Brief Life Story of Lila30 min read


Danny Cherry Jr.
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Addiction, Death of a child, Death or dying
Originally published in issue #21 of Fiyah Magazine

You were six the first time you had a vision of someone’s death—your parents. The vision came when y’all were walking to the park and you were between them, holding their hands and heading towards the monkey bars. The vision was blurry and foggy like peering through smudged glass; a brief flash of light, a blaring of a horn, rain hitting the pavement like a low round of applause; metal grinding on metal, and raspy gurgling breaths, like nickels scraping in a blender, or someone struggling to clear something from their throat. Somehow, you even knew the day their deaths would happen.

When that day came, you begged your parents to please, please not drive. You told them to stay home; running errands could wait until another day. The rain outside fell on a slant and hit the window panes of the house. They stared with raised eyebrows.

“Lila,” your mother said. “Me and Daddy will be back.”

Daddy put his hand on your head. “What your mother said. Now, go next door by Ms. Cecil.”

Tears ran down your cheek as you touched their hands and got the vision again and started to yell, moan, and plead for them to stay. They walked away, and you had so much of their t-shirts balled into your fists that you were dragged on your heels across the carpet. You fell backwards. Their bodies framed the front doorway and they smiled at you. Thunder cracked the sky open behind them, and for a moment, their forms were mere silhouettes haloed by bright light.

When night fell, and they never came for you, and Ms. Cecil started to get worried, you saw on the TV as the breaking news chyron scrolled across the local station. A pile up on the interstate. The nightly news’ camera panned to a vehicle crunched up like an accordion on the side of the interstate and pressed against the bent railings. Ms. Cecil groaned when she got up from her recliner and peered through the blinds to see if your parents’ car was in the driveway yet. “Where could your parents be?”

You pointed at the TV.

There were many more visions after that. You’d learn to live with the powers, but never truly overcome them. Touching someone’s hand triggered the visions, and the longer the contact, the more vivid they were. By the time you were fourteen and living in the foster home, you developed the ability to see people’s present and past in no certain order and not always clear. You discovered this one day while at the church the foster home made y’all attend.

It was around the time of the service where everyone had to shake hands or hold hands or whatever the fuck (you never paid attention). There was a meek, quiet boy next to you, and as you once put it, he had the face of a child who’d seen his goldfish get flushed down the toilet. He reached for your hand and you clasped his. Your mind permeated the thin veil of reality and you shot into his aura as if out of a cannon. You slipped into hidden crevices of his life, like water through a cracked vessel: him as a baby outside of a fire station; the first few foster parents he had, with the strong smell of cigarettes permeating every inch of his nostrils; him in the lunchroom, crying when no one’s looking; the cycle went on and on until it slammed stop, right at the moment of his death, two years in the future. December 11. There was the cracking of bones and the feeling of breath leaving his lungs with a heave as his body fell towards the ground but his neck tugged upwards, and his body swayed in the air like a slow-moving pendulum.

You turn to the boy and hug him. You let him know that he is loved and, if need be, you are there. You wanted to save him; knew you could. He smiles and nods, you gave a soft grin, and y’all became best friends.

Two years later, on December 11, a high-pitched scream that could crack your cranium open shot down the foster home’s halls and woke you from slumber in your shared room.

Everyone ran down the hall and when you stepped out, people stared into the boy’s room with their mouths covered by their hands and tears streaming down their faces. The realization made noodles of your legs, but honestly, you just wanted to go back to sleep. You never really got over the apathy you felt about this. It would haunt you for a long time, and it showed in your face every time you told that story.

You went back to bed and your roommate came to you with the news. She cried her eyes out and waited for you to respond. You turned away from her. Her crying ceased. “What the fuck is wrong with you? He was your friend.”

You turn back to her. “Nothing matters.”

From that day you were considered a freak. But, you figured you had an advantage over them. You knew a truth most didn’t learn until adulthood: death is imminent, fighting it is futile, so why give a fuck?

You never let your powers get in the way of your love life though. By the time you were twenty-two, your disposition was nihilistic, bordering on sociopathic (your words). This should’ve been a turn-off for suitors; it wasn’t. Most mothafuckas would stick their dick in a Gatorade bottle if it had a pulse and even the pulse was negotiable. So you hit the road with your paintings on the backseat of your beat-up car that went thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk when it went too fast on the interstate, and went from town to town as a nomad painter with no attachments, no responsibilities, nothing to lose.

