I stood still, my hand set firmly on the knob, half ready to turn it, half ready to turn back. As I contemplated, beeps echoed like sound effects in a movie, indicating life, though slowly ebbing. I can hear clearly, too, the sound of her shallow breathing. I turned to look at her. Her head rested on one side of the bed, her right hand, on its rightful place. She was asleep yet her face was far from an image of rest and calm. The dark circles under her eyes were beginning to look more noticeable now, so too, are the gauntness of her cheeks.
Her image, as it tore my heart, pulled the last string of my self control. I used all the energy I can muster to turn the knob. If there was a time to leave, a time to surrender, this would be it–at a time she’s unaware, at a time I couldn’t see the pain in her eyes.
As the door behind me closed, an unfamiliar feeling of lightness engulfed my body. It was as if I had no weight, no burden. I was sure I’ve felt this lightness before, only it was too far in the past that it now felt foreign. I shook my arms, moved my legs, savoring this liberty from pain, from worries. It lessened the guilt, convincing me that I’ve made the right decision.
Despite the darkness, I felt safe. But as I began to walk, I heard the sounds. Faint at first, but gradually building up. It was as if speakers were etched on either side of this narrow hallway. The sounds were defeaning to me. They were alarming everyone of what little sliver was left. But that was the least of my concerns. It was her I was worried about. Worried that she’d opened her eyes and found me no more.
I fought the urge to look back. Doing so would only bring more pain–to me, to her. It had to end now. I took one step, my eyes wandering for something I know I desperately need–the end, the passage, the light.
I heard a scream–a female voice. It was her. I heard her gasping for air, from panic. I heard insistent footsteps, hers, walking to and fro seemingly debating if this was really happening or if this was just one of the nightmares she’d been having lately. Not long after, I heard the door slam shut, the sound of her hurried footsteps faded out.
I realized I was momentarily frozen, intently listening to the echoes.
I heard the door open once more and the sound of more footsteps ensued. Four sets calm, one distraught. One calm footstep stopped halfway by the door. “We’ll take it from here.” The distraught footstep hesitated, pushing her way in. But realizing what needed to be done, stepped out of the way and resumed her restless walking outside.
There were barking orders, words I could not understand, but none of those are worthy of my attention. I was waiting, listening to her. She stopped walking now. All I can hear is her labored breathing. I know she’s by the door, a hand over pursed lips, looking through the square glass. Then, she started sobbing.
I knew this moment would come. I knew I’d have to go sometime. I have long prepared for that when I was told the news. But nothing would’ve prepared me for what it would do to her. How broken she’d become. I dragged my feet along, body intact but spirit crushed.
“Why?” It was a whisper yet the sound was so clear I could’ve sworn she was right beside me.
“A billion people and it had to be you!”
I was running now. I ran faster believing the sounds would fade with distance.
A heartbeat faltered. Then another. It seemed like an eternity.
“Please don’t…” She pleaded. Her voice hoarse, drained of all energy.
Then there it was, almost blinding my eyes–the light. I didn’t realize I have gone this far.
“Daniel,” she whispered. “We made a promise…” Her voice trailed.
My eyes automatically flew to my hand. A golden band glinted as the light touched it–the symbol of our promise.
“I love you…” It was not uttered. It was something I felt her heart screamed. And yet those words reverberated through my entire being.
One more step and I will reach the light. I paused, my feet seemingly glued to the floor.
“I love you,” rang in my ears.
Then and there I wondered why a single step forward seemed to be so much harder than a thousand steps back.
My heart screamed back a response. It echoed hers.
I turned around and sprinted back. As I reached the door, I did not hesitate to turn the knob. Suddenly, I couldn’t move. The sheets were cold against my back. A familiar heaviness hung on my body.
“He’s back.” A man’s authoritative voice announced.
I heard murmurs of relief from other people in the room. The respirator beeped as it did before, indicating life. Pins, needles, everything with pointed edges seemed to penetrate my body. A few parts numb, some parts in excruciating pain, most parts worse than any. I did not dare to move. I knew it would hurt. Everything hurt. Even breathing did.
The door burst open and urgent footsteps came after. She ran to my bed and put her hand where it belonged–over mine.
“You came back!” She cried. I couldn’t open my eyes but I can feel her happiness.
I gathered my strenth to tighten my grip on her hand. It felt like gripping an electrified rod but at the same time, her hands felt home. I know I couldn’t hold on forever but as long as I could, I would. I realized now that the light I was looking for was never the one at the end of the tunnel. It had always been here, at the end of my hand.