Don't Want to Blink (A Christmas Story)

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A story of loss and hope, love and separation.

The purpose of this story is to be read to your family on Christmas eve. Merry Christmas, my friends. Hold onto hope.

There was a time when God walked with and held us and talked to us. But something bad happened and it created a large divide between He and us. And over all the years God longed to be able to hold us again.

***

Natalie sat across the table from a friend from high school. It had been years since they had talked and now Natalie filled him in. She had gotten married, her husband, Nick had gotten paralyzed and now he could move nothing but his eyes. Her job had become to take care of him all day.

"Trevor, I mean it's really hard. I have to bathe him. Dress him. Feed him. And he can't do anything but move his eyes. I can see when he's watching me, or looking at something else. That's all we can communicate. After he got back from Afghanistan, he had a shrapnel wound to the neck, but we thought everything was fine. He could move fine. He was completely there mentally. Until one day I just woke up next to him and he couldn't move.

It was horrible. That day was the worst day I've ever... The ambulance... The waiting room... The tests. Eventually the doctor just told me they think it is a blood clot that dislodged and got stuck in some new part of his brain. It could dislodge again at any moment and all movement could come back, totally back to new, or he could die on the spot. He would just close his eyes and stop breathing. You can imagine how paranoid I get whenever he closes his eyes."

She shook her head and dropped it into her hands. "You know, man, I thought we would live happily ever after. We were so in love. I mean I don't mind taking care of him very much. I really love him..." Her words slowly broke down into tears until she could say no more.

Trevor reached to touch her arm but she sensed it and held out a hand showing it was okay. Her wet eyes creeped out from behind her hands, and she took a deep breath. She looked up a Trevor and said. "I just wish he could touch me again. I want to hear his voice talk to me." She looked out the window of the cafe in thought. "Even just tell me about the baseball game he was watching, or the weird hydraulic thingy he wanted to add to his jeep or whatever. Just to hear him talk to me. And touch me. I'd really, really like that again..." She faded away in thought and her eyes filled more with tears.

Trevor tenderly replied. "It's okay, Nat. You've been a very, very good wife. You are beautiful and you deserve to be touched. You deserve to sit down with someone and have a deep conversation. You should have someone to give you the attention you deserve."

She shot a brief, fierce look at him, a laser moment of discernment and she interrupted him. "I think I may have misled you, Trevor." She broke off into thought again. "Attention is the one thing I get from him. I have never had anybody pay this much attention to me in my life."

"Really?!" Trevor regained is less intimate tone. "How can he do that if he's paralyzed? Isn't it always just you giving him your attention?!"

"No, he actually gives me much more. I just have to get him dressed and feed him and put him in his wheelchair. You know how I used to love to paint back in high school? Well, we got a pretty good medical leave payment package, so I can paint all day. So I set him up where I am and I do my painting all day long. I think it's where I work out my sadness and my longing, and hope and fear, and all this stuff I'm dealing with." She shot a look back at him, "The best work of my entire life, I think." And she looked back out the window. I get really into it sometimes, and can forget he's even there, but when I turn around to go get a glass of water or change the music, he's right there with his eyes locked on me. Like, when I remember and I watch him, as I walk through the room his eyes never leave me. And I realize he's been watching my every move since the moment I got him up."

She glanced up at him with a keen discernment to see if he was safe to say something. And then she cautiously said. "It's like, I never knew what it was like to be so seen. Every movement, his eyes are like LOCKED on me. Almost unnerving. I mean, I start to think about everything I do and think, does this look stupid? Did I scratch my butt, or adjust my pants or whatever? But here's what I was going to tell you." She took a breath and double checked his face to see if she could confess this. "Maybe I shouldn't be saying this to another guy, but I've always thought of you like a brother. Sometimes when he is watching me, I just wish he could touch me. I'll start to take my clothes off, you know? So he can watch me while I paint. I mean maybe he would like that?" She said it quickly, as if embarrassed and she looked up. Trevor nodded. She continued, "Just to have the most intimate parts of me be seen by someone who wants to see them is really... special. I'd never gotten fresh with guys like this before because I was so nervous about my body. But his eyes are so intense." She looked out the window and her voice got soft and her gaze got distant. "Sometimes, I go over to him and sit on his lap and I put his arms around me. You know, just to get the feel of his body against mine again. But it's so lifeless. He can't feel any of it, and he can't hold me." She looked down at the table, into her coffee. A tear plopped into her mug and she slid it aside. She sniffed. "I just want him to be able to touch me again. I just want to hear his voice in my ear tell me he loves me again. Sometimes I wonder if he could love me at all after all the stupid stuff he sees me do. I get so self conscious after I realize he's been watching my every move. I mean seriously dumb stuff. Sometimes I catch myself dancing, belting out aerosmith songs while I'm cooking, and I mean it's terrible. For some reason it's always those songs, over and over. There's a reason I'm a painter, not a singer."

