“Love You Forever.” I used to say it to my wife, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until I woke up in the forest and felt the warmth of the sun filtering through the trees, teasing out the new buds that accompanied my reawakening.
I watched her stroll down the path toward the clearing where I had proposed to her so long ago, and thought about that day, and how nervous I had been.
We were sitting on a log at the edge of the clearing. Our initials were carved into a tree not three feet from where we sat.
I knew I was going to be with her from the first time I kissed her, after nervously asking if it was okay. She said yes, and as I kissed her I saw an image of myself years later dancing with our daughter at her wedding. At that moment I knew we were going to be together forever.
There were times when it seemed like everything was perfect and that we were meant to be together, but then there were other times.
“How could you?” The anger in her voice fought with disappointment as she confronted me. “You were supposed to take care of that. What am I supposed to do? I feel like I can’t trust you.”
What hurt the most wasn’t the criticism, I deserved that, but the feeling of separation that opened a hole inside me. “I will take care of it, I’m sorry.”
“You’re always sorry, but this always happens.” Her eyes bored through me and widened the hole there, pulling in fragments of happy memories and little pieces of the future like a black hole sucking in light fragments.
Each time it took my heart a little while to heal, but it did, and each time I learned a little more about what was important to me and what I needed to do to pull the future back together.
“Emily,” I said one night as we sat watching television after dinner, “Let’s go for a walk down to the clearing.”
It was early spring and had just started to warm up. Buds had managed to push themselves out of the tree branches and there were little green spots everywhere you looked. “I love the way the spring makes its way through the winter. It is reassuring - a sign that there are better things coming if we stick with it.”
‘Are there really?” she asked.
I knew the question was just her way of teasing me, but I was focused on my mission and ignored the jab. “There are if you agree to marry me.”
“What?” Her hand went to her mouth in surprise, as if she had tried to contain her reaction, but it was too late.
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” The word came out before I finished the question. It was a special moment, like that first kiss, that bonded us together - a moment we would laugh about for years when we talked about getting together.
We got married the next spring as the blooms burst forth and reclaimed the world. Our wedding was outside, in the clearing where I had asked her to marry me.
Over the years the disagreements and problems seemed to give way to understanding and love. We visited the clearing often as a reminder of the beginning of our love, and when I started to get sick, I would come to the clearing and sit for hours and read, accompanied by a chorus of birds, backed by a breeze that made the trees sing and muffled the sounds of the city.
“I love being here with you,” she would say on the days she was able to join me. “It feels like the rest of the world doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just you and me and the little creatures.”
When I got sick enough that I couldn’t go to the clearing any longer, I would open the window and listen to the birds calling to me, as if they were telling me to come join them and be free.
“I will miss you,” She said when the time came.” It didn’t really cover everything, but I knew what she meant.
“Come visit me in the clearing,” I wanted to offer her some consolation. If my spirit was going to be anywhere, it would be in the clearing.
I believed the spirit survived the body, but had no idea what that would look like and had never found a satisfactory explanation among the conflicting stories told by religions, spiritual traditions and wishful thinkers.
I had my own speculation, which itself was mostly wishful thinking, but I was surprised when I found myself back in the clearing, high in a tree, looking down at her as she sprinkled my ashes around, saying, “This was your favorite place, and now you will become a part of it, and I can visit you here.”
And I you, I thought.
‘I can feel you around me, sweet husband. I still miss you every minute”. She reached her hand in the urn and tossed ashes into the center of the clearing.
Every time she came to visit the clearing, she would talk to me as if I was there. “How are you today? I talked to our daughter yesterday. She is doing well and is going to come visit next month.”
Over the years, I watched her as she aged and became ill, eventually knowing the time was nearing when we would be together again. “Together forever” she had said, as part of her wedding vows. I now knew what that meant and couldn’t wait to share it with her.
On the day she died, I was there, waiting. When her spirit appeared, her face glowed and her smile made me tingle. She said, “I knew you would be here.”
“I’ve always been here.” I touched her so she could see what I had seen.
She closed her eyes and sighed, as if she was overwhelmed, and then looked directly at me. “I could feel you there, especially in the clearing. That’s why I talked to you.”
“I know,” I said.
“What do we do now?” Her spirit floated up slightly and she realized she was no longer tethered to the ground.
I took her hand and smiled, “Let’s go see our daughter.”