Through Thick and Thin by Adrian David & Debbie Hewson

This has been the longest week. A whole seven days since my Levi died. The house is different—empty, devoid of his comfort and love. Memories of my husband are all that remain.

I get up from the couch and drag my feet to the bedroom. His scent lingers on his pillow; it’s both comforting and heartbreaking. Comforting because it reminds me of the wonderful days we spent together. Heartbreaking because I will never have those kinds of days with him again.

Thunder rumbles outside. Rain falls in torrents. I look past the rivulets clouding the window and force myself to remember the good times when life was full of hope. A time before calamity struck.

We met on Pike Street in Seattle on a chilly November day. It started to pour while I waited for the bus to work. Levi shared the shelter of his umbrella with me, told me about his kindergarten girlfriend, Abigail, who shared her name with me. But they had broken up when she kicked him in the shins after he’d refused to share his Oreos.

I was reluctant to stand so close to a stranger, but something in his vibrant smile reassured me. Those glowing golden flecks in his hazel brown eyes added to his charm. We’d been inseparable since that first chance encounter.

The rain pummels the windows. I clutch the pillow to my chest, wishing it to be him. Yearning to have more than this pillow and this misery for company.

My mind drifts to that night, two years ago in this very house, six months after Levi and I moved in together.

***

We had just returned home after going on the most wonderful date. He kneeled before me and held out a potted cactus. A half-open ring box was nestled on it like a crown. It was typical for Levi to pull a stunt like that. My heart pounded and my hands shook. “I’ve never heard of someone proposing with a cactus before,” I said, wrinkling my nose in feigned snobbery, but I adored it. “Weirdo.”

An endearing smile lit up his face. “Roses wilt and die in a few days, cacti are resilient. They keep going through good times and bad.” Passion gleamed in his eyes. “I want our love to survive through the toughest of times—through thick and thin.”

I took the cactus from him, shaking my head in wonder at this sweet man, as he took the engagement ring from the box and slipped it onto my finger. He kissed my knuckles, my wrist, and then up my forearm to my sensitive inner elbow. My eyes fluttered closed.

Levi chuckled as he placed the cactus on the table. “Don’t want this to fall now, do we?” He turned and wrapped his arms around me.

I laced my hands into his unruly jet-black curls, holding him to me. “I love you, Levi.”

He lifted his face, split by a grin, and claimed my lips. “I love you, too, beautiful.”

Levi kissed his way down my neck, stopping only for us both to undress quickly.

My hand in his, he pulled me to the bedroom, laying me out on our bed. I clung to him, brimming with desire. Every touch, every caress scorched my skin. I shuddered as the orgasms rolled through me. Never had I felt so euphoric in my life.

Levi kissed the soft spot behind my ear and whispered, “Abby, I want you to have that smile on your face, always. Okay?”

I nodded, breathing in the promise of beautiful tomorrows, ignorant of the dark cloud looming over us.

The days leading up to the wedding were stressful, dealing with the last-minute details of the day we would be joined as one. But everything faded away as I walked down the aisle and he smiled just for me. Nothing else mattered. We vowed in sickness and in health. Then, as his soft lips pressed on mine, we began our happily-ever-after.

As two twenty-four-year-olds living in the moment, we enjoyed our lives. He was mine. I was his. We expected to grow old together. To be united forever.

I was eager to create sweet memories that could be passed on. Sweet stories of baking a cake late into the night for a sixth birthday party, of visiting the animal shelter and Saturdays surrounded by purring kittens. Bittersweet stories of traveling across the country to move our son into college for his freshman year. I wanted to grow old with Levi, and die holding his hands.

This would not be our reality. Our legacy was stolen by a monster whose sharp talons showed no mercy or discrimination—cancer. Pancreatic cancer, to be precise. It didn’t matter how strong our foundation was. It collapsed like a house of cards the moment he was diagnosed.

“It’s nothing, Abby.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “We’ll get through this. We can take that trip to Paris we’ve talked about when it’s all over.”

We drifted in the sea of that horrific disease, arms flailing to stay above the crashing waves. Then, amidst the darkness, an unexpected pregnancy brought us closer together. We clung to the joy of a baby like a lifeboat after the ship had gone down.

Six long, dreadful months passed. Cancer didn’t care that our love never wavered. Each passing day rendered him sicker, and it drove a wedge between us. He withdrew in his fears. I was reticent with my choice of words and actions. Thoughts of being apart devastated me, but being together as his health deteriorated was torture, too.

Invigorated by the anticipation of meeting his child, Levi clung to life harder than ever. Our future daughter gave him the strength to fan the embers of the fight in his heart.

But that hope wasn’t enough. There would be no remission, no miracle drugs or treatments. After we sought second and third opinions with oncologists and the failure of chemo, we were back to where we started. Our optimism morphed into a bitter realization.

As the cancer spread into his stomach and bones, his skin turned yellow and so did the whites of his eyes. A new reality where I watched my husband die a slow, painful death unfolded before my eyes. And—may God forgive me, for I can’t forgive myself—I wished him dead. His loss would bring me to my knees, but he was better off gone than suffering through this living hell.

