The Last ‘I Love You’
The day before you left, you had sat at the dining-room table eating pizza. You had showered unassisted and changed into dark sweatpants and a black shirt with pale pink stars and a sassy flounce at the hemline. We were taking a lot of pictures of you, fearing that each picture might be the last. You smiled for each photo, but the smile dissipated with every click. You weren’t happy. You hadn’t been happy for a while.
You had asked constantly for your sister that day. She was at school, we told you gently. Oh, you’d say and minutes later you’d repeat the question. You asked about your friends. They were at school, too. “Oh, why didn’t they say goodbye … they were here just a minute ago,” you said. You had been agitated, sleepless and constantly in motion, your eyes scanning your surroundings for unwelcome surprises.
Something had shifted the day you left. Your anxiety had eased, but you had moved deeper into an alien place where nobody could reach you. I studied you, as I had done every day, but that day I savored your face with fresh torment — the round, curious eyes, the curve of your cheeks, the delicate wrists and long, slender feet. Beautiful Natasha.
For the first time you needed help to move from the bedroom to the bathroom. We sat on the rim of the tub, my arms around you tightly, as we contemplated what you thought needed to be done. Clean teeth, wash hands, brush hair? But you stared at a patch of clear sky through the skylight. “What are you looking at, Natasha,” I asked. You smiled. Whatever you saw seemed to make you calm, serene even. What were you looking at, Natasha?
I had told you this every day of your life, and I had to say it again, right at that moment: “Natasha, I love you so, so much. Love you so much. Always.”
“I love you so much, too, Mama. Always.” Your voice was surprisingly clear and audible, after speaking softly those last weeks.
With arms entwined, my face brushing against the hair that partially camouflaged the scars carved deep into your skull, we stayed in this position, while you remained transfixed by that patch of blue sky. Eventually we moved you to the couch, where I would leave you to do the morning chores. (I so wish I had stayed with you every second of that day, Natasha.)
“Smoothie or sliced fruit?” I asked you.
“Sliced fruit, please.”
You were facing the window, feet up, while the world outside walked their dogs, set off for an oceanfront jog or unloaded groceries from the trunk of their cars. To everyone else, it seemed a Saturday like any other.
Later that morning, quietly and so quickly, you left this world. Did you feel us kiss your face and stroke your hair? Did you hear us cry out, “We’ll always love you,” Natasha?
We will always love you. You knew that, I think.
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