Two days before he died, Shawn was up at night, sick from chemotherapy and the cancer that was racking his body. It was about 2 am, and I stumbled out of bed in just a tank top and underwear, rushing to get him a towel to help him wash his face. He could barely walk, but he had managed to get himself to the bathroom without my help, and I was just standing there, trying to figure out what was the best thing for him.
“What can I do for you?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he said.
He paused. Then he turned and looked at me and said, “you look hot, by the way.”
I think I laughed, because it was so classically Shawn to say something like that at such a dire moment. In the midst of his pain, he thought I was beautiful, and he wanted me to know it.
Maybe he knew his time was coming soon, really soon, and he wanted to give me one last thing to hold on to. Or maybe that’s just what popped into his head at that moment, and there was no reason to not say it. Maybe he thought it would make me feel good. I don’t know what he was thinking, really, because we got back in bed and then he had about 24 more good hours before he started to really decline.
I can’t tell you how often I replay that moment in my head. It was the last time he told me I was beautiful. Honestly, it was the last time I felt beautiful. It’s been a huge change for me, because for 15 years, I woke up next to someone who thought I was beautiful and funny and smart. Someone who made sure that I knew that too.
Sometimes, as with all things, Shawn expressed his feelings to me in ways that were borderline inappropriate. He’d tell our friends he couldn’t wait until everyone had gone home and he had me alone, or he’d point out what a “hot mama” I was to someone I didn’t know well. In front of our kids, he’d hug me close and tell them “maybe you’ll get another brother or sister tonight!” He said it all with a twinkle in his eye, and a knowing glance at me. I always pretended to be mildly annoyed or embarrassed, but really, I loved it. And I got used to it.
Shawn made me feel loved and wanted, right from the first days of our relationship. Of course, it was easy for us both to feel that way in the beginning, when we were newly in love. Hell, I was 23. Though I may have had the normal insecurities of an early twenty-something, I felt beautiful at times. But Shawn made me feel desired. I remember first telling my sister about Shawn, and trying to convey how it felt to be so loved. It was hard to put into words.
But what I really couldn’t understand then was that the way he saw me at 23 would last through the years. It would last through three pregnancies and three nursing babies, and it would last through other signs of an aging body. After he delivered Tommy, I was worried that seeing such blood and shit come out of my body would make him never want to be intimate with me again. “Marjorie,” he assured me, “that was the single best moment of my life.”
He liked me best in cut-off jean shorts and an old t-shirt, with no makeup and my hair in a ponytail. I think it’s because if he squinted, maybe he could imagine me at 23.
But here’s the thing – he didn’t ever make me feel like he had to squint to think I was beautiful.
One day about a year ago, he was meeting me at a large playground, where I had the kids. I was annoyed he was late, I think, and was expressing that to him. I think he knew he was in a bit of trouble. But in response to me, he said, “OMG, Marjorie. I walked up here and saw this woman across the park and thought, wow, she’s really hot….and then I realized it was YOU!” It made me laugh.
Maybe he made it up. Maybe he was just trying to get out of being in trouble, and he knew saying this to me would make me smile.
But I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. What I know is that he thought I was beautiful, always. Even in our worst moments.