So here it is now, just the two of us, sitting at the door of heaven. We have had a long life, you and I, a very long life. So many memories, so many stories, enough heartbreak and happiness for several lifetimes. And do you know what I think? I think if I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same.
Ha! you laugh. And you are right. What a stupid thing to say. Of course I would do things differently! So many mistakes, so many regrettable things I have done! The nights you cried because of the horrible things I had said, the horrible things I had done. The days you spent hidden behind hurt eyes, avoiding me because of your broken heart. You know I would never want to put you through that pain, not again. The lessons have been learned, my heart has changed. I am not the young man you knew so many years ago, the man who seemed to have the world on a string.
Do you remember those days? Do you remember the hours we spent laughing and singing, blissfully ignorant of the future, thinking that everything ahead was going to be wine and roses, flowers and springtime? How light-hearted, how carefree we were! Every moment was a treasure, every hour a blissful eternity. Every touch of your hand was a precious gift, every glance from your eyes a shower of joy, every kiss of your lips a mountain of pleasure.
And yet here we are at the End of Days, looking back on a life gone by, wondering if it was, indeed, a life worth living, worth celebrating. Will anyone look upon us today and thank God that we were here? Will anyone calculate the sum total of the good we have done and declare it worthwhile? Or will our lives be deemed a complete waste?
We did what we could, you and I. We toiled under the sun, we ate our crusts of bread, we were good to our neighbors, we raised our children as best we knew how. We took care of our parents, we taught our children, we watched them pass on to other realms, other worlds, and then we turned around and faced ourselves, alone, back at the place we'd started, so much the same and yet so different. We had given up our youth, our vitality, our golden years for the sake of others, and now we had all the rest of our lives to spend together, at last, the happy couple at the end of their wedding day, driving off into the sunset with the future before them like a marvelously unwritten script.
But the script was written long before we came together. The play is done, the curtain has closed, the audience is long gone, the lights are slowly going out and there is nothing to anticipate but the final reviews. Will our little play be acceptable? Will there be a return engagement? It is hard to judge from the stage. We think we did our best, although each and every mistake is like a dagger in our heart. Oh, that this could merely be a rehearsal! And several more before Opening Night! To have the chance to practice, to get it right, to be so perfect in our delivery that even the harshest of critics might rise to his feet in glorious ovation!
Yet this is not to be. We have strutted and fretted our hour upon the stage, and all is done. Now there is only the removal of greasepaint, the discarding of costumes, the revelation of our true selves.
You think that you know me, you who have lived with me all these many years. You think you know me because we have shared the same bed, the same house, the same air -- but there are so many hidden layers to my mind which not even I can fathom, so many levels to my self which I have kept hidden from you. Not out of fear, but out of certainty, certainty that you would turn away in horror from the true person who lies at the core of my being. A multitude of masks covers me from view, and though you may have peeled some from my visage, you have never found the one true face which lies behind all those other faces. How can I be so certain? Because you are still here, you have not left me behind, racing for the sunlight from my dungeon of misery. If only you knew -
But you say that you have hidden layers as well. I laugh! For you are as likely to have unknown secrets as I to have wings. Why else would I have picked you? Your open, honest nature decries any evil complicity. Your faith and earnestness sits on your sleeve like a badge. You are above reproach. Yes, you have done things of which you are not proud; yes, you have ingrained habits that lead you down darker paths; yes, you have hurt others with unkind words and thoughts and deeds. But what of it? It is all you, all out in the open, all revealed for the world to see. There is no guile in you. You are who you are; I am who I am not.
You do not know me as I know myself. If you did, you would not -- could not love me. No one could. My mind has known the foulest sewage that ever coursed through the pipes of Bedlam. My thoughts have dredged through the putrescent swamps and clouded my vision with unmerited hatreds and murderous intents. My hands have clenched to perform unspeakable acts, held back only by the fear of discovery and retribution. I am a coward, a thief, a liar and an adulterer. My hands are not worthy to touch a blade of grass; my feet are not worthy to walk upon the earth.
So here I am at the End of Days, confessing to you my worth, admitting to you my self-hatred, my loathing, my desire to face the Judgement and be done with it. Not to curse God and die, but to simply say that I'm sorry I was not the man He needed me to be, not the man you needed me to be. If only there were a way to go back and do it all differently, do it rightly, to run the race well along the whole course instead of trying to make it all good in the end.
You smile -- oh, what a smile! Your face was ever your most appealing feature. With that smile, you slew me through the heart; with that smile, you entered my dreams; with that smile, you convinced me that I could share in the happiness that seemed to be yours. Oh, I would have died for that smile.
And, in a way, I did.
For when I promised to love you and cherish you to the End of Days, that part of me which was reprehensible was buried behind endless layers of falsehood, endless disguises of purity, so that you might never suspect the truth which lay like a corpse beneath a tomb of pearly white. You always saw the good in me, though there was very little to see; you always encouraged the better of me, though it was little better than the worst man had ever been. You smiled like the Daughter of Heaven, shining light into my life which took away all the darkness.
Now you lie in my arms and your brief candle goes out, flickering here and there in the wind of your final breath, still smiling, still shining, still trying to redeem the one whose corruptness you will never suspect. Your rhythmic heartbeat ceases; your skin grows ever colder as the moments pass; the stillness of your once-vibrant body becomes like marble. Tenderly, I reach up and close your eyes with my worshipful fingers, then kiss you on the forehead.
I have loved you to the End of Days, and now you are gone while I remain this little while longer. And the shadows long hidden within my soul come forward to make claim upon me, demanding recompense for the years wasted in the darkness. The light which once enveloped me is dimmed forever; your body lies still upon the bed, your spell of protection no longer in force. The layers of purity fall from my shoulders like rotting capes, revealing the true nature of the man I always was, the man I will always be from this day forward.
Until the next End of Days.