Until Dawn

I lie next to him, my hand holding his, feeling the warmth of his plump fingers. I still say “plump,” even though the childlike baby fat that once adorned his frame has long since withered away—his small legs still steady, only able to stand, not walk. A simple turn needed his enormous focus—he’d lean entirely on his walker, my arm wrapped around his waist, his feet shuffling no more than three inches at a time. “Hold on,” I’d say, “Give me a second to get ready,” but he’d never wait for me.

"He’s lighter than a feather,” David, his caregiver, remarked with surprise after moving him from his mobility scooter to his bed with a single fluid movement. I knew then that my cousin had finally yielded control.

I lie next to him, my hand holding his, feeling the warmth of his plump fingers.  Twelve years ago, I lay alongside him for the first time. I was four years old, holding his three-month-old body in my arms, falling asleep to the sound of his tiny, labored breaths, my head resting against his thick, spongy curls.

Three hours ago, having lost the ability to use his lips and tongue to form words, he began to sound out a phrase, heaving shallow breaths between each letter, “I W-A-N-T T-O D-.” Knowing what came next, I met his next letter with his full sentence: “I want to die.”

We’d already discussed this. The doctors said it would take less than a week once he stopped eating. We would all have time. His mom. My mom. Me. Forget school. Forget rehabilitation. Forget everything. I would have time to just be with him.

I lie next to him, my hand holding his, feeling the warmth of his plump fingers. I once held his hand and cheered after he’d learned how to ride his bicycle without training wheels. Two years later, I held his hand and cheered after we made our way four icy Connecticut blocks back to my aunt’s house in the middle of a heavy snow, with Robert gripping a walking stick in one hand and my arm with the other. I watched his footing after every step, probing the sidewalk for any object that might cause a skid or a stumble. Not yet adjusted to planning for his disability, we’d gone outside to play in the snow without checking the weather. 

They’d discharged him from the hospital, and he was now at home again so he could spend his last days in comfort.

I lie next to him, my hand holding his, feeling the warmth of his plump fingers. For twelve years, Robert shared his imagination, his hopes and dreams. For twelve years, I’d practically raised him. He knew every secret I had but one: his mother told me that if she was pregnant again (and she really hoped she was), she wanted Robert to name his new sibling. After his caregivers transferred Robert to bed an hour ago, I sat down next to him and told him her secret.

I glanced at my watch, drew a dose of morphine into the nozzle, and eked it underneath his tongue.

Robert fell asleep. I followed.

And then I awakened, alone. How long does a body stay warm after death? I rolled out of bed and stumbled in the dark towards the door to wake my aunt, but I was quickly dragged back to bed by nausea. I didn’t know what to do next. I sat down next to Robert, my hand finding his, met with the unfamiliar chill of thin, boney fingers. I traced his palm with my fingers and leaned back, letting my head rest against his bedpost. 

Give me time.

Just a little more time. 

At least until dawn.

By Zahrah Abdulrauf

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