What Love Feels Like

Past, present, and future, our story unfolds.

The surgeon enters, introduces herself, shakes our hands. She’s warm, friendly, more outgoing than most practitioners. We’ve met more doctors than usual over the last year, so we would know.

Nicole and I sit next to each other in two standard, hospital-grade plastic chairs. Oddly curved, they seem far enough apart that it feels awkward to try and touch or hold Nicole somehow, but it’s all I want to do. Though listening, I feel distant, distracted.

Would it be better if I hold her hand or stroke her back? She likes back strokes more. I reach over to try, but I was right — it’s awkward.

The doctor continues probing for Nicole’s medical history as I pull my arm back to my side. We listen together, interjecting regularly with questions. Our questions range between surgical options, pain levels, recovery time, the future likelihood of surgery, longevity of life, and drug repercussions.

“Honestly, how long will it take for her to fully recover,” I ask?

“Four to six weeks.”

That’s what we were told last time. Nicole looks resigned to the reality of it all. To the facts. There’s no best option, there are only options. Choices and stats and anecdotes and “everyone responds differently” platitudes.

This sucks. Not fair. Why? 36 is too young for all this.

I have to make another business meeting while the doctor performs a final exam. Nicole and I kiss, but I wish I could just stop time and embrace her.

“Call me when you’re leaving,” I encourage. “I love you.”

The first words I uttered to the girl who introduced herself to me nearly fourteen years ago did not drip with warmth or invitation. That became clear to me over time. But I thought it was a clever way to gain insight into people as I first met them.

“Tell me your life story in thirty seconds or less. Go!

Typical answers ranged wildly between poor attempts, hems and haws, or complete passes. But not with her.

She replied without hesitation, confidently, intelligently, articulately. Born in Las Vegas, raised in Phoenix, an only child, educated in Boston, passionate for those in need of grace, in love with Jesus, she piqued my interest in half a minute. It wasn’t just the content or delivery of her answer that captured me, either.

Chocolate hair, brown eyes, caramel skin, “beautiful” didn’t suffice to describe her. Words would fail me long after that day, I would discover. That smile. Those cheeks, shoulders, and hands were creamy like coffee with just the right splash of milk. I could almost hear the spoon at the bottom of the mug swirling, mixing some concoction together perfectly. She stirred me.

But she had arrived with David. He was one of my best friends, a true brother. Besides, I was with Sandy at the time — surely she was “The One,” I believed. Still…

Who is this girl?

She had already told me, of course. Her name was Nicole Goings. It was the first of many names by which I would eventually come to know her — Nic, Nikita, Babe, My Love. Or when humor later called for it, Cottrell.

One year after we met, Nicole and I sat slumped in purple chairs next to each other, close to the back row of a movie theater. Summer advertisements cycled across the silver screen as her on-again off-again boyfriend went to buy popcorn and soda. My on-again off-again girlfriend just got off the phone with me, saying she was tired and Camelview 5 was too far. “Next time,” she promised.

Nicole and I were friends by this point. At least, I think we were. Are we? Sure, we had even double dated in Disneyland together, I remembered pleasantly. I knew her enough that I could investigate, perhaps.

“So, how’s it going with David?”

She shrugged, “Uh, it’s…you know. Fine, I guess.” I heard uncertainty. Impermanence. Opportunity?

“What about you and Sandy,” she volleyed?

“I mean, it’s back-and-forth. A little weird at this point.” I answered honestly, all the while knowing but not dwelling on the fact that the engagement ring I had bought for Sandy sat back at my house, stored away for an unlikely future. I mostly knew by then that she and I wouldn’t happen, as much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise.

David wasn’t back yet, so perhaps I still had some liberty to test the waters with Nicole. I respected her. She so frequently intