"If I could follow the map further and if I could refuse the false endings (the false starts don't matter), I could find the place where time stops. Where death stops. Where love is."
--- Jeanette Winterson, The PowerBook
He is dying.
It begins in the brain.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, comprised of your brain and spinal cord. Your body is attacking its ability to function. It doesn't know what it is doing. It doesn't know how to stop.
Tiny blood vessels in the brain are inflamed and damaged by a lesion known as plaque. Plaque has begun to form on the folds of your brain. It is a hard deposit, much like oral plaque. You cannot take a toothbrush to your brain. You can merely note the residue, watch it spread throughout the cranial cavity, colored areas on the pinkish grey matter of your brain.
It starts so slowly we both fail to notice. You try to tell me you are just a little tired. Your pulse is steady even though we both see stars. We are foolish. We are wrong.
I hold your hand when they show us the MRI results. I understand what they are saying, the technical terms, the prognosis, and the plan for treatment. I am your translator, your guide.
They tell me, "He is dying." I tell you, "Here is what we have to do."
We both know.
They are swinging in perpendicular directions, right angles in curved space. He moves from north to south, she east-west. They both return to the same place, each other's axis despite all appearances.
On Abbey's schedule: a school in Harlem, a library in Springfield, a speech in Seattle, and back to Washington in time to play hostess. There's a designer dress waiting in her closet, one she's never been photographed in before. She plays her part in monologues and ensembles knowing he is the main attraction. Her part is integral. She's never forgotten the lines.
When the phone doesn't ring, she doesn't assume he's forgotten. She understands, but she doesn't condone. Abbey refuses to go silently, as much as she feels she can. She will not betray him. She sleeps in empty beds in hotels with her staff down the hall and tomorrow's suit hung in the closet on embossed cedar hangars.
They live parallel lives, like this, their schedules dictated by those around them. They have the final say but that never amounts to much. They smile when they see cameras, and there's no wait at the airport. They believe in each other, and they believe in their role in it all. They have to. They wouldn't be able to survive, otherwise.
Externally, you will remain unchanged. Age will take its toll on your skin, your hair, but it will not betray your secret. Your disease is more insidious than that. We built our lives around each other but this is yours alone. I only watch, regulated to the sidelines by the enemy.
Your skin might pale but it will be gradual. No one will notice. There will be no lesions, no pox marks. We shed our skin daily, unlike reptiles that purge themselves once a month. Tiny steps, natural, constant progression. Your skin is already dead. Every time I touch your face, your arm, your thigh, I am touching something dead.
You will not be able to shed this disease.
She falls asleep on a stack of essays written by high school seniors. The phone breaks through her silence and she reaches for it, blurry-eyed, the light still on.
"Did I wake you?"
She glances at the clock, 5:27 am. "I had to be up anyway." There is a slight pause, and then, "what's going on?"
"The usual. You know I used to look forward to these flights? I used to actually enjoy them." He sighs. This is routine. This is safe. "Toby's up in arms about some program he thinks we should launch."
"Is he right?"
"Of course he's right. Health care is inadequate. It should include coverage for contraceptive drugs and procedures."
"But?" She prods him. It has become reflexive.
"But getting into a legislative war with Congress is not currently on my agenda, especially since they aren't particularly fond of me in the first place. Neither is getting into an ideological debate with half of America, the Vatican, and getting lynched just about any place in the South."
"Yes." There is static on the line. When she looks at him, she doesn't see an office. This will never change.
"Sam came up with a good speech, after the fifth or sixth try."
"Yeah, the staff thinks it was a success. CJ threatened to give Josh a tranquilizer. I don't think anyone would have complained."
"They are good people."
"Yeah." A pause, she can hear Leo. "Listen, Abbey, I'll be on the ground in about three hours."
"I have a breakfast with the Daughters of the American Revolution essay winners, but I'll stop by after."
"What was the topic?"
"Our American Heritage and Our Responsibility for Preserving it." He doesn't answer. "They were remarkably strong essays. Full of good ideas." She wishes she knew what to say.
"The world is full of smart kids." There's a beat and then, "I miss you."