You spent time in the diciest of bars listening to jazz or blues or country, sitting amongst lonely people who were soaked in the smell of cigarette smoke and despair and longing; who told lies about how they don’t miss that bitch ex-wife, or how they’d kill that two-timing ex-husband; saying it until they actually believed it, until the booze hits that spot in their brain that’s oh so sweet like marzipan and at that point, they no longer remembered they were lying. Because they would wake up the next morning not remembering anything at all. That was the type of people you liked being around—people lost in the abyss. And for some reason, those people bought your paintings.

When you sat at bar tops, you’d flutter those beautiful brown eyes and wait for a man to approach. Whenever you reeled one in, you used your favorite line: “I bet I know when you’re gonna die.” You always said it with a flirtatious drawl that oozed from your lips smooth and sweet like honey, and somehow made the weirdness more palatable.

This served two purposes: It scared men off and now you had a free drink. Or, they’d stay and for some reason entertain you (don’t forget the proverbial Gatorade bottle).

Whenever option two happened, you’d take off your gloves and hold their hands, then write a date and cause of death on a napkin, then slide it to them. All of them would look at it and snicker.

Then after five or six more free drinks, you’d go back to their place or find a motel and buck and fuck on top of each other with reckless abandon—like you were exorcising demons— and while doing so, sometimes y’all would touch hands, and the full scope of their lives entered your mind as their dicks entered your body and their low moans crawled in your ear, and something about the feeling of nearly knowing a person’s inner workings as you came felt more orgasmic than the sex alone. It’s like y’all were one. With each pulsating thrust, you saw it all: birth, life, death. Visions of burnings, shootings, stabbings; an elevator accident, a car accident. One died in an alley with a needle in his arm. Some died peacefully, though. Either way, seeing their deaths made it easier to leave. After you came, you left. There was no need to talk to the walking dead.

That went well for a long time, until your last nomadic trip to New Orleans at age twenty- five, when you hawked your paintings inside of a bar, and you met Paul.

I know you hardly remember meeting Paul, so I’ll set the scene:

The bar was a shitty dive with maroon walls and a cracked tile floor; dimly lit by strobe lights that flickered off and on, clinging to dear life, giving off a morse code saying “change me, change me, change me.” You had your elbow perched on a water-worn bar top as smooth, emotional jazz made couples sway on the dance floor.

“I’m Paul,” he said, reaching out a hand to shake yours. He smiled with deep divots for dimples.

You took his hand. “Lila.”

“Pretty name for a pretty girl.”

If your eyes rolled any harder they’d be lodged in your brain.

He cleared his throat. “What do you do for a living?”


“Any good?”

You shrugged then pulled your unsold pieces from your knapsack on the floor. He nodded with approval.

“I’ve sold some pieces here and there,” you said.

“Here and there, huh?”


“Any reasons for all of the traveling? Serial killer? On the run from Johnny Law? Have a bunch of gambling debts, and you don’t want to be sleeping with the fishes?”

You seal in a laugh with a straight-lipped smile. “Johnny Law? Sleeping with the fishes? Does everybody down south talk like a 1920s gangster?”

He laughed, then bought you a drink. “Hey, it’s in style right now. But, nice way of avoiding the question.”

All of the visions of death poisoned your well of memories like toxic waste from a plant, so you gave a superficial answer. “I just have my reasons.”


“You know,” you said, “I can see when people will die.”

He raised an eyebrow. “So you’re a tarot card reader?”

“Well, not exactly.” You waited for his reaction, and he smirked.

“What do you see when you see me?”

You took off your gloves and gripped his hand tight, and saw a date and cause, then wrote it on a napkin and slid it towards him. He smiled at it for a moment, his fingers drumming against it languidly. He gave it back. “You hold on to it. I like to be surprised.”

Several hours of conversation later, y’all were back at his apartment and holding each other tight as y’all writhed against one another; simmering passion and sweat-slicked skin pressed together, the room filled with animalistic lust driven by booze. At one point, your hands intertwined, and you get a flash of his life again: twenty-seven, born in New Orleans, a musician; the latter made sense with the way he played your body like an instrument and made music with y’all’s love making.

