A Touch of Sugar on the Blood
Kara Mae Brown
I woke in the middle of the night. The bright overhead light was on. My boyfriend, Chris, was standing over the bed with groggy-eyes and hair spiking from his head like a demon.
I rubbed my eyes and asked, "What's wrong, honey?"
He patted the sheets, "The bed is all wet."
"Oh," I said, more alert. "What is it?"
He touched the front of his shorts with his fingertips. "I think I fucking pissed myself."
I thought back to the evening before. I remembered him sitting on the futon playing video games. He kept complaining about being thirsty. He downed a couple glasses of iced tea, a soda, and endless cups of water.
"You probably just drank too much," I said.
Chris stripped the wet sheets off the bed and prepared the futon on the other side of the room for sleeping. As I crawled onto the futon, Chris flopped down on the bare mattress on the bed.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I don't want to piss on you."
Sleeping alone on a cold bed was his way of wearing his shame. I wondered if I should feel embarrassed for him. I was surprised that I did not.
"Oh come on, get over here," I said.
I wrapped my arm around Chris' waist and leaned my forehead into the flat space between his shoulder blades. In just a few minutes, He was breathing heavy and deep. While Chris slept, my mind raced. Now, I recognize this as one of the ways we balance each other. He is calm. I am anxious. He lets fate decide. I try to tame fate through thorough analysis of "what ifs." He is impulsive. I have contingency plans for my contingency plans.
Back then, all that planning was focused on the future. We were 23-years-old. We had been dating for a couple of years. In the fall, we were moving from Ohio to Boston so I could go to graduate school. Our life together was on the cusp of beginning.
In the meantime, Chris worked long shifts in a stuffy warehouse, trying to save money. I calculated costs. I looked at apartment listings online. I read and re-read descriptions of strange-sounding neighborhoods: Allston, Brighton, Jamaica Plain.
I was so lost in dreams of the future that at first I did not notice as Chris' physique vanished. When he complained about his thirst, I told him to drink more water without ever looking up from my book. When he told me he could not stop pissing, I shrugged. Well, he had drunk all that water.
That night there was no more ignoring it. Not only was he pissing the bed, but he had also been crawling to the bathroom, unable to keep any food in his stomach. He was too thin. His hair was dull. His face was sunken in. His skin was desiccated and ashen, like he would crumble beneath my touch. Something was wrong.
The very thing that had first attracted me to Chris, his strength, was wasting away. The physical manifestation of that strength was beautiful. His shoulders were broad. His thighs were thick and sturdy, like the piers of a bridge. The bones that cut angles across his face spoke to a mythic masculinity.
Chris was strong in other ways too. The night I finally made my move on him, after an extended crush that had lasted through most of our college years, I was partying with our mutual friends. When we pulled up outside his house to drop off his roommate, I decided to go in and say hi. I marched into their apartment and found Chris sprawled across the couch, playing video games. I plopped myself in his lap and asked, "Are you going to make room for me, or what?"
I loved that Chris stayed home and played video games on a Friday night. That was strength. That spoke to a man at ease with him self. It was a strength I yearned for, one that would balance out my weaknesses: my need for everyone to love me, my restlessness at being alone.
The night he pissed the bed, I thought it must be that strength that let him sleep. Wanting to be strong too, I finally closed my eyes.
Not long after the bed-wetting incident, I came home to find Chris in bed. He had left work early yet again.
"I'm so thirsty," he groaned. "Do we have any juice?"
We went to the store and in the juice aisle he filled the shopping cart. He seemed so desperate. I thought he might sit down right in the aisle and start chugging every bottle in reach.
On the way home, we passed a 7 Eleven.
"Oh man, a Slurpee sounds so good," Chris moaned from the passenger seat.
We pulled over and went inside.
"I can't even remember the last time I had a Slurpee," I laughed.
Chris pulled out the biggest size cup 7 Eleven had to offer, "Which flavor should I get?"
The churning machine offered two varieties: red and blue.
"I'm going to have to go with blue."
"How about both?"
As he pulled the red lever, I gasped. "You can't do that!"
At the time I was both vegetarian and vigilant about what I put in my body. A Slurpee was a serious deviation from my usual diet.
As Chris moved on to the blue, I yelped, "Chris! Seriously, you can't drink two! It's not good for you. We're adults now."