"Hmmm," Trevor thought. Then he said, "So there's no way for him to communicate with you? Can't you work out some system with his eyes or something?"

"Yeah, well it's funny you mention that. A few weeks ago I was thinking about that and I asked him, 'Hunny, why don't you blink what you want to say to me. We could do morse code or something.'  And I tried to work through it with him but he didn't seem to want to blink until the last possible moments before his eyes were watering. He just wouldn't stop looking at my face. It actually made me start to wonder if he was all there mentally. It was the first time I had wondered that. But since then I caught him doing something else. One time when I looked back at him he glanced at my iPhone speaker. It's close enough to my painting easel that it was a really subtle movement, he could still see me, but I've gotten so used to seeing his gaze locked on me it was enough movement that I noticed. He looked back at me and then for the next few moments he didn't break his gaze on me, almost if looking at the speaker was trying to tell me something. But it got me thinking. So for lunch I got a sandwich and just sat down in front of him and watched him. And sure enough he'd look over at the speaker at certain times. Sometimes it seemed random, and sometimes it was at the same spot during the chorus of a song. So I started to write down the words or phrases whenever he looked at it. And I sit with him and watch him for like an hour every day, over lunch time, and I write down the words I think he's noticing. but sometimes we go days without him looking over there once. And the stuff I have written down, I can't make any sense of."

"Well, maybe I could help!" Trevor broke in. "I work for Wycliff doing translation, remember? I know languages."

"Oh yeah! I could totally show you. Sorry, I forgot!" She started feeling all of her pockets for the crackle of paper. She finally found it in her lapel pocket of her poofy vest. She took it out as she said, "I'm sorry, Trev. I haven't even asked about you."

"It's okay," he said understandingly, "Why don't you show it to me."

She unfolded and flattened out the notebook paper on the wooden cafe table. She turned it around to him and let him read.

There were phrases with ellipses on either side showing she didn't know where the significant lyric started and where it stopped. At the top of the paper was the left over question she had asked him, "Why don't you blink what you want to say to me?" and the alphabet written down below it as if she had gone one by one until he would blink at the letter. But it was scratched out so she could repurpose the paper to the excerpts of lyrics. It said:

"... I don't want to say goodbye..."  -Aerosmith

"...take the time to waste a moment..."  -Kings of Leon

"...I'm not looking for the one..."  -Marcus Canty

"...there's always someone looking at you..."   -The Boom Town Rats

She continued, "And they were in this order. Like he didn't look over at the part in the Kings of Leon song until it came on the second time, after the Aerosmith song."

Trevor looked at it over once and smiled. "Oh, that's easy." He looked up at her and handed it back to her. "It's really sweet."

"REALLY?!" She snatched it back and stared down at it. "What does it say!!??"

"Look, take the first part of that, 'I don't want to...' and the last part of the Kings of Leon song, 'waste a moment' then 'not looking' and 'at you.'

She repeated it to herself, "I don't want to waste a moment not looking at you." Then she said a little louder, "You think that's what he means? I mean that could be it." But then she looked up at the top of her paper, read the sentence she had crossed out, and tears immediately filled her eyes. She caught a beautiful sob in her throat and then dropped the paper on the table. Without even saying goodbye she grabbed her purse and stood, which knocked the chair to the ground, and burst out the door.

The paper lay on the little square table. Trevor, a little shocked, took the paper and turned it around. He read the sentence that had been crossed out again. Then his eyes watered up too. He read the question and answer together. "Why don't you blink what you want to say to me?... I don't want to waste a moment not looking at you."

Natalie burst into her door and ran to her husband. She sat down on his lap and showered kisses all over his face and head. She said between the kisses, "I just figured out your message. I love you. I love you. I love you. You don't ever have to blink honey. I will do whatever you want to see. I wish you could hold me so bad, but until then this will have to do. Whatever you want to tell me, you just tell me. I'll put you right next to me so I can see any moment your eyes move and we can figure out our own little language and you can tell me anything you want. I'll do anything for you, hunny." She showered kisses upon kisses. After an hour of chatting with him, now realizing for sure that he could hear and understand everything she said, she had settled onto the floor with her head in his lap, just humming Aerosmith songs.

After a few minutes of resting on him, tears visited her eyes as she said, "I just wish you could stroke my hair right now. I just wish so badly you could hold me and kiss me back and tell me what you're thinking." After thinking for a while she added, "But we can do it this way. I'll put the music on random and we'll try to cover as many songs as we can each day. And we'll figure out our own little communication system."

And that they did. Sometimes it took weeks to say something. They could only do one sentence at a time, and they could not start another until the previous was finished. It was long and discouraging at times, often causing tears. And then the far and few between ecstatic moments of breakthroughs and all the kisses that followed. He told her how much he loved her, and what he thought of her paintings. He told her which were his favorites and why. And how, even so, she was the most beautiful thing to watch.

