his death certificate says 9 February 2009. when the funeral home gave it to me and i saw the date, i thought, “no, that’s wrong. it was the 8th.” then i remembered. he started dying on the 8th. it was over on the 9th. 12:03 am. it’s a small thing that means nothing to anyone but me. on the 8th and the 9th of every month i feel hollow, as if there is nothing inside me. no stomach, no brain, no lungs, and no heart. i barely eat. i can’t think. breathing is hard at times. and i cannot feel my heart do anything but miss the heart it used to beat beside.
i am told this will get better with the passing of time. i leave this alone as i do accept that there may be improvement in my feelings, but i will need to see when and by how much for myself. today, these are my thoughts and i will say unequivocally that i will never get over losing him. he will always be in my heart, on my mind, and his name will forever be on my lips. because i adore him. the candles have already been lit.
how long is a year? “short if you sing, but long if you sigh.” all i’ve done this year is survive 365 days without the only man i’ll ever love. i’ve cried every one of those days in one form or another be it great, heaving sobs or blinking back silent tears.
three hundred, sixty-five days i’ve had to live without his winsome ways. for all his strength and fierceness, he was also very charming. it’s the truth that he kept his promise of a daisy a day. if he couldn’t pick them or buy them, he’d take his finger and draw one on my inner wrist. i always liked those. sitting side-by-side, leaning into one another with our heads touching. he’d take my hand and start to draw. if i’m really tired and hurting for him, i rotate my hand and look at my empty wrist. sometimes my mind lets me see one there. dream world.
he deserves so much better than he got in his life. he deserves to have the world know what he did for his country. he deserves a huge memorial. but his life cannot be talked about openly. his sacrifices have to be inferred. not every death gets a big candlelight vigil with mourners lining the walls of the church. a lot of us simply get a night full of stars and oceans of tears shed from only a handful of people who will grieve forever such a loss.
not many knew of my Dragon whose hidden life was given over to patriotism for so long and with a great deal of silent honor. he died unexpectedly on the night of the full moon. there were no orators at his funeral. all the words spoken were the ones i wrote. there were few flowers. his funeral had a scattering of people who had known him and were willing to relinquish the morning of Valentine's Day. all were in shock. all came to me and clung to my arm and asked me “how,” “why,” “i can’t believe it,” and “he can’t be gone. he’s so strong and alive.” i could not speak so my daughter responded for me, "heart attack," "only God knows," "neither can we," and for the last, even her strength broke and her voice fell silent.
he got a folded flag, a broken arrow (he is half Sioux, half Russian) and his destroyed wife and her two equally devastated children. a horrible little, plastic, black box held the ashes of the Dragon. i found an urn that spoke to the life we had and the life we wanted. i put that black box far back into the closet. i will, however, never get rid of it.
“my husband died.” that doesn’t sound real even though i know it to be true. my Dragon’s body was too powerful and his spirit too enduring for me to think he could ever be conquered. i know he wasn't bullet proof, but the scars from being shot and stabbed repeatedly, all his years of combat sketched out on his body like a wild tattoo, lead me to believe that i would die long before he would. i’m weak. he’s strong. he’s the Dragon. Dragon’s live forever.
“he’s in Heaven.” that haunts me because i’d like to know. i am so lost without him and i cry as i pray that he is there and well and at peace. but that’s faith for you. it’s not for us to know. i have to admit i've had the “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me” moments. i do this when i feel vulnerable, when i’m hungry, and when i worry that after i finish the commissions i have that i will not get another one, and when i have to roll over and beg my ex for my stipend. but then i have these moments when i’m outside walking the dogs and i feel a sudden breeze. the sky is beautiful and i see an early moonrise, one where the moon and the sun look across at each other and i feel strongly that he just has to be there, on the moon, flying through the universe, up in Heaven.
“my Dragon has gone ahead.” that one will have to be the one that stands because it sounds like its part of a story and i’ve always liked stories. i like the ones that start with “once upon a time.”
Once upon a time there was a handsome, fierce Dragon who was looking for someone to love and someone to love him. he found a woman who lived in the shadows. it was true love from the start, “true” as in the definition culled from Shakespearean times. she found in his arms and heart a paradise on Earth that only Heaven could outshine. he found in her arms and heart a love so deep that his nickname became, no longer a curse, but a term of endearment. they found common respect, admiration, and a blazing joy so white hot that they had started to believe in “happily ever after.”
it was the night of the full moon. their kisses were soft. their embrace was serene and intimate. their “i love you’s” exchanged before closing their eyes to sleep were tender. legs were entwined and fingers were laced together when the Dragon started gasping for breath. the woman from the shadows sensed it before she heard his difficulty because one of her hands was on her Dragon’s chest. she flipped on the light and saw her husband choking for air. gut wrenching terror filled her as she called 911 and started, then saw she was failing at, CPR. she cried his name. she talked to him praying he heard her, “love, can you hear me? you’re gonna be fine. okay? you’re going to be fine. don’t be scared. please don’t be scared. they’re coming. hear it? they’re almost here. you’ll be fine. please be fine.” she knew what was happening to him. she was a realist. she said to him, to God, “don’t leave me.” the last thing she whispered to him was, “i love you.”
they made her leave the room while they worked on him. then she saw them putting him in the ambulance. the police drove her to the hospital because they said she was in shock. she waited alone in the ER for someone to tell her what was going on. it was only 10 minutes. at four minutes after midnight, they came. two nurses and a doctor were walking towards her as the woman from the shadows tried to back away.
her heart started screaming. not her lips. not her mind. her heart. she heard it in her head. she knew what was coming. but why no one heard her heart flying to pieces was beyond her understanding. God probably heard, but He was busy with something else. maybe He was taking the Dragon to Heaven.
