Our bodies loosely curled and facing each other, we talked with our faces inches away, our voices low and words few. We just turned off Larry King who was interviewing the cast of Conviction, a new movie, and other persons, like those from The Innocence Project, involved in the fight against convicting innocent people. There were also men, black men from Texas whose lives became the focus of a book called Tested. Some were imprisoned for decades for crimes like rape which they did not commit.
At that time Duwayne said to me, “Maybe I should look to them for inspiration.” Life wasn’t fair, but they held on to the hope of being set free one day; and they were. I can’t imagine what these men, and other people like them went through and are going through. As they explained, suicide is a very real option for persons wrongfully convicted: they have been stripped of things that give dignity to existence, like a good name and freedom. Why live?
I am the answer to that question for Duwayne. I am the reason he hasn’t driven off a cliff, he said. As we lay there, the silence was full with our helplessness and inaudible cries to God. I looked at Duwayne as he asked me to promise him to not be angry with God; not follow him to death in sorrow; not to stay alone – I should love again and have children and be happy. I had to allow him to express his pain, even though everything in me screamed, Shhhh! I didn’t want to hear it. I don’t want you to die…God you promised me…shhhh.
I didn’t answer, didn’t promise, only looked at him and tried to meet him in his despair; but I couldn’t. I will never be able to exchange his sorrow for anything good – I am not God. And I don’t think I will ever truly understand what he is going through unless my life is threatened at some point. So, I just looked and listened.
“I’m sad,” he said. I know, I thought and stroked his face.
I guess my eyes gave away the question I was asking in my mind because he answered by admitting that he was not having a deep foreboding of his death – like when the elderly give you hints that their time is near. He was just afraid.
I was afraid, too. A couple of days before, we went to a pre-operation appointment at Tampa General Hospital. The appointment was 2½ hours of signing papers, receiving instructions, ordering and administering tests, talking to nurses, residents, assistants; it was a very involved process. And I can understand the reason: my husband would be chopped liver in about a week – literally. He was being prepared for a liver resection; and I didn’t know how much the appointment affected me until we were sitting in the waiting room for the next appointment concerning his surgery.
Surprisingly, Duwayne slept, but I stared out the window and had ‘daymares’ about Duwayne dying on the operating table. It’s grief before grief; it’s grief, absent death; it’s grief in the apprehension of death. It’s a horrible feeling – and I’m not the one who’s sick with cancer. I can’t imagine how Duwayne feels when he thinks about being put to sleep and then being cut open. The thought of being unaware of people’s hands accessing your vital organs with knives can be frightening. While it may be run of the mill for the surgeon and his staff, it’s strenuous for the patient, especially considering the fear of something going wrong and never waking up again.
So, we were both afraid, but experiencing that fear from different vantage points. The place that we met, though, and always meet is in resolve. That night, after Larry King, after the request for promises and the not promising, we met at, “Don’t give up.” We resolved not to give up on being cancer free, not to give up on each other, on our future, or on my carpenter friend. Like those men in Tested, we would keep on believing and waiting, believing and waiting, believing and waiting to be free from all our troubles.