Hannah let out a frustrated sigh as she stared at her screen, unable to determine the break in her code.
“Hannah,” one of her teammates said through her headphones. “You okay?”
“Just trying to figure it out,” she said, her eyes starting to itching from staring for so long.
“You don’t need to find it now. Just let us know when you do… or we can do it for you as well. There’s no need to stress yourself.”
Hannah rolled her eyes so thoroughly that she was sure they could see it through the microphone. “I’m not stressed,” she said, her voice overly polite. “It’s just taking me a while is all. I’ll get back to you.”
They hopped off the call one by one, allowing her to get back to her work. Two weeks had passed since her last seizure. It was the longest she’d gone without an episode since she’d been diagnosed with epilepsy. Long enough that she’d begun to think the medicine might finally be working.
The weight of her eyelids fought her as she re-focused on her screen, trying to solve the line of coding that was giving her team problems. It usually came so easily to her. She used to look at a line of code and she’d know exactly how to fix it. But nothing was that easy anymore.
Fighting the urge to swear, she tore her eyes from her screen and stood up, thinking a stretch might do her brain some good.
The living room was empty. For once, the whole house was empty. It was one of those rare gaps in the week when neither her husband or son were there to coddle her.
Chris was at work, trudging through a job he hated so he could help with the medical bills. Hannah suppressed the guilt that threatened her, unwilling to dwell on how much suffering her illness had caused her family.
“It was time for him to work anyway,” she mumbled out loud the way she did sometimes when it was too hard to keep the thoughts inside.
Her husband would be home soon though. He went out on a quick errand to the pharmacy to pick up a refill. A refill of the medicine that didn’t work. Or hadn’t until now at the very least.
“Why?” She whispered, running her hands through her hair. She’d meant to say more. To ask more than just ‘why,’ but that’s all she managed to say before a lump formed in her throat. Not of sadness or anger, but of frustration.
Why did she have to have epilepsy? Why did it have to be so severe? Why wasn’t the medicine working? These questions were on a constant loop in her head.
Questions without answers… it made her suffering so much worse. She was no stranger to pain. Punishments. Repercussions no matter how severe never phased her, because they made sense. If she made a bad decision, then she had to bear the consequences.
But now?
There was no perceivable reason for her episodes. No explanation for her epilepsy no matter how much research she did. Just inexplainable pain. And it made it that much harder to accept.
“And I derailed Stephen’s work,” she said, thinking out loud. “And Chris’ passion. Only Bethy gets a normal life.”
Hannah smiled at the thought of her daughter. Her precious baby that she hadn’t seen in nearly a year.
Still smiling, Hannah pulled out her phone and opened it to Beth’s number. She stared at it for a few seconds, second guessing herself. She wanted to call her, but she knew Beth would be busy at work.
Instead, she switched to her voicemails and opened the one she saved over a month prior, letting it play over the speakerphone.
“Hey, mom,” it started, Beth’s voice bringing an even wider smile to her face.
It wasn’t a particularly important message. It was just Beth sharing about some of things happening in her life, but Hannah cherished these phone calls. She’d missed her that week, and maybe that was for the best, because now she had her daughter’s voice saved for whenever she needed to hear it.
She found herself wandering around the house as she listened to her daughter ramble, her eyes glazing over pictures of her kids. Of their dog long past, and her husband on their honeymoon. Memories that kept her darkness at bay.
Finally, as Beth’s voicemail came to an end, Hannah’s eyes were captured by her most recent gift. A painting hanging over the fireplace.
Steve’s paintings were usually of a particular moment in their relationship. The landscape of where he proposed. The steeple of where the got married. The front door to their first house. But this one was different.
It wasn’t of any one moment. It was a painting of her eyes. He said it was what he saw every time he looked at her. They conveyed Strength. Wisdom. Compassion.
They were the eyes of someone much stronger than her. Someone more passionate. More loving. But damn if she didn’t want to be that woman. Now more than ever. It was the most challenging painting he’d ever given her. And her favorite.
As she stood before her painting, contemplating the kind of woman she wanted to be, she felt herself growing weaker, less steady on her feet.
The seizures had taken their toll on her body, even weeks afterward. So, careful not to move too quickly, she made her way to her shower.
She knew Steve would fuss at her for taking a shower when she felt week, but showers made her feel stronger. More awake. “I’ll be careful,” she promised him as she slipped off her clothes and stepped in the shower.
She turned the water on hot, a firm grip on the porcelain as she lowered herself into the bathtub. “There,” she whispered, “no harm done if I have a seizure.”
The hot water did it’s work, soothing her as it’s always done. The shower had always been her one refuge, her lone place of solitude. And yet, even here she was plagued by questions she couldn’t answer.
It wasn’t the place of refuge it once was, but she still feels stronger here. She’s not sure how much time has passed when she suddenly hears someone walk into the room.
After a moment, she pulls the shower curtain back to find her husband staring back at her, sitting against the bathroom wall. “Hi, honey.”
Hannah smiles, “Hey, babe. Brought my medicine?”
He lifts up a bag from the pharmacy. “Next week’s dose.”
Hannah’s smile fades as her mind turns back to her questions.
“The medicine is working now, right?” Steve asks, misinterpreting her frown. He’s been particularly attentive since her diagnosis, always anxious to make her happy any way he can.
“I think so,” she says, forcing a smile for his benefit. “It’s not that, I’m just thinking about… everything.”
Now Steve frowns, if only because he knows there’s nothing he can say to change what’s happened. Nothing he can do to make her happy except what he does next.
Gently, he reaches over and takes her hand in his, holding it in a way that says more than words. It’s a promise. An “I do. Forever. Always.” It brings a smile back to her face.
Hannah dies the next day.