Your eyes are too bright tonight. Your smile is too dazzling somehow, a parody of happiness, a mask meant to fool me into thinking you donít care. Your voice is meant to be cheerful but there is an undertone of hysteria and desperation. You donít fool me, but then, I donít fool you either.
We have spent many nights like this, sitting on the floor, music blaring as we shared a bottle of cheap wine and more than a hundred memories. I mention something and you throw back your head and laugh. Iím relieved to find that your laughter is genuine, but then I look at your face and see the pain behind the laughter and try to swallow the lump that comes to my throat.
These days are full of pain. Somehow we lost our yesterdays of carefree and girlish giggling, and I would give anything to have them back. They are lost, swallowed up by the realisation that nothing lasts forever. We can never have them back. We can only pretend now. Pretence is the name of the game these days.
When you put on your wig, we pretend that your hair didnít fall out in the aftermath of the chemotherapy. When you put on your smile we pretend that youíre going to live forever, putting aside the time limit imposed by your doctors and your cancer. When you blink back your tears we pretend that the brightness in your eyes is happiness and not the sparkle of unshed tears, held back by some incredible act of will.
I look at the clock and see that it is time for me to go. You nod and smile as I make my excuses. I want to stay because one day I will fear that I will walk out through that door and leave you behind forever.
I donít want to leave you behind. I donít want to stand at your grave and shed tears into the earth. I donít want to lose you Ö but I know that I will.
I stand up, ready to leave yet not ready, and you stand up too. I want to hold you, to hug you to me, but thatís not what friends do. I canít do it because that would be too much for both of us. The fragile faÁade that we have built couldnít stand against it. The tears would begin and might never stop and thatís something that we both fear.
Thatís one of the cruellest things; that your cancer has made a barrier between us, one that we dare not breach.
I smile and make a joke, and you chuckle as you walk me to the door. I start to walk away, then turn to look at you, possibly for the last time. You are standing there on the threshold, eyes bright, your headscarf tied around your head to disguise your baldness, a false smile fixed on your face, and suddenly I am there, holding you, sobbing out my pain as you do the same.
We cry together, as we have laughed and talked for years, sharing this bond, this final terrible intimacy. You pull away from me slightly, tears staining your face, yet relief brightening it.
We have broken down the barrier and it feels better somehow. We canít change whatís going to happen, we canít stop it. We can only acknowledge it and, although both of us know that you are going to die, part of you never will.
While I live I will always have memories of you. For a long time they will hurt as a reminder that you are no longer here, but one day I will think of you and smile. One day after that I will think of you and laugh. Death can take you, but part of you will always remain in my memory and in my heart. I wish that I could do more, but I canít.
I wipe away my tears on a tattered tissue and walk away again, looking back and fixing in my mind the picture of you standing in the doorway. One day soon it will be all that I have of you.
Your eyes are too bright tonight, but then so are mine.