One Last Wish
If only I could articulate it, my one last wish. I can hear everything they say, clear as day: there’s little hope she’ll wake up; she possesses little or no brain function … only a matter of time … we’ll re-evaluate in an hour. I refuse to believe that my body is a mere shell. I wish I could scream, “I’m in here! Listen to me! Don’t give up on me! Don’t let me die!” Alas, I cannot move a muscle. Or open my eyes. I am breathing with the aid of machines that hum and hiss and make me want to spit nails, because I am alive. I am not yet dead. I am imprisoned inside of myself and at this point, I cannot, for the life of me, locate the escape hatch.
It was a freak accident, or that’s how I remember it. I think. I took the bus downtown. There was a spring in my step. I was wearing a new scarf; the sun was shining directly on my happily upturned face. Finally, the Rembrandt exhibit, a mere block away! I’d been trying for weeks to find the time to take it in. Between work and painting myself, there was little time left for much else. I chastised myself. How could I not find the time to be in front of original Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn work? The wizard of the Dutch Golden Age of art, master of light and shadow, his tremendous legacy is the whole reason I wanted to try my own hand at living an authentic artistic life. I took generous steps, two at a time, skipped along a busy sidewalk crowded with curmudgeons – one of them, inadvertently jabbed me with a quick elbow. I felt myself falter. I shrieked in panic, falling quickly into oncoming traffic. I saw a horde of hands reach out to try and pull me back. For a split second I was gladdened, one hand clasped around my wrist, one split second of relief, and then, for some inexplicable reason, it let go. My heart rose in fear. According to the reports being discussed about and around me, that hand belonged to someone who, because they stopped to help so quickly, caused a human traffic jam behind them, and was forcefully struck, thwarting my almost-rescue. After that, for me – fade to black, never mind Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar to ogle in awe. Laid vulnerable in a hospital bed, with the knowledge that at any given moment my loved ones would be encouraged to pull the plug, I couldn’t help but wonder, once I broke on through to the other side, if my artistic mentor would at the very least, show me the kind of mercy he’d never show himself in portrait. If he were to commit this sudden and unfortunate wreck to canvas, would I be treated to the exact pale I deserve? Or would he spare me the agony? Would you hear the death rattle in the brilliant strokes of his brush while he cloaked me in a non-descript hospital gown while my loved ones, weak in the knees, wailed bereft, at the tragic loss of me? It isn’t inconceivable. The Dutch masters tended to paint everyday ordinary life instead of sprawling biblical or military scenes commissioned by church or aristocracy. I am a plain girl in a grey room supposedly fighting for every breath – how much more ordinary can you get!? But then, who the heck am I, to believe a master painter would find me a fitting subject. I’m arrogant in my current condition, one doth think, no? I say, a girl can dream. And, it’s a good dream – to be the subject of accessible, famous art. Even better than someone writing a song about you, which comes in at a close second.
It was my sweet mother, choking on her tears, knees buckling from underneath her, her tiny hands wringing mine, literally squeezing the life out of me. It took her in a million little pieces and a vital machine threatening to flatline, to comprehend. I was no longer in the bed. I was above, floating, hovering, witnessing my own demise. There I was, no longer inhabiting my body, my corporeal vessel, the flesh I dressed and cared for, close to thirty years, hovering above it all, making temporary contact with a water stained ceiling tile, sorting out what comes next. After a bit of time passed, I don’t know how long it was, my brother escorted my grief-stricken mother from the room. I watched them exit, almost in slow motion, move further and further away from me. And, suddenly I was alone with myself. I couldn’t help but wonder, while gazing upon the paleness of my usually rosy cheeks, who might be saved from my misfortune. The only function of the machines still drumming were to keep my organs viable. Would my dull blue eyes give someone the brilliant gift of sight? Would my young healthy heart, beat in another’s chest? Or maybe skin to soothe a burn victim. I donated it all. And then, what’s left, they’ll give to my family, in an ornate urn of some sort (I hope) so they might have a little closure. I feel deep guilt leaving them in such a quick and tragic way, but I didn’t advocate or expect such an early expiration. I had plans! First, my mother’s birthday dinner next week, where while seeing the exhibit I had hoped to acquire a unique present of some sort in the museum’s gift shop. I oversaw the gift and her cake. The gift I can’t do much about, but her cake is ordered and scheduled for delivery on the day. It’ll make her cry, posthumous confections from her dearly departed favorite daughter. I wish I could get word to my brother to intercept but I wanted it to be a surprise. A cake delicately decorated and airbrushed with memory photos of her life. Pecan crunch with butter cream icing, her favorite. What else? What other plans … oh! Istanbul. In five years. Or bust. I was also flirting with the idea of cutting my hair that has been halfway down my back for as long as I can remember to something daring, like a pixie cut or a short-inverted bob. Maybe give it a bold shock of color. I promised myself after a rather debilitating break-up that I’d live inside of every moment, push my crayons to shade outside the lines. Taste food not just chew it quickly to swallow it down. Relish the flavors and textures. I made a vow to myself to feel, to savor everything, take pause, enjoy. And now this.
My mother and brother were not yet settled in the car when I propositioned God. Asked for a favor. One last wish, the one I did not think I could articulate. Before I embark on whatever predestined plan was set for me, could I please just see one original Rembrandt? The request seemed trivial all things considered but given that I have no idea where I was going or what will transpire, the momentary joy of standing before an original painting by someone I deeply admire seemed like an even trade. You know what? It worked, albeit granted with an ironic twist which confirms God has a decent sense of humour or is outwardly arrogant. Or, perhaps a little of both.
I found myself, just as I was before the accident, agile and enthused with the same spring in my step, my favorite scarf on display and a happy face forward, studying a real live Rembrandt, Head of Christ. I don’t know where in the world I was. Berlin. Paris. Destination unknown. But, the painting. Breathtaking. 1648. The romantic head of Jesus, slightly inclined, long dark curls, short full beard, in a reddish-brown cloak. Noble and pensive. If my heart was still inside of my chest, it would have raced, fast and furious. His features are nothing to mistrust. They calmed my newly minted soul. Someone directly connected to Rembrandt’s piece was receptive to my prayer, it was no accident to arrive before this exact rendering. A stark reminder that in life, there is a reason we worship beautiful things.
I pecked at this wee piece for a little bit. It was a writing prompt, I executed it with a twist: write a scene or story that includes a character fulfilling their or someone else’s last wish. I started writing without even knowing where I was going with it. The idea just ran with me. It was another exercise just to keep my fingers moving, to maintain my meandered thinking. I don’t know if this is interesting or if anyone will enjoy it, but I liked writing it.
Any thoughts are welcome.