As Andrew got sicker, he’d point to perceived smudges on our bedroom window. Nothing discernible to him. Not at first. But the decline in my partner’s health brought with it a growing realization. “It’s a face,” he told me. “It’s someone’s face.”
I saw nothing.
I sat with Andrew through it all. Every sleepless night. Every shriek of terror as nightmares tore through him. Every sobbing declaration that he wasn’t ready. In the mornings, the smudged face would be there, ever clearer to him. He was terrified of it. Still, I saw nothing.
Time went by while Andrew wasted away. I’d started staring more at the blackness beyond the window than at my dying partner. A portion of me found comfort in avoiding Andrew’s gaze. His was a gaze of sorrow. Of regret. He knew I’d be facing the same fate in the coming years. I begged him not to concern himself with such a thing, but deep down, in the vault of my soul, I resented him. His carelessness.
I’d grip his hand in my own throughout our last week together. He didn’t have the strength to talk. He could only wheeze and stare. Stare at me. Stare at the window. Stare at everything.
On his last night, he did nothing but stare at the blackness beyond the window. The void. His void. But then he lifted his arm and pointed. He coughed and whispered, “I see him. I see death.” They were the first words he’d uttered in days. He continued.
“Michael, do you see him?”
I squeezed his hand and told him I loved him.
“The face, Michael. Please, go look at the face.” He saw I was doing nothing, then raised his voice, bringing on a series of horrible, unproductive coughs. “Look!”
I obliged. I walked to the window and peered out. There was nothing but black, cold emptiness below a ceiling of unforgiving stars.
“Look!,” he wheezed again.
I pressed my face to the cold glass and saw nothing. Nothing but darkness.
I turned around and Andrew began to sob.
“Look,” he whimpered. Tears drooled from his bloodshot eyes. “Look.”
I looked. I saw smudges.
“Michael, please help. He’s here.”
I pitied him with such ferocity that I began to bawl. Everything, our passion, our experiences, our closeness, was nearing the end. And it was beyond our control. My promise to be with him through it all was being broken by the force taking him from this world. I couldn’t bear it.
This had to happen on our terms.
“I’m not ready, Michael,” he whispered. I held a pillow over his face. He struggled and moaned, “no no no no no,” through the pillow and used his last energy to thrash. Then he stopped. Everything stopped.
I collapsed on the bed, cradled my love to my chest, and cried for what felt like hours. The sun was coming up when I rose from his deathbed and looked toward the window.
I saw the greasy print of my face smudged against the glass, with my lips curled into a hideous, skeletal grin. Death’s grin.