2 days since death

Pain shot up through my arm, originating at my thumb as I swiped up on my phone. I turned over, grabbed a pillow, and placed it in front of me. I let the phone rest on the bed, propped up by the pillow. My arm fell into position, resting on my side, with my hand barely touching the phone. 

The room was dark. The black-out curtains shut out the street lights. There was electrical tape over all the tiny blinking lights on the electronics scattered around the room. The only light permitted was the glow of my screen.

My eyes ached. They felt double their size, creating pressure in my head. They were dry despite the constant crying, making it hard to focus.

The clock read sometime between “way past bedtime” and “too early to wake up.” 

But there I lay, scrolling instead of sleeping. It was a new experience to stare numbingly at my phone instead of sleep, but so was everything about my life now. There was no particular intention or purpose for staying up, for being on my phone. I just needed to distract myself and wait for sleep to find me. 

I felt nothing and everything at the same time. My mind was reeling. I was fighting the thoughts running repeatedly through my head. I demanded they stop. To go away. To leave me alone. They did not listen. They refused to obey.

One swipe up and over. The photos took focus on my phone, and read in big, bold lettering, “photo of the day” with an image of Ariana and me. We were in some nondescript location. White walls. My right arm extended in the left part of the photo, holding the phone. The other arm pulled Ariana close to me. Our heads filling the rest of the frame. 

After her diagnosis, I made it a point to document as much of our lives together as possible. Whether our trips around the world or the mundane moments of sitting on the couch. I knew our time was short, and I wanted to bring as much of her with me as I could into my life without her.

I had hundreds of selfies of us. The same pose, different locations. 

My eyes fixated on her in the photo. I noticed her smile. It was big and full of life. This was not the smile of a woman waiting to die but a woman living with joy despite her coming death.

I continued scrolling through our photos. One by one, I noticed she was always smiling. 

The more I looked at them, the more I started to question how much pain her smile was hiding. Then, the thoughts turned inward with aggression and precision. 

How much was happening inside her that I didn't even notice?

Or did I notice, and I just couldn’t bring myself to accept it?

Did I run from the fear and deny her pain?

Could she sense that, which is why she felt the need to hide it?

I moved my eyes from her and onto me. My smile looked forced and scared. I was scared in the photo as I was scared now.

The thoughts continued.

Was she hurting all those nights she was slow to come upstairs and say goodnight to the kids? Was her phone a distraction for her, a numbing agent? Like it has become for me? 

If so, why did I get frustrated with her when she was on it?

When I was impatient with her, was she acting out due to her disease? 

What about when I thought only of my hurt or anxiety and demanded she listen to me? Did she do it all despite the abject suffering she was enduring?

I returned to the scene in the photo. I felt the weight of her arm on my shoulders. The energy we shared between us, and I did my best to smile back at her. To fix the mistake of my past, but I could only think about my failure to notice her pain. I shook my head and buried it in my pillow. I tried to convince myself I did my best, but I knew I was lying. The guilt, anger, and fear took over. My mind twisted, and I screamed. 

I closed my eyes and reached for my chest, grabbing ahold of my shirt. I pulled at the fabric and beat my ribs until they were red. I clenched my eyes tighter and cried out to Ariana.

"I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry for not giving you more. I'm sorry for all the big and small ways I failed you. And I'm sorry I wasn't stronger for you in all the suffering you endured. I'm so, so sorry, Ariana". 

I opened my eyes. 

Wiped them dry. 

Threw my phone off the bed and onto the floor. 

Then, I stared at the ceiling until I finally fell asleep. 

Her Smile