The day after, the sun slanted through the blinds and cast blade-shaped shadows on the floor. You stared at the ceiling. His weight shifted, and you twisted to him.

“Do you seriously not want to know?” You motioned towards the folded napkin on the nightstand.

His head rested on his forearm. “How many years from today?”

You did the mental math. “About forty.”

He smirked. “So, enough time to be with you, huh?”

A laugh erupted from your throat. “Yeah, no.” You looked at the clock on his wall and twisted away from him. “In fact, it’s about time I leave.”

“You can stay a little longer.”

You got dressed. “Listen, I don’t really know you. You don’t really know me.”

You walked to the door but he stepped in your way, then put his hands out to show he meant no harm. “What if I told you you’d get free food out of it?”

Before you could say no, your stomach rumbled.

Y’all picked up food from a hole-in-the-wall place, then walked the cobblestoned sidewalks with beer in hand. It felt so good, and as you talked, all he did was listen. You opened up and shared things about yourself—nothing too personal. Favorite dog breeds, painters you loved, best cities you’d lived in. The sun beamed down as y’all sat at a bench in City Park. He asked, “How you know you right about the future? Things change. People change.”

“I don’t see the future.” He raised an eyebrow.

“It’s like … you ever watched a video at high speed? It’s like a quick flicker through highlights of their life; or, like a sped-up documentary, and as it’s speeding through, you kinda see glimpses, but then when the end comes, it just stops. All that’s left is a still frame of their death.”

He fiddled with his fingers. You wait for him to call you crazy, but he doesn’t. “Is that why you move so much? Tired of seeing people die and whatnot?”

For some reason, you told the truth. “I guess I’m just trying to find myself. I’ve had so much, I don’t know, tragedy in my life, I just don’t know how to not let it define me.”

He assesses you with caring eyes, then pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and scribbles on it with a childlike smile on his face.

“What are you doing?”

He shook his head. “I don’t need to see the future to know who you are, baby.”

“Let me see it.”

He backed away from you. “Nah, I want to see if my prediction comes true.” You locked eyes and ended up at his place twenty minutes later, and when nightfall came, you fell asleep in his arms, and you’d never leave them again.

After close to a year, the love between y’all grew. It’s reluctant for you. The feeling is so foreign and odd; you do not know what to do. You settled down in New Orleans and turned his extra bedroom into a studio. And sometimes, throughout the year, you thought about blowing it all up. You sometimes find yourself smiling at dinner, staring across his kitchen table at him as he goes on and on about how many people watched him and his band perform in the French Quarter, then you’ll become conscious of your smile, realizing it fits you like a clunky suit of armor several sizes too big, and wonder, What the fuck am I doing here?

Even the sweet things he does for you start to bug you: breakfast in bed; buying you canvases; writing down things you tell him, probably using it as fodder for a song or something.

One day, after the pressures of domestication got to you, you stood outside of the front door and fought back tears, then barged in and immediately launched accusations at him. Neither of you remember what you said when it was all said and done, but you needed the relationship to end. He was on the couch with his guitar in hand. His strum stopped abruptly and left a warbling strained tune in the air until it tapered off to silence. He listened with a care and kindness you’d never seen before. Those fucking soft and sweet eyes probed your body with tenderness. He walked over and held you tight.

“Why are you doing this? I’m not a good girlfriend. And I don’t want to be a wife. I don’t know how to do this.” You pulled back and held up your hands and glared at them like you were disgusted. “I’m a fucking freak. You don’t think this is weird?”

He brushed back your hair. “I think you’re perfect.”

Y’all sat down on the couch and you curled into his arms like it was a tiny pocket in the universe where you’d be safe from the world. “I’m not here to make you be anything you don’t want to be.” You tried to look away, but he gently brought your chin back to him. “I—I love you. You don’t have to say it back, though.”

You didn’t say it back. You didn’t know how.

Then words flowed from your lips: dead parents, all of the deaths you’d seen, all of the ways it makes it feel so dirty and evil to know something so intimate as in when and how people die. You even include all of the flings. And there were a lot. You tell him the truth until it stretches you to the brink of meltdown. When you’re done explaining, and he’s still there, and he’s still listening, you don’t know what to feel. So you share more … including that you’re pregnant.

