By Viktoria Rendes
Five years on, I wonder what you would make of my life now. Let me put you at ease: I am content. Your favourite French word ‘suffire’, is often on my lips. I have enough and I am enough.
I feel fortunate to have had 23 years with you. They were not always easy, some were damn hard but we stuck together and grew in love. Having a child was more of a blessing than either of us anticipated. You were the best father a daughter could wish for. She idealises you and no man will ever live up to her expectations. No one can ever measure up.
I am glad I am writing to you now because we were never very good at talking about the serious stuff. And if the dead can talk to us through letters they have left behind, then why should I not attempt it in reverse?
In the beginning, our partnership was a carefully orchestrated set of manoeuvres. We jumped in, backed out, entered once again, this time slightly weary of each other. We pretended to trust and then slowly we did. Our relationship evolved, adjusted, happened, became second nature, simply fitted. In those early years when we did try to talk about things, we went around in circles for hours and more often than not, we released slow seeping venom that took months to leave. We learned it best to communicate through actions and left the words behind. In the latter years we no longer needed them, we anticipated each other perfectly and danced the mundane domestic with grace and love.
It is the little things I remember like coming to bed when you were asleep and trying not to wake you. I’d gently slip my arm around your girth while my foot found yours to cup. I felt every crease of your sole and soothed myself to sleep. You hardly noticed.
I also remember you coming home from work and heading straight to the laundry to put on the next load of washing. It was a ritual I never had to think about. Washing done, hung out and brought in. A choreographed sequence that played itself out for years. After you were gone, we were left without clean clothes for a month until it dawned on me that I was responsible for this as well.
It is at the oddest times that I miss you. Going to a concert and finding an empty seat beside me makes me blink back tears, even now. Or a perfect blue sky which makes me feel your eyes are everywhere, enveloping me with light and warmth. Then there’s your spidery writing appearing on some scrappy card noting French or German verb forms: sterben- to die. Verb- intransitive, conjugation- irregular. These daily reminders of loss weigh heavier than any anniversary.
We never talked about death. Doctors spoke about the ‘next treatment’ like the next item on an agenda – theirs. By then we were accustomed to such talk from ten years earlier when you were diagnosed with prostate cancer. This new cancer was just another inconvenience of life, even if a rather large one that we never fully acknowledged. Your brush with prostate cancer had been disturbing but not deadly. Although we were aware that your uncle had died from it, age 64, you were laconic. Little did we know that you wouldn’t even make that milestone.
The way we dealt with your prostate cancer became the benchmark for dealing with subsequent health issues. After the first successful surgery, I expressed elation at having you alive and nothing else seemed to matter. By extension, this also meant that nothing else was discussed. The long road to continence, for example, was just a blip to get over and the resulting impotence couldn’t be mentioned without reference to your emasculation, so it was left to one side. We kept injections in the fridge to help with erectile dysfunction. Few were used and without much success. Or maybe too much success. Your erections would last for hours and were uncomfortable and uncontrollable. They had nothing to do with desire and everything to do with the marvel of biological engineering. Sex, like death, became taboo except that it was longed for by both of us without any idea as to how to make it happen. I used to dream of the early days when our hunger for each other would make our bodies shiver. We could hardly wait to join and become one. I wanted to unzip your skin, crawl in, be one with your flesh, merge and dissolve and arrive back in my body, spent and content. We felt a loss so great that instinctively we knew words would plunge us into an unfathomable crevasse from which we could never emerge. So we remained silent in our longing, silent with our tears. Silent while we tried to eke out a modicum of relief. Silent in our shame.
But don’t get me wrong, we had many good things going for us, and I remember those too. Our house was always filled with laughter. We teased, we joked, we punned and loved with deepening lines around our eyes and always a twinkle within them. After you were gone, the thing I noticed most was the silence. No peals of laughter, farcical phone conversations, impromptu lyrics or commentaries on the absurdity of life. Walls closed in around us, without your presence. The heaviness of the house took over where lightness once reigned.
Our last mute month together was definitely the hardest. Nobody mentioned death – not the doctors, not your family, not either of us. Words were imploding from their sheer weight yet no sound escaped my mouth. You spoke of retirement plans, maybe even moving to the country. You’d pay off the house and we’d live simply. Tears would streak my face but I remained silent, never finding the words to talk about the inevitable. We procrastinated about death until it washed over us like an incoming tide.
Even when I brought you home, refusing the hospital’s questionable interventions, we never spoke openly about what awaited us. I tried to make you comfortable, administered morphine and waited at your side. That last night we couldn’t move you from the seat in the living room so I stayed beside you on the sofa. You woke with a guttural cry which I will never forget. You wanted to say goodbye but your voice had been taken. We sat with you for the last two hours, stroking your hand, telling you we loved you. You clung to life with each profession of love from our daughter’s lips until I could bear no more. I cried for her to stop and gave you permission to leave.
A calmness descended and the sun rose as it has every day since. Out on the street, life continued its well-worn path. People walked briskly to catch the morning train, birds chirped and the sun shone in a cloudless sky. I watched amazed, anticipating an imperceptible ripple, a jolt, some acknowledgement of the gravity that had befallen us but none came.
So much had been left unspoken between us. But why complicate things when a few words suffice? There, that word again, in English this time. Suffice, sufficient, sufficiency.
You were always so much more than enough.