Then She Knew

And so she began walking…


(Ukraine, 2022)

She watched his exposed chest, winter-pale and thin, rise and fall. It wasn’t smooth, as if his breath was catching on something in his throat.

His eyes were slightly open and he was staring into the distance, it seemed. She tried looking where his eyes appeared to focus but there was nothing for her to see. His vision was his own.

He did not make other sounds. He did not moan in pain. She was grateful for that.

She held his hand. She would not let go.

As his breathing became ever more shallow and infrequent, it caused more effort and his chin began to rise as he inhaled.

She knew then. And it broke her.

She needed to be certain he understood how much he had meant to her, how much he still meant to her, how life apart from him seemed impossible.

She leaned in close to his face and whispered, “Not yet. Please. Not so soon. Don’t leave me yet. Please don’t leave me.”

She looked into his eyes which were now fixed, focused solely on where he was going, where she could not go with him.

She wept, quietly though. With reverence. It seemed holy to her, this scene of rubble and muck and blood and death. And love. Forever love.

She held his hand to her lips. “It’s ok. Thank you for our life together. Thank you for showing me what love looks like. It’s ok. I’ll be ok. You can go now…”

And she watched as his last breath was softly exhaled, tears gently washing her cheeks. An almost imperceptible sigh as he finally relaxed, and so he was gone.

She stayed with him as long as she could, and then she kissed his lips, stood and walked away, towards where? She did not yet know. But she knew it would be without him, a future, whether an hour or a week, she never wanted but could not now avoid.

She was no longer crying.

She pulled her coat around her thin frame, and without looking behind, to what she was leaving, to everything she had lost, a lifetime, she began walking west, towards tomorrow.