And this went on for years. Sometimes they didn't leave the house for days. The process was so arduous and they wanted to hear each other's thoughts so badly. If they wanted to talk, they had to be fully listening.

But she still wished he could hold her. She told him every day to come back to her. That he still felt too far away. It was hard because she hoped so much. The waiting was deep and tiring. But a fire stoked the hope every time they finished a sentence. After significant breakthroughs she would often test his hands, because her hope was getting the best of her. She would put his hand on her face and whisper, "Can you feel me yet?"

She would get him up each day, bathe and dress him. She would feed him and she would set him up to watch her paint. But she put him in a spot where she would also notice if his eyes moved. Then she would turn on the music. They would do this all day until she would undress him and set him into bed next to her. And they would go to sleep. Often the last word said was after she caught herself humming a song from the day, "Sorry. You must hate hearing me singing all the time. I love you. I miss you."

And then one night, 20 years later, when she was 55 and he was 53 she had a dream. In the morning, as she woke up she started crying. She cleaned her tears and pulled herself together before turning to him. His eyes were already open, and she said, "I had a dream that you could finally hold me again. I thought it had finally come true." She just held him crying in bed until noon. Her hope was like gravity.

For five and a half more years they did their thing. One day she buckled him in and cautiously drove him for one more off-road ride in his old Jeep before she was going to have to sell it. It just wasn't getting any use. It was a shaky ride and she stopped half-way through because she realized it could shake the clot loose and kill him. That night as they were going to bed she caught herself humming again. She had been singing, over and over, "I don't want to say goodbye... I don't want to fall asleep, cuz I miss you babe... and I don't want to miss a thing..." She groaned at herself and said to him, "I'm sorry hunny. I did it again. You must be so annoyed after hearing my crackling old woman's voice always singing off key. Night baby. I miss you." She kissed him on the cheek and she turned over and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night she felt something on her face. It startled her and she jumped. Her face pushed against someone's hand coming from behind her. She turned and looked at her husband. Nick was turned onto his side in the bed, with his arm outstretched. He was smiling as if learning how to do it again. He let his hand relax, falling to the blankets, just the fingers touching her lips.

"Oh hunny! Oh hunny! Oh Danny. Oh hunny!" She saw the peaceful calm on his face. His face that was learning to work again and she got suddenly worried.

"Are you okay? Can you move more? Don't you want to hold me?!"

He tried to speak. It was ugly and scratchy from disuse. He cleared his throat and mumbled until he remembered how to use it and until the voice came more smoothly. And he said, "Shhhh, patience my dear. I will hold you closer and longer than any man has ever held his wife before. But I must tell you something."

She nodded and almost whined because so much love and desire and passion and hope was building and ready to burst out of her.

"I had a dream too." They both remembered her dream from five years before because by now they were very good at patience. "The day I first saw you at that pharmacy counter, I kept walking around the store for like an hour because I couldn't stop looking at you. I kept thinking, if I could look at that woman all day, every day for the rest of my life I would be happy."

She smiled and touched his face too now. Her eyes filled with tears. She realized this would change things. After this point she wouldn't every have quite the same undivided attention from those eyes. Life would become normal.

As he saw it all come together in her eyes, without her saying a word he added. "My dream came true."

And for five minutes more they soaked up that gaze and didn't blink until they absolutely had to.

And at the end of that five minutes he pulled her very close and whispered in her ear, "Now let me hold you for the rest of our lives."

And you could almost never find them when they were not touching each other, for the rest of their lives.

***

Our God used to be able to hold us with his arms, and speak to us with his voice. He walked with us, and he loved us. But a sickness entered the world and a huge gap separated him from us. For centuries we could barely understand what he was saying. He would have to send his message through prophets, and it would be hard to interpret. And we couldn't see or feel his body or feel him reaching out to touch us again.

But then one night, he came back. He came as a baby and was held by his mother. He saw his father. He cried for life among his lovers where the sheep and cows could hear and wonder what it was like to be able to know the language that the creator of the world will speak in.

And only when a seed dies can a tree grow. So he let himself be killed so he could send bits of himself to everyone on the earth. When he died the spirit inside him caught like fire within all of his children. And he is in every one of us. You can hear his voice sometimes when a friend comforts you. You can feel his love when your lover reaches for you in the night. His voice and arms are in the ones that rock babies when their mothers come find them crying at night.

And some day he will come in full bodily form again. All Jesus. All spirit. All God. And he has a dream that he will take away all sickness and sin. He will take hate and pain away from all who wish to be rid of it. And he will be able to hold us again. He will bring us to life. He will speak with his voice from his body, and will hold us with hands with holes that have been crucified to forgive us, and span that gap of dirty sickness had been put between us. And this is what we wait for still.

This is the advent.

Raw Spoon, 12-216

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