"I can’t tell what you want," Michael says. "Do you want me to fight, or are you waiting for me to die?"
I burst into tears and bury my face in his neck.
We are lying in the bed in a huge pile of down pillows with the comforter pulled up to our chins. It’s much later in the morning than self-respecting people should be in bed, but we no longer care about such things.
"Oh, darling," I sob, "I want you to fight. I want you to fight so hard. But I know how hard it is. I don’t want to see you tortured, and I know I can’t have both. But I want you to live. I need you so much."
He holds me until my crying subsides, and I can tell that he’s happy with my response. It cheers me immensely.
"You can’t die; no one else will ever love me," I joke as I nuzzle my nose into Michael’s t-shirt.
"Oh, honey," he says, squeezing me with the arm that’s wrapped around my shoulders. "Somebody will love you. He’ll probably be a troll; but he’ll love you." We both chuckle.
"Of course," he goes on, continuing the joke, "I’m a bit of a troll.”
I don’t intend to think about it, but I do. Over the last four years, disease has taken an unmerciful fist to my beautiful love. Myeloma has cracked his spine in so many places his torso is now four inches shorter, the extra skin pushed down by gravity. His chest is criss-crossed with scars. A particularly long one lay diagonally across his ribs from a liver resection. An especially nasty one above his left nipple is from where a port was inserted and later removed. A faint scar runs from his navel to his pubic bone. The rest of his chest is covered with puncture wounds from various scopes. There are scars on his back from too many painful bone marrow biopsies. On his right is anchored a flesh-colored bag: a result of a loop ileostomy. When we make love—when we could make love—he would try in vain to tuck it under a t-shirt, horrified that it would ruin the moment. Which it did, but only because of how it made him feel.
The first time I saw him I was 27 or 28. As I was about to step into the Penn State building where I spent most of my time as a graduate student, I saw him across the parking lot. He was so breathtaking I just froze. For a moment I didn’t even see that he was kissing my friend, Lucy, and I didn’t remember that I was living with my own boyfriend. The whole world blackened down to a single pinpoint of him. He was that beautiful.
But he’s never been more beautiful to me than he is so many years later in this bed.
A troll may be a creature of uncommon ugliness, but he heats the blood of the troll who loves him. Michael looks amazing to me, and no amount of surgeon’s knives can mar that. That’s the thing about beauty. It’s irrepressible. It shines through disease, accidents, aging.
"You are a troll,” I tease, tilting my head up for a kiss. ”And I don’t want any other trolls.”
"Good," he says.