She thinks, I've been missing you for years. She says, "I'll see you in a few hours. I love you."
The line goes silent and he is gone. There are no cracks in the ceiling. She has things to do.
Our senses, our bodies, are controlled by neurons. Electrical impulses are sent from one end to the other. The surface of each neuron is not smooth, comprised instead of tiny nodes. In order to increase reaction time, we have developed myelin sheaths that coat the nodes. The impulse no longer has to travel crest to trough, instead skipping from crest to crest. Your body reacts so quickly you do not register commanding it.
MS starts a process called demyelification. Your myelin sheaths will deteriorate, decay.
You will wonder why it takes so long to move your hand. You will grow frustrated, angry, perhaps even depressed. You cannot sleep this off. A month by the sea won't cure your illness.
It is too late for early retirement.
When the first decision was made, it was between both of them. He said, "Leo thinks I can do this." And Abbey laughed, because that is the response he expected and she wasn't sure where this was going.
"Josiah Bartlet, are you telling me you want to be President?" Her tone was gentle, softly mocking.
"I don't know, Abbey. I don't know." His face was serious, hands clasped, eyes looking up. She remembered the phone call years ago, when he asked about the war. She became part of his brain, part of his decision-making process. He was asking because he trusted her, and he trusted because he loved her. She smiled.
"Bartlet for America. It has a nice ring."
"I'd get to ask all the right questions. We could change things. People would listen." They were a couple from New Hampshire, a tiny state with three electoral votes, only because the Constitution guaranteed a minimum. She loved her husband, but she didn't believe he would win. "We could do the right thing."
"It's what's next, isn't it?"
He always said, "If you surround yourself with smart people, you won't fail."
Abbey has never forgotten that her life reflects on his. In the beginning, she said what she believed, let those she supported know where she stood. Now she understands, and now publicly she holds her tongue, her breath, her hands tightly together.
Visually, her job is to love him. An extreme institutionalization of marriage, she answers to him in all aspects of her working life. She appears to complement him. She champions women's rights, child labor, health care. Preserving the family. The Christian Right should love her.
Being the competent, beautiful, moral wife: this is her job, this is her role. She does not clean the house and cook and feed the children. She never even opens the door for herself, anymore.
She is his strongest supporter. She will stand by him at all costs. She has already done so.
In the end, Abbey does not really care that he is running for reelection. He is the best for the job, that was never the question. She cares that it might possibly kill him, or speed up the degeneration. She cares that he refused to entertain her concerns, brushing aside their mutual decisions, their foundation.
He stood before her and she handed him a chance for forgiveness. He hid behind Haiti, behind Mrs. Landingham, behind the vision of himself as the martyr to the cause for World Peace. There is always an excuse, but this wasn't just about him.
It was never about the actual decision. He knew it just as well as she did.
He changed her life and didn't think to tell her before he told his staff, the world.
She wanted to say, "All you had to do was tell me, Jed." But they played the game they are comfortable in, the raised voices and lack of movement. They yelled, leaving the important things unsaid, hanging between them, opaque and drooping. This time, neither could admit their weakness.
She thought, how alone we are now.
He made the decision.
He assumed, because she loved him.
Because she loves him.
206 bones in your body. 28 in your head, 24 for your ribs alone. I know the name of every one. Each bone connects to another bone in a junction called a joint. Every bone except for one, found in the crux of your neck. At your throat, a juncture. Two tubes: the esophagus, the trachea.
I know what happens inside you. Biologically, the world tends toward regulation. Each discovery provides another piece of the puzzle. We stumble through, sometimes blindly, doing what we can to chart the unknown. I don't claim that the world can be understood scientifically. I don't believe the application of science can rectify society's ills. It can be abused. It can be mutilated.
Facts can lie.
Ten in the morning and her jacket rests on the arm of a couch conceived and created uncomfortable. She avoids most of the East Wing furniture. Like most things in the White House, appearance reigns over comfort, over personal preference, sometimes belief and the days just get longer.
Abbey calls out to people she can't see. "You scheduled me for three luncheons on top of a fundraising dinner? I think Lilly and Tyrone finally managed to get you in on their hideous plot to fatten me up. See if you can fix something there for me, would you, Gigi?"
