It fell from above; a dazzling diamond, lit up like a sparkler with fire on one end as it twirled downward against a black sky; a giant star quietly and slowly falling to the ground, leaving no trace of its origin behind. I close my eyes and make a wish.
I’m returning home from a short walk with our dog. I let her sniff out the vacant field next store while I openly sob to no one in particular. My husband is dying a slow death and I am watching him from the sidelines, unable to take away his recurring physical and mental pain or halt his raging disease. I’m unable to save his life.
I think about my youth, blowing out candles on a birthday cake before making a wish. I don’t believe in wishes anymore, but witnessing a shooting star as it dances down a path directly in front of our home seemed more of an omen of sorts—a private show just for me, a glistening of hope, a parade of lights falling from the sky, so close I could almost reach up and touch the silver sparks.
Past sightings of shooting stars were witnessed by my husband, Michael. I’d catch the last fragments, a quick flicker of light disappearing into the darkness. I’d ask him if he made a wish and he’d nod his head, look over at me and say, “I’ll never tell.”
Now he sits upstairs in his wheelchair, unable to walk, with his cell phone in his lap in case he needs me. His right femur has a tumor hidden deep inside the bone. Cancer hides behind tissue and muscle. Sometimes it stays hidden for years before it decides to make its debut. It waits quietly for a stressful moment, a sudden decline in body functions, or a fall or a subtle physical complaint that seems to linger on. It stays in limbo for the opportune moment to appear, well prepared to begin its free-fall—a path to unveil its madness.
Sometimes my husband ventures a few steps with a walking stick. The cane is the color of maple syrup with a foam curved handle and a rubber stopper on the end. Our dog turns away when she hears or sees the large stick heading her way or the wheelchair traveling through the upstairs master bedroom. She hovers in a corner next to the bed until my husband is positioned comfortably in his recliner, against the far wall, ready for sleep. He’s no longer able to climb into our bed or wrap his arms around me, or feel the closeness of his body next to mine. Our daily challenge is the management of his excruciating pain.
I sit on a neighbor’s rusted bench before going back into the house. I gaze up at the sky wondering how long my husband will suffer—wondering how one can justify the punishment cancer sentences its victims to. I question my faith in God and then I think about that beautiful falling star.
This is one shooting star I didn’t miss. A shooting star witnessed from start to finish. I closed my eyes so tight that they stung as I concentrated on a wish—a wish that became more of an angry plea, a begging of sorts, a compromising effort to calm my fears, to give me strength to face what might be coming, to offer hope that everything might still be all right.
Michael Ratner passed away at 2:00 p.m. on November 16, 2010