Chris looked at me with an "are you serious" expression.
The radiant blue filled the cup and we both started laughing. My indignation melted away. As I watched him slurp the blue slurry through a straw, I admired his boyishness. Chris taught me not to take life so seriously. He taught me to enjoy sweetness. Looking back, I wish I had told him then to enjoy the sweetness too.
When we got home we stashed the cache of juice in the refrigerator. Just when we settled in with our Slurpees, the phone rang. It was the doctor with the results from the blood tests they had run on Chris. His blood sugar was 485, about five times more than what is considered normal or safe. The doctor told us Chris was diabetic.
Type I Diabetes is an appalling mutiny of the body. As an autoimmune disorder, the immune system mistakenly triggers an attack on its own allies. In the case of diabetes, the white blood cells rebel against the pancreas, annihilating its ability to produce insulin, a hormone that absorbs glucose. No one knows for sure what triggers the autoimmune reaction. Perhaps the most accepted theory is that a virus—any humdrum virus from a common cold to an exotic tropical fever—is enough to start the attack. In the confusion of the battle against the virus, the immune system in its zeal also takes out the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas.
Later, we would learn that while we sat there drinking our Slurpees, Chris was in severe danger of going into ketoacidosis, where the body is overwhelmed by the abundance of glucose and lack of insulin in the body. This state of imbalance can cause organ failure, coma, and, just like in those prescription drug commercials, even death.
But before we knew that, we knew our lives had changed. We grew quiet. We studied those enormous Slurpee cups. The bright colors that felt celebratory earlier now seemed garish. Already they felt like ancient artifacts from a time from before Chris was diabetic.
In the early days after Chris' diagnosis, I found myself thinking a lot about my childhood. I learned all about disease while working at my mother's store, the National Trail Country Store, at the intersection of two Ohio state routes. My main duties included pricing the canned goods on the dusty shelves or, when I was older, stocking the walk-in cooler with totems of Budweiser 12-packs that touched the ceiling. Mostly though, while my mom worked in the sweaty back office, the older women who worked the register doted on me. They pulled a stool up to the meat-slicing counter for me and made sandwiches.
Sitting there eating my ham and cheese, I listened to the women gossip. These were country-women. They lived their entire lives on farms. They only drove back-roads. Their patterns of speech were different from the ones in my neighborhood. Age divided us as well. Their concerns over money and disease meant so little to me.
I often heard the women utter, in the most somber of tones, "He's got a touch of sugar" or "the doctor says he's got sugar on the blood." I wondered, as I gazed out over the rows of Hershey's, Reese's, and Mars, how sugar, the ultimate bearer of pleasure, could possibly be dangerous. How could something as fantastic sounding as "sugar on the blood" bring these chatty women to ominous silence?
Sometimes during those childhood days at my mother's store, if I lingered just around the corner, I could hear the older ladies use the same hushed tone they used to talk about their diabetic husbands to talk about my mother. I was too young to have a vocabulary for cancer, but I knew when one was spoken of in that tone of voice, it was bad. I could also connect their words to "The Spot" on my mother's belly. I knew well enough to hate that Spot.
The biggest indignity of my otherwise idyllic childhood was that my mother missed my Kindergarten graduation because of the Spot. On the morning of the big event, my dad pulled me out to the front porch. He closed the door on the celebratory hubbub going on inside. At the time, I thought the astonishing turnout of family and friends confirmed the importance of my graduation. It confirmed the importance of me. Now I know that the adults in my life were trying to compensate for a heartbreaking absence.
My dad knelt down to look me in the eye. My heart pounded. It was not like my father to take me aside like this unless I was in trouble.
He put his hands on my shoulders and told me, as gently as I think I had ever heard him speak, "Your mother can't come today."
I looked at the ground. My hair fell over my face. My instinct was to feel shame. I must have done something wrong. Why was my mother mad at me?
"Why?" I asked.
"She has a spot on her stomach and the doctor has to remove it," he explained.
I considered this. I had spots all over my skin that did not hurt. They did not bother anyone. Why would they need to be removed? Wouldn't that hurt? My father's tan skin was dotted with huge blotches of black moles that made me uncomfortable when he worked in the yard without a shirt in the summer. In those months, my mother sprouted freckles across her nose. I knew lots of kids with freckles. I thought they were harmless.
