While this vessel creaks and moans with the pains of tightened muscles or lack thereof it is a sincere relief to rise from my bed. I have survived to live another day. Some days are so much more difficult than others to survive as all around me others are dropping like flies. I cry to my husband do you understand how hard it is to be the last man standing, when death hits the door screaming?
I reach for the button on the alarm, shut it off and turn on the little dragon lamp beside my bed. It still makes my heart smile to see it every morning. If only I could slay the dragon.
I sit on the edge of my bed, the one that belonged to my husband’s grandparents, in sleep even, surrounded by those we have loved, gone. I’ve never had a new bed, always one of someone dead. I reach up and pull the chain three times, shut off the fan that cools me in relief, and freezes my husband out of bed; on the few nights he is here to even share. He was not here last night, just me and the kid down the short little hall. I slowly bend over, in hopes of not throwing out my back and grab my robe, throwing it over my shoulder, looking for my slippers and slide my sore feet inside to comfort these old dogs.
In the kitchen I get the coffee going and take that teeny pill, the only size I can swallow with damaged throat. It’s supposed to help regulate what’s left of my dying thyroid. My eyes are still foggy from lack of sleep or too much sleep, I never really know. I seem to sleep in twilight.
I work my way through the maze that has become my living room and once again bend my back slowly to turn on the white and blue lights of my Christmas tree. I wonder if the angel standing beside the tree will mind my quite messy, frizzy, mussed up hair. I think she is quite lovely with her long blond hair as she moves slowly to her own rhythm, star in hand, never looking at anything other than the floor.
I walk the three short steps to the coffee table and pick up the big old box of diamond Strike On Box Matches, 300 Large Kitchen Matches. Which no longer holds 300 matches, but there are enough to light 200 more candles. This morning I light only four. I strike the match and light them all. Some flames burn proudly, while others struggle to stay lit through the hot wax that builds, so much like the days of my life, struggling to stay brilliant and bright when death hits the door screaming once more.
I stand for a moment, gazing, making sure they stay lit, before I shuffle back to the kitchen, and search for my coffee cup, the turquois one with the picture of the Cowardly Lion. It’s how I feel most days, yet I call myself the turtle.
The cup says Courageous. It is not who I am, or how I feel, but a reminder of what I must try to be, on the days when I feel like the last man standing.
I fill my cup and take the White Chocolate Raspberry creamer from the fridge and spoonful, by spoonful; by spoonful I add it to my coffee. I don’t really like it very much. I bought it because it seemed it would fill my heart with Christmas joy, instead of the melancholy always creeping its way in. It washes over me in the darkness of night or in the lightness of day. The creamer didn’t help, but I drink it, because I bought it.
I catch a glimmer of light out my kitchen window, Christmas lights on a Pirate ship greet me in the darkness of this misty, foggy morning. I know the sun will rise today, but it will be shrouded once again in gloom of cloud. I stand there smiling with my heart, looking at those lights illuminating the ship in my back yard, that is in no way near water to carry me away and I turn and shuffle back to the living room and sit on a two person love seat all by myself, knowing I am not alone. My heart is full of the many who have taken up residence in my heart, these candles I lit burn for them. I breath in as I relax into the comfort of their flames, some burn proudly, while others struggle to stay lit, these candles at Christmas to keep these loved ones with me, while mostly I struggle as the last man standing, while death has once again hit the door screaming.
Soon I will walk in, flip on the light and watch the kid quickly cover his eyes while I tell him it’s time to get up. My time of melancholy is placed back in that big old box of diamond Strike On Box Matches, 300 Large Kitchen Matches. I’ll sit and write down the words that have been swirling through my head and in my heart while the kid gets ready for school. The bus will come, he’ll say “goodbye, I love you, have a nice day” and I will stand in the window with my messy hair, in my slippers and robe and wave goodbye, standing next to the angel with blond hair, as she refuses to look me in the eye and only at the floor.
The bus will stop in front of my house, just enough short of the driveway to make the kid walk through a patch of dead grass to reach its open doors. I watch the kid walk to the back of the bus and sit down. The bus moves slowly down the street, knowing soon my husband’s old blazer will chug into the drive, home from the night shift. My loved ones will be tucked back into my heart while I struggle on, last man standing, as we all prepare for one more gone, one more added to my altar of candles. Rest in peace Allen, cancer sucks, and tt’s taught me to burn the pretty candles.