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  • I am in Atlanta, Georgia. I have been here less than a day. I am standing in a Sheraton ballroom surrounded in a sea of people. I haven’t been this alone in years. My boyfriend is dying in a hospice in Riverside, California. The night before I flew to Georgia, I had dinner with him. All he wanted to do was listen to Christmas music, sway his body to the tunes and touch my hands.

    He can no longer talk coherently except for an occasional scream or outbreak when he tells all of us how much he loves us. He is also seeing things that we think are not there. A grandmother who has been dead for many years keeps showing up.

    “Can you smell that?” he whispers to me.

    “What do you smell?” I ask him.

    “The flowers she brought me…they smell so nice,” he points to the corner of the room.

    “Is it your grandma again?”

    He shakes his head yes.

    “Yes, of course I smell that,” I whisper back.

    He smiles, he is assured, and he drifts off to sleep.

    I sit there in the darkness, watching him and wondering if he will be dead when I get back. I kiss his forehead. As I leave the hospice room, I say something to his grandma just in case. I say,

    “If you are really here, show me a sign.”

    The door closes by itself. She is there. I cannot see her; Jon is developing another type of sight as he fades into the other side. I whisper,

    “Take care of him and please keep him here until I get back.”

    I say good night to the hospice staff, barely sleep and catch a morning plane.

    I am in Atlanta, Georgia. I have been here less than a day. I am standing in a Sheraton ballroom surrounded in a sea of people. I haven’t been this alone in years. I am here to get a job, a job overseas. I have wanted to do this since I was 18, but life got in the way, so I find myself at 40 finally chasing this dream that won’t leave.

    The dream returned to me four months before. Jon’s family and I had just gone over Jon’s latest MRI and it wasn’t good. A tumor that had quadrupled in size in a matter of 4 weeks; a tumor that makes the doctor say things he doesn’t like to say,

    “Four months.”

    It is a heavy drive back to where we live. The doctor is an hour away and in SoCal traffic, double that time. Nobody speaks; I race through a million thoughts; I knew this day would come but…my mind races…it comes upon,

    “What would Jon do?”

    I get the answer immediately.

    Create hope.

    That’s what Jon would do. I had seen him do it many times. When things went down, he would scramble to bring things up and the way he did it was to create some hope, something positive to say. When he had the stroke that took him where we were today, he loss the use of his right side, his art side, the side that let him live. As he grappled to even raise his right hand, he whispered to me,

    “I am looking forward to learning to draw with my left hand.”

    Hope.

    I scrambled in his family’s car; I scrambled for some hope.
    “What is going to make you happy when he dies?”

    Whatever it is, do just that.

    My mind scrambled some more as I tried on a few ideas. Maybe I’ll go live in the desert, maybe I will sail on a sea…wait a second…

    “It is time for you to leave. It is time for you to finally move overseas.”

    A something in my stomach forms. Hope. It takes me home; it makes me forget about the situation for a moment. It makes me go online; it makes me find the website that I found myself some days when I needed a break; a site for teacher’s overseas. Usually, I come there to browse; today, I sign up. There is a job fair 4 months from now. It is Atlanta. I sign up. I buy a plane ticket. I go see Jon in the hospital; I give him a bath.

    It is four months later. The doctor was right; Jon will not live past this month. His body is withering away. His collarbones stick out. I spend weekend afternoons wrestling with him in a hospice room to keep him from pulling his catheter out. When he pulls it out, his privates bleed; he is on so many pain pills, he doesn’t feel a thing. I feel it for him and there are moments that I have to put my face to the wall to hide my eyes from what will inevitably be seen.
    I am in Atlanta, Georgia. I have been here less than a day. I am standing in a Sheraton ballroom surrounded in a sea of people. I haven’t been this alone in years. The job fair I signed up for in a dream four months back is now a reality. I stand at the door and look at the different table signs. I want to move to Argentina or Chile. I have read up on them. In Argentina, I can learn to tango and I plan to spread Jon’s ashes on tango hall floors. In Chile, I can drink some wine and spread Jon’s ashes along the Chilean sea.

    I go to the Argentinean table. I shake the man’s hand.

    “We’re not hiring English teachers.”

    I thank him and move to the table down the aisle. Chile. Everyone wants to teach in Chile. The line is a mile long. I push my way to the front. The man is really friendly. He asks me,

    “Do you have IB?” IB being short for International Baccalaureate.

    “No, but I teach college. Is that enough?”

    He shakes his head no and I move on. Argentina and Chile are out. What will I do? I spot an older man sitting alone at his table. He looks friendly. I go up to meet him. No one is in line. No one seems to give this guy the time. I shake his hand and ask him if he needs an English teacher; he does he says and we set up an interview to occur in the next hour. Before I leave, I check to see what country he is from.

    “Bolivia.” It reads.

    Somehow I thought that was in Africa…I will have to look on a map…

    I get another interview with Venezuela, but that’s it. The competition here is steep. With the interviews secured, I leave the sea of people and get a snack. I, then, go upstairs to meet the Bolivian guy. As I wait, my phone rings. It’s Jon’s sister. I have to take the call.

    “Vic?” That’s her name.

    “Renee, do you think you could come home quick?”

    This is not something she would say if she didn’t mean it. She starts telling me Jon’s stats and they aren’t good. His heartbeat is down; his breath is almost nothing. She says he may be dead by the end of the day. I freeze and say yes, I will get back on the plane today. This is when the Bolivian man answers his door.

    “Vic, I have to go for one minute but I am on the next plane.”

    The man smiles and says,

    “Are you ready?”

    I have to be. I sit down in the chair.

    “Be here, be here, be here” is all my mind can say.

    Our interview begins and somehow I manage to shine. He tells me that he will hire me right now. I say that okay. He throws out a contract. I sign it with a purple crayola marker. We shake hands.

    “I’ll see you in July,” he says.

    I shake his hand,

    “Thank you, sir.”

    I head downstairs, hop on the computer and race to find the next flight home. It is the next early the next day. After that, I have a few minutes so I type in Bolivia in the browse bar.

    “Bolivia. Where the hell is it?”

    I find the google map…Bolivia is sandwiched between Chile and Argentina…it is the poorest South American country (that’s poor); some call it the South American Afghanistan (that’s messed up); the president apparently sells coke (cool) and is the first indigenous president in modern times (even cooler). These are some facts that I gather that day. The rest of the day I spend on the phone with Jon’s family. Somehow his vitals come up; today is not the day he will die.

    I go back to my hotel room, barely sleep and catch the morning plane. When I get back to California, it is night. I race to the hospice; I race to his room. He is lying very still but he is awake. He sees me and holds out his arms.

    “Hug me” is what this says and then he looks at me like,

    “Where the hell have you been?”

    “Creating hope, Jon, just like you do.”

    He winks at me like a teacher whose student has finally learned. He falls asleep, touching my hands and I lay there in the darkness and listen to him breathe.

    Six days later, he dies and six months later, I land in a place I had really never heard of before…Bolivia…

    It all happened because of loss.

    It all happened because of hope.

    It all happened because no one else was in line.
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