"I haven't been called that name in years."
She doesn't look up at him. "I said I would stop by after." Papers shuffle. She hears a chair creak as he sits.
"What, now I get in trouble for wanting to see my wife?"
"You manage to get in trouble for a whole lot less."
"Abigail, I'm hurt. I came bearing a gift of information."
"How ever did I get so lucky?" Her breath leaks irritation, exhaustion, love. She brushes her hair back, looks at him. "Go ahead. I'm all yours."
"Thanks for reassuring me there. I get worried."
"So." Her hands are folded on top of her desk. "Have we figured out how to include prenatal care in Medicare? Did you make preschool mandatory and federally funded? Or maybe you figured out a new way to fight workplace discrimination and raised the minimum wage."
His eyes are heavy. She feels him, thick and concentrated.
"It's going to snow." She looks at him blankly. "Seriously, Abbey. Bring your coat when you leave."
Her palms splay upwards. "This is what you had to tell me? That it's going to snow?" He leans back in his chair, looking satisfied. She possibly hates him. "It's ten am and already sixty-four degrees. They moved my luncheon outdoors because the weather is so nice, and now you're telling me it's going to snow? Get out of my office, Jed. There must be something in this place to keep you busy." Her sigh is extended, annoyed.
He stands. "I just didn't want you to catch a cold."
"Though your compassion is overwhelming, it's currently sixty-four degrees and it's not going to snow. Now get out."
She wants to hit him and so he smiles. "I'll see you later, Snowball." She doesn't stand when he does.
"It's not going to snow, Sunshine." Her smile stays frozen after he leaves, after Gigi finally arrives with the new schedule, after she leaves without a coat for a luncheon outdoors.
As disease progresses, symptoms deepen. Blurred eyesight will develop into momentary loss of vision. In some cases, this will progress into full blindness.
We were never blinded, only closed our eyes and held our breath. The wonderful thing about marriage, you said, is that sight becomes the least important sense. There comes a point when you simply know, when you grope through the blindness and find substance, warmth. What you expected. What holds your faith.
I will gaze into your eyes but you will not see. The colors of autumn will only be a memory, the shape of my body an imprint. I will never grow old in your eyes. I can never grow old in your eyes.
Different things blind us. Diseases, power, desire, but never love, never really.
Abbey's hands are precise and strong. She was built to do this work, found purpose in it.
She took her oath seriously, honestly, never imagining the time would come that she would be willing to betray her work. Never imagining that there would be a need. She learned quickly that a narrow focus and an element of detachment were necessary for survival in the operating room.
Abbey is an excellent surgeon.
This does not matter. Her surgical skills have been regulated to footnotes in a file overflowing with her mistakes and ill judgments. She was forced to listen to their disapproval and nod as they pointed out each way she failed in her promise. She accepted it, she conceded their points. She never believed it.
She has been told that her life is not defined by her medical title. There are other things that make her whole. She is not only Dr. Bartlet. She is also Mom, Grandma, Abbey, Mrs. Bartlet, the First Lady, dozens of names and she answers to them all.
But her medical license, her work, that was Abbey's alone. Not hers by default, not some achievement of her family, her husband. She worked, sweated, gave up sleep and sanity and her children's childhood. If she had never met Jed, she would still be called Doctor.
Abbey never believed that marriage meant giving up individuality. She still doesn't, not really. In her angriest moments she wonders why no one ever told Jed the list of things he has to go home to other than his official title, why no one ever thought his reasons for wanting to fight were petty, small, purely personal.
The scale is different, the scale is always different. And she understands, she knows. She resigned her license because it was right, her time to concede the high ground. But they fell in love as equals and now he is in the spotlight, while she's trotted out from the wings to enhance his performance.
They implied she was blinded by power. They will believe it. She will not.
Cognitive dysfunction is another side effect. It will not be loss of memory. Inane trivia will still be stored in your head. You will simply not be able to find them when you want them. The filing system will have changed and you won't understand the new order. It will be frustrating but it will not be painful. You will still be Josiah Bartlet.
