I held out the flower, petals glowing like warm, melted butterscotch in the sunset-a brown chocolate center. She took it in her hand looking back at me the rose and violet from the clouds, swimming in her pale sky eyes. “Sunflowers are for girls.” She dropped it on the ground, crushed the flower with her shoe and ran off toward the darkening street. I was in love at eight years old.
It had come slowly to begin with. Crept in the crevices and hid where no one could see. Marie never knew what was waiting to attack her own body so deviously. Disease is like that, it is calculating, cold, it shows no mercy, until the day it makes its presence known. Marie clutched her side, doubling over; having been in perfect health she had no thought as to what could be wrong. She lay in the hospital bed awaiting her test results, her husband at her side. Next to him stood her daughter and grandson (named for his grandfather). By the time the doctor had returned with the results, Marie was disappearing. Cancer.
By high school she had come into her own, although, there was still a bit of that wild girl I had met in the second grade. I still loved her. Unruly copper curls hung down past her shoulders, she stood in the hall, whispering with a girlfriend; I stared, not too discretely.
“Just ask her, man.” My long-time pal Charlie, he was encouraging me to ask her to the winter formal. I was trying to muster the courage. I searched for my eight-year-old self once again. Where had he gone? Probably playing cops and robbers somewhere, laughing at the fact that my seventeen-year-old self had become so self-conscious. I dragged my feet forward; they suddenly felt like two ten pound weights at the bottom of my body holding me down. Her friend looked up and saw me; she whispered something, they both giggled. My stomach flipped.
“Marie?” I said barely above a whisper. I looked up at her, catching her eyes still the color of the sky, they hooked me in like a fish on a pole, and I was stuck.
“Elliot?” She looked at me.
“Will you go to the formal with me?” It came out like river rapids, way too fast and all over the place. I was sure I would be misunderstood.
A small smile crept across her face, “Alright.”
Marie disappeared. Way to quick some would say. But then, cancer is a monster. A beautiful, silent, killer. The perfect disease. They buried her. The cemetery was small, quiet, a private place where they could have their moment as a family. Little Eli ran around the grass in his bare feet letting the earth hold his heavy heart. He knelt down and put his head to the ground listening, “Grandma? Are you in there? Can you hear me?” His mother scooped him up. His grandfather took them both in his arms tears welling in eyes.
“Marry me?” It was sunset again. I liked that time of day; it felt like mine, mine and Marie’s. We had been out of high school for four years now, and I had just been accepted to law school. Waves plunged onto the shore and then said farewell. It was a sad affair, but part of the cycle of things. We sat half buried in the sand on an empty beach. It had been a nice holiday weekend, though I was keen to return and start the necessary arrangements for my law work. I looked over to her; she was still quiet.
Finally, she looked at me and said, “Why?”
I thought to myself for a moment, before speaking, “Because, with you, I am the best version of me. I don’t want to be anyone but you and me, forever. I love you.” I watched her watch the waves and the vibrant violet, goldenrod sunset.
She looked over, kissed me on the nose and said, “Yes,” a smile spreading across her face. I smiled too.
Kidney stones. Heart Attack. Pneumonia. (The doctors tried to label it.) There was really only label to give. Love sick. Elliot may not recover. How do you recover from losing the love of your life? He looked so small lying there in bed, shriveled. She would have been able to go on. She had been the strong one; the flower crusher. But, from the beginning, he had been the love sick puppy. Elliot knew he had been here to do one thing, take care of Marie. His job was done. His will was failing. Eli looked at him, eyes wide, as he sat next to his grandfather. Elliot took Eli’s hand, “Love someone Eli, love them with your whole being, and don’t be afraid to make yourself the fool.”
Jaqueline Marie. Marie gave me the second love of my life. That day in the hospital, I was a nervous wreck, bumbling around, practically stumbling over anyone and everything. When the nurse came out holding Jackie, my breath stopped, the world ceased for a moment. It was just us, and I held her. A little pink bundle of uncertainty, of possibilities. I wanted everything for her, but most of all I wanted her to have a sunset with us. When Marie was well enough we took Jackie out into the evening air and watch the earth paint the sky on fire.
“See the red, orange and pink,” I whispered to Jackie, though she couldn’t understand just yet. I held Marie close, and I knew that our daughter would come to love the beauty of the world as much as we did.
Husband, Father, Grandfather
Sunset Lover – Marie’s other half