Monday, 20 February 2017

Keeper. Keep Her.

It started with our song. On Sunday evenings, I’d cook pasta and she’d play As Lovers Go on her phone’s music player. We’d lip-sync to it and dance around the kitchen while waiting for the water to boil. We have that cliché. We have a lot of clichés. We don’t mind.

Then one day I asked her to play our song. She asked, “We have a song?” 

I thought she was joking.

“Right, right.”, she said absently, as she scrolled through the playlist.

Then she started losing her keys more and more often. She’d forget which drawer she kept her socks in (wardrobe, top right), where her gold, loopy earrings were (she was wearing them), where she hid the present she got me for my birthday (in her car’s trunk). So that summer, I installed an expensive bio-metric lock on our front door—all it needed were our thumbprints. I labelled all the cabinets, drawers and boxes in the house and garage. I left note pads and pens in the living room, post its in the kitchen. I even hung up a pretty blackboard with a whitewashed frame in the hallway.

For almost a decade, we’ve attended our annual high school reunions. Never missed a party. We’d mingle as a couple, but sometimes she’d go off on her own and talk to her old chess club buddies. Sometimes, I’d catch a look on her face that meant The Question has been asked again. No, we do not have children. No, we aren’t trying.

At last year’s party, we were chatting with one of our old teachers and my wife was visibly upset. Her brow was furrowed, her eyes focused on Mr. Lee’s wizened face. Enough to bore a hole in it. Enough to see through the back of his skull. I asked her if she was alright, if she needed anything.

She ran away.

No warning, no gradual backing out, no pretext to go to the ladies’ room. In her high heels, in her blue dress, in her made-up hair, she ran away. It took me a full minute to realize what happened. I chased her down the hallway, out the door, into a cold night, and for three more blocks until she stopped in the middle of a Christmas market. I remember thinking how amazing my wife is, if she can run in heels so fast, so far.

Her mascara was running down her cheeks, a big mess. She was panicking, shaking. I could feel her heart and it was racing, racing. Or maybe it was mine.

She didn’t recognize anyone, she said. She was in a room full of strangers hugging her, giving her drinks, expecting her to laugh at their jokes.

The truth was dawning on me, and I said nothing. I kept on kissing the top of her head as she sobbed into my chest. I asked her, do you still know who I am? She looked up at me, genuinely offended. “Of course. You’re my husband.” I kissed her forehead again and held her for a long, long time. I started humming As Lovers Go, she sang along as I wept with her. I rocked her from side to side, our little dance. We danced in the midst of winking Christmas lights, the sweet smell of chestnuts with honey, the sounds of laughter and haggling.

We’ve been to doctors since then, but they can’t really do anything except remark on how young she is to be going through this, and how fast it’s progressing. It’s one for the medical journals, they said. Like we’re the lucky ones. Like we won something.

Our Sunday evenings are still the same—I measure out pasta for two and she plays our song. We sing along to it (yes, she still knows the words), we dance along to it. The water boils, and as the pasta cooks I ask her, do you still know who I am? Every Sunday, she smiles and replies, “Of course. You’re my husband.” Next week, or half a hundred weeks from now, the answer will be different, but I'll still be her husband.

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