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“Becky, sweetheart, please just go. I don’t want you to see it. Go to the hotel.” Said Zach solemnly. The cancer had spread to lungs and put him in excruciating pain. All the chemo in the world couldn’t save him. When he found out how sick he was, he took his wife, Becky, to Oregon, where he could end the suffering if need be.
“Wait.” He muttered as she began to leave. “I have this for you.” He held out an envelope. “Open it tomorrow. Promise me.”
She walked over to her frail husband, kissed him, and took the envelope. She knew very well that she wouldn’t see him again.
The drive back to the hotel was the most depressing 5 miles of her life. She cried silently the whole way back. She had done plenty of crying on this depressing vacation, but tonight was surely the worst. She made it through the lobby, up the elevator, and to the front door of her room composed, but in the room she let it all out. She cried and cried until there were literally no more tears coming out. She closed her eyes and whimpered.
When she opened them, beams of sun were coming in through the hotel window. Her head was killing her, so she went to her bag to get some aspirin. As she was swallowing the pills, she was staring down her reflection in the mirror. She couldn’t hardly recognize herself, the eyes were bloodshot, the hair was shaken up in every which way, and her face was pale as a ghost. She suddenly felt like crying again.
“No.” She told herself, “You’ve got to be strong, for Zach.” So she went over to the bed that was still damp from tears, grabbed the remote, and turned on the TV. It was one of the local news stations. She felt like changing it, but for some odd reason she didn’t. She spent the next half hour listening about the latest drug ring busted, the local “Support Small Business Day,” and how to make picture-perfect fajitas. It wasn’t until the depressing news started that she bothered to check her phone.
There were three messages from the hospital Zach was staying at. The first call was asking her if she gave permission for Zach to be euthanized. The second was the same thing. The last one said that Zach had informed the hospital that they were to euthanize him immediately and they had performed it, and that she could contact them to arrange for body removal.
She was devastated, but she still didn’t cry. Her heart was broken, but it was a different kind of broken from last night. She was sad he was gone, but at least he wasn’t in pain anymore. She sat on the bed and licked her wounds for about an hour. Then she remembered the envelope.
She pulled the paper from her purse, and stared at it intently. It had his name scrawled on it, barely legible. It was obvious he had prepared this envelope during the later stages of his disease. She wondered what was in it.
She remembered that he had promised her that he was going to make her family tree. He used to joke that she might be William Wallace’s long lost granddaughter. Maybe it was money. Maybe it was the key to that one dresser he always kept but never saw him open. The ideas went through her mind like an episode of Jeopardy.
But she just stared at it. She couldn’t find the will to open it. She looked at it, and in her mind, it looked right back at her. She had an irrational fear that if she opened it, he would be gone forever. After many minutes of just staring, she took the initiative and opened it.
She did it lovingly, as though it were a mother wiping the milk away from a baby’s mouth. She was ever weary of a tear that might destroy the last physical being of her husband.
When the last bit of the envelope was open, she just put it down and stared at it again. She was too scared to put her hand in and grab whatever it had been that her husband had left her. She stared at the envelope, just imagining what was lying past its exposed tongue. She picked it up again, and reached her hand into the piece of paper that would be the final remnants of her husband. She closed her hand ever so gently and pulled it out.
It wasn’t any one of those things that she expected. It was just a little letter. The handwriting was sloppy, but she could make it out. She put on her glasses and began to read whatever her husband had left her.
“To My Love,
“As you know, my condition is deteriorating, and the doctors say I’m not going to get better. I know I don’t have much time left. Each time the nurses come in to check on me their faces become more fretted with concern than the last (except for that heartless fat one who doesn’t care either which way), and each stroke of the pen I write this letter with becomes harder and harder as my wrists ache with pain and my fingers crack.
“I don’t want you to mourn my death forever; I want you to meet someone new after I die. Maybe he can finally give you the children you so desperately wanted, the ones that I could never give you. But I do want you to remember me, and to make sure that you never forget the great times we’ve had, I have written down everything about our relationship that I can remember. So here goes.” Becky stopped to wipe a rogue teardrop that formed around her eye.
“As far as I can remember, we first started talking to each other back in 2012. Honestly, I didn’t expect our messaging to be anything more than just semiformal. I figured that we’d be acquaintances at most. After all, you lived over 1,000 miles away in rural Canada. But I had no clue how wrong I was.
“As things changed in both of our lives, one thing I could always expect was you being online every Thursday night to talk. I went through my first love with you, I went through the death of my grandparents with you, and I went through countless laughs with you. I always loved talking to you as opposed to many people my own age in person. Even to this day I can’t be sure why that is. I think it’s because you’re my intellectual equal, something that I don’t find in most kids.
“We talked all the way up until our graduations from our separate schools on that website. Then we finally got the confidence to give each other our cellphone numbers and street addresses to send gifts. Remember that time when I accidentally sent you that mug from Spencer’s? You know, the one with the brass knuckles on it? I love how you got back at me by sending me that blanket with Justin Bieber, or was it that band; ugh I can’t remember their names. They were called something D. Argh, I’m getting off topic.” She giggled slightly.
