What I Want
It took her right breast, then metastasized to the lymph nodes and took everything else. So it was that I found myself repeating the words she used with me when ecstatic or furious: go ahead, do what you want. An imperative wisest to follow only when my mood mirrored her own. Go ahead, do what you want, she'd say over schedule conflicts, financial disagreements. Go ahead, do what you want, she'd say spread open on the comforter, the couch, perched on the bathroom sink. And so I would. But now – now, I found myself saying, Go ahead, do what you want, and, of course, what I wanted most was to do nothing, to mourn, to indulge in some type of self-destruction, knock a few years off, bringing myself that much closer to her. I wanted to terrorize myself and so I would.
There were options, plenty of them, but few worth considering:
Suicide, out of the question. Raised Catholic but, despite my departure, I still couldn't do it.
I didn't drink. Never had. The illness was my mother's and so I avoided it.
Starving myself? A foolish thought with this appetite of mine.
Self-mutilation, best reserved for the melancholy tweeners, not for an aging retiree with no one whose attention he sought to gain by cutting.
Well, I could hide out. Or, more appropriately, in. Sure. I would keep the blinds shut and the door locked, and I wouldn't leave but for necessities, and I would mourn that way, wallowing and pathetic because left alone with one's dark thoughts, passivity kills.
My exercises in pain varied each day.
On one, I thought I'd magnify my own suffering by experiencing that of others. My to-read shelf below Eileen's expanse of cracked-spine mass-markets beckoned. The first book I picked up – a collection of short stories by an Italian author whose name no longer retained any meaning – ended up in the toilet bowl, water twisting its papers and warping the glossy cover as I flushed again and again because it hurt too much to read a story about something like the cancer she had had when that pain was supposed to be mine and no one else's. I wanted original pain, not more of the same. I knew this hurt too well already.
Next couple books alternately resonated too personally or not at all and met similar ends. One I pinched between index and thumb, tossed into the pre-heated oven, another I planted beside Eileen's chrysanthemums.
Another day, I stood bare-chested in the bathroom, limply hanging Eileen's brassieres one after another from my own decrepit shoulders. Using the Pennysaver scissors from her top drawer in the bureau, the ones she used to clip coupons with each Saturday before the market, I cut off every right cup. Snip through the center panel, struggling from time to time when the underwire ran all the way across, and then snip, detaching it from the strap running from under my armpit. I'd let the mutilated support dangle until my sobs rattled the unfastened bra-halves off either arm into the sink or onto the floor.
The house devolved as my destruction increased. In opposition to my late wife, and thus to myself, I began a kind of domestic vengeance. Recycling went in the garbage, garbage in the recycling. Neither were taken out on the appropriate day. The seat was left up, the bowl unflushed, and so the house accrued the acrid-sweet stench of old foodstuffs and human waste. I took her cross-stitches off the wall, broke the frames, and unpicked each one stitch by stitch. Laundry built up, diminishing only when I'd pull from the pile to re-wear certain items.
Our home became my misery manifest and, knowing how much it would have wounded her, I suffered.
Tomorrow I'll unmake the bed, I'll break the China, I'll dig up her garden. And once I can't stand it any longer, I'll cease, soiled and sorry, and collapse. Eileen, I'll say, my apologies, dear, but I know you understand. Sullen, she'll smile and press me against her, filling the absence beneath her shirt with my hold. What now, dear? she'll ask. Tell me, what now? And ecstatic at our reunion, kissing the scar in her armpit where the operation on her lymph nodes had failed, I'll say, What now, dear? What now? Why, take your pick. Go ahead, Eileen, I've done what I wanted. Take your pick, go ahead. Do what you want.