We boomers might be “getting on,” but we can still be suckers for love stories. Particularly when they’re written by fellow boomers. And especially when they’re about boomers. Here’s an excerpt from Judith Natelli McLaughlin’s new book “This Moment.” It’s about Lydia and Ryan, a pivotal moment seen from Ryan’s point of view.
I felt nauseous and weak. I clutched my stomach and stumbled to my bedroom. Seconds later, I fell on my bed. Fully clothed, I lay on my back and closed my eyes, but sleep wouldn’t take me in. I needed something. Perhaps a stiff drink would cure my nausea, numb my pain, and allow me to sleep. I rolled to the edge of the bed and forced myself up. I was hunched over like an old man losing a battle with osteoporosis. I made my way down the steps to the kitchen’s makeshift liquor cabinet above the refrigerator. Half the cabinet was reserved for flour, sugar, salt, and other assorted baking necessities, and the other half was for liquor.
I opened the doors only to discover several packages of empty flour, a container of Morton Salt, and an unopened bottle of banana liqueur. I knew the banana liqueur would only add to my nausea and do nothing to numb my pain. I closed the cabinets and thought of a beer. At least I could swiftly chug a beer. I opened the refrigerator and saw nothing but pre made dinners brought to us by caring neighbors. Tuna casserole, chicken surprise, and baked ziti sat in white ceramic dishes with pretty glass lids. But there was no beer. Not even a goddamned beer.
How was I going to do this on my own?
Still hunched, I walked back up the steps, clinging to the banister for dear life. Would I make it? I didn’t know. Instinctively, I skipped the fifth step. I was surprised I could still do something out of instinct. I flopped back on my bed. I thought of pillaging the medicine cabinet for old Prozac or Xanax, pills left over from Lydia’s depression. Maybe pills were what I needed — and lots of them. Or a shotgun. I started to wonder what would be the manliest way to off myself. Pills were for wussies. But a gun—that was a man’s way to kill himself.
What was I thinking about? Why was I letting my mind do this? Life is crazy. Lydia, my beautiful wife, was dying in a hospital room, and I was thinking about killing myself. God, I was scared. I was scared for the pain she had to endure. But I was also scared for myself, afraid of being left behind. I was afraid of raising two boys alone. Lydia was the one dying, yet I was afraid. She was using every ounce of strength to stay alive for the boys and me. Christ, I felt guilty. Guilty for every fight we had, for every unkind word I ever spoke to her, and for being the one who got to live. Why Lydia? Why not me?
Still fully clothed, I eased my body under the covers, pulling the sheets high up to my neck. I remained like that for seconds. Then I flipped, pulling the sheets with me, right then left, left then right. I was tossing and turning and bouncing and pulling. There was anger and purpose in every move, my arms and legs twisting in the sheets until I couldn’t tell where the sheets ended and I began. My chest felt heavy, and my eyes were wet with tears. I rolled over to Lydia’s side of the bed and buried my head in her pillow. I inhaled one long, deep breath, trying to smell her presence in mylife. What did she smell of? Was it lilac, vanilla, sweet spring, or fresh rain? Did I already forget how she smelled? Did I already forget what it felt like to sleep next to her night after night after night? I didn’t want to forget.
Suddenly, I stopped moving. I was still. Within seconds, I started sobbing, my body heaving uncontrollably, foreign noises escaping from my mouth. It was a fit of pain and rage and sorrow that had been building inside me since I heard Lydia’s cancer diagnosis. Actually, it had been building my whole life, but I never knew it. I couldn’t stop it now. I let all my emotions, all my feelings, and all my suppressed thoughts out. As a group, I let them take control of me. And as a group, I allowed them to stay as long they wanted. I gave in to the feelings instead of pushing them away. Ijust let them envelop me until I wore myself out.
Finally exhausted and spent, I lay motionless. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the yellow legal pad that sat faithfully onLydia’s nightstand. I stretched my arm and reached for the pad. I turned around, propped myself up, and with my back leaning against the headboard, I read the words Lydia had scratched at the top:
Rules for Dying: You must all survive.
A lump formed in my throat. I swallowed hard, but the lump wouldn’t disappear. Seconds later, I released a weathered sigh before letting my eyes glance over one lonely line written halfway down the page.
Please always remember, I love you beyond.
I fumbled around my own nightstand for a minute, trying to find a pen, all the while wondering what Lydia was trying to say,wondering what these wordsmeant. My fingers felt the smooth skin of an inkpen. I grabbed it and held it between my thumb and fingers. Tight. I started feeling angry, more and moreangry. I was furious. Enraged. I changed my grip on the pen, wrapping my entire hand around it, forming a fist. I began stabbing the paper. Stab. Stab. Stab. I was making holes but not sense. I lost myself, and I had no idea what I wasdoing.
I wasn’t tired, but I wasn’t alert, either. I think I was numb. It was almost as if I were dreaming, but I was awake. Again, I changed my grip on the pen. Suddenly, it became a tool, not a weapon. I surprised myself — I began writing. Writing. I actually wrote words. I let the first words I thought of come out. The words were seemingly useless, but I didn’t stop myself.