I’ve done as you asked, and spent time thinking long and hard about the advice you’ve asked me to give regarding your relationship with James. Some aspects of your relationship remind me of a woman I used to work with whose name is Elizabeth.
She was a spa owner, and we had a bartering arrangement, so rather than exchange money for my services, she paid me with her Epicuren product line. My interest was only in a small percentage of the stock she kept on hand, specifically candles. I never cared for her skincare products or her facial and hot stone massage services for myself, even though these were the areas where she made her money.
She’d been a model early on in life, and though we met when she was in her late fifties, she didn’t look a day over thirty. Though married in her youth she’d been divorced for many years. She was estranged from her only child, a daughter in her thirties. She struck me as a very soft, gentle, and trusting free spirit.
I’m sharing all that with you because it was her free spirit I admired most back then. What struck me about her was that she wasn’t too attached to anything. Not her business, her products, her clients, her home, not anything.
After we’d worked together for a year, she called me up to explain that she needed to move her business to Canada, because she’d met the love of her life and he asked her to run away with him. We then delved into how to make that happen. Unfortunately, becoming a Canadian citizen was quite impossible for her, and leaving the country was quite impossible for him because he was in construction and owned too many businesses and too much land to leave behind and come to the United States.
They made it work the best they could. Elizabeth stayed in Canada until her temporary visa expired, and then he came to visit with her in the United States for a bit. To and fro, they went for one year when unexpectedly he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
We’d managed to work together throughout this time, and when I moved to a different state, it was no coincidence that she moved to the same state the following month. She visited with me, and we discussed what she was going through. The age that eluded her countenance when first I met her had been suddenly revealed. It was like she had aged twenty years in twelve months.
I helped her close her business down because she’d decided to focus all of her energy into caring for him. She sold all of her assets to do this. More than ever, I admired her, not just for her free spirit, but for doing what was necessary to defeat the boundaries between her and him. She allowed nothing and no one to prevent her from loving and caring for him as much as possible.
He died in her arms four months later.
She visited me once more after his death. She’d returned to the states but was moving to the other side this time around. The four months she spent caring for him aged her another twenty years. I felt sorrow at witnessing the devastating results of her following her heart.
My last memory is walking her out to her car in the middle of the night after hours of talking and holding back tears. It was a hot summer evening, the crickets were chirping up a storm, and every star was on display in competition with the moon.
She gave me a big hug and told me she would always remember me when lighting a lavender candle. Not knowing what to say, I told her I was sorry and would always be there if she needed a friend. She was much older than me, and I guess she knew I was uncomfortable standing in her pain.
She told me not to be sorry and said Bob was the best thing that ever happened to her, and that if she knew how things would turn out, she wouldn’t have changed a thing. She started crying while reaching out to hug me. When she pulled away, she said,
“Skincare has value, but in the end, it isn’t memorable. We remember how things smell long after the skin fades away to nothing. Thank you for teaching me that. Take care of that growing family of yours. I love you,” she smiled before getting into her car.
I stood there as her lights disappeared, knowing in my heart I would never see or talk to her again. She daily graced her skin in propolis, and I will always remember that her goodbye smelled like honey, vanilla, and cinnamon.
“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury ―
Forgive me if this isn’t the advice you were hoping for. But I can’t in good conscience tell you how you should proceed with James. I know that your living situations are not ideal, but I also know that the older we get, the less ideal anything is.
I’ll leave you with a question to ponder before we meet again. Pretend you will one day have the luxury of a death bed, an agile mind, no photo albums to peruse and no loved ones sitting nearby.
What do you want your memories to smell like?
I look forward to meeting with you again in winter. Perhaps James will join us.
Keep smelling sweet,