A decade went by. Jesus Christ, you and him were domesticated. He got an office job because apparently you can’t make a living strumming guitars in a shitty French Quarter bar. You used a guest room in your home as a studio, and sold your paintings via the internet. The house y’all bought was in a gated suburb outside the city, where the neighbors were as dull as a hammer and the gossip reached the level of “Did you see what Agnes did with her garden?”

You’re also a mom of two. Wren and Joshua are ten and eight respectively. Wren is a real chatterbox, and Joshua loves to ask question on top of question on top of abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous question.

Is the moon made of cheese?

Why are people mean?

Is heaven real?

You humor all of it, but the existential ones … you lie about. If heaven is real that means God is real, and if God is real, he really must fucking hate you. Your life can be boring, and on the weekends, you and Paul sat side-by-side on the porch in rocking chairs and watched Steve the mailman roll by, and Linda from up the street (who allegedly was fucking Steve the mailman) jog with her jogging group.

One day while sitting on the porch, Paul stopped rocking in the chair. “When the hell did we get old?”

You motioned towards the front door behind you, indicating the kids. “It’s never too late to bring them to a fire station.”

You both laughed. Moments later, steps approached and the kids screamed “Mom-Dad- Mom-Dad.” Wren and Joshua were jockeying for attention, and apparently, they both drew pictures of the family, and wanted you and Paul to pick which one was the best. You and Paul looked at each other, and without saying it, knew y’all wouldn’t change a damn thing about y’all’s lives.

Oh, you’re a soccer mom too. This is … disconcerting. The other moms bitched and moaned and joked about how useless their husbands were. And, per your description, they all had yoga-tight asses and bright athleisure (stupid word), and always had a coffee cup in hand. You always wanted to turn to them and ask them to please for the love of God stop being such suburban clichés. What was the hardest for you, you would sometimes tell Paul, was how they spoke from lives in ivory towers while you knew what it was like to be amongst the proletariat, and you feared one day you’d become them.

One day, at the dinner table, Joshua asked, “Mom, why do you always wear gloves? Like, even at home?”

Wren’s big eyes were magnified by his thick glasses. “That’s true, Ma; even when you’re eating.”

You look at your gloved hands. “Well,” you said. Paul twisted his fork in the spaghetti, and his eyes darted around the room. You’ve never touched your baby boys with bare hands before because you and Paul didn’t want to know … you know.

Paul cleared his throat. “Mommy was burned when she was a child.” You stared.

“She’s real sensitive about it, okay, guys?”

They instantly felt so bad for questioning you. They ran to you and nuzzled their little heads into your chest and said “I’m so sorry, Mommy,” in near unison.

You mouthed thank you to Paul, and he winked. For all of the boringness this life brought—all of the domestication and PTA meetings and HOA meetings—it kinda grew on you. But if you would’ve known what came next, you would’ve gripped your children tighter, and stared lovingly at Paul longer.

If you would’ve known, you would’ve spent the boys’ transition into their teen years arguing less about frivolous things, holding them closer on the nights they foolishly tried to push you away, loving them more when they wanted you to do it the least. You would’ve picked your battles with them, caring less about the one minute they were late for curfew, ignoring the few dirty dishes they left in the sink. You would’ve cheered louder and clapped harder, like when Wren was running up and down the field in a blur, or when Joshua was outpacing kids in science fairs. You would’ve focused less on how the white picket fences of suburbia were closing in on you like a tightening noose and noticed your boys were slowly turning into young men. You would’ve questioned your merits as a mother less.

You were a great mother, Paul and the kids knew that, but you didn’t. So while you were focusing on what you thought you weren’t, you let some moments slip by. Save for one you would always remember: the night of the Orleans Parish Fair.

You, Paul, and the boys stood in the middle of the open field far away from the too-bright lights of the Ferris wheel and looked up at the moon and the stars as a family. Josh and Wren wondered aloud if there was a heaven above or anything of meaning; Paul did too. You remember this night because it was one of the few nights you weren’t in your head wading in the pool of cynicism you took comfort in. There was something about looking into your boys’ eyes and seeing the magic and wonder of their naivety. They were innocent and pure as they thought long and hard about things you, and even Paul, never had the time to think about when you were their age. Your boys would never know what it’s like to only just survive, they would thrive.