"Why?" I asked again, beginning to cry.
I don't remember my father's response. I believe he tried to explain how if the doctor did not remove the Spot, it could hurt my mother very badly. The Spot had grown on her skin and if it kept growing, it could make her very sick.
"Why can't she go to the doctor tomorrow?" I asked.
"She has to go today, darling, the longer we wait, the worse it will get."
I don't remember seeing my mother at all that day. Maybe she was already at the hospital. Maybe I was too mad at her for missing my graduation to speak to her. I never saw her upset about the surgery, or about the fact that her skin was rebelling against her. All I remember was my own anger and selfishness, thinking my mother had abandoned me.
At first, Chris' disease felt like a curse on me. Why did everyone I love get sick? Why was I always cast in the role of "loved one," as in, "Count on your loved ones for support" or "Loved ones are only allowed during visiting hours."
Chris and I went out to a restaurant about a month after his diagnosis. I began to see how much our lives were going to change. Our changing relationship with food would change the relationship between us. The word companion comes straight from Latin: "cum" meaning "with" and "panis," "bread." We break bread with our companions. Now, those very same complex starches, like bread, and sweets, usually used to mark a special occasion, were the enemy. If no longer companions, what were Chris and I?
We ordered enchiladas and margaritas. While we waited for the food to come, Chris tried to look up the carbohydrate counts on his phone.
"I guess there's probably about 30 in the tortilla..."
"I don't know."
"But, I think beans are different since they have lots of fiber..."
"I don't know."
"Does alcohol even count?"
When the food came, Chris had to check his blood sugar. I groaned as I retrieved his glucometer from my purse.
"You know, you should probably get a bag of your own if you are going to have to carry this stuff around."
Chris pricked his finger and dabbed the blood onto the test strip. As the glucometer beeped to signal it had calculated his blood glucose level, he tilted the face of the meter away from me so I could not see it. I hated that. I wanted to know what it was. What if something happened and we had to call an ambulance? Wouldn't it be best if I could tell the paramedics how high his blood sugar was? Plus, I didn't like the idea of Chris keeping things from me for no reason.
"Well, what is it?"
Chris began to lift up his shirt to give himself an insulin injection. As he was poking on his flesh to find a fresh site for the needle, I looked around the restaurant; sure everyone was staring at us.
"Why don't you go to the bathroom to do that?"
"What? Why? I'm not going to go to the bathroom every time I have to eat for the rest of my life."
"People are staring," I hissed.
I stared at the food on my plate getting cold while he was gone. Maybe he was right. I did not want to sit there by myself waiting for him. Most likely, I was acting out because I was drowning in worry. If I flailed around enough, someone might notice and rescue me. I could not stop thinking about what I had read. Even with insulin injections, over time, sugar builds up in a diabetic's bloodstream. Common knowledge tells us that sugar is sticky, like melted strawberry ice cream in summer, twisting taffy on the Boardwalk, or the icing we lick off our fingers on birthdays. The sugar running through a diabetic’s veins is like opening up your arm and pouring in a bottle of maple syrup.
A touch of sugar on the blood.
I try not to imagine what happens to veins, arteries, and capillaries full of maple syrup. Diabetics often experience numbness in their feet and other extremities where sugar builds up, like wearing gloves and slippers of soggy pancakes. Sometimes these extremities must be amputated. Sticky sweet build-up in the eyes can cause a decrease in vision, even blindness. The excess glucose in the body can cause kidney failure, increased risk for heart disease, and a good chance of persistent, dangerous infections.
By the time Chris returned to the table, I was already imagining him dead. I took a deep breath and we began to eat. The conversation turned, of course, to diabetes. Neither of us could talk about anything else since the diagnosis.
"I think I might want to get an insulin pump at some point," Chris said.
An insulin pump is a device that a patient hooks to their body via a tiny plastic tube and wears on their belt. The pump is able to deliver insulin continuously. That way, Chris would not have to give himself multiple injections a day. Plus, the pump is usually a bit more accurate and provides better control. In hindsight, I should have been supportive of his decision.
"How exactly does it work? I mean, can you ever take it off?" I asked.
"I think you can take it off in the shower and stuff," he said.
I could not look at him. All I could think about was what it would be like to make love to someone with a medical device stuck to his side. I wondered how big it would be. I wondered how you could change positions. I started to imagine a life of nothing but missionary. I did not know at the time that the pump can be detached, no problem.
