I read (somewhere!) that stories aren’t the static words on paper they appear to be. They are told and untold, folded and unfolded, until they create something very much alive. Sometimes, someone’s story lands in your lap. It’s interesting the way we pass our carefully crafted life experiences along, not to mention who we choose to hand it to…but to me it always spins the sticky web of ‘what do we do with someone else’s story?’ In this case I asked, and he responded with a ‘please, write it down.’ Sometimes it’s not so much about the story but about the way that it’s told. He spoke with such an ease and lack of inhibition, that it simply requested and deserved an audience.
“In broken English he asks, “Would you like to see a picture of my wife?” and slides his chipped cell phone across the table. On a tiny screen, with large, blue-blurred mega pixels, I look at the rounded and indiscernible face of a Pakistani woman. The word “Beautiful” parts my lips and then the question “How long have you been married” follows quickly in pursuit. I think this is small talk, and those are the right small talk questions. “10 months” comes his answer. From there, what I think is small talk, morphs into the life story of this 40-something year old man.
His first wife was more beautiful then his second, he starts with. But the second one is also beautiful, just with the beauty of a mature woman and not a young one. She has the rounded hips and eyes of a woman who has seen and carried her fair share of the world’s weight. His first wife, however, had all the loveliness and innocence of a woman who had this weight carried for her. Because this story is the story of a good Christine man, the first thing he wants me to understand is that he is not divorced. He tells me that his first wife is dead and then passes a kiss from his lips to his fingers and then to the skies. 7 years ago his first wife went to the doctors with a cold. She left the doctors office in the backseat of a car with her face strangled blue and purple and barely alive. The doctor was screaming ‘it’s not my fault’ from the front seat, while the man screamed his prayers for his wife’s life above the doctor, above the traffic. 7 minutes after her throat closed, his prayer found it’s way to the right ears and his wife started breathing again. She wasn’t o.k. though. The allergic reaction to her injection and the lack of oxygen that followed “made her mind mush”. He searched his English words, trying to pin down the right one and finally succeeded with ‘vegetable’. He explained how there was nothing left of the woman he married but that he continued to love and take care of her empty shell. She stayed the same for 5 years: no eating, speaking, or moving except to flutter her eyelids and pucker her lips like a fish out of water. He explained how difficult it was to care for her; how he sold his house and took out loans to pay his loans to care for her…how he lost his friends, his health and chip by chip his faith. On one of his last ditch efforts to remain a good Christine man, he went to church. There, he changed his prayer from a plea to help his wife get better, to a request to take her when the time was right. He cried the entire way home and then through the night. He soaked his wife’s hair and pillow with salty tears that “came straight from my heart and out through my eyes”. His wife’s sisters scolded him and tried to gently pull him away saying “She has been this way for 5 years! Why the tears now? Nothing has changed.” But something had changed, and later that night she passed away.
“I pray for her every day” he finishes by saying “my most beautiful, first wife”.