It’s been a long time, but I still have nightmares from that hospital room. I still hear the humming of the machines. I still smell the antiseptic.

Why was her life so short?

Years after J was gone, whenever I was in a crowd, I would still see her again. Only when she turned around, it wasn’t her.

For years, I ambled along as I walked, like a boat unmoored from the dock, hoping against hope – frantic, primordial desperation of hopeless hope – eager for the off chance that I will actually see her again, see her, face-to- face, a real person in flesh and blood, and not an apparition.

In my dreams, I strode, discombobulated, through dusty, fog-filled rooms in a huge mansion, its windows open, its frayed draperies blowing in the wind, a musty smell in the air; I looked for her, yearning for a look, just one look. Sometimes I see a glimpse, a quick shadow of her ahead of me and I would run after her, but she could never be found.

Some nights I woke up screaming. Once again I saw the medical staff turning away and leaving the room as I looked on in horror. I saw the hospital blanket pulled over her face. It was as if I was hovering high up in the room, invisible to everyone, looking down as the unthinkable scene unfolded below me. Once again I saw how I cried so inconsolably, how strong hands pulled me away – hands so forceful they hurt my upper arms as they attempted to prise me from the hospital room – how my legs turned to jelly and how I collapsed, wailing and keening.

When I came to, when the service was over, and the mourners have departed, everyone treated me as if I was an untouchable, damaged beyond redemption. Many simply didn’t know what to say, some avoided me, for not everyone knew how to relate to an aggrieved fiancé, an emotional wreck who was living out his days zombie-like, as if in a state of drunken stupor.

The emptiness I felt was an emptiness of deep, dark void; mine was a life changed forever. How could I ever be the same again? I was dispirited and felt alienated, knowing the world was spinning, and hurtling forward, but not feeling being a part of it. I was angry at how the rest of the world has moved on when mine has ended the moment she vanished from my life and my world.

It was as if a missile had shot through me, leaving my being with a hole the size of a crater. I felt as if a large part of me had been ripped off and torn away. An incomplete life with a huge sense of loss and hollowness accompanied me for decades. It took me years to process J’s passing. How could there be closure when in place of youthful laughter and happiness, often the only sound I hear was that of the clock ticking.

Then came S. And the aching was soothed somewhat though the relationship was tumultuous, fraught with uncertainties and more-than-frequent bouts of exasperation and anxiety. Still, the years passed, and time flew. And as if I wasn’t already dented and bruised enough emotionally, I was blindsided because she too was snatched away from me.

I have experienced enough bad news in my life but the one news that continues to plague me was when the doctor put an end date on S’s life.

Through tears, we said our peace, poured our hearts out, said what had to be said, worked out the forgiveness and all but I stayed away like a deserter as S deteriorated. I couldn’t bear to sit at the side of another hospital bed, with the result that friends who couldn’t understand thought me cold and heartless while S slid rapidly downhill until she was no more.

At my age, I understand very well the unescapable passage of time. As months and years passed, the darkness in my horizon seemed to slowly recede. They didn’t seem to cast much of a pall on daily existence. The gashes inflicted seemed mostly to have scarred over. But the scars were there and a return to life as usual was illusionary at best. Throughout the years, the memories of loss and desolation I tried burying for so long would inevitably rear its head when I least expected it. Opening a drawer, the things I glimpse – trinkets, cards, a note, a bookmark – would bring everything back. Catching a whiff of someone’s fragrance, and tears would flow. Chanced upon a tune, and I get all choked up. Fleeting memories of events and persistently recurring flashbacks infiltrated all too frequently into my daily life.

I could not forget.

To this day, I still hear the humming of the machines. I still smell the antiseptic.

Now you came along and for fifteen years you cradled me in your embrace and nursed me and soothe my hurts. You cared when no one else did. Sure, everyone showed concern but with empty words not backed by any action. Everyone was busy with their narcissistic, self-centered pursuits, posting food photos on the Internet, struggling with inane personal issues, bragging on social media about their supposedly glamorous lives, asking mindlessly existentialist questions while millions in the world die from starvation, obsessing about their hair color, bragging about their latest material acquisitions, agonizing over the color of their nail polish, blaming their parents for their messed-up lives, catastrophizing minor setbacks, fighting with inner angst, worshiping their lovers, ad nauseam. In the midst of all these self-absorbed individuals that crowded into my life – shallow and empty people so preoccupied with their own frivolous fixations – you made big, bold strides pulling me off the edge.

You empowered me to be the me I was meant to be. But now, it looks as if life has stood me up, yet again…

Words cannot possibly describe the depths of my sorrow.

How many blows can a person take?

Outside, the birds are chirping, a light breeze blows through and the branches on the nearby trees move a little. I can hear children playing downstairs. Not far away, sounds from a construction site can be heard. The world is as it is as the day is filled with everyday sounds, but I am no longer the man I once was.

Is returning to normalcy even possible, I wonder.

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