There was a moment in the restaurant, amidst the thick smell of burnt chiles and the clatter of silverware that I thought that I might just leave him. I could insist that I move to Boston alone. I could run away and start over. I remember thinking that my life would be much easier with a partner who did not have a chronic disease, just like my childhood would have been easier without my mother's cancer. Being with Chris meant signing up for the inevitable complications that diabetes, or any illness, would cause. Sure, we'd find our sweetness where we could, but there would be bitterness too.
When I started middle school, the cancer in my mother grew back. My mother's Spot had been a type of cancer called malignant melanoma. Although the Spot was gone, the cancer had returned. A friend of mine, whose mother was a doctor, explained it to me much later in life. If the surgeon had failed to remove even one tiny bit of the Spot, just one little rogue cell, then it could break off from the skin and enter my mother's bloodstream. Blood-born, that one cancerous cell could float around and attach itself to an available organ. If that happened, it would be just as if a spot of skin cancer was growing on the inside of her body, where it could not be as easily removed by a doctor's quick scalpel.
When my mother had surgery to remove her lymph node from under her arm, I understood. I knew that cancer was the big evil. I knew it could be deadly. I knew the chemotherapy hurt even worse. And, as the cancer spread from lymph node to pancreas to liver to ovary, I understood, in no uncertain terms, that my mother was going to die from this cancer. The Spot, which could not be satisfied with inflicting a deep scar on my childhood memories, would not rest until it had ruined my mother's very body.
By the time I understood all this, years full of worry, surgery, and tears had past. By the time my mother was dying, I was a teenager just starting high school. It was as if I had sided with the cancer, rebelling against my mother just like her own multiplying cells. My mother's hospital bed was set up in the front room of our house, adjacent to the front entrance. Her constant presence there felt like a personal affront. As I came and went—to parties, to meet up with boys, to hide out in my room and blow smoke out the third-floor window—she faded into the background. Her withering body was disappearing into that hospital bed.
I can still remember the sound of her voice calling out to me when I closed the front door, asking me to come sit with her. I could barely be bothered. I would sit for a minute, not even trying to hide what an imposition it was on my precious time to sit and have a conversation with my dying mother. I shrank from the touch of her dry hands and shuddered at the medicated smell on her breath as she kissed my cheek.
My father has tried to reassure me since then that I did nothing wrong. I played out my part as any other teenage daughter fulfills her role in the special, strained relationship of mothers and daughters. Looking back though, I can see that I abandoned her when she most needed me. I was frightened and weak in the face of illness. Now, if I had the chance, I would spend a lifetime sitting on the edge of that cold, plastic bed. I would lie down with her and rest my cheek on her shoulder. I would hold her prematurely wrinkled hand. I would ask her all the questions I have thought of over the years that I never got a chance to ask. First: how do I be a good loved one to you?
Eight years have gone by since Chris was diagnosed with diabetes. In hindsight, it is has become more difficult to see how the disease has changed him, me, and us. Life has, as they say, gone on. We moved to Boston. I went to grad school. We adopted a couple of cats. We got married. He went to grad school. We have been happy. We are still companions.
But every day when he has a high blood sugar, or a low blood sugar, or gets angry about not being able to eat cake, or depressed about the endless annoyances of managing a complicated disease, I feel helpless. I wonder: am I doing this right?
Mostly, diabetes has faded into the background of our lives, but sometimes, like this past summer, it comes into focus. In May, Chris had a check-up with his endocrinologist. His A1C, the long-term measure of blood glucose levels, was high and his thyroid levels were off, indicating a common complication of diabetes. We recommitted to counting carbs, scooping servings in measuring cups, and avoiding dinners out with friends.
In the midst of this redoubling of efforts, we planned a date night. We figured a simple movie and dinner would provide some needed respite.
We came out of the movies into a damp, warm evening. We began to wander through downtown Boston towards the train station that would take us under the harbor and home. We had done this a million times and every time we seemed to forget that everything downtown was too expensive, too touristy, or, in our case, too carb-heavy.
We bickered about this conundrum for the entire walk until we settled on a tourist joint near the waterfront. As soon as we walked in, I knew we made the wrong choice. The air was heavy with the smell of shellfish and butter. Men in business-casual yelled their conversations at the bar. The muggy night felt like hell indoors.
