"Sometimes it's a burden being the only person who knows where you actually are."
We sit huddled on the beach, shoulder-to-shoulder, sand between our toes, wrapped in the bedspread that we just dragged outside with us. I want to see the sunrise with you. I want to feel you near me as we tip our heads back and drink up the first light the morning has to offer. The sky is wispy and pink with the light July breeze reminding us that later in the day, it will be blazing hot. For a moment, I wonder what you are thinking and almost nudge you to ask. Instead, I gently rest my head on your shoulder and feel you lean into me.
Sometimes it's a burden being the only person who knows where you actually are. I don't mean like on the corner of Lexington and 41st, I mean where you really are in you mind, in your heart, in your soul. I never asked for that kind of power. I never really wanted that knowledge, yet here I am. Here we are.
After we eat a light breakfast and drink the remainder of the coffee, I insist we take a walk in the woods behind the cottage, even though you protest the walk with your eyes, giving me that exasperated "oh please not now" expression. Undeterred, I march out the back porch of the house to find a narrow trail amidst the evergreens. Wanting to keep the peace, you good-naturedly follow, smiling at our non-verbal banter. The morning light filters softly through the treetops and I notice a young red-tailed hawk to our left. Excited, I turn to point out the hawk to you, but my breath catches in my chest when I see the way you are looking at me. Your eyes have always stopped me cold, and today is no exception. During our walk, we take turns leading, changing the pace and stopping to look at chipmunks or perfectly spun spider webs. You trip once on a stump and we laugh at your clumsiness, even though I'm more worried that you are beginning to tire. After about an hour, we turn back, both of us sweating and thirsty. I'm relieved when you pick up the pace considerably, knowing there is a cooling swim at the end of the line.
We race to the beach (I win) and peel off our clothes, sprinting into the sharply cold water. We laugh, giddy in the coolness and the perfection of the day. After our bodies grow accustomed to the water, you swim over to me. I watch as you inch closer to me, the butterflies in my stomach jumping without warning. We stay like that, for what feels like an eternity to me, inches from one another, staring wide-eyed. I feel the electricity of your body through the water and want to curl up inside your soul. I watch the water run down your tanned face and marvel at how a droplet of water could stay so perfectly still on your eyelash. You lean into me and touch my lips with yours. Salty. Cool. Electrifying. I sigh and forget we are even in water.
You are lying on your stomach, the sheet barely grazing the top of your thigh. I can still smell the salt water in your hair. Your left arm is over your head, but you are turned towards me, quietly looking at me with so much love and desire I have difficult time breathing. Your skin is so soft, so smooth, I run my hand over and over again from the base of your neck to that amazing curve in your lower back. Each time, my hand drifts lower and lower and I can feel your body respond and arch towards me. You slowly rise up on your elbows and turn towards me, gently rolling me over on my back. I let you place your weight on me, and close my eyes as you lower your head and kiss my neck, my throat, my lips. I want to feel you, all of you. I lean up towards you, into you and taste your kiss. Each minute pulls me deeper and deeper into you. It's you I want, have wanted for so long that the power of our love shakes me. I have to concentrate. I have to let this go slowly and memorize it all. The first word I speak all day is your name. Over and over again until you know for certain, this need to be near you is not because I know I am losing you.
You are dying and it's too much for me to take. It's impossible for me to comprehend that a small tumor on your ribcage has turned into this -- this last weekend, these final moments before the cancer eats away your body and our love.
I left you sleeping in bed. When you wake up, I know you'll be starving, so I focus on making dinner. I open a bottle of red wine even though I know you're not supposed to be drinking. What the hell, either the cancer will kill you or a glass of red wine will do it. If it has to happen at all, I vote for the red wine, especially after a day like this. I put on some music -- Brandi Carlile. I sauté vegetables, make brown rice and a salad. I set the table outside with flowers and I sit down to write you a note, you know, the kind of note you bury with someone, the kind of note that lasts an eternity.
I try to write but the words don't come. The pressure is too much. How do I tell you about deepness of my love? How do I explain this urgency, this heat, this unrelenting connection? I sit for a few minutes and scribble a sentence or two, only to cross them out. It's a burden being the only person who knows where you actually are. Loving you is a burden and I wish I could walk away and save myself the pain, but this isn't about me. Loving you is the only thing I've ever done right. When you are gone, the sky will never again be this shade of blue. The breeze will never feel this warm, and I will never feel so complete.
Suddenly, I feel your hands on my shoulders and I relax. I lean back into you and sigh. You bend forward and whisper in my ear, "Don't write it. I already know." You kiss me lightly on the ear and ask me what's for dinner.
Christine Baker's work has appeared in Got Game Magazine, Full Court Press Online, Confluence, Beginnings Poetry Magazine, The Tipton Review and others. She is the author of Why She Plays: The World of Women's Basketball (www.whysheplays.com). Her inspiration for this piece was a dear friend whose partner was diagnosed with cancer.