That suburban “noose” around your neck was a rope to upward mobility for them. And this made you happy. You later told Paul how it made you happy. But at the fair, when they asked again if you thought something was up there, you grabbed their hands, looked in their eyes, and told them, “No, because everything I need is down here.” They groaned at how uncharacteristically corny you were being and at how you were now hugging them in public, but when you squeezed tighter, they didn’t push you away.

Y’all went home that night to your little suburban house behind big white picket fences, and you felt the noose loosening up some. But that was only for a moment.

You and Paul sat in silence in the living room with the air filled with simmering tension and emotion so heavy it could crush you. Y’all wore all black, pretending y’all didn’t just sit through Wren’s funeral; that a car accident on the way home from his high school soccer game didn’t rob you of your child. He rode home with teammates.

Joshua was at Paul’s aunt’s house because neither of you had the strength to be parents while still grieving. Not tonight—not after watching your child’s casket get pushed into his tomb.

Your lips trembled as words struggled to form. When words failed, you reached for Paul’s hand. Your sweet, loving, patient Paul. He turned, and screamed. And shouted. And barked his angry words. He stood up and marched back and forth, his emotions between tearful and angry; confused, and hysteric.

You covered your mouth. “Paul …”

He spun on his heels and turned to you. “You could’ve told me this. You had the ability to tell me our son would fucking die this soon and you didn’t.” Tears streamed down his face. “I could’ve …” The words hung in the air like a balloon he couldn’t quite grasp, threatening to burst, and slowly floating out of reach.

You stand and touch his shoulder. “Nothing you could’ve done would’ve changed anything. People will always die.”

He swiped your hand away like it was a fly; an insignificant little fucking pest. “You don’t know that, Lila.”

You speak, he’s not listening though. He’s too locked into his rage, and at this point, you can tell that he’s not mad at you, but himself. He understood nothing could’ve been done. He knew that if Wren didn’t end up in that car, it would’ve been another car, or hell, even the school bus. He knew you both agreed to never use your abilities on the kids.

Paul clutched his knees, mumbling in a dazed, trance-like state. But now … a thought in the depths of your mind surfaced. It’s slow at first, then quicker. It’s an old part of you that was supposed to be dead, but isn’t. All it needed was something to release it. “It’s your fault. All of your fucking fault. I was happy moving around, glad even.” You pushed his shoulder. “But no, you had to turn me into this …” You point around the living room—the fancy lamp, vaulted ceiling, the decorative pillows. “This fucking housewife.”

He shuddered at the scowl on your face.

“I never wanted this. If I would’ve never had kids, I wouldn’t have had anything to lose.”

If the words could’ve been taken back and pressed into the tiny corner of your subconscious like an old tattered blanket you couldn’t quite yet get rid of, you would’ve. But it was out there now, and Paul’s face showed it.

He grabbed his jacket from the sofa and walked out of the house. You left shortly after him.

The next day, you walked inside to see Paul on the couch, funeral clothes all disheveled, and took a seat next to him. Without looking at each other—without words—you both know y’all did something the night before that can’t be undone, that tainted your marriage just like the thousands of deaths that tainted your memories.

He turned to you. “It has been great, hasn’t it?”

A tight-lipped smile stretched across your face. “You’ve given me the best years of my life, Paul.”

Y’all leaned into one another. He pulled out his phone, then showed a photo of you, him, and baby Wren in the hospital the night he was born.

That night, y’all fell asleep in one another’s arms. The next morning, y’all sat down for breakfast, and talked about the terms of the divorce.

Decades rolled on by in a blur, so here are the cliff notes: Joshua took the divorce as well as a child could. He ended up living with you, and visiting his dad on the weekend. Joshua became your full focus. You helped him with his homework, enrolled him into a prestigious high school, then he got a scholarship to some ritzy ass college. He then became an engineer at one of the local plants. All along the way, you were his cheerleader, coach, and emotional support. You didn’t date, or have hobbies. You drank wine though—lots of it. You drank your way through your forties, then your fifties, all until you reached the big six-o.

