The Heart Next to Yours

She walked stiffly to the lectern. Her very short, straight blond hair didn't seem enough for her, yet if you saw her face only, it was enough and even looked rather nice usually. Pat was a big woman, Harry thought, but she had always had grace. Even now it showed.

Why were they here? How could this be good for them? What could they say?

"Someone told me that we really died before we entered this world. I didn't like that then. I don't like it now. If we were dead on entering the world, how would we know how to enjoy it? Carol knew. She was always excited about things, always happy. Can that be death? She saw the beauty that this old world has to offer to those who look for it. She saw the mountains and oceans. She's been to Europe and seen the relics of the history of our civilization."

Her shoulders shook silently.

It was too much. How did she expect to do this? Why didn't she get down? It must be tearing her apart. Harry blinked back his own tears. He wanted to forget. Forget everything. Even Carol. If he remembered that she had had ever lived he'd have to remember that she had died. He'd have to remember that he'd been there and unable to help. Would Pat ever forgive him? Could he ever forgive himself?

Pat regained her composure.

"These are the words Carol herself wrote about me when I found out I was sick. She had done this much herself. I told her I wanted her to write my eulogy. This was as far as she got. She read it to me a couple of weeks ago, laughing. She said 'Gee, Mom, that's all I really know. Can I just say She 'did everything.'' I didn't do everything. I forgot to say 'I love you' to her. And 'Thank you.' for all the things she did for me..."

She turned again to fight the tears.

Was Pat right? Had he always been jealous of Carol? But he did love her. She'd been his pride and joy. Carol knew he loved her. And she'd loved him in return. She was always ready with a hug and a kiss since she was a toddler. Always ready to share her exciting news with him. That's what she was doing when it happened.

Pat continued.

"Carol was a loving daughter. She cheerfully has been taking care of me. We've talked a lot about death. Once, after a bad bout with chemo she cried with me and..."

The tears came again, but this time she didn't turn away. After a moment, she spoke through them.

"...and she said when her turn came she hoped it would be fast. But, oh! Why did it have to be so soon?"

She couldn't stop the tears or the wail of pain. Harry and some others went up to help her to her seat.

"No, No! Let me finish. I must. Please. I'm glad it was fast for her. I'm glad she didn't suffer."

Pat! Pat! Don't you know you're killing me, too.? Why torture yourself, us, this way? I've lost my only child. I've been losing the only woman I've ever loved or wanted. Let it be. Please, let it be.

Pat fought back the tears again.

Harry had given up that battle. He rested his chin on his chest.

"When tragedy strikes, people react in different ways. Some people just cut the tragic part out of their lives like they cut the cancer out of me."

She looked toward Harry, his head nodding as if asleep.

"When I got sick the only thing it taught me was how to whine. I already knew how to nag. My being sick taught Carol how to live and enjoy each day, she told me. And she did that. She told me the very day she died that she was trying to clear up old debts so she'd never have any regrets at the other end of her life. And she asked..."

Again she let the tears fall freely for a moment.

"...She asked me to forgive her for all the bratty things she'd ever done. I'm so glad I felt good that day or I might not...No! I did forgive her, even cheerfully, telling her how little there was to forgive. And that was true. She was as good a daughter as there ever is."

She was the best. So many of his friends had had so much trouble with their kids. Drugs. Vandalism. Quick marriages. Messy divorces. Even suicide. None of this was Carol. Everyone had always told him how lucky he was. "Til last month. But he couldn't take their sympathy. Inside, he's lashed out at them, yelling 'You're glad. Glad it's not your rotten kid. Glad to see I don't have everything perfect after all." It would have been a dumb thing to day aloud. They were probably sorry for him, but he hated their sympathy. Carol was gone. He didn't want reminders. None.

Pat was still taliking.

"Carol had a quick death because she didn't have any regrets. she didn't have to go over her life to see what she could do to make up for whatever causes regrets. She'd already done that while she lived, while she had every reason to believe she would live a long life. When she had no knowledge of the anyurism growing fatally in her head. When Carol first died, I kept wishing it had been me. I'm dying anyway. Why do I have to linger while her life is taken practically before it was lived? I'd still trade places with her if it meant that she could live a long, happy life. But that can't be. I don't know why she died. No one does, or ever will. But it wasn't for me any more than I could die for her.

"Maybe, finally, I've learned something from Carol's death as she learned from my impending death. I've gone over my life, over the regrets, to see if there was anything I could do to pay the unpaid debts. To some things, I can only say 'What's done is done' and put them behind me. But there are a few instances where I can go back to someone and say 'I'm sorry' or whatever I need to say. And I'm gonna try to do that because it's the only way I know to say it to Carol. And I've gotta try to change the way I live. 'Cause I am living, and with a decent attitude I might live quite a while."

Again the tears overflowed.

Living. Yeah, he guessed that was what it was. It didn't seem like it without the old Pat. Without Carol. The ones he had to put out of his mind as they had gone, were going, out of his life. Was there existence without life -- other than in a rock. Rock. Yeah. That's what he was. That's what everyone called him. A rock. Strong, steady, supportive -- and lifeless. That's how they all saw him, except for that last part. Pat knew that part and how weak, shaky, and unsupportive he really was. But this new Pat didn't seem to care.

"And that's the thing. I <>am<> living. And everyone who is living is dying. Maybe it's a little accelerated in me, that's all. And I want to live as well, in what time I've got left -- ten months or ten years -- as Carol did. I want to go all of a sudden the way she did. Ready, but not waiting. And to the best of my ability, that's what I'm going to do."

Harry looked up, his face as stoney as ever, but his eyes burned at Pat.

"I gotta start somewhere and this is hard. Harry."

Their eyes met.

"Harry, I'm sorry about getting cancer. You know I didn't do that on purpose. I'm also sorry for pulling away from you, for changing, for becoming a whiney, old nag who's never satisfied. I really didn't do that on purpose, either. And when Carole died, for blaming everything on you. I was scared. I was hurt. I was scared to die. I wanted to die."

"Oh, Patty."

"I couldn't see beyond myself. I didn't see what you needed. I don't know if I do now. But I need you and I want to help you, if I can, to accept my fate and Carol's"

Her tears flowed abundantly again.

"Oh, Patty. Oh, Patty."

Finally his tears flowed. The flame of life flickered within.

The End
2001 F.Shafer Junaid

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