Besame, besame mucho / Como si fuera esta noche la última vez…
Kiss me, kiss me a lot / As if tonight were the last time…
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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?