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John S. Jones is a writer who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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In The Shadows

by John S. Jones II

     I can barely lift my own child. My arms have atrophied. The realization of my impending demise strikes me most when I try to pick up my daughter. I used to be able to lift her above my head and spin her. She is my little colt, all of seven years. She smiles and the room seems to glow. I can only hope she will remember me as I was, and not the way I have become. I, the broomstick man, am dying.
     When I first found out, I was scared. That feeling never really leaves. It is only tempered by the thought that the time you spend in fear is the only time you have left. You hope to quit being afraid and live as long as time will let you. I remember being a child in the dark, worrying that the creatures in the shadows would take me away. I would never imagine what the creatures would do to me after they got me. It was enough that the dark frightened me. When the doctors told me what I had, those same old fears came back again. I keep wishing that some kind soul would turn on the lights.
     I remember, I was in the military eight years ago when they told me that my appendix had to go. "It's not life-threatening, boy, it just needs to come out before it poisons you.", they said. There were no complications. It was a simple surgery, a little anesthesia here, a cut there, and a small transfusion. The hospital is very nice at Osan. It is state of the art and it also serves as a bomb shelter. It is probably the best facility of its kind in South Korea.
     My friend Bob had no such surgeries, but that does not matter. No, that does not matter at all. I watch Bob when his brother can't. Bob is in the late stages. The dementia has set in. He tries to cook in plastic bowls on the stove top, so we have to take care of him. It is a very difficult thing to watch. I knew Bob when he quoted Coleridge and made us all laugh with his dirty limericks. Now, he asks if his cat is going to make kittens. He is so afraid that she will eat them if she does. I stroke his hair and sing to him, just like I do for my daughter. He seems all right then. I always felt much better after my mother sang to me. The creatures seemed to go on holiday, if just for that moment.
     My wife will never have to worry about putting Tupperware on the tops of stoves. My daughter will never have to worry about not being able to lift her children in her arms. They were spared. It never got to them. Thank God for such tender mercies.
     I really miss holding my daughter. It is one of the things I miss the most. Normalcy has no place in my life now, neither does the joy of holding love in my arms and never letting go. I will have to let go. My illness is stealing the good parts and replacing them with strange suffering. Torture is so much more kind and direct.
     It is changing the things that are me. It is stealing the little lights that shine in the dark. The ones that scare the creatures away. I will try not to be afraid of them. It takes so much time and energy keeping the fear away. I would rather spend these final moments saturated with love until the last light winks out and says goodbye.
     My life is not bad at all. It is populated with the moments that shimmer in the dark.
     I am still amazed by my daughter. She is so aware. Elizabeth is always hungry for the next word that falls from your mouth. She is like a little bird in a nest. Elizabeth is the breath in my lungs. "Daddy, I think you are very hamsome. You are very hamsome," she says.
     "Well, you are very pretty, Elizabeth. You are the prettiest girl in the world.", I say. She smiles and I smile right back. It always seems that the blood warms up and approaches the heart during these moments. Tears rush to the eyes but stop short of escaping. The joy is held in and it radiates through the skin.
     Life can be ecstasy. I am familiar with sweet pleasure. I feel it from Jennifer's touch. My wife's kiss can stagger me the way no drink ever could. I am stunned by her beauty and the reaction my body has to hers. Jennifer's lips press against me and I am no longer earthbound. I am gone for a short time. Heaven is there. I will not be surprised at what I find behind those pearly gates, if I make it. I am in no rush to go. I don't mind the wait to find out.
     These are the flowers that bloom in the desert. I am appreciative. It is easy to look out at the landscape and never notice the blooms. They add color to your life and are the things that shatter the barren view. I have tried very hard to stop this thing that is inside me from obscuring that.
     I have a blood-borne illness. It is growing within me. It is changing me. It is changing my ability to fight it. I am becoming something different. Perhaps, I am in a state of metamorphosis. It is weakening me before it infuses me with new stamina. I will awake one night and find myself covered with fur. I will crash through my bedroom window and run after the full moon.
     I will not be this shattered thing that I am now. I will hide in the shadows. I will tell my wife and daughter, that I love them, but I will never tell them what I have become.
     Perhaps, I am not dying at all. Even with modern medical technology, it is very difficult to tell one illness from another. It is, isn't it? I can accept that. There is some comfort in knowing that your life is not leaving, only changing. I will look upon it as a blessing.
     I will not be angst-ridden, worrying about the monster that I will become. I will not bite. I would not inflict the experience upon another. I will develop a plan that will help to contain my animal urges. I will mark the full moon on my calendar, and I will tell my wife I am going on a business trip. I will drive to the country and bay at the moon to my heart's content.
     I will hold my daughter. I will raise her in my arms. I will be able to her give piggy-back rides. I will make love to my wife with the heated passion she deserves. I will not be worried about my cat eating her kittens. I will be potent. My wife won't have to stroke my head every night, long after she is too tired to do so. She will not have to comfort me with songs that are inflected with the vibrato of tears. I will be whole once again, and I will no longer be afraid of the creatures that lurk in the shadows.