It will get worse.
It will be little things at first, slipping through the cracks. It will increase at a semi-constant rate and then exponentially. I do not know how to stop it. I can't stop it. You can't stop it, though it is your body. It is your cells and your disease. The most powerful man in the world is powerless to save himself.
And one day it won't be phone numbers, or the temperature on Mars. It won't be how many children are starving or the capital of Iceland. It will be where you are. It will be who you are, and who I am.
It will be your life.
He asks her, "Do you remember what it was like?"
Things she remembers:
An October day, red and orange leaves everywhere. She is small and the trees touch the sky. Someone is laughing, maybe her father. She is spinning, spinning faster than the world around her and getting dizzy. She spins faster and faster and finally tumbles into a pile of leaves. Laughing.
The number of bones in her body. Symptoms of Secondary Chronic Progressive MS. CJ's birthday and Leo's anniversary.
Jed holding an umbrella on the library steps, offering to walk her home. He is young, introduces himself and extends a hand. She is laughing and she is surprised but he follows her anyway. It is raining and dark. She almost drops her books and feels freakishly feminine, Abigail Ann Carson, pre-med. He smiles. He is contagious.
How to treat the flu. How to cook a turkey and make pecan pie. The exact way her mother said her name when she caught her smoking on the back porch. That the copper in pennies was replaced by tin in 1982. That Sam's father had an affair for twenty-eight years. The exact feeling she had when she saw the house in Manchester for the first time.
A phone call, late, blurred. It's dark and it takes her a minute to find the phone. His voice is far away, but it's him. He says, "I think I should go." Her heart drops but she laughs. She listens to him. He sounds so far away. The war is so far away. He says, "I love you." She says, "Don't go." He will listen to her. She knows.
That arguments are saved for when the doors close. That broken ankles mean wheelchairs, not crutches, in the White House. The feeling of her skin stuck to the vinyl upholstery of her parents' car in the summer.
A night in July, abnormally humid, even for Boston. It's morning, early morning, 3:07 AM. There is a young man lying on a table in front of her. The room is stainless steel and everything echoes. Everything around her is slightly out of focus but the clock on the wall is clear. Stark black numbers against a blinding white backdrop. She says, "Time of death," and it's almost a relief.
The names and faces of everyone that knew about the MS, before the story broke. That Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945. The phone numbers of her daughters, her parents, his parents. The daily dosage of Betaseron for a relapsing-remitting MS patient. What her daughters looked like the first time she held them, purple-blue, scrunched faces and ten toes.
The moment she realized her husband was dying. And that there was nothing she could do.
We have all learned to live with a lack of sleep. The early days taught us the best ways to hide the circles under our eyes, how to think through fuzzy thickness. We adapted quickly.
Little things will make you tired. You will never get enough sleep, you can never get enough sleep. There will be no napping during the day, no resting when you need it. You will not allow it.
I know how you think, how you work. You will run yourself into the ground before admitting this weakness. You will do the best you can and you will hate that your best might not be enough anymore. You are willing to die for this. You are dying for it. I will fight you where I can. I won't be able to insist on much. Your veto power overrides mine.
It will be four years of exhaustion you can never fully recover from. It's a sacrifice you are willing to make. I don't want you to be a martyr to your cause. I want you to say no, to bow out gracefully with your head held high. I want you to recognize that you are only human, that there are limits.
I want you to live, but there are things I now know, and there are things we don't talk about.
This time around, Abbey is a liability. Her public appearances are carefully chosen, weighted, debated. Her staff loses time and again, but she smiles because this is not the whole story. She tells them, it's just a matter of time. She almost believes it.
Abbey's schedule consists of campaign stops in the northeast and far west, studiously avoiding most stops in the South. They argue about her schedule as if she wasn't there, but Abbey's mind is filled with other things. She is tired of campaigning, tired of detail-orientated arguments, tired of making the simple complicated. But she goes where they tell her and she tries her best. She will not lose this for him, for any of them.
On one of a few rare occasions, Abbey is scheduled to tour with Jed. She suspects CJ is often behind the decision, but she doesn't ask and doesn't argue. Abbey has never been timid, but she's never been accused of stupidity either.