“Anyways, we kept that routine up for about another 4 years. You went to college and got your bachelors in Prelaw, and I went to college and majored in Criminal Justice and Political Science. We both struggled with school. You weren’t particularly fond of your professor, I recall, and handling two majors killed my social life. But we still managed to text each other and send presents.
“Here’s my favorite part of the story. Scratch that, it’s my second favorite part. I was at the time running for mayor of Boston, when you texted me that you were coming to the states. I don’t remember what for, exactly, but you were coming. I couldn’t put off my campaign, for obvious reasons, so I just told you to come to Boston and we’d meet up at some point.
“And you did come. We talked and talked over the phone, and agreed to meet up at the harbor. But of course, you being you and me being me, we met up at the Boston Fine Arts museum instead, by accident, of course. Just bumped into each other, and I think I noticed you as quickly as you noticed me. Our ‘first date’ started out innocently enough. We just walked around Boston, enjoyed the sunset, and enjoyed dinner. It wasn’t a perfect date to the outsider, probably because I fell into a mud puddle which in turn got you dirty, and the fact that I was noticed all over the street probably didn’t help. But at least it ended well, as the sunset over the harbor was one of the most breathtaking events in my life.
“You stayed in Boston for another three weeks. Enough time to see me through the remainder of the election, and you sure changed the tide in my favor. I was running as a Libertarian, and they never won anything. Hell, now they win every other election, but I was trailing badly before you came. When you came, my polls went up just enough for me to win.
“When you left for Canada again, I was crushed. Thank God that the elections were over by that point. I became a workaholic to take my mind off of missing you. I had a big job; I mean I was in charge of one of the biggest cities in New England. Not only did I have to focus on doing a good job for reelection, but the Libs were giving me a hard time because if I did a crappy job then the Libertarian Party was as good as done.
“I was mayor of Boston for three terms before I finally got sick of how corrupt politics was. I was lonely; I mean 12 years alone, lord. So I texted you and asked if I could go visit you in Ottawa. Of course you obliged, and I flew up. Unlike last time, I had trouble bumping into you. You were really busy, and I mean really busy. Hell, I doubt if you even realize what it was like, but there was literally a line of guys lining a block or two outside of your office. Alright, that might’ve been exaggerated, but you get the point. I mean, I think you were like the number four or five lawyer in Ottawa.
“But every second I was able to spend with you more than made up for every hour lost in the office. Our dates were magical. Unlike last time, people noticed you and not me. But for the most part, I think people were pretty good about leaving us alone.
“You and I just liked watching sunsets and spending time at the library. In fact, I think we had our first kiss watching a sunset. Yes, yes I’m sure of it. We were sitting on a park bench, cuddling for warmth when I just gave you a little peck on the lips. It was nothing special on the outside, but this was my first kiss since graduating college.
“I didn’t want to leave, and so I didn’t. I soon moved in with you, and became your stay-at-home boyfriend. I held down the fort while you were out winning the bread. To this day I feel guilty because I didn’t contribute much too household profits at all. But that’s beside the point, and after three years, I became a citizen and we tied the knot.
“Now this is my favorite part of the story. We’d kissed before. I kissed you over dinner, when we were reading books, watching TV, Hell I just liked kissing you. But the kiss at our wedding made sparks fly like they never did before.
“And we lived together for 3 years in Canada. Eventually we made the top 300 wealthiest people in Ottawa list. We were the only couple on the list without children. Lord knows we tried, but I think it just wasn’t in me to be a daddy and my body knew that. I think it was those failed attempts that made us want to leave Canada.
“And so back to the States we went, where it was now your turn to become a citizen. We moved right outside of Harrisburg, just rural enough for you, and just urban enough for me. It was actually my dad’s old house, over 300 years old.
I went back into politics because your license to practice law was null and void in America, and we needed the money that you’d have to pay to go to school here to pay for the mortgage.
“I ran for senate as a Libertarian, and won. I was the first Libertarian to run for senate in PA and win. But oh boy can you believe how bad my opponents liked to eat away at me because you were not, technically, an American citizen. They called you a spy, me a traitor, and our entire little neighborhood paid for it. Protest after protest after protest after protest.
“I only served one term because I was, once again, sick of the political game. This is where we started to write. You wrote a lot of poetry, and I wrote novels. You were one of the better poets, and I was a former NY Times bestseller.
“It was at this time that I started to get sick. And now I’m here, lying in this hospital bed, writing this letter to you. By now I’m dead and looking down at you from heaven. So here are my parting words. First, burn my body, put me in a jar, and dump me off a bridge. Don’t pay much money for my funeral. And secondly, I have the key to that ugly dresser in our room hidden behind the 20 Gauge in the gun locker.”
Two weeks later, Becky was back home in PA, alone. She had spread the ashes off a bridge, per Zach’s request, and had since gone into mourning. She laminated the letter and read it once a day, but she wasn’t left alone long enough to check for the key. A dead former senator was sweet for journalists, and her family wouldn’t leave her alone. But now that she was alone, she would finally check.
So she opened the locker, found the key, and went to the big ugly dresser. She put the key in the slot and turned it. She opened the door apprehensively, and saw a lone card sitting on a shelf.
She picked it up and, and smiled a painful smile. It was an adoption card that read “Congratulations, new parents.” Scribbled on the bottom it read “You’ll be a parent yet, Beck.” A tear fell from her eye.