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martha, 2005

La Ultima Vez—The last time

Besame, besame mucho / Como si fuera esta noche la última vez…

Kiss me, kiss me a lot / As if tonight were the last time…

Cesaria Evora’s voice, strong and oh! so beautiful, comes in from the livingroom as I pour myself coffee in the kitchen. It is early morning, and I am thinking of my day, organizing it in my mind. There’s work at The Memoir Network—a ghostwriting client at 11, Sally who works with me in the office at 2—the gym this evening, a visit with my mother who is 93 and lives in a nursing home.

Washing over me

Then Cesaria Evora’s words really wash over me with a huge wave of feeling. La ultima vez! I will never dance again to Besame mucho with Martha. How much we loved that song, loved Cesaria Evora’s voice! Cesaria Evora was one of our standbys when we danced in the livingroom—practicing a new step we had seen another couple do or a step we felt we had gotten sloppy with. We were even known to dance in our livingroom just for fun!

As Cesaria Evora continues to sing and I continue to pour my coffee, I begin to weep. I am surprised in a way to be crying after six years—and I also feel it is perfectly normal. (I expect to cry for the rest of my life when I think of Martha!) I think of the last time Martha and I kissed. La ultima vez. Not the time right after she died, Zoe and Maxim and I surrounding her bed, telling her how much we loved her—“Martha, my love”—and I leaned over her to kiss her one last time. Then, impelled by an insatiable hunger, I reached over, and opened her eyes to see the blue one last time. But, she was not there. There was no Martha there behind those eyes. I was now alone—without my Martha, my love, at my side.

As I weep, I know there was one time that was the last time we kissed but I did not know it then even though I carried a heavy fear—it felt like a stone—that every time was the last time. By that last year, she was often weak and I was ever conscious of borrowed time.

Parts of our lives gone

When she was admitted to hospice and the doctor who examined her in her room said he would send the nurses in, I requested, “Leave us alone until I ask the nurses to come.” I got in bed with Martha, but there had been no kissing as I stretched next to her as I had thousands of time, thousands of nights. But she was too weak to interact with me and too much into another place of consciousness to do anything but lie quietly next to me. Being with her this way—one last time—was something, I realized, I needed to do for myself, for the years when I would continue to live with only the memory of her. I did not lie next to her again. That precious part of our lives together was gone.

Or, was the last time we kissed when we made love, gently, months earlier. A time that was strongly flavored with fear of its being the last time. Yes, that was a sort of last time but the real last time was months before when we didn’t suspect it was a last time. When we still thought that life might continue. In the intervening time, there had been lying together looking into each other’s eyes, knowing now that our lives, this life together, was ending and the awareness of la ultima vez was looming, always present.

At some point that we didn’t know—for me and I have to imagine for Martha, it certainly would have been too hard to know—that this or that time was la ultima vez

Not la ultima vez I will weep…

As Cesaria Evora continues to sing, I continue to weep. I know that this time will not be la ultima vez that I weep for Martha—for me. That last time is for some future day whose date I do not know.

Have you written about your last times—about whatever it was you cherished? The memory of which you carry perhaps as a stone in your heart. Have you shared this story which is so you, so much of what you have become and are? Can you be understood apart from this story?

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2 Responses to La Ultima Vez—The last time

  1. judith February 27, 2015 at 12:44 AM #

    Thank you for this beautiful passage . There has been no beloved partner by my side to have or to hold or to kiss a lot for a long long long time. My marriage came to not. I read Not By Force But By Love and he studied Winning Through Intimidation. Scared and grateful for little blessings by my side depending on me to be a big mommy, I had to fly the coop. A giant leap into an the unknown with a Love that embraced me while my track shifted and at times threatened to pull way. After a few strange dates in…that resembledHalloween tricks no treats, except for the telling…..I swore off. Buried and busy, committed to keep my family first, I stopped thinking about a missing mate , read a book about greek gods and goddesses and i started to write, to sing and dance alone and with my daughters in the living room. I began collecting stories with lots of mothers and grandmothers by my side. …… Until some quarter century later, listening to love songs, I grew painfully aware of the empty spaces by my side. (no husband, no father or grandfather for my daughters. …….how??…. what now?? I have laid in a nursing home bed with my mother, wrapping my body around her back, in wordless loving presence, some mutual comfort and ease, getting ready to let go on her passage from here to there. My little girls now women used to kiss me with their mouth wide open like a big 0. They said it was a Chinese kiss. It was a one of a kind kiss that tickled me inside and out all over. Now my little grandson, whose bright light seemed to dim at 18 months, while the stranger autism came knocking, is seven years old. He gives me very deliberate big juicy Chinese kisses with hums to back them up as he burrows into my cheek. I cherish the little love and I do not know when it will be our last. I have a wall hanging my mother crocheted with flowers and little birds that reads, “life is precious handle with prayer”. I watched her crochet that one and the one of St.Francis talking to the birds and bunnies surrounded by trees that she cussed over and stitched through. Dad made the frames. His name was Francis. I am sure he thought on occasion that his wife and four daughters were for the birds and his one son, a rare rabbit in the hatch. I did not get to say goodbye to him in person. Living in Calif. dreaming and nursing a grand daughter he never met, I was thinking of him, recovering form a serious car accident that happened on my birthday in November. Still hospitalized in January, we were told he was out of danger. Seized with foreboding I rushed to call him. “Jude they’re preparing me for emergency surgery don’t be mad”. A weighted silence so much we never got to share “I love you dad”, he was soon gone. I can still see dad sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, a bewildered grin, “you ought to write a book Jude”, and mom after reading one of my stories, “would you tell us something we don’t already know and make us laugh like Erma Bombeck.”??? Thereare many more endings and beginnings between all these lines. Thank you for this most beautiful story….moving my heart…..chip some block…desire to show and tell
    re membering…..re mind………re new

  2. Denis Ledoux February 27, 2015 at 9:23 AM #

    Dear Judith,
    Thanks for your note about your own relationship journey. Relationships are never easy, but when they are right, they can be the most wonderful gift that could ever happen. I wish you much love in the rest of your life. And…keep writing. There is healing in telling our stories.

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