I opened the menu to find a selection of mostly pasta and sandwiches, neither a particularly healthy choice for a diabetic.
"Do you want to go somewhere else?" I leaned in and asked Chris.
"Hold on," he answered, not looking up from the menu.
The server came and took our drink orders. "Just water," I answered for both of us.
"Chris, what do you think? Do you want to get out of here before she comes back?"
"Just give me a minute I'm trying to read this."
I looked out the window across the harbor. I could see all the landmarks of our neighborhood, like the tower at Logan Airport and the lighthouse-shaped gazebo at the end of the pier in the park. "We could just go somewhere in our neighborhood," I suggested.
"Can you just give me a minute to think?"
"I just feel like there are no good options here for you. I'd rather just go somewhere else."
"Can I just read the menu? I'm sure there is something here, but I need to actually read it." He didn't look up from the menu once.
Whether it was true or not, I began to feel like the diners at the tables near us were looking at us. I was sweating and the fishy smell was making me feel nauseous. The server brought back glasses of water. I thought she must have put on some extra cheeriness just to cut through the tension at our table. "What can I get for you?" she chirped.
"Chris, do you know what you want?"
He didn't answer. I looked up at the server, "Give us a minute?"
As she left the table, I turned to Chris again. "What do you want to do?"
He finally looked up from the menu, breathing through his teeth. "I don't know. Can you just back off so I can read the goddamn menu?"
"Okay, sorry, I'm just trying to help."
Chris pounded the table with his fists. "You don't know what this is like," he said. "You don't understand how hard this is. I have to do this every day. No one knows what this feels like."
I knew that he was right: I didn't know what it was like. Those words also hurt me more than anything else he had ever said to me.
Lately, I have started thinking more about my father's role in my mother's disease. Towards the end of my mother's life, my dad quit working. Not that my family was in any kind of financial position to make that a good decision, but he wanted to be there for every appointment, every bad day, and every good one. I avoided my mother's hospice room as much as I could, but my father lived there. Even after my mother lost her ability to speak and eat, my father was devoted to her.
I remember a time earlier in my mother's illness, maybe the third time the cancer came back, the second time we were told she would die. I must have been about twelve-years-old. I watched as my father injected my mother with a small dose of an experimental drug as a last ditch effort to fight the now metastasized cancer. My mother sat at the vanity in my parents' room where she used to curl and brush my hair before school dances and where she taught me to apply mascara. My father hated needles. He squirmed and joked, trying to make light of the whole awful situation, before finally piercing the skin. My mother did not even flinch.
Another night around that same time, I got up for a snack. When the light from the fridge spilled out over the floor, I noticed there was a figure on the couch in the living room. My mother rose and staggered to the kitchen. The scarf she usually wore around her head had come undone in her sleep. Her bald scalp shone like the moon.
"What are you doing up?" she asked.
"I'm hungry. What are you doing down here?" I countered.
"I always sleep down here. I don't want to keep your dad up."
I wondered for a moment why she would be keeping my father awake at night. It was not until later that I realized she probably tossed and turned in pain. There were probably many trips to the bathroom to be sick.
The memory of that late-night confession is one of my saddest of my mother's disease. It was then that I realized how much the cancer had infected us all. The way cancer changed my mother was obvious. She had lost her beautiful strawberry-blonde hair. She lost her patience more easily. We rarely got to see her weird upside-down smile that turned her lips down when she laughed. She no longer worked at the little country store.
Now I was beginning to understand how much my father's life had changed. He no longer worked in the darkroom at his photography studio. Instead, his days were filled with counting pills, helping mom to the bathroom, waiting for the next awful thing to happen. He did not spend as much time with my brother and me. Before, he would play video games with us after work and chase us through mountains of fallen leaves in the yard.
It is hard to imagine how much their relationship must have changed as well. It must have been hard for both of them to sleep alone.
On my father's behalf, I began to distrust the discourse of disease. I resented the lack of a narrative for partners in disease. When my mom was sick everyone from my classmates' parents to my teachers to the girls in my dance classes, would tell me, "your mother is so strong."
I hated it.