Now at sixty, all of your nights consisted of you sitting on the couch and sipping wine while you watched reruns of some terrible reality TV show. Some women throw champagne in one another’s face, and talk about who slept with whose husband. Or some hot people get tossed onto a beach, sleep with each other, then throw champagne or something in one another’s faces. It’s all hot fucking garbage, if you asked me. But it’s not meant to be enlightening; it’s a distraction.

While watching TV one night, you decided to call your son. “Hey, Joshua. What you got going on tonight?”

“Um, nothing. Just eating dinner with my family … why?”

“Well, if you want, you can drop off the kids and go do something. Just you and the wife.”

“Not today.”

“Well, what if maybe I cook y’all something and come over?”

“I’ll come by soon, Mama. I promise,” he said. But he’s said that before, only for something to come up. But that’s what happens when you have kids.

“Well, okay, baby. Tell my grandbabies I love them.”

Before you hang up, he calls your name. “Mama? You don’t sound okay.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every time I talk to you, you sound … off.”

“Joshy, I’m fine.”

“How was your grief meeting yesterday?”

“Wait, what?”

He let dead air fill the line.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, son.”

He sighed. “Mom, we talked about this yesterday morning. You said you’d go to one of the meetings last night.”

You have no idea what he’s talking about. “I … I must’ve forgotten.”

He tries to convince you to stop drinking; blaming the missing time on that. And yeah, you loved to drink, but there were a few nights you chose not to. Either way, it wasn’t his business, so you hung up. But, after thinking about how you couldn’t afford to lose another son, you said fuck it and went to a grief meeting.

The meeting wasn’t bad. A bunch of old people sobbed and cried; hooped and hollered, all while passing a stick around a circle. You sat there with your arms folded and legs crossed, rejecting the stick at every turn. You weren’t ready to speak yet. After decades, it was still raw.

After the meeting you walked around the streets of the French Quarter. The house was too quiet. The silence after the grief of losing someone is deafening; anyone who ever experienced loss knows that. Along your walk, you see a flyer for a performer at a local bar. The flyer looks very familiar, almost like you’ve seen it before, and then it dawns on you: you have.

The bar was smoky, filled with people who chatted and clamored near a small stage. Whiskey aroma and debauchery rolled off of people like heat waves from a radiator; water warped bar tops with rings from condensed glasses; and a chalkboard with specials on it in shitty, indiscernible handwriting. I’m sure it felt like home.

You sat at a small circular table nearest to the stage, then decide against it. You don’t want to be seen. The MC comes on stage and introduced the performers. Six older gentlemen filed on stage and most had salt and pepper beards and wide grins and held their instruments with the confidence of trained professionals. And up there, among them, was Paul.

Paul strummed a tune of his guitar that was sad but tender; warm but dark. It created an atmosphere that made for heavy contemplation. You knew he was talented, but goddamn he’d gotten better.

When the music was all done, the lights went on and people started to file out. But you were still entranced. You accidentally lingered too long and got up to turn away as the band collected their instruments.


It took you a while, but you turned around. “Hey.” You kneaded your fingers.

You wouldn’t have known this at the time, but he thought you looked beyond stunning. It took his breath away. Once he pulled his eyes off of you, he asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I was just in the neighborhood.” You didn’t want to admit to him that you’d been at a grief meeting. It made you feel weak.

“Oh, well, I’m happy you got to see me play.” He scratched the back of his head.

The silence between y’all was scary, and seemed to surround you despite having other people in the room still: the bar hops cleaned dishes, staff picked up stools and chairs and all the discarded bullshit people left on tables, and a few strays and regulars finished their drinks.

Paul’s eyes widened at something behind you. A tall woman in a thick coat with long black hair swooped past your right shoulder and hugged Paul. Then she kissed him. She congratulated him on his performance. Then turned to you.

“Hey.” You giggled awkwardly.

“Hey. Are you an old friend of Paul’s?”

“Yes,” Paul said. “She’s an old friend from back in the day. We frequented the same bars and whatnot.”

He knew the word “friend” cut deep, but he needed to do what’s best for his own relationship. After a few minutes of awkward, surface-level conversation, you gave them a farewell, and walked out into the cold. Paul’s eyes watched your every step.

