Tightrope

We are nose to nose in bed,
layers of thick quilts and blankets cocooning us in on yet another frigid Minnesota night.
Both cats have taken their places: Hazel behind my knees, Hattie on his feet.

Perhaps it is because we are trapped and cozy that he feels safe enough to say it.
Perhaps it is because this is one of the few times and places that I am still,
my eyes for once not on a screen, a book, or another person,
my feet trapped and unable to scamper away to the next thing that needs to be done.
Perhaps it is the approaching of the New Year.

His eyes are always moist, an ironic symptom of chronic dry eye, tears dramatically sliding down his cheeks all throughout the day.
But as we lie nose to nose on this cold December night,
they look to me as if they are, perhaps, more wet than usual,
the pools of liquid full to the brim as he says,

I feel as if I’m walking on a tightrope. One misstep and I will fall into the abyss. It’s really hard. And at the same time, I don’t want the tightrope to end.”

The fixer in me responds first, as she always does, despite advice I dish out to the contrary.
My words tumble out:

I will build tall cushions, landing spaces, all around your tightrope, so that even if you fall, it won’t be the end. I will be right there to pick you back up and put you back on.”

And then I catch myself, breathe, and take the advice I so often give, saying,

It must be exhausting, walking on that tightrope everyday. I’m here with you for every step.”

And then because I can’t help it, I blurt,

I want you to be here forever! I don’t want the tightrope to end! I don’t want you to fall off! Stay here with me forever!”

With that, the pools of liquid in his eyes spill over.

In most cozy beds, nose to nose with your beloved, saying you want to be together forever, that you never want this love, this life to end, would be a declaration of adoration and dedication, a statement that may cause tears, but they would be those of happiness and safety and deep lasting love.

But in our cozy bed, it is a declaration of what he, too, wants more than anything,

and yet

has no control over.

He knows his tightrope is both shorter and thinner than most,
that its length has been truncated and its width frayed to a tiny thread,
making each step treacherous and full of potential peril.

He is doing his best,
despite tired, heavy feet, to step carefully each day, to not slip, not fall, knowing full well that even if he is as careful as he can be, that the rope will come to an end sooner than he wants.

We clutch each other desperately,
the truth hanging in the cold Minnesota air above our heads.

Nose to nose,
we wrap the blankets even more tightly around us,
cocooning ourselves in against
the cold,
the truth,
the future.

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