They didn't see her cry or vomit. They didn't see the way my father carefully split her desiccated lips with a straw so she could drink. They didn't know that when she showed up at my dance recital it took her a week to recover. "Being strong" was just something you said. Being strong was a part of the predetermined script for someone with an illness. We rarely talk about cancer being treated. Instead, the patient "does battle." They fight. As a culture, we wage wars on disease. We hate to lose.
No one ever told me my father was strong. In fact, perhaps the phrase "loved one" reveals more about our narratives for disease than we think. The loved one is, always, the object of love. They are a force acted on by the sick. The sick have a whole legion of verbs at their disposal: fight, beat, conquer, survive. Us loved ones have a far less certain script. If we cast ourselves as subjects, free to act in our own narratives, our verbs are far less vivid. We wait. We hope. We support. We worry. Maybe most importantly, we also love. And, loving someone who is ill brings its own kind of pain.
After my mother's death, my father came apart. At least once, he tried to commit suicide. A family friend found him crumpled against my mother's gravestone, his stomach full of her leftover painkillers. Although he was not successful at taking his life, he also never fully lived again. He drifted away from the rest of the family, first physically, by moving across the country, but also emotionally. I had always admired how selfless he was when my mother was sick, especially when I felt so selfish. Now, I wonder if there isn't room for balance. I wonder if in the process of losing my mother, my father had lost too much of himself.
Not long after Chris' initial diabetes diagnosis, I went with him to an appointment with a nutritionist. The overflowing cabinets of pre-packaged healthy snacks made the space claustrophobic. I don't remember exactly what we were talking about when the nutritionist leaned over and touched my wrist. She said, "You have to let him have his disease. This is his, not yours."
I still think about those words all the time. This is the very question I have been grappling with my whole life: who owns disease? We all know that illness spreads. We cover our mouths. We wash our hands and take our vitamins. Disease also spreads through our emotional lives in a ripple effect. Don't I own a little piece, at least, of my mother's cancer? Didn't my father pay the price to own a share of that illness? My mother and I shared so little; can't we share this final thing?
I'm not sure what it would mean for me to let Chris take full ownership of his diabetes. After all, there are so many things in our life that we have decided not to make "mine" or "yours"—money, record collections, responsibilities.
And this to me seems to be the primary dilemma of the healthy child, spouse, mother, or lover. How do we co-own rather than co-opt disease? We know how show our support by driving to the doctor, saying no to dessert, or listening to complaints. Our feelings of shame, anger, and fear are harder to understand. We do not know how to live with the pain that disease inflicts.
I remember the first time that Chris and I went to his parent's house for Christmas after his diagnosis and after we moved to Boston. While we settled in, I roamed around the house to stretch my legs after the flight. I wandered into the dining room and saw that there was an army of cookies, all separated into tins and tubs spread across the expanse of the table.
I suppose that I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Chris' mother's cut-outs were a favorite at holiday gatherings. I guess I had assumed this year would be different. After all, we were different. Instead of a gesture of warmth and welcome, the cookies felt like a betrayal. Perhaps diabetes had changed me more than I thought. The truth was, Chris and I were changing together.
In the end, I think, disease is a partnership. I have been asking myself why those around me seem to suffer more, but the truth is that all our bodies will fail. Everyone's loved ones will get sick. Everyone, in turn, will be a loved one. That is why the vow "in sickness and in health" is so profound. Unlike other vows, that is the one that all partners will eventually face.
Through that shared experience of our bodies, we love. Disease is the like the flip side of sex. The physicality and intimacy of both sex and disease bring us together in relationships that are different than friendships. Those we love the most are the ones we promise to share in their most difficult suffering. We vow to let their pain hurt us.
I think of another restaurant table. He sits across from me. This time we are outside. We are on Cape Cod. The sun has just gone down and though we are dressed for the beach, the wind is cool. I pull a blanket around my shoulders. My lips taste like salt and wine. The sputtering candle lights Chris’ face from below. Our plates are empty. He is talking, as we often do, of his disease. I'm listening.
"It's just hard, you know, dealing with it all alone," he says. He sips his beer and looks out past the busy street to the bay beyond.
I do not respond. I watch him turn and look right at me. I think about how fast the ten years since I met him have gone and how lucky we are to have had those years and the ones to come. I think about how hard it will be. I think about how wonderful it will be. He reaches out and puts his hand on mine.
"But, of course, I haven't been alone," he says. "You've been with me all along."