Next week she's supposed to introduce her husband while he stumps across the midwest, Iowa to Oregon, presenting a healthy, united front. Three days, eleven speeches, five states, and it's not even summer. Abbey's not exactly sure where they are going to be, but someone's dealing with the other wing of the building. She used to laugh at the way the executive has been so clearly divided into "his" and "hers". There's too much truth in old humor these days and the memory hardens when she remembers.
She's catching up on a report from the House Education committee when a knock interrupts. She lets the papers fall.
"Sam." She thinks about standing, but remains behind her desk. "Have a seat. You didn't have to come all the way over here. Lilly is perfectly capable of relaying messages."
"It's not as if you're in Siberia, ma'am."
"Though it sometimes feels that way, doesn't it?"
When he smiles, his entire body is involved. "To be honest, I think Lilly still feels some animosity toward me."
"Oh, really?" Abbey's smile is nothing short of charming.
"I've never exactly felt the same, well, appreciation, from Lilly after the child labor fiasco."
"You once told me I was prone to amateur mistakes, Sam. What happened to that frankness I so loved in you?"
"We all made mistakes then, ma'am."
"We still do," she says, and immediately regrets it.
"Yeah." He wilts, softly, but he doesn't look away.
"So, what do you have to tell be about my activities for next week?"
Sam slips into his professional mode, eyes concentrated and bright. She listens to him outline the events planned, notes that most sound painfully boring. After a while she stops listening, knowing how the rest of the session will go. He'll tell her someone in their department is working on her speeches, that CJ will brief her on any questions she might get. She'll have to be careful to appear strong, but not smug.
When Sam stops talking, she's caught off guard. "Well, Sam, it sounds like you've got everything all worked out. Things just might turn out after all." Her tone is light, dancing. She feels glued to her chair.
Sam tilts his head slightly, mildly confused. "We're going to win, Dr. Bartlet." He says it as easily as his own name. This is what he knows. This is what she doubts, dreads. "Your husband is a great man who believes in great things. This country was created by ideas, by men who never stopped thinking about what was next. We believe in the future, and deep down we all think that progress is not only inevitable, but something miraculous. President Bartlet is the real thing, and people want to believe that great things are possible."
"The best people don't always win." She tries to smile and fails miserably, wonders if Sam knows what he would do if this artificial world they inhabit suddenly, actually, collapsed. Wonders what he has to go home to.
"He will." Sam's quiet confidence is unnerving. She wonders how things would be different if this conversation happened four years before.
"He's a jackass, but he's a special one." There are too many papers on her desk, too many things to do that lay outside her control.
"Yes, ma'am, he certainly is."
Abbey's head snaps up. She asks, "Sam Seaborn, did you just call the President a jackass?" Her voice betrays her amusement.
His blue eyes sparkle. "I always thought that was your department."
She smiles, honestly, says, "Well, thank you for your time, Sam. And if you see that husband of mine, would you please tell him to look outside his window and note the clear blue skies?"
Twenty-five percent of MS patients end up in wheel-chairs and seventy percent eventually have limited capacity. Where you fit in, we don't know. We can only let the disease run its course, and pray in your favor. You refuse to take the easy way out. You refuse to make it easier, but ignoring the cause won't make it disappear. What you can't see still exists. You've always been good at self-righteous denial.
Forty percent of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis patients find their disease progressing into secondary chronic. We do not know why, we do not know how. But the attacks will be faster, more frequent. You will not have time to recover in between. You will not return to your previous state.
This is a descending pattern.
Most nights she falls asleep in an empty bed in a borrowed house. On the best of nights, he lies beside her for four, maybe five hours. They are both exhausted. He does not share everything with her. She doesn't always want him to.
Tonight she leaves the East Wing and heads west, her footsteps muffled against the carpet. She's grown used to people following her, to having someone know where she is at any given moment. Abbey doesn't like to think about it much.
