When I first saw her, she was walking across the school quad. I stood motionless as if stunned, following her with my eyes. She is the one, I said to my eyes. It was the first day of school. When l asked a classmate about her, he told me to forget it. She has a boyfriend, he said.
A few months later I heard she'd ended her relationship. But I waited at least half a year to ask for a date. When I telephoned her dormitory and asked nervously for her, I transposed the syllables of her first and last names into ludicrous garble. "Dinner on Saturday?" I proposed, embarrassed and expecting rejection "I would enjoy that, " she answered, sounding pleased.
On Saturday I greeted her at the dorm and was again entranced by her loveliness. I had made reservations at a restaurant 30 miles away. I lost my way and drove aimlessly on rural roads for an hour as my exasperation mounted. She remained good-humored-happy, she said, to tour villages whose histories she had read about.
We never located the restaurant, and then almost ran out of gas. We finally ate at 10 p.m., hamburgers and fries at a dinner. In her floral dress, with her straight blond hair and classic features, she stood out among the local kids.
Back at school, I was ready to apologize for the evening. But I felt her warm hand take mine, and then she quickly kissed my cheek. "Thank you for a wonderful evening, " she said softly. Before I comprehended what had happened, she disappeared into the dormitory.
How many times have there been moments like that, moments of such encompassing grace and love that I doubted their actuality? Moments like the day of our marriage, when on a crisp Sunday morning on the Pacific coast she entered the church on her father's arm and I gazed down the aisle at my soon-to-be wife. Or the moments when our two children were born and her face became radiant as she emerged from the unreachable realm of labor into exultation.
But October 15, 1998, was Different. That flay, we arose at 5 a. m., having a hard slept. How can you rest when a blade will soon sever flesh so dear? She kissed both of our children as they slept, but they never stirred or said "Good luck" or " I love you, Mommy. "
In the hospital, after we signed the papers, I watched her change into a faded cotton gown and two pairs of socks, as If the worst injury that day would be the chill of the operating room.
She cried in my arms and said she didn't want the surgery. I held her hand as an I.V. was inserted into her arm. In a few seconds her tears stopped and she closed those eyes that had always seemed so clever and clear, but now looked so fearful.
Feeling frantic and disconnected I kissed her, and then she was wheeled away through the unforgiving doors of the operating suite.
I spent the day in the waiting room polishing a manuscript whose only significance was its power to distract.
When she returned to her room late that afternoon, on her chest was an expanse of billowing white bandage placed by a surgeon' s hands with a precision and delicacy she would have admired. I was reminded of the coverlet she had appliqued for our children's cradle when they were infants. The bandage looked gentle and protective reassuring and not as harsh as I had expected.
Sitting beside her in a dimly lit room that smelled sharply of disinfectant, I realized that because my life was so intertwined with hers, I, too, was a patient. I felt depleted and wrecked as I stared blankly out the window at pink-gray clouds slowly traversing the afternoon sky.
It was almost 7 p.m. before she stirred. I heard her moan, and moved to the edge of the bed. I lightly touched her lips with an ice chip from the pitcher on her bedside table, and brushed the gray-flecked hair across her sweaty brow.
"I love you," I said.
At these words, her eyes opened hesitantly. At first her gaze seemed confused and unfocused, but for an instant her eyes sharpened with recognition, and a gentle smile lifted the edges of her mouth.
"I love you too, "she whispered, and then her eyelids shut.
I was close to exhaustion and dislocated in time as I recalled the moment I first saw, her. It was as If I was young again and the sun was resplendent in the morning sky. She is the one, I said once more in my mind 's voice. She is the one.