One day, as I sat next to his hospital bed, the doctors reported that his condition had exacerbated. Levi looked into my eyes and reached a hand out to me as he carefully shifted over. I crawled in beside him, desperate to hold him, seeking his comfort while giving him mine. His tears soaked my chest. I ran my fingers lightly over his bald head, imagining the lovely curls that once ran amok there.

We cuddled and snuggled together, cherishing these moments. Levi nuzzled into my neck and said, “You’re going to get past this. You’re going to fall in love again. Get married. Live the life you were meant to have. Without me.” He looked up into my eyes. “Don’t hang on to me. I want you to have more than a memory. You deserve better, Abby.”

My heart shattered at his words. “Levi… no… you know I can’t. You’re the only one I’ll ever truly love.”

Levi cupped my chin in his palms. His weary eyes were still able to pierce mine. “I want… I want to die knowing you will be happy. I need to know that you will move on.” He coughed. “If there’s one thing I wish, it is for you to love again. You have such a big heart; you were made to share it. Do this for me and our baby, but also for you, too.”

I gulped down sobs as I choked out, “I… I’ll… try.”

Levi tucked an arm under his head as he curled up next to me. His hand rested gently on my belly, his skin cold through my shirt. He looked tired, but he beamed as he talked to our unborn child. “Hey there, little one. Dad’s going on a vacation. I want you to grow up and become a beautiful woman from the inside out. Just like your mom.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought of the future my child will never have. Concealing my emotions, I smiled through my tears and caressed my belly. “And a loving person like your dad.”

“Abby, I’ve decided what we should name her,” he said with a serious face. “How does Han Solo sound?”

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, tears still cascading down my cheeks. I was so loud that the nurse had to come and warn us to keep our voices low. But I didn’t care. It was one of our last moments together and we needed that time. We needed that laughter. That was the best thing about Levi. He always found a way to laugh and keep me happy, even during times of despair.

As days passed in the hospital, I watched him slip away, looking less and less like the man with whom I fell in love. He was a shell of his former self—his skin hung loosely to his bones, his eyes were sunken, his once strong arms not being able to lift his own drink. I heard the unmistakable rattle of death in his lungs. Every time he took a nap, I was terrified that it was the last, the one he wouldn’t wake up from. It didn’t matter how much I prepared for this moment. It wasn’t enough.

How could you ever be ready for the death of someone you love so much? You can’t. While they live, it’s hard to accept their inevitable fate. When it happens, it leaves you gutted. Before I was anywhere near ready, he was gone.

All the doctors, all the prayers, all the treatments were for nothing. In the end, Levi lost his battle to the disease. And I lost the only man I ever loved. How could he leave me lonely and hurting?

I watched his casket being lowered into the ground while a sea of people dressed in black offered their condolences. Shaking their hands and kissing their cheeks was a reminder of what I lost.

***

I miss everything about him now—his radiant smile, his laughter, mischief dancing in his eyes. The days we spent together, the passionate kisses, the taste of his lips, the feeling of his warmth inside me, pleasures only he could satiate. I even miss his dad jokes that used to irritate me. All that’s gone—just gone.

I’d barely slept during the days following Levi’s death, though I struggled to get out of bed. Hygiene went out the window. My mind and emotions are numb to the world around me. When I did succumb to sleep, I reached to his side of the bed upon waking, only to find it empty every time.

A clap of thunder brings me back to reality and I wrap his blanket around me before plodding over to the dining table. Hand on the kettle, I mindlessly pour two cups of tea, realizing my mistake with a sharp intake of breath.

Levi is my phantom limb—a part of me severed off, yet I still feel him, although he’s no longer here.

The new redundancy of that second cup taunts me. Tears prick my eyes as I take my tea and shuffle away.

A distraught woman looks back at me from my reflection in the amber liquid in my cup. Disheveled hair and dark circles scream of loss. Gone are the laugh lines and the glowing skin of happiness.

My right hand runs over my belly and strokes the new life growing within me—a life that’s partly me and partly him. This child is a piece of Levi I can hold on to. My heart is broken, hollowed by grief, and imploding, but if there is something that holds it together, it’s the promise of our child.

As I trudge to the living room, I spot the potted cactus sitting on the windowsill. Stubby, sharp needles protrude from the green flesh. I want to blame it for the loss of the future it promised me. To throw it out, and the reminder of all I lost along with it. I can’t part with it, for I’m glad it is still here. Even though many things have changed, the cactus remains the same. It’s been weeks since I watered it. Yet it lives on, just as he promised me.

Slowly, the thunder dies away. A streak of sunlight enters the window. I feel the comforting warmth on my skin. Tomorrows will keep coming. I remember him wanting me to be happy. Fighting back tears, I smile at the cactus. “You were right, Levi—through thick and thin.”

Adrian David writes ads by day and short stories by night. He dabbles in genres including contemporary fiction, psychological thrillers, dark humor, and everything in between, from the mundane to the sublime. 

Debbie Hewson lives in Dorset, where she is trying to restore a three-hundred-year-old house, which is fighting her every step of the way. She writes and walks on the beach and sometimes, she dances badly.

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