Most of her staff left hours ago, and even those whose hours regularly extend beyond the prescribed nine to five have left. It was a light day, unusually light, and they didn't wait around to see when things would get worse. Tyrone and Summer vanished before Lilly could ask them to do just one more thing, Gigi disappeared with a schedule spotted with Post-Its and a run in her stockings, and eventually even Lilly departed around six, armed with four-inch briefing books.
Everyone is overworked and most of the time, under-appreciated. Usually, there isn't enough time to mind. Abbey walks the halls empty handed. She doesn't remember the last time she carried a purse or wore a watch. Details fade into the white walls. The specifics of time are ignored. Clocks are optical illusions, time is always running out.
Charlie nods from behind his desk and stands as she enters. "Ma'am."
"Good evening, Charlie. He almost done?"
"Leo is in with him." He checks his watch. "You can go in."
"Thank you, Charlie. Have a nice night."
"You too, ma'am."
The office is always smaller than she remembers. She almost expects the room to begin to contract, its curved walls radiating a vague sense of claustrophobia. Leo McGarry sits across from her husband, their voices tinged with tension. Two peas in a pod.
"So, Leo, are we going to be able to sleep tonight?" She thinks she's being too obvious. She doesn't really care.
"If I ever had a say in that, Abbey, do you think I'd be going home to a hotel room?"
"Point taken." She doesn't attempt to laugh. Leo's hands move to his knees and he's suddenly interested in his shoes, in the carpet.
"But things look quiet. We're doing well. Looking good." He looks up at Abbey. "You're still going to California next week?"
She knew the symptoms, all graduates of medical school know the symptoms. When she is flying south, east, west, home and back again, she thinks about how she should have caught it earlier. How she should have put her foot down.
"Yes. Apparently they love me out there. You'll be in Georgia?"
"Sweating it out in the South," Jed replies, nodding in assent.
"Bring some peaches home and I'll whip up a pie, sweetcakes."
Leo rolls his eyes and moves to stand. "We done for now?"
Jed sighs. "Let me know when the call comes through."
"Thank you, Mr. President." He leaves through the door on the far left. The latch clicks shut. Jed stares at the carpet, his hands clasped. Abbey is reminded of her children, how their trouble making always ended in a long speech with reference to Roman antiquity from their father. Liz confessed years later that no punishment could outdo being on the wrong side of Jed's lectures.
Abbey smoothes her skirt as she sits in one of the chairs, straight-backed and stiff. Ankles crossed, hands folded, she smiles and says, "So, Jedediah. I didn't have to cancel my lunch due to precipitation, nor did I have to carry a coat anywhere I went. In fact, it was a textbook example of a lovely spring day."
He looks at her. "I know."
"Is there something else you'd like to say?" she asks, her voice saccharine and slippery.
"It really was supposed to snow today. I had it on very good authority."
She laughs derisively. "And?"
"It's not like the only thing I do around here is read bad reports from the National Weather Service- "
"Don't moan and groan or give me excuses about faulty doppler radar systems. Be a man. Admit you were wrong."
"All right! I was wrong, Abbey!" He throws his hands up, his voice louder than she expects, but she doesn't flinch, doesn't shift. "Is that what you wanted to hear? I was wrong today, okay? It's not like I haven't been wrong before." He pauses, frustration radiating. "And you know, it doesn't just affect me when I'm wrong, people are relying on me."
"Don't qualify it, you were wrong. I can't keep -- we can't live like this. Look at us." Her anger matches his in amplitude, volume, scope. "Just look at us." Her hands slice through his silent answer, the distance between. Liquid particles in suspended motion.
Their eyes meet, unyielding. Abbey can feel the walls around her, curved, no sharp edges. Taking the arguments, the victories, the lies and the truths into itself, absorbing. But never absolving.
She thinks of defeat. "I was wrong about the weather, Abbey. And . . . I was wrong." His arms drop, his voice drops.
"We were both wrong." His eyes narrow slightly. She closes hers. "We were both wrong, Jed."
He exhales, thick. "Yeah." She watches him, leaning back, then forward. His furniture is just as uncomfortable as her own. "I'm sorry, Abigail. I'm so sorry." She rubs her thumb against her palm, hands still folded. Abbey doesn't reach for him. They are not those people. Distance is measured differently, for them.
