We are in your rose garden sipping on black rice tea when the fog rolls in. Blades of grass grab at the dew drops floating in an ominous cloud of mist; they watch as the sky’s blue hues grey from the trampling of clouds, the winds whispering soft hymns. The air outside is no longer sweet with pollen, rather a bitter mix of rotting leaves. The summer months have passed since we basked our skin under the sun in search of vitamin D. I’d put in your neon green hair rollers and help you walk to admire your flowers. We’d stay outside until the sun faded into a Home Depot paint sample of all the shades of orange and pink, waiting for the moon and constellations to appear. You’d tell me that where the moonlight hits the rose bush was where the soul would rise when it was time—that when the roses no longer bloom, the moon would start to see them.
Those roses are now withering—each breath, another blessing to live another day.
We know that the days you have left are unlikely to reach beyond the advent calendars that Ma put up on the walls; the question is—how many chocolate wrappers will I be opening alone?
It’s the day after Thanksgiving when I hear the muffled calls from the lab behind the doors.
“I just wanted to let you know that the blood test came back in.”
It’s the man from the clinic with the awkwardly colourful shirts that stick out from under his lab coat and the glasses that always dangle at a thirty-degree angle. His voice is hoarse and weary, beaten down by never-ending hours of lab work.
“Kidneys are at 9% func—”
My chest is a weighty bucket of coal: ashy and unsettled. I’ve learned by now what 9% means. 1460 hours. 60 days. 2 months left. Black shadows that take the form of ghastly creatures cloud my thoughts. I feel them encircling me in a whirlwind of darkness, fluid bodies shapeshifting into mental torture.
I lean over the toothpaste-splotched bathroom sink, limbs shaking and eyes pouring into the drain, watching time run down the pipes faster than the water coming from the faucet.
The next few weeks are a blur of doctor appointments and hospital visits. Your body is now fragile, a piece of an artifact that has been lost and submerged under the soil. We come to visit you every other day. I sit against your bed frame, wooden edges digging into my shoulder blades. My head rests against the floral sheets draping over the side of the bed, thoughts racing between the halogen lights we installed—because you hated white light—and the family photos on the wall.
“What are you thinking about?” you ask in between wheezes as your lungs try to climb up the walls of your throat for air.
I help you put your arms through the armholes in your sweater. Your arms are laden with exhaustion, barely able to rise high enough to reach the assortment of pill bottles on the nightstand. You instruct me which bottles to take from, and we count them together, white dust left between the ridges of my fingertips. You tell me that they’re supposed to reduce pain and inflammation, but it’s clear they’re barely helping. Maybe the only way to be free from pain is to let go of the rose thorns pierced beneath my skin. Is it time we both stop hanging onto petals fading into the soil?
My head is buried in a math worksheet when I get the call. The voice behind the phone is a mosaic without the glue to hold them together; sentences: incomplete and fragile.
The phone line breaks.
I don’t believe it. How fast 9% drops to 0. How a single kidney can cause a soul can disappear in an instant, a card under the swipe of a magician’s hand. The rain hitting the window plays a clash of chords as I step outside. I have no umbrella, no raincoat, so I run my body into the crying sky. The raindrops are piercing, thorns on suffocating rose vines digging through flesh.
It is not every Wednesday that you lie next to a lifeless body, where what remains is no more than a ravaged carcass and no person. I can’t bear to look at your face, eyes pressed closed, forming crescents that will never open into full moons again.
I sit by the white sheets that cover your body, knees sinking into the carpet. The people from your temple tell me not to touch you, that to do so is to put you in immense pain, but I just want to hold your hands—tender and whole—one more time. God, I’m asking you to forgive me. Let me walk the road to heaven and hell to see you one more time.
Every night when I was young and still needed bedtime stories to fall asleep, you told me the story of Chang’e, the goddess trapped as a three-legged toad in the moon for consuming an elixir of immortality. You told me how her body floated to the sky after falling out of a palace window, how a body so beautiful can morph into something so worthless. Where in the darkness can I find an elixir to make you return home? I am trying to find the moon, but every night the clouds still haven’t opened.
I am lost in a sky of turbulence and haze—and to be lost is to never be home. Today is the first day of the year; it is also the first year you are not around. Where I cannot make dumplings with you while our clothing becomes covered in layers of flour, but where what’s left of us is the incense I burn by your picture and a vase of wilted roses.
I don’t know if you’re listening or if all the dreams that spill from the pages of romance novels that say you’re “looking down at me” are real, but if you are, I’m sorry. I look at your picture, not seeing heaven but only regret.
you: when the line between life and death is
so blurred that what is pain and solace feels the same