; under the mattress, inside the toilet tank, stuffed in my old winter boots...I suppose I won’t be getting any points for originality here.
$200. That should be enough for two ounces. Eh, better make it $300. We’re dying, right? Live a little!
“Hey Mack, what’ll it be?”
Mack. I like that. What are names anyway? If I’m goin’ out I may as well go out as someone I want to be. Add THAT to the list.
“Gimme an ounce of Pappy, and keep ‘em comin’.”
“Pappy, eh? We celebratin’ tonight?”
“Somethin’ like that…Hey, ugh, bar...keep…” I’m so cool--Mack is so cool. “If you were given just 6 months to live, what would you do?”
“Oh Jesus, I hate that question.”
“Hah. I know. So dumb.”
“But I guess, if I had to answer, I’d be doin’ what you’re doin’ right now. Then I’d apologize to every heart I ever broke. One of those ‘Come to God’ moments or whatever. I’ve been kind of a jerk in my life. Damn. Now I need a drink!”
That’s an idea. Broken hearts. We all leave them in our wake. Sometimes selfishly, often unintentionally. Most of the time that damn Fear got in the way.
$350 later, I’m deep in Memory-Land.
Her name was Marie.
But not like the American MAry or MERie, but a super sexy roll of the tongue--Mahrry. She was fire. She was fun. She was dripping with charisma and sex appeal. Pretty much everything I am not. For whatever reason she had liked me. Even claimed to Love me, if you could believe it. I sure as hell couldn’t. That was my downfall. And now she plagues me as ‘The One That Got Away’.
“Where is it wherrrre is it?” I know I have it here somewhere. My little black book. It went on every adventure with me. Specifically, that summer in France. The one where I met “Mahrry”.
Ah! Found it. Amongst the rest of my memories I’d hoped to forget. My big box of failures.
Flip Flip Flip Flip. Let’s see...I met her towards the middle of that trip...Flip Flip Flip...there she is. Her freckled nose crinkled as she squinted away the sun. Her wavy hair sprinkled with natural gold highlights shimmered. I had tried to forget her face many times over, but this image has been burned into my mind, down to every last laugh line. You can’t forget something that beautiful.
Bags packed, tickets bought. We’re doin’ this, eh? I cashed out my retirement fund. $20K after penalties and taxes, but hey! It’ll get me there.
I always liked the redeye. Board at bedtime, sleep the whole flight, wake up midafternoon in a whole different country. It’s like having the best dream, but it’s real life, but not real...That Pappy’s is getting the best of me. Time to sleep before I start thinking I’m a profound philosopher and Aristotle rolls over in his tomb.
The Loire Valley. Another face I could never forget, nor would I want to. There is something oddly familiar about it--like driving through South Texas. It’s humid, it’s green, and the sun is the most wonderful shade of yellow.
Now I’m a poet. This whole dying thing has given me a severe case of lost identity.
I hate driving in France, though. These roads are terrifying! The cars got bigger but the roads stayed the same size and you’re just supposed to trust that the other driver is going to let you squeeze between these two buildings first. I trust no one. Especially not someone behind the wheel of a car. I may be dying, but not today!
Pulling into the vineyard I’m nervous. All of the old fears come flooding back to me. What the hell am I doing?! I didn’t think this through. I should just turn around and…
There she is.
She hasn’t changed a bit. Beautiful as the day I first laid eyes on her. Those same butterflies awaken in my stomach as I watch the muscle of her arm flex when she loads crates of grapes onto the back of an old pickup. I imagine her light up with joy as she raises her face to greet me, the same crinkle distorting the freckles of her nose, her eyes squinting into a smile...Erp. Nope. That’s not a smile. Pretty sure that’s a glare. What the hell am I doing here?
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Funny, I just asked myself the same thing.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“I know. But I don’t know. I...I just knew I couldn’t go another day without seeing you.”
“That’s still not an answer. At least not one that’ll work on me.”
She’s better than that. She deserves better than this. What kind of selfish world do I live in that I thought this would be okay?
“Come. We just bottled the new couvee. If it’s good, you stay. If it’s crap, well, then it matches your luck and you’re out.”
If she only knew how true that was…
My luck seemed to be turning. It could be my current mood or wishful thinking, but this was the most delicious wine to ever grace my lips.
“Well?” Defiance was in her eyes. She knew her wine was good before placing our fate up to serendipity. I knew she wanted me to stay.
I put the little black book before her. Her face softened. The slightest hint of a smile curled at the corner of her lips. “I didn’t believe you. When you said you were to go, I didn’t believe you. How could you? Why would you leave me? I refused to believe that you refused to choose me. I stood there, barefoot on the rocks of the driveway, waiting for your car to turn around and come back to me.”
I could have died right then and there, y’all. What kind of monster have I been? What did I allow fear to turn me into?
That person is gone. Mack is here now, and Mack is cool. Mack is confident. Mack is fearless. Mack knows just what to say, when to say, and how to say it. I honestly don’t know what words flowed from my mouth as Mack took over me. A real ‘Tribute’ moment, a la Tenacious D. It was the best response in the world.
We seemed to fall right back in where we had last left off. But this time it was...different.
I was open. I was present. I was charismatic. I was everything I’d ever wanted to be.
I kept every promise I had failed to keep. We traveled from the beaches of Greece to the natural wine vineyards of Austria. The little black book recorded every detail.
We ate as if we had never tasted food.
And drank as though we had never tasted wine.
Everything was new again.
We attempted to capture the color of green in each new land as the sun changed everything it touched. And savoured the newness of our every touch as the air changed the sensation and tactile feel of our every inch.
I drank her in daily. And melted with her nightly.
Is this what swooning feels like? Feeling light headed every time that crinkle appears on her nose? I press my lips to each freckle. My body vibrates as I come alive. So alive I almost forget I am dying.
I haven’t told her. I can’t bring myself to do it. It would change everything.
Every first bite would feel like our last.
Every minute would be tainted by the countdown of the clock.
Every ache would be seen as the beginning of the end.
I couldn’t do that to her. Not again. It’s different than last time, more permanent, but still very much the same.
I’m growing tired now.
“If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you want to be?”
“Home.” There was a knowing in my eyes, and she understood I meant she was my home.
We gorged ourselves on every food we could imagine for dinner, starting with dessert. I had been hoarding my favorite bottle of wine, the first wine we’d ever shared together. A most delicate Frizzante rosé from the Styrian region of Austria.
“Do you remember the first time we shared this bottle?”
“Of course I do! It was our first date. You had taken me to that cute little wine bar in Paris, with the animal name, and you spoiled me from that point on.”
“I knew from the moment I met you I wanted to spoil you for the rest of my life. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize you would let me.”
“I look forward to all the spoils to come.” Her eyes are full of so much hope.
It is taking all of me to fight away the tears that insist on coming.
“My love, if tonight were all we had, would that be enough?”
“I could never have enough of you…”
“But if it were. If this was all the time we had left in the world, and life as we know it were to end tomorrow. Would you carry on knowing that I loved you with all of my heart? That I tried to give you everything the world had to offer? And that, no matter what happens, you will always be loved and I will always be with you? In the crinkle of your nose. In the freckles on your skin. In the shimmer of your hair.”
She curls into me the way that only she knows how, as if our bodies were meant to exist with only each other, fitting perfectly.
“If this is all I am meant to have of you, then I shall smile every moment so that my crinkle never fades, and I shall live every day in the sun so that my hair always shimmers and my freckles multiply by the thousands.”
I took my last breath and lived forever.
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