"I know." And there is nothing more to say. There can be nothing else.
She stands, sighing, rubbing her palms against her skirt, the burden of their unspoken failures sliding between their fingers. "You'll be back soon?"
"Good." She turns to leave.
She smiles. "I know, Jed," and she wants to laugh, "I know." He doesn't move, but she feels his eyes following her.
It's dark when Abbey exits onto the portico. Her breath appears in a cloud, surprising her. She shivers, then blinks. But yes, there, and there, one flake, then another. It's snowing. Just barely, but snowing and this time she does laugh, and it echoes over the north lawn. The guard behind her coughs.
Abbey shakes her head, bemused. "It was sixty-four degrees this morning." He doesn't respond. She never expected him to. The snow falls carefully in the crisp air as she travels the worn path to the residence.
Somewhere in between, they tried their best.
There is no cure.
Interferons naturally occur in our immune system. More isn't always better, but in this case, in your case, it is. Injections of betaseron, every other day, fluid under your skin, into your blood. The best way the medical world can help you. The best way we can pretend positive progress is possible, the only way to avoid saying, "inevitable."
I taught you how to inject yourself but you preferred my fingers to grasp the slim syringe, to keep it as far away from you as possible.
I played Eve, knowing. Adam always trusted, but he was never faultless. He took what she offered aware of the consequences. Did he trust her because he loved her? Did he trust her because he wanted her to be right? Decisions are never that clear. It always seemed too easy, in the beginning.
Knowledge didn't cure, or save, the first couple. Knowledge might save us, but scar tissue cuts deep.
She wakes, startled. The New England Journal of Medical Science rests on her nightstand, her glasses neatly folded on top. Beside her he sleeps, even now looking strained.
He is sleeping close and she counts his breaths. This is not the first armistice, nor will this be the last. She writes her own history, he's writing the world's. Too often they forget to compare notes, make sure the plot lines correspond. His is the bestseller, always gets priority. She bides her time. They both know.
They learned each other's strengths and weaknesses through these battles and compromises, confident they would be enough. They have rewritten the lines enough times it seemed they would always find a way. Abbey is beginning to think otherwise.
She loves him. She will always love him. But love, they've learned, takes time and no one has much of that anymore.
The room is quiet. There is history in these walls. She thinks, nothing here is ever ours alone. His breath is gentle in reply.
It is too easy to say, "because he loves me." Love can stop time but it cannot survive alone. It is not made for solitary existence. Without one, the other dies. He will not always remember what she forgets. She will not always be where he expects. And then?
Things will get worse, and they will get worse in ways they cannot see. This is not something they will ever discuss. It will happen and Abbey will love him, but in the end Jed will leave her.
Things will get worse, but they will also get better. And there will be nothing else after these four years. There can be nothing else. The echoes will fade, eventually. Eventually she won't have to worry about appearing in public without pearls and she will say what she believes without worrying about Kentucky's fifth.
Eventually, things will settle down. But they will never be the same.
Although the nervous system has some ability to repair the damage that occurs, restoration is never complete. As the battle between your disease and the restorative process wages, your symptoms may wax and wane.
They will always be lurking.
I am not prone to fatalism. We know each other differently now. But your lungs rise and fall in rhythm with mine. Your heart beats in the same constant staccato pulse. Your bones hold me up, and your skin is warm. Your spine rails against my own and your voice strongly disagrees. Your fingers will always easily weave with mine. We are still each other's axis, focal point.
Biology and time will take these things away from me, from us. We leave life as we enter it, with nothing tangible to call our own. You said once that marriage is the continual process of peeling back layers of dead skin and discovering that you love what's underneath just as much as what you washed away. Even after all these years, we discover each other anew. You never doubted that love could survive anything, even death.
Here we are, both alive and together. And though the days bleed into one another, there is at some point a finale. We will take the stage hand in hand, but you will have the final, solo bow. The applause will be deafening, the audience on their feet. Eventually, it will end. And I will be waiting in the wings, on the left side of the stage, for you and I to begin once more.
He is dying.