Story by Wm. Berry with Very Special Thanks to Belinda Paez for Editing
He stood and looked out over the ocean. He loved the water, the sand, and the memories it brought back; memories of fishing in the Delaware Bay with his grandfather and memories of his youth. That was all so long ago. His grandfather had died some thirty years before. He himself was now a grandfather, but there had been no more fishing trips. He hadn’t done that since his grandfather died. It seemed it couldn’t be that long ago. Time had moved too quickly. And now, time was running out.
Gazing upon the calm water, the man thought back to the day he realized that age had caught up to him. The reflection in the mirror as he shaved and brushed his teeth every morning gave no hint to what was taking hold; it was too subtle and too gradual. No, it wasn’t until he saw a family picture with him proudly in the middle of his children and grandchildren that he saw the gray in the hair, the wrinkled face and the eyes not as bright. He was astounded. When did he get so old?
He looked down as the tide brought the ocean closer to his bare feet. If he plunged into the water would it wash away the cancer that was now ravaging his body and draining the life force from him? Would it change the fact that for years he’d refused to get checkups despite the behest of family and friends? He’d not sought medical care in over 15 years, abhorring the arrogance of the medical field and its hit and miss record when playing with human lives. His gaze lifts to the horizon again as he recalls the relentless pain that finally drove him to see a doctor. The diagnosis was returned within days and the doctor delivered the news that it was “terminal”. So now, there he was; in pain, weary, weak, old and his fate revealed.
He’d refused drugs of any kind, out of a desire to meet his demise cognizant of everything. He did not want to enter death bleary eyed or in a drugged haze. But now he was beginning to wonder if he could get by without them. The physical pain wasn’t the biggest problem. That at least gave validation that he was still alive. But the emotional pain of knowing he’d soon be leaving his loved ones was what he wasn’t sure he could endure.
Time was now precious so he utilized the little that was left to reach out to those he loved. There was a lot of room to cover….five children conceived from three marriages. While the ex wives had moved on and held little appreciation for him (to say the least), the children all loved him dearly. He wistfully smiled remembering the birth of his first daughter. In his heart he had dreamed of having a son first. Once she arrived into the world he was so consumed by her that he worried there would never be enough love in him for anyone else. But then his son came along, and his heart expanded. And so it was with every one of his children after.
During the past year he had visited and spent time with his children and their families, absorbing their energy, while hiding the fact of his illness and the impending outcome. He countered their concerned questions by saying age had drawn him closer to that which is most meaningful so he simply wanted to spend more time with them. But his youngest daughter was intuitive and seemed to eye him closer. Did she feel something similar to what he’d felt the last year of his grandfather’s life? Without knowing with certainty, but having a sense that the hour glass was quickly draining, he spent more time with his Pops doing those things they both enjoyed doing together; going to baseball games, fishing in the Bay, playing poker. He’d wanted to inhale those moments knowing they were running out. Now, his youngest daughter was acting similarly.
He visited with his youngest son last. At fifteen years old, he had all the vigor that one is awarded at that age. Watching him run the ball at a high school football game, spending evenings with him listening to him talk about girls; the innocence and enthusiasm brought the man joy. He had hoped that the marriage to this son’s mother would have lasted. After his first two failed attempts at matrimony he looked forward to settling into a domestic calm. But, true to his nature it wasn’t long before he got “the itch”. He had to move on. None of his children held any malice towards him for his wondering ways, but the women in his past carried their hurt like shields.
As he sat watching the water he picked a shell up off the sand and turned it over. Had this shell drifted across the ocean, from another continent maybe? He had lived what he considered a charmed life, but wished that he’d created time to travel more. What had happened to traveling throughout Europe with Sylvia, or spending time in Brazil with Adriana? He had allowed his work to take precedence over seeing the world. When he was younger, full of life and vitality he’d loved his job and found it hard to be drawn away. Now, as his weakened body is quickly being taken over by the cancer he conjures what it would have been like had he done things differently.
The one constant that was unchanged was this all consuming sense of being completely and utterly ‘alone’. Was it any wonder that his search to fill this void manifested in the numerous affairs, juggling of lovers and the wavering attempt at monogamy always being way-laid by the powerful pull of the hope that comes with attraction? Yet for all the attentive women, caring family and fulfilling career, they seemed but mere distractions to the deep rooted malignancy of loneness. Who would help him now overcome the fear he was experiencing?
He mentally began to go down the list of lovers and ex wives…..Daniela, Sylvia, Maria, and on and on.
Daniela loved him but was married to another. During his affair with Daniela he continued to see other women and even used her as a confidant in speaking about his other relationships. Because of her own situation she turned a blind eye. Had he asked her to she would have abandoned her husband and would now be holding his hand and nursing him through the pain. He never asked.
Fun and spontaneous, Sylvia never intended to fall in love with him. Much younger than he, she was sowing wild oats while waiting for one to come along that would marry and give her children. That would not be him, he told her. He had his family and there was no room for more. There was an understanding between Sylvia and him, but even the best of plans can go awry. They fell in love and if anyone could have changed his mind it would have been her. It wasn’t meant to be. Now, as in a looking glass, he sees her standing in front him smiling, trying to cheer him, and drawing from her strength to provide him solace.
If Maria knew his situation would her grief overcome her pride? The pride that was so badly damaged when he rightly predicated that the two of them couldn’t last because of his restlessness and needs that could not be met by just one lover. He closes his eyes and feels the gentle ocean breeze cool his brow, just as Maria would have done with her gentle touch, sitting with him in his final moments.
So many had loved him and he had loved so many, in the best way he could. Now, lying in front of the vast blue ocean, the wispy white caps on the waves become the faces of all those that were there for him throughout his life. Then they evaporate in the deep waters and the old man is once again alone….sliding into death alone.