I will always find amusement in the sight of my breath, in the pale smokey quality it exudes as I maneuver my lips into an oval and blow into the cold still breeze that defines the morning. As a child, I would try to pull the breath back into my chest, breathing inwards, watching it drift away from me and into the atmosphere and up through the clouds where it will forever drift, for once it escapes my lungs, there is no returning. All the while, she holds my hand, sending warmth through me and I through her. We both want to laugh and we both want to cry—not certain which emotion will triumph and fully aware which is most appropriate. Across from me, Teddy Hudson stands with hollow eyes like egg shells drained of their yolk. He wears a stern face, not quite a mask, and bears no tears. I don't expect him to cry. Others might, but I don't. He spent the whole week crying, locked in his room as Robert Smith sang on full bast—though not louder than the sounds of sobbing, yet even Mary, as agreeable as we tend to be, still expects him to cry.
“He seems so—”
He seems so angry, but that's not what she is going to say. She is going to say “empty” or “dejected” if she feels poetic enough.
Of course, she expects him to cry; of course, everyone does. It was a regular Thursday morning, eight o'clock, and the nurse hadn't been in the room yet. He was the first one there, always the first one there, and somehow, the nursing home seems sadder that early when his eyes are heavy and his thoughts preoccupied with sleep. I can see the body, not made-up as it is now but cold and lifeless as it would have been then. And he must have fallen to his knees, crying out, spreading panic to every nurse in the building. Or maybe he stood silent, shocked, convinced he had wandered into the wrong room. I can only think of how awkward Dr. Walker's class will be now that he's grieving, how difficult it will be to try and discuss anything with him now that he has stared at the face of mortality. "No, I missed the game last night, but I have seen my grandfather's dead body ..." That's all I would say, all I could ever say, but I cannot relate. My empathy in this regard is fleeting, leaving worthless sympathy in its place. Poor Teddy, how will he ever look upon a person again, knowing where it all ends—naked, cold, wrinkled, dead? But he does not want "Poor Teddy," and neither would I. I imagine him crawling up to the body, wrapping his arms around it, searching for any sense of life left in the corpse and feeling even worse when he found none.
My hands begins to shiver; my body begins to stiffen, and I worry this will cause Mary some unease. I have never seen her shiver, nor have I seen her body react to the cold in any regard. Sometimes, I wonder if she ever feels the chill, the breeze, the ice sneaking up her veins, and I know she's been cold before. Still I wonder. She has borrowed my coats, has snuggled up to me in a cold room, has said the words, "I'm cold," on more than one occasion, yet still I wonder. I am always cold, always shivering in some form or another (be it physical or metaphysical). The blood that runs through me possesses a chill as if my heart runs on ice tea and the walls of my veins are lined with air conditioning units.
I notice Teddy shivering. So far it's the only thing he's done this morning that proves to me that he is still a human being like the rest of us. There are people crying all around him: his family, some friends ... some I recognize, some I don't ... members of the community, a middle aged woman I assume is a stranger by the distance she keeps from everyone else.
I want to feel sad too, but I have no connection to the man. He often referred to me as “Teddy's nigger friend,” and when I did see him, as seldom as it was, he was too sick, too detached from his surroundings, to even count as a human being. To me, he is yet another old man in a vast sea of old men who has now left the world behind him. And maybe he's in heaven or maybe he's hell. Maybe he's exiting the womb of whatever creature a man of his caliber would be reincarnated as. I tell her that, when I die, I want to go wherever she and Clint Eastwood will spend the afterlife—whether that's heaven or hell or the nothingness that Richard Dawkin's writes about—and she starts to chuckle but throws her hand over her mouth before the sound escapes. She pretends to cry so as not to seem rude, and the acting makes me want to laugh as well. I tell her that because I believe in the philosophy of love, in the notion that one recognizes their soul mate with a glance, in the beauty that poets devote their lives to exploring, in romance, in Biblical “love is patient, love is so on and so forth” love, and she, the devout Christian who spends Sundays hearing fantastical accounts of the horrors of hell, believes me. She, who has read of the horrors and of the fires that burn forever and of the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, believes I would endure eternal suffering if it meant being at her side because we have no choice but to believe, to toss reason through the window and to ignore divorce statistics and to consider ourselves anomalies in a system that wants only to tear apart. We, both of us coming from “broken homes,” “shattered homes” even, believe that we are destined to forever share one flesh.
Teddy Hudson's grandpa, married sixty-one years to the same woman, believes in it too. He believed in it when he married all those years ago, when the passion was boiling over, and he believed in it thirty years later when they could no longer stand the sight of each other, waiting for the other to die so they they may finally be apart. When she finally died, just two years ago, he believed in it then too, and he believes in it now—coffin be damned! We look to them as a model, as one of the few couples who makes it. That'll be us. Sixty-one years married … seventy … eighty … fuck it! we'll live forever. Modern science will bestow an endless supply of pig hearts upon us, and we will stay married. And in the year 3006, we will fly our car to the movies, and with our spry, look-at-what-medicine-can-do-now bodies, we will make out in the middle of the crowded theater. People will see, and they will comment. In wonder they'll proclaim, “1000 years married! What a sight!” They will cheer, our love infecting the room with perseverance of the influenza pandemic. Yes, society will develop nausea as a result of our love, vomiting regurgitated passion upon the sight of our passion, and when we finally do die, when our supply of pig hearts dwindles to nothing, we will share a casket, forever entwined. And you, yes you, will stand here in the cold, watching your breath escape, as they lower us into the ground, looking to us as your model. You will traverse the graveyard terrain, realizing that beneath your feet our the corpses of a dead generation, of love not ended but postponed.
I realize that I am standing on someone's grave … Will Stephens, born January 1901 and died January 1970 … came and went before I was even a thought. Soon, Grandpa Hudson and this man will share the same earth, will be neighbors though they've never met. I motion Mary to step to her left, having seen Poltergeist and fearing retribution. She's still shivering, despite our warmth traveling through our hands, and I wrap my arm around her shoulder and pull her into my chest. I fear I've been to forceful, but she makes no indication of such. Instead, she drops her head onto my shoulder, nestling the crown of her head in the bend of my neck. I'm uncomfortable as is she, but neither of us make a fuss. Teddy Hudson's grandpa is dead, but all I care about is her, knowing it will forever remain cold .