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I never thought that I would be left alone in life. Never.
I lie back on my bed, my hands over my eyes, and will my tears not to fall. She wouldn’t have wanted me to cry. Not today. Not at her funeral. She always said that when she died, she wanted people to wear colourful clothes, and celebrate her life and their lives, rather than cry that she wasn’t there anymore.
We talked about death a lot, and funerals, and wills. She wrote her will early, and planned her funeral too; she always knew her life could be shorter, and that it probably would be. She knew that she couldn’t have a totally normal life, what with her doctor’s appointments and her pills and her constant hospital visits. I knew that when I married her. But it doesn’t make this any easier.
My wife, had Sickle Cell Disease or SCD. She had known since she was six. Her mother had run away, just before my wife’s sixth birthday. Her father doesn’t even know she exists now, let alone back then. So, when her mother ran away, and the neighbours found her, she was put in the system. She had a liver failure, soon after she was placed in a home, and when they went to the hospital, she over-heard the doctors talking about her. The social workers didn’t hide anything from her when she asked.
We met at high school, and we went on our first date when we were fifteen. She looked amazing. She had her raven curls teased out and left loose to wave around her shoulders. Her new bright amber, simple dress hugged her curves and contrasted with her caramel skin in a way that made her glow. I had felt diminished. Instead of wearing my usual jeans and plaid shirts, I had opted for a dress. A very bad choice. I didn’t have my date’s curves, I was flat chested, and my hips were small. But she insisted I looked beautiful, and kissed me under a lamppost at the end of our date.
We dated for five years after that day. She moved out of the dead-end town she lived in, and I left my home in the middle of nowhere, and we moved to London. She attended an art school, and studied jewellery-making. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I worked days at a local internet café, and I ended up writing poems, expressing my boredom with life. She found one, and told me that it was amazing. She persuaded me to take night classes in poetry.
When we finally bought our dream house, a few weeks before our fifth anniversary, I bought her an engagement ring. It had a bronze band with vines curling around a chip of aquamarine, nestled next to a chip of topaz, our birth stones. I proposed to her at our new house. She cried so hard she couldn’t say anything. Still sobbing she flung her arms around my neck, and we crumpled backwards onto the dusty floor. When I put the ring on her finger, her hands were shaking so much it was almost impossible. Once she had stopped crying, she held my hands and knelt onto the ground. I asked her what she was doing, and she produced a green velvet box. I remember my breath hitching this time, as she opened the box and revealed a ring. I could tell she had made it herself. It was a silver band with a fire agate stone and a rose quartz wrapped together with thin curling strands of silver.
It was my turn to cry, and then we ended up on the floor again, both laughing and crying and kissing each other. We got married eight months later.
She chose to get married in an old state house. We married in the massive garden, and it could not have been a more perfectly wonderful autumn day. The sun wasn’t blazing, most of the day it was hidden behind a cloud, but my new wife shone so much that it didn’t matter. She wore cream tulle dress; it was off the shoulder, sweetheart neckline, I think she called it. It fitted down her waist, and flared out at her hips. It was simple, and she looked like the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I stood at the altar, some couples fight over who gets to walk up the aisle, but I knew I wanted to watch her walk down and know that she was willingly walking towards a life with me.
We'd been married a year before children came into the discussion. She wanted babies. I did too, but I was worried about whether she could handle babies, and if she wanted to carry the child, she would be able to. We had so many doctor visits, counselling, therapy and went to the hospitals for so many tests. It turned out she could carry children, but if we were thinking of the safest way, I should be the one to become pregnant. I knew that crushed her. She had always wanted to be a mother, and to carry her own child, but she didn’t want to risk it. Didn’t want to risk the baby. I knew that if she had been with a man, the doctors would have been more supportive, because she probably would already have been pregnant. There would have been nothing to do. But because I can have a child as well, I'm the better idea.
After a great idea, we decided that I would carry the baby, but we would use my wife’s eggs.
Nine months, two weeks, four days and seven hours later we had two beautiful baby girls, and the sweetest baby boy. We called the first baby girl Ember and the second Oona and our little boy was called Lucas.
They're fourteen now.
They're probably downstairs, battling the onslaught of friends and family wishing to give their condolences. I should probably go downstairs and join them. But I can't summon the strength, or indeed the will power to get up.
My wife had a heart failure, just like her kidney when she was six. Only the ambulance didn’t arrive in time, and neither did my CPR. She was announced dead on arrival. She was only thirty-six. I miss her so much, and I feel so alone. I let the tears trickle down. This is the first time I've let myself cry since I found out. I've needed to be strong, not just for my babies, but for her, for her memory. I really wish that I could do what she wanted, and celebrate her life, but all I can think about is, how can I manage without you? How can I handle my job and my passion and the kids? And how can I be happy without you to light up every day with your smile?
I curl up on the bed, and cry and cry and cry.
I’m still crying when the door opens, and six pairs of shoes come in. I don’t open my eyes; I know who they are.
The bed dips, as they sit down next to me. Oona stokes my hair, as gentle as her mother; Ember, bless her, takes a chocolate out of her pocket, and hands it to me. And little Lucas unbuckles my shoes and tucks a patch-work quilt up over me. It’s the quilt she made, when we first moved in, she spent hours on it, until it was done. She stitched our names on the inside, and when the triplets were born, she added their names too. This just made me cry harder.
I know I should be the one looking after them, I may have lost my wife today, but they lost their Mami. They lost the woman who helped them tie their shoe laces, the one who helped the girls when they got their periods and started needing bras. The one who taught Lucas to spit the furthest, the one who would write messages in their lunch boxes, and welcome them back from school with a smile and a plate of cupcakes. They lost her too, and yet, here they are, holding me.
I lift the blanket up, and they all snuggle under, and we cuddle together, Oona is sniffing, but trying hard not to cry, Lucas and Ember are cuddled up, crying quietly. As I close my puffy eyes, I can almost kid myself that she’s here with us. Almost pretend that the blanket’s old musty smell, is her smell, that Oona’s hands, now braiding my hair, are her hands. I can imagen that Ember’s small snorts are her’s and that Lucas’s green eyes are my wife’s shining emeralds.
I wake up, and I am on my own. But not quite as much as I was yesterday. There are still three little dents in the mattress, where my beautiful babies fell asleep. I sit up, and the blanket Lucas put over me slides off. I catch it before it hits the ground and replace it on the bed. I walk over the window, to pull back the curtains, and catch sight of my face in the mirror. I lean closer, Oona has plaited my hair, intricate and beautiful. I reach my hand up to touch it, and something falls out of my palm. I look down to the floor where it landed, crouching down I pick up the little chocolate heart that Ember gave me. I use my stubby finger nails to unwrap it, and I take a bite out of the slightly furry and squished chocolate.
As the golden light from the late morning sun filters through the thin curtains I smile to myself.
Chocolate never tasted so good.