It rained that night. It’s cliché to say, but it fit the mood perfectly. Under the pitter patter of rain, there was a knock at the door. When you opened up, you saw a soaking wet Paul with his hat twisted in his hand like he was trying to wring it dry.

You couldn’t speak before he was all over you, his hands navigating your body like all those years before, slipping into the places where you haven’t been touched in years. It’s like riding a bicycle the way your body instinctively bent to the will of his nonverbal suggestions. Y’all fell back on the couch, and you wrapped your legs around his waist, and he whispered in your ear, “I’ve missed you.”

You said the same thing and held the side of his face. “I am so …” He put a finger over your lips. He knew just how sorry you were. He was equally as sorry. You both made love well into the daylight, and everything fell back into place.

Let’s see what happened next.

Well, Joshua was shocked (but secretly delighted) that you and his daddy were back together. Y’all called him on speaker phone and despite him being in his late thirties there was a boyish squeal hitched to the end of his words. He came over the next night and brought his wife and kids. God, the way the noise filled the room … it was the best thing y’all had heard in years. A tear formed on the ledge of your eye lids, but you wiped it away with discretion, never the type to let people see you get emotional. Well, you thought you were discreet. Paul saw you. But that’s only because he knows you. He understood the rhythm of your emotions: which part in a movie you would cry during, what jokes would make you laugh. Things like that.

Months go by. Paul and you sat on the porch and watched molten copper sun rays bleed into the blue sky as the sun went over the horizon. A gust of wind tumbled through the streets and made the roses in the garden in front of the house tremble.

Joshua walked out with a tray of tea in his hands and you and Paul took a glass. He pulled a chair up and chit-chatted about y’all’s grandbabies. It never got old hearing about them. In the middle of the conversation Paul heaved out a deep, lung-rattling cough. His chest jerked forward and caused him to rock back and forth in the rocking chair, the porch floorboards whining rapidly.

Joshua rushed to Paul’s side. “You okay?”

Paul nodded and smiled. You’re not sold, though.

You took off your gloves and reached for Paul’s hands. You knew what was coming next. It was approaching forty years. You tried to not let this emotion crack your confident facade, but Paul knew why you were touching his hand. And he let you know with a smile it’d be okay.

The next day you and Paul walked arm-in-arm in the park. It was the same park y’all had gone to in y’all’s twenties—the day after meeting—and the whole time there, Paul could do nothing but grin. It was good for him. When Paul was upset or sad or (rarely) angry, he liked to hide in nostalgia, hoping that old feelings could drown out new feelings.

You asked the question he was avoiding. “How’ve you been feeling?”

“Just fine.”

You stopped moving and tugged him backwards. “Paul … you need to see a doctor about that cough.”

He stared. “Baby, I just went to a doctor yesterday.”

You squinted. “Yeah, I’m sorry.”

Y’all started walking again. “It’s probably bronchitis or something. We can talk about it later.” It wasn’t just bronchitis.

Paul stopped his stride and you almost trip from the abruptness of it. Wide-eyed wonder exploded across his face. “That’s it.”


“The bench; our bench.” He rubbed the back of your hand and stared at you lovingly. “It’s where we sat the day after we met. I got you that food, you sat and told me everything about you.”

Before you could even lie and say you remembered, Paul cut you off. He pulled his journal from his pocket and laughed. “You used to make fun of me for always carrying this thing around, writing down everything. Shit, there’s a random passage about what we ate for dinner the next night. I knew old age would come for us one day.”

You giggled. “Well, you can remember for the both of us. I don’t know how I got so lucky.”

“Probably because you had shitty taste in bars.”

You both leaned into one another and kissed for what felt like eternity, but still wasn’t long enough. This stuck with Paul for a while. The moment was so perfect. The weather, the sound of people moving about, the white noise of cars in the street riding by. The wind at y’all’s side blowing and slipping a cool hand into y’all’s jackets. It was so perfect, Paul immortalized it in his journal. He wished he could’ve been frozen in that moment forever.

