I met him when we were children and I loved him the minute I laid eyes on him.
It was in the play yard of my first school. The Bully, who tormented us all in one way or another, was picking on a much younger boy. He was boxing at his ears, tugging the collar of his jacket as if to pull it off, stopping short of hurting him but tormenting him nevertheless. It was his idea of fun, puffing himself up at the little one’s expense.
I was on the swings, pumping my legs furiously, taking myself as high as possible, not paying much attention to that bit of mischief. Suddenly a boy with dark curly hair, way on the other side of the yard, noticed the altercation and made a beeline across the playground. His direct path, fierce determination and brisk pace made him pop out against the random chaos of recess. He caught my interest even from way up in the air.
It was clear to me he was going to interfere, but what would he do? The Bully was bigger than everyone. And yet, this hero seemed fully confident, full of righteous indignation. I scraped the heels of my white shoes on the dirt to bring myself to a full stop, and followed him with my eyes.
The Bully was backed up by his friends, as bullies often are. Simply humiliating another human being is never enough. They need an audience; someone to remind them that, at least for the moment, they are in control.
The hero walked right up to them, stepped between the troublemakers and the little boy, and nudged the child aside, to safety. The boy ran away, frightened but relieved. Then, the hero leaned over and whispered something to the Bully so that none of his friends could hear. It was as if he had stuck a pin in a balloon, that’s how quickly the Bully deflated. He slunk away, his head hung in shame. The hero never even took his hands out of his pockets.
I knew right then, in that playground, I would marry him someday. And so I did. And I spent my life striving to become worthy of such a man’s love. He made me a better person, and that was only one of the reasons I loved him.
We married young, raised three children, and had a good and happy life together. We had our challenges, but we never let anything or anyone come between us. He was my hero, always and forever.
And then he got sick.
It started slowly, the descent into infirmity. We weren’t very old. Our youngest child had just gotten married. It was right after the wedding when the weakness started. The disease progressed slowly. In the beginning, we were able to joke about it. We accommodated his limitations. We took things more slowly, spent more time at home. As long as we were together, we could manage everything.
Eventually, as he deteriorated , it was hard to maintain our sense of humor. We saw doctors more often than we saw our children or grandchildren. He became dependent upon me for everything. I was happy that I was there to help but this kind of constant care takes its toll on the caretaker. I dreaded the time when I could no longer do for him what he needed. I knew I could not carry or lift him, even as frail as he had become.
I don’t deny that I sometimes felt put upon and angry and frustrated by our, by my, circumstances, but I resisted self-pity and did everything I could to keep him at home. My children begged me to put him in a place where he could have full time care. I was not so young myself, anymore, and it was wearing on me. But I couldn’t do that to us. His body was gone but his mind was intact. Our love was intact. I would not be the one to abandon it.
The time came, however, when I could not care for him alone. His mind was starting to go. The end, while not imminent, was not far away.
One day, when I was cuddled in bed with him (as we still often did), he asked me for the biggest favor he’d ever asked of me. He wanted me to help him die, there at home, in our bed, with my arms around him. He did not want to die in a hospital, hooked up to tubes, unconscious or unaware of his surroundings, being poked and stuck with needles and monitors. We both knew there wasn’t much time before that would be inevitable.
I was terrified, both of living without him and of being the cause of his end, but he knew what he wanted and I was the only one who could give it to him. I cried for days when he asked me, but we both knew I would do it. It was time for me to be a hero to my hero.
I found a method that was painless and undetectable. I held him in my arms, stroking his head, as his breathing slowed and eventually stopped.
I lived for many years more, alone, missing him every minute of every day. When my time came, he was here waiting for me. I flew to him in joy.