Long odds

Often I dream of my wife, Stephanie. She was, after all, my best friend and I've never had many, my wife and I've only had one. I still love her, of course. I’ve never felt closer to another human, never will, and never will fully get over the heartbreak of kissing her corpse goodbye, and the infinite boredom of every moment since.

For me, there were three eras of Stephanie, and Steph from each era still visit my dreams. Sometimes it's healthy Steph, singing and dancing and laughing and brilliant. Sometimes it's limping Steph, when it was painful and precarious for her to walk, but she laughed and was brilliant. And sometimes it's Steph in a wheelchair, after the amputation, when she couldn’t walk or dance, but she laughed and was always brilliant.

In last night’s dream, she was Steph from her somewhat disabled middle era, when walking hurt so much she might cry, might topple without me or a cane for vertical support. Twice-weekly physical therapy sessions left her aching or even bruised, and helped only incrementally with any of her struggles.

In the dream, though, she’d had a major and impossible breakthrough, so after a PT session the walk from the clinic to our car didn’t take its usual five minutes with jabs of pain for her at every footstep. Instead it took twenty seconds, and she walked effortlessly, with quicker steps than my own beside her. She moved so fast she passed me, and almost tap-danced down the building’s front steps instead of slowly navigating the wheelchair ramp. Showing off, she used her hands to pirouette over the rail a few times, skills from gymnastics she’d never known or tried before, so yeah, I knew it was a dream, but it was a great dream so no pinching please.

“You’re walking grand this afternoon!” I shouted and laughed.

“Today's therapy was awesome!” she answered, “and they’ve hired me to teach next week’s session.” She laughed, and I always loved her laugh, and then she Michael Jackson moonwalked the last few steps toward our car, where she slipped behind the driver’s seat.

That's another impossibility, because Steph's legs had responded more and more sluggishly due to nerve deterioration, and for the past few years she’d been unable to drive. That afternoon, though, after her dreamy PT miracle session, she drove us home.

“I’m thinking," she said, “that it’s been too long since we hiked the peak, at Devil’s Lake State Park. Maybe this weekend?”

“Absolutely!” I answered, more proof that this was a dream. The only time we'd ever hiked the peak at Devil's Lake was years before she'd had trouble walking, and even then it had been such a steep and difficult climb we barely made it back.

“But for now, let’s go home," she said, laughing again, "and please, will you dance with me in the living room?”

“Of course, my dear," I answered, "but I’ll need a few minutes to move some boxes out of the way, and vacuum."

“I’ll do it,” she said. “Lifting boxes and pushing the vacuum cleaner won’t be a problem for me any more.” All a dream and I knew it, but I wondered what else might go right in this marvelous dream?

Maybe she’d park the car at some fictional mansion, instead of at our cramped and tiny apartment. Maybe she wouldn’t need my help climbing the stairs to get inside, or better yet, maybe there’d be no stairs. Maybe her diminished libido would be back to its former 110%…

And because fate is a cruel monster, that’s the moment I was suddenly awake, and alone of course, without my happy, heroic wife.

Here in this horrible world, she's with me only cosmically, poetically, in my mind and memories, in this apartment where now I live alone, except for a cat.

And it isn't even the same cat. She's a cat Stephanie never saw, never petted. Minky, our beloved feline from when we were together, died of kidney disease — the same diagnosis that took my wife. What are the odds on that?

“It’s all God’s plan,” say the idiots. “The Lord has reasons for everything he does, every challenge he gives us, every birth, every day and night, and even every death.” What bollocks, but my very Christian brother said it yet more explicitly. I remember it so well that this is an exact quote: “God gave you Stephanie for a reason, Doug, and God took her away for a reason. We’ll never know what those reasons were, but it’s not for us to second guess his infinite, perfect plan.”

Because my brother was smart enough not to say it until Steph had been dead for a few years, he only got an argument instead of my fist in his face. But damn, that’s an infinite, perfectly stupid thing he said, ain’t it?

My wife’s death was a shitty thing that happened, and sadly, shitty things happen to all of us. Most shitty things are nobody’s fault, and there’s nobody to be angry at, certainly no God. Telling me it's worse than simply a shitty thing that happened, telling me it was first-degree murder — God planned it, God did it — does not make it hurt less. It only makes me think less of you, because you are dumb enough to believe it, and even dumber, dumb enough to say it to me.

If I believed it — believed that all the world’s happenings, from AIDS to Kyle Rittenhouse, right down to my wife’s slow, painful death, are all assorted slivers of God’s infinite, perfect plan — I’d be a much, much more outspoken atheist than the mellow naysayer I am. I’d be trying to get God indicted for infinite manslaughter. I’d be planting bombs in empty churches. I’d be fucking angry at God, and at every fool who believes in a god, and as mild-mannered Bruce Banner says before Hulking out, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Because I know dumb luck is real, and God isn't, I don't go stark raving mad. Life is a series of dice-rolls, and the dice are not loaded, so the craziest damned things can happen. Born black, the child of slaves? Got cancer? Jewish in 1930s Germany? Tough luck, mate. Sorry. Life is a crapshoot, and the nature of shooting craps is that sometimes the dice bounce badly indeed. 

Stephanie & I had the greatest luck with life, though. Unfathomably excellent luck. I’ll miss her with every heartbeat that's left, but what were the chances of a couple of misfit humans like Stephanie and me ever being born... and then speaking the same language... being on the same continent... meeting and falling in love, and having all our excellent years together? It’s happened only once in all the history of humanity, so the odds against us were incalculable, but nevertheless she persevered. She held my hand and together we beat the long odds of life.



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