I remember the way Alex’s head tipped back every time she laughed. The whole-hearted heavy laugh. Alex had that ability to remove everything in her mind, make it a white space, and truly enjoy the moment and nothing else. Her whole empty head filled up with pure joy and snorted out of her nose without hesitation. She didn’t look to see who was watching, if you pointed out her intense nostril inhales, she laughed even harder. I couldn’t get over how much other people’s attention or judgments didn’t enter her mind.
She danced getting out of the car, she hummed softly under her breath as she picked up groceries, she left the house a streel, without a second thought. All these small moments are meaningless, but it was uncanny how gracefully she weaved herself in and out of different spaces without a second thought.
She hugged people she just met with a genuine embrace. Even without knowing her, they felt completely comforted. Falling into her arms like an exhausted and frightened child giving into their mother. She truly loved. Her husband said that her love was too big for the world. It expanded outside the Earth’s perimeter and busted through the ozone layer. He said to meet her was to feel important, to feel space without judgment, to feel a soft reassuring kiss on the forehead. He said she was the safest anyone has ever felt and the hardest anyone laughed. Stable, yet hilarious, patient but fiesty, kind. Oh she was so kind.
He said all of this at her funeral. I watched the virtual service at home in my living room alone. His voice steady, not a single tear. At one point he stopped talking because their son came to the podium and tugged on his pant leg. He was only a mite, nearly two years old. His father put his finger up to the crowd, and got on his knees to listen to him. Alex said it was her absolute favourite part about him, his slowness, his steady voice, his easiness with their son. He never faltered, never grew impatient, never criticized.
His voice trailed off as he returned to the mic and stood back up to the podium. I knew all this about Alex. We had a weekend together, just less than a year ago. Of course, we always had coffee or walks in a completely platonic way. She’d sometimes hold onto my arm passing over ice patches, she laid her hand on me gently to hold her grip. Her hand would sometimes touch my shoulder as she was passing by me or she would brush my hair out of my face.
She threw out compliments like it was detrimental. When I was down on myself and Alex reminded me I was wonderful. She would easily say, “you’re handsome, brilliant and imaginative and you’re kind – don’t be hard on yourself. Complain to me please, I am all ears but remember how truly amazing you are, trust me” – that might have felt like flirtation, but it was her natural being. She found true pieces of people she met and reminded them of their strengths. I wasn’t special.
It happened on a Friday night, it was raining and chilly. I had intended to meet a few friends for a drink or two, but settled in by my fireplace and couldn’t imagine myself stepping outside for any reason. I contemplated my decision while my actions revealed I would be remaining home. My feet slid into slippers, my legs became covered by a blanket, my back eased into the couch. When a knock on my front door startled me. I wondered if my friends had found out my internal dialogue and were on the hunt to change my mind. I got up slowly to open the front door and I saw Alex standing there peeking through the glass. She was wearing a raincoat and was shivering. I opened the door and she walked right in.
“Heya Handsome, mind if I join ya in whatever you’re at?” she was removing her jacket and shaking it out the front door. She turned, looked me up and down, and saw that I was still wearing a dress shirt. Her hand went over her mouth.
“Fuck me are you still working? I forgot you were important.”
I looked up at her, her face in serious concern and consideration.
“No no,” I reassured her. “Yes come in, of course, please.”
Once she dried off, she reached over and immediately hugged me. She stepped back and held my face. “Ahh right, where’s the wine then?”
We sat and had wine, talking about nothing, her teasing me and making me laugh. When I made her laugh, which wasn’t as often as I would have liked, she would put her hand on my arm and hold it til she could breathe again.
“Well dinner then, shall we order in or go out? It’s a right mess out there now though.” She picked up her phone to scroll through take-in options. “Are we thinking healthy or half-decent or just terribly delicious food?”
I looked at her for a while, a half-grin on my face but I was confused. Alex didn’t show up at my house randomly. She had a one-year-old at the time, and our meetups were more scheduled and never in my home, never this laid back and comfortable.
“Alex, I mean you don’t have to tell me but why are you here? How long are you staying?”
“Oh I am such a spazz, I can go, you have plans. I should have called.”
“No – you are welcome to stay, of course. I do not have plans.”
My words were always so robotic compared to hers, she just spewed out casually.
“Alright then, what shall we order?” she looked back at the menus on her phone. It seemed as though she wasn’t open to telling me what brought her to my front step covered in rain – and since Alex always kept an open mind with me, I left it.
The rest of the night we listened to music, at one point she tried to get me to dance – but I refused, her tugging on my arm and swaying her body. We ate, we played crib, we drank. She never once told me why she needed me, but I stayed there next to her.
“Are you happy?” she asked me, looking up from the crib board.
“In general or with myself in this game?”
“No in life, I want you to be happy.”
“I think so. I make every day full ya know. I make it have meaning, I never let it pass me by. It’s so important.” I trailed off, forgetting she was there and was just alone talking to myself. When I came back, she was sitting closer to me and she leaned in to kiss me. I pulled back.
“Alex? Jack,” I said, reminding her of her husband.