she watched these three people whose job it would be to tell her tragic news. they shouldn’t be coming towards her though, not like this, not with those looks on their faces. she and her Dragon loved each other and love conquers all. right? in their respective lives, they’d already been through so much. they were going to get a happily ever after, weren’t they? if you’ve done good things all your life some of that good is supposed to come back around. right? they had never asked for anything but each other. they had never expected anything grand. all they wanted was each other. to them, that was the grandest thing in the universe. surely God was going to at least let them be together. the nurses and that doctor weren’t there for her. but she knew there was no one else in the waiting room.
the nurses had her sit down so the doctor could tell her how hard he’d worked but that it had been a lost cause. her husband probably wasn’t his first lost cause that night because there was a kind of detached sadness in his eyes. the woman from the shadows must have looked pretty bad because the doctor suddenly frowned as he reached over and took her pulse. one of the nurses went and got her water while the other helped her on with her coat. it was then that the Dragon’s wife realized she was violently shivering.
the doctor asked her if she had any questions and she had only one.
“i failed to save him. you failed. we both failed him. what is it i’m supposed to ask?”
the color drained from the doctor’s face and the woman guessed no one had asked put it quite that way before. either way he said no more to her. he just squeezed her hand and bowed out to let the nurses take over. her heart was still screaming but neither nurse acknowledged it. they also didn’t seem to notice when it stopped screaming and start to splinter into a thousand pieces. the Dragon’s wife was helped up out of her chair at the same time that she felt all the pieces of her heart being swirled up by the wind from the Dragon’s wings as he flew away from her.
they lead her to a room where they had laid her Dragon out with a crisp white sheet tucked tight across his chest. this was the second to last time she saw her Dragon. his large shoulders spread across the small gurney. his white and silver hair glinted under the lights in the silent room. he looked so handsome, as if he was only sleeping, but his chest was not moving. it did not rise and fall with his great, deep breath like it had each night under the protection of her single hand. she stroked his beautiful soft beard and sighed his name on a shudder of sobs. his body was present but the Dragon was gone. something had made him do what he’d promised her he’d never do. he’d left her.
the Dragon had gone ahead.
someone once said, “light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. no matter how fast light travels, if finds the darkness has gotten there first, and is waiting for it.” woman in shadows had lived in darkness for the whole of her life and had only just found the light. it had come from her Dragon. it had been in his eyes as he looked at her and in his heart, as he loved her. now that light was extinguished and she was thrust back into the dark, but it was unlike the one from before. this dark was going to be from a forever night where she had known the love of her Dragon, and had watched him be taken from her.
the last time she saw her Dragon, he was lying in state, as it were, in the funeral home awaiting her formal identification. her daughter and son were with her, but her son was having a hard time keeping his tears under control. he did not want to see a lifeless Dragon so it was her daughter that went with her down the stairs following the funeral home director to see him. woman in shadows was carefully watched as she made her way one step at a time. when he came into view she broke. there's no other word to explain what happened inside her. it wasn’t a nightmare. it was reality. her Dragon was gone. she kneeled on the floor beside him and sobbed into her hands. the overwhelming loss settled on her shoulders and prevented her from speaking for hours after that visit. her daughter cried. she talked to the Dragon, stroked his hand, and softly said goodbye. the funeral director quietly excused herself to give these two women their time alone. she had seen a lot of grief, all kinds, founded in all the variables of human emotion. this was genuine grief founded in a true and deep love that now must be transcended in the minds of the survivors. she could not help with that.
it has now been a year and in these intervening 365 days, the woman from the shadows has become odd. she was eccentric before but now, she has been called odd by a couple of people and she has acknowledged that it fits. she’s become a cloister. she has learned why some religious choose solitude for their life of prayers. she’s faithful in her daily devotions to God and in her talks to her Dragon. she’s learned that neither answer in a way she can understand. she’s also aware that her life has heartbreakingly played out exactly like it was predicted to her. “you’re worthless. you’ll end up as nothing. you’ll end up alone.”
mothers have a way of being irritatingly right sometimes.
all the woman from the shadows can do is accept. there is no negotiating a return from something like death. all she can do is close her eyes to the pain when it rises in intensity. all she can do is live the rest of her life and wait her turn. she sews all day every day except on the nights of the full moon. on those nights she is distracted. she knows what time moonrise is. she gets anxious until that shining orb touches her particular horizon, and then she sighs. sweet relief. he’s back, the Man in the Moon, her Dragon. she photographs him. she stares at him. she talks to him. he, too, doesn’t answer her.
her collection of full moon photographs is damning evidence of the time she’s spent pining for someone who is lost to her for the rest of her life. she looks at her photographs of her moon; she feels possessive of it, and feels like the night version of the water nymph, Clytie, who followed the sun across the sky and became the sunflower. the one photograph she stares at most is the one she calls “Dragon’s Moon.” it’s the moon of 8 February 2009.
she pines for him. she wishes she could hear his deep, rumbly voice again. she wishes that when she reaches out her arms to the darkness that his hands would grasp hers and he would pull her into his strong, warm embrace. she faces each day and tries to be “stronger.” she does exactly what she’s supposed to do. she’s very correct in all her ways. but remember, the woman from the shadows has become odd since the death of her Dragon. she’s very much alone and has gotten used to it. she’s been hurt along the way this year in part for not being good enough, for not “measuring up,” and for having become so odd.
days are hard for her as they are for most who grieve but it is also for one reason that others may not understand. the woman from the shadows, the Dragon’s wife, misses the darkness that reveals the Heavens to her. she misses the moon whatever it’s phase. see, the Dragon’s wife is in love with the night.
“When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
it hasn’t been 365 days. it’s been 365 nights.