I see people in their most vulnerable state. I see frail, tired bodies withered by age.
Delicate skin decorated with bruises from blood draws and IV lines, outlines of bones easily visible just beneath the surface, surgical incisions carefully held together with tiny stitches.
I help them out of bed. I wash their backs and brush their hair. I listen to their stories, their smiles growing wider as they reminsce about better days. Something has happened to them that has rendered them weak; these days–today, tomorrow, all the days they have left–loom devastatingly dismal as they lament the loss of their independence.
But most of those I work with come back. They heal and regain the strength to get themselves out of bed, wash their own backs, and brush their own hair. They leave and go back home, wherever that is. Others are not so lucky. For others, I can do nothing but listen to their pleas for a quiet ending. They are tired of life. They’ve lived. They are looking ahead, fully ready for the next chapter, the next life.
Maybe that’s why it was so surprising to hear her ask me if I was sad. “You look sad. Your eyes are full of sadness. The eyes say it all, honey.”
Here was this person that I was supposed to be caring for–her strong, capable therapist–and I was rendered speechless for a moment. How did she know? How could she tell that I was nursing a broken heart?
It scared me. It meant I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. That as much as I tried to ignore it, let it go, move on… I simply could not be rid of you. You see, you left an imprint on my heart, my very livelihood. I couldn’t trade it in for a newer model. I was stuck with the mangled mess you made of it.
That night, I went home and I cried. Big, bed-shaking sobs. I had to be vulnerable with myself. I had to fully face the sadness and the anger and the resentment I was carrying. I realized it was making me a shell of myself, and I hated that I let you have that power over me, when you weren’t even a part of my life anymore.
So I reminded myself that I deserve someone better than you. That the tears I was crying over you were not for you, but the idea of you. That you were not the man I thought you were or even the man you portrayed yourself to be. I reminded myself that I was crying about a fraud, about delusions and deceptions.
I cried and I closed the book on you and me. My new story began right at that moment.
I got myself out of bed. I took a shower and washed the last remaining remnants of your touch away. I brushed my hair.
I looked in the mirror and I brought myself back.