One day, you and Josh walked into the kitchen and saw Paul dancing to music. He attempted to cook his own breakfast for once, without the help of Joshua. Josh was annoyed by this. Probably because at this point, the cancer was decimating Paul internally; bloody tissues were piled up in the trash bin in the bathroom, and no matter how much Paul tried to hide it, Joshua always found them. Paul was rail thin; saggy skin on frail arms; his brown skin turning pale somehow.

“Dad …” Joshua said.

Paul waved him away. Despite the oxygen tank he was tethered to, and tubes going up his nose, he wasn’t gonna let shit stop him from one of the small pleasures in life: simply cooking his own food.

The song “You’re All I Need to Get By’’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel played on the radio. Paul reached for your hand. You reached back for his as if you were unsure. He took you by the waist, and swayed side to side with you. A smile crawled across both of your faces. Paul asked, “How you feeling today, baby?”

You’d gotten sick, yourself. Sheepishly, you said, “I’m—I’m fine.” He spun you around. “You’re all I need. You know that, right?”

You smiled. In that moment, with him clinging to you, and you to him, it was as if time rolled back and y’all were young again. He rubbed your cheek; you leaned into the palm of his hand. And right before he leaned in to kiss you, your face shifted into unbridled shock.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Joshua hopped up to look at Paul.

Paul was bleeding from his nose, it ran down his lips and chin. He coughed hard and long, curling over into himself, his body shaking—his muscles straining—with each heave. You and Joshua said something, but to Paul, it was all indiscernible white noise. He reached for you, and Joshua, as he tumbled towards the floor, and darkness crept in from the corner of his eyes, and he struggled to catch his breath. With the last of his energy, he used what felt like the last bit of breath in his frail lungs to say your name in a near whisper: “Lila.”

Everything went black.

If you made it this far, I hope you’d gained something from this letter. If you made it this far, I hoped it jarred something loose. My first week here, when Joshua rolled you into my hospital room in your wheelchair, you were confused. You assessed me with the hesitance of a child who was meeting a new adult.

Joshua pointed at me. I smiled and waved at you. Your lips trembled. “Who is this?” you asked. “That ain’t Paul.”

You pleaded for Joshua to take you out of the room. I cried after you left. I’d been in here for a month or so, and things had progressed so horribly, so quickly. You’re forgetting who you are, aren’t you, baby? Joshua blames himself; he thought it was due to you drinking. I missed all of the signs as well. He said you only recognize young photos of me. He said you wake up, clutching a picture from my twenties, screaming for me to come to your side. I can’t do that, my love. I’m so, so sorry. I’ll be dying sometime soon. I never did learn the actual date.

But, a while back when we were at the park and you didn’t remember the bench where we met, you made a joke, saying I had to remember for the both of us. That’s where I got the idea for this letter. I made Josh bring my journal, he helped me fill in some blanks, and I got to work writing.

You once told me that your powers were like seeing a brief life story of someone. This is yours, Lila. I want you to know who you are: a survivor; fierce; passionate; loving; angry; and strong. You can light my world up, and also send me into a tailspin. Domestication scared you, but you were a great mother. Wren wasn’t your fault, baby. It wasn’t. And every time you get stuck in that memory, like Josh says you do, I want you to know that. Nothing could’ve stopped what happened.

This is more than just a love letter, it’s a living document and a testament to almost forty years of love. I want you to read this every single time you feel lost or sad or confused. I told Joshua to leave this by your nightstand, so when you wake up in the middle of the night screaming for Paul, he’ll be right there, folded in this letter.

Like I told you thirty-nine years and three-hundred-and-something days ago, when I jotted down my thoughts the day after we met, I ain’t need powers to see the future. I knew if you gave me the chance, we’d be the happiest couple in the world. I was right.

This isn’t the end of us, my beloved Lila. I will always be here, in this letter, ready to remind you of your life story.

Til we meet again,

Sincerely, your beloved Paul.

  • Danny Cherry Jr.

    By day, Danny Cherry, Jr. is a Customer Service Representative and caffeine-addled office-drone, but by night, he writes political and personal essays, op-eds, novels, and short stories. He’s written for Buzzfeed News, The Daily Beast, Truly*Adventurous, Transformation Magazine, X- ray Lit Mag, Fiyah Lit Mag, Ploughshares, Antigravity Magazine, as well as a few dozen blog posts on Find him on Twitter @Deecherrywriter.

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