The year Marty retired from the Los Alamos National Lab, he developed lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking.
We had brought up three children together, but the rift that formed during those years because of our very different cultures, widened with the behavior of American teenagers and Marty’s Old World ways.
We finally separated for a while and became better friends for it. The kids stayed with me. The wounds of our differences were healing and I know we would have gotten together again, but the cancer was slowly killing him and he wanted to stay in his Albuquerque apartment. He’d always liked Albuquerque and all that it had to offer.
I visited him often and watched him go downhill by the month. He got weak but he wouldn’t go to a hospital, as his doctor advised. I could have told his doctor that he wouldn’t. Marty was independent to a fault, but I loved him for it.
I visited him often and helped him however and wherever I could. A woman came in to clean and cook for him.
When he was near the end, he looked like the people you see in Nazi concentration camps in World War II newsreels. I told the kids to come down for a last visit.
He cried when they left.
I offered to stay with him, but he refused. I thought I knew why and it scared me. Sooner or later he would end his life before the cancer took it away.
We talked about our lives together. Sometimes I tried to make him laugh. Sometimes I cried.
“You know, Kilcz,” he once said, “it doesn’t last forever.”
Toward the end he didn’t eat for fifteen days. One day he wanted an egg. I made it for him but he couldn’t get it down. He was so thin his eyes looked wide from the lids being drawn back. I saw the tumors on his chest. He said they were in his ears too.
“It will get worse,” someone told me. “It will affect his brain.”
What do you say to a dying person? Our society shuns the prospect of death. I couldn’t give him hope. He wasn’t religious. What do you talk about? Finally, I bought him a book called “Life after Life.” He never read it.
The last time I saw him alive he looked so bad I went home and packed an overnight bag. The next day I rode to his apartment on my bike.
It was night. His door was unlocked because he didn’t have the strength to unlock it himself. I opened it. The apartment was dark. The TV was on but he wasn’t sitting in his usual place on the sofa, watching it. My throat got tight. I heard my own breathing above the tv. There was a tomblike silence behind the loud voices on it. I took a few steps toward the bathroom and bedroom. “Kilcz?” I called shakily. Maybe he was asleep. The doctor said that some night he’d fall asleep and wouldn’t wake up. That would have been the easier way.
I walked toward the bedroom, then gasped. There, in the pale light of the bathroom, I saw his legs protruding from the tub.
He was still.
I didn’t want to go in there. I didn’t want to see him. But what if he were still alive and needed help?
He wasn’t. Beyond help. Beyond hope. I stared, my hands clutched at my throat. “Oh, Kilcz,” I whispered. He had shot himself in his head. Near his limp hands that had held me so often was something black. Just black lines. In my shock I couldn’t see it for what it was.
“Oh, Kilcz.” I touched his cold leg.
His beautiful blue eyes, that had first attracted me, were still open.
You know, Kilcz, he once told me, you never look beyond a person’s eyes.
But the rest of his head, his forehead...
I was hysterical when I called 911.
I went back to stay with him. Suddenly I felt calm and capable. Traits I had learned from him in a crisis. Those black lines resolved themselves into what I should have seen all along. A Luger. The German Luger he’d bought years before on a vacation in Virginia.
The police came. They put him in a transparent body bag. His beautiful hands, long, shapely, with veins running across the pale skin, hands that an artist had wanted to paint, were the last thing I saw as they took him away.
I strapped my overnight bag back on the rack, put on my helmet, swung a leg over the seat and started the bike. It was a ritual we had performed together for twenty-three years.
I felt physically sick and trembly as I headed onto the highway toward Los Alamos. Alone.
I thought of our wild, youthful adventures together. How many times we’d pushed our luck past reasonable, laying the bikes down in mountain road turns and holding them there. Sometimes we made the foot pegs scrape and sparks would fly without knowing what was around the turn. Marty always worried about a stalled car.
How many times had the Three Fates forgiven us our recklessness and stopped short of cutting the threads of our lives.
A car honked behind me and I realized I had slowed to thirty-five miles an hour.
Crack it on, Kilcz, Marty would have said. You turning chicken?
I speeded up. Surrounded by strangers in cars, I headed home.
Home. Where was home now?
I remembered Marty’s words and I cried. You know, Kilcz, it doesn’t last forever.
Goodbye, my husband, my lover, my friend. The father of my children. My motorcycle buddy.