“Please don’t have me explain. Please just do this for me. I want this.”
I hesitated. She stared into my eyes, her hair falling in front of her face and she leaned closer to me. She was so beautiful – just hold your breath beautiful. I held her face and pulled her towards me and we kissed. She moved on top of me slowly, making the smallest noise. Her tiny body wrapped all the way around mine. No thoughts entered my head, it was blank. She had transcended her abilities to clear her mind for a moment onto me and I let her in. She kept trying to pull me closer to her as if she was trying to get inside of me and live there forever. We kissed for so long. I felt like the world halted and stood still to give us that moment and finally she stopped but didn’t lift herself from me. She pulled back and looked at me and smiled and then lay her head on my chest. She lay there while I played with her hair and then reality set in.
“Please Mark, no, please just lay her with me.”
She fell asleep on me and I carried her up to the bed in my spare room and laid her down. She didn’t squirm or budge but stayed asleep.
The rest of the weekend played out unexpectedly – but we fell into this new habitual, natural movement. It’s like she had always lived by my side. She made coffee in the morning for the both of us and brought it to me on the couch, kissing the top of my head and fluffing my hair. Alex put herself in my jogging pants, hanging off her hips as if they would fall any moment. She took a blanket and sat on the couch next to me, squeezing her way under my arm. She stayed there, legs bent up underneath her, sipping her coffee.
“Do you find it funny when it feels like time is standing still? When you know logically it’s passing by but you can’t reach it and therefore there are no consequences to your actions?” her head turned towards me, looking up at me.
“Yeah I know that feeling, kind of like what we are doing right now?” I answered her.
Her head stayed turned towards me, her left arm curving up and around her body for her thumb to run along my chin. She kept eye contact with me for some time, half smiling, seeming content.
The day ran into the night – we filled our wine glasses multiple times, she forced me to dance with her, wrapping my arms around her waist and laying her head on my chest. We would then return to the couch with endless conversation and her laughter, that hardy whole-body experience would influence me to laugh too. She never strayed far from me that night, a hand on my knee, a foot on my lap – as if constant contact was as vital as breath.
I wanted to question her – I wanted to ask what this was, but it just felt so right. It was the most calm I had ever felt. This blanket of security wrapped around me in those hours as if none of our extended circumstances existed. Her family was here for this moment, her home was mine.
As the night drew to an end and we walked up the stairs hand in hand, then brushing our teeth besides one another, small spills of laughter falling around us – no words coming from us but the air felt soft and comforting.
Though the day had been littered with kissing, I expected her to say good night and head to the spare room, but she followed me to mine and climbed into my bed, keeping her body close to me and lying down on top of me. Again holding my face and looking at me seriously – then taking me in her mouth. Our bodies came together, and I kept wanting to ask her if she was sure, but the words wouldn’t come out. Every limb fell into place, my hands holding her near, her hands touching me everywhere.
When we had finished, she lay on top of me for some time, our breath flowing together. She kept her head below mine and wouldn’t look up at me.
“You know, it’s always been you,” she said without moving. “I love you deeply, I always have and I always will.”
My arm rubbed up and down her back, her hand reaching around to grab mine. I never spoke. I didn’t know if my love for her would be appropriate or helpful. I didn’t know what she wanted to hear. Alex could speak easily about how she felt without consequence, her vulnerability was admirable but I was too scared my words would ruin this moment and I would lose her sooner than I had wanted.
The next day we stayed close and her body found mine again. Afterward, we showered and ate breakfast, cooking together and talking throughout the process, her stopping to hold me or grab my arm to link into me. Coffee was shared on the couch, her legs on top of mine, blankets intertwined around us.
“You can stay here if you need to, do you need to?” I asked her, hoping desperately that she would.
“There is nothing more that I want but I can’t. I am truly sorry if I was selfish in this, but you will understand soon why I am here. I do love you and I hope that was expressed in our time, and not taken as a heart-breaking moment. And you have always known I love you, I care about you, but I am in love with you and I need you to know that.”
Silence hung between us for a few minutes.
“I am in love with you too.”
She nodded and smiled, keeping her eyes on mine. She slowly lifted herself up, blankets dropping onto the couch, one hand holding her now cold coffee.
“I should go.”
“Ahh yes the dreaded good-bye.”
“Oh no, no goodbyes, we will continue as we had before – walks, conversations, pubs, casualness. I won’t let us falter or disappear.”
“Agreed. I’ll be here….Alex…I will always be right here.”
“I know,” she said. “I hope I am not taking advantage of that.”
Following that weekend, our lives continued on as they had before though our hugs lingered a little longer, her eyes met mine more often, our arms interlocked on walks.
I found out later on, that was the day she was diagnosed. The rainy Friday when she walked through my doors in all her being, just breathless and chatty, unexpected. She knew she was building a memory as it was happening. She knew she was developing a space for me to hold onto her forever. She told me in the hospital that it was something she had to do before she went, to ensure that her life was full, to ensure she was honest with herself. I also know, Alex was secretly filling me up to the brim before she left me – to protect me and keep her close to me. That’s where she stays and no one knows.