Pools of gold. Pools of gold, molten, flowing, coalescing before my eyes. I try to wipe them away, but they are relentless, so I let them burn. I let them flow down my cheeks, fall onto my shirt, my lap. I'm driving, and I'm holding her hand, and all I can see is a liquid swirl of gold that is raining from my eyes. Drowning my thoughts, drowning my words, drowning hope. And there is a song playing, an album, and now a theme forever fused to this memory of pain and disappointment. An association that can never be erased. To this day, every time I hear it, all I see are pools of gold.
It's amazing how strongly smells, sights and sounds can become tangled up with your memories. They can take you back to your childhood, your first love, your grandparents house, your first heartbreak. They have the power to overtake the reality before you and replace it with one you've stored for years, perhaps decades. The most uncanny aspect of the association is how you have no control over it whatsoever. To this day, every time I smell the first lilacs of spring I'm transported back to my Dukes of Hazzard big-wheel. I'm five and I'm riding down the sidewalk away from my home and I almost run over a baby bird that has fallen from it's nest. It's already dead and its mother has left it. The baby bird is lying on the sidewalk, under a lilac tree, and the smell is intoxicating, overpowering. My five year old brain has just plugged these sensory events together and welded them tight. Every spring, the lilacs bloom and I'm back on that big-wheel and wondering how the baby bird fell from its nest.
There are so many triggers for so many events. Coffee and fresh cut grass will always take me back to Grandma's house. Lilo and Stitch will always conjure an image of a 4 year-old Cori lying on her bed watching intently. The sounds of AC/DC will put me back into the '88 Camaro, the windows down and the summer air streaming in (and the overly loud rock music streaming out). Swisher Sweets cigars will always put me in the passenger seat of my Papa's truck, visions of St. Christopher and St. Francis on the dashboard, keeping me safe. So many triggers, so many memories.
Those that knew Krissy probably have some kind of memory attached to the same trigger as I do. If you ever called her cell phone, you definitely have one. "Need You Now", by Lady Antebellum. Just typing the words opens the flood gates. The first time I called her and heard she had set it as her ring tone, it became a theme and a mantra for me. I knew, somewhere deep, that this song was forever going to be burned into my memories of the wife I loved. Every time I called her and got that 15 second snip of the chorus it worked it's way further and further into my mind, on every level. I'd sing along sometimes, sometimes it would make me unbelievably sad, other times I'd swear that I'd never one day hear it and have to long for someone that was no longer alive. That became the mantra. "I'll call her and this song will never stop playing." It became the only way I could endure that chorus for the few short months she was sick, to keep telling myself I'd never have a reason to hate or dread those lyrics.
The day that forever sealed the association with my memories came in late March of 2010. She had finished her 3rd and final round of treatments at Oasis hospital in Mexico and the state of her health at the time was not encouraging. She was beginning to collect fluid in her abdomen as ascities set in. She was uncomfortable, losing weight and strength, and encouragement was hard to find. We had decided in January to keep all our options available and had scheduled an appointment with a very well respected gastric oncologist at the University Hospital in Denver. To this day, I'm honestly not sure what we expected to come of this visit, as all our encounters with modern medicine had gone badly. But, we were open to anything that could help and Krissy wanted to know if she was making any progress. She had a CT scan a few weeks earlier and concrete results were what we wanted to see. The appointment was brief and brutal. She was told her alternative therapies were not working, and in fact the cancer was still growing. They had nothing to offer her but experimental chemo therapies that might prolong her life by 6-9 months, at the cost of all of her quality of life in the form of violent sickness, vomiting and all the other lovely side effects that tissue destroying chemicals would normally have. We thanked them for their time, no thanks on the chemo, and saw ourselves out.
Despite knowing what she was up against, the results of the meeting were devastating for Krissy. Any confidence she had about the decisions she'd made for treatment or her possibility of recovery were crushed. I tried to put an optimistic spin on it, that we should have known they'd be skeptical of her treatment plan, they were doctors of WESTERN medicine for Christ's sake, we already knew they thought we were crazy. So screw them. But it wasn't working, and I think she made a decision for herself that day. Her time was running out, this wasn't working, and it was time to make changes. Not long after we pulled Camryn out of daycare and she stayed home with Krissy until the beginning of May.
The ride home was... difficult. There wasn't much left to talk about, so we didn't. I-25 was a mess, so we decided to take Highway 83. It was a slower drive anyway, gave us time to process. It was late in the day that March, and we drove in silence for a while. I held her hand, because I couldn't think of anything else to do for her. And I drove. When the silence began to feel like silence again, she turned on the radio. The new Lady Antebellum CD was in, so she played it. I'd already been crying, and this didn't help, but it was better than the silence. The sun was beginning to descend on the mountains, against an unusually clear sky, and it was blinding. The tears refused to stop for the onslaught of the sun, so I let them come. The pools of gold would fill, bulge, overflow and fall. They swirled in my vision, mixing with the black of the road, the green of the pines alongside us, the white of her hand in my periphery. The CD just keeps playing, laying down track after track of beautiful and uplifting rhythms, music and lyrics, and none of them can penetrate the moment. They just get fused to my subconscious, to be recalled every single time I call her phone, hear a song on the radio, in a bar, on the TV. Forever locked to what is left of of my vision as the tears obscure everything that is real and transform it to a vortex of color and emotion. Eventually the music stops, and the tears stop, and the car stops, and we move forward towards another day.
With so many good, great, wonderful, sad, painful and truly terrifying memories of her fight with cancer, I often wondered if I'd be able to ever control the memories. I can't so I gave up trying. I embrace them, for the most part. For a while that song really got to me. I could listen to it, and sometimes forced myself to, because I wanted to feel something. After a while I changed the channel, unless my kids wanted to listen to it. Every time, the pools of gold returned, sometimes just in my minds eye, sometimes in my actual tears. It doesn't bother me as much anymore, and when I hear it now I remember it for a song she loved before all the heartache and as a song that a lot of people associated with her ring tone, so there was some good in it. It also has a message that really speaks to me, that need for someone that can overcome you at the worst times. And every so often I just close my eyes, so I can see that swirl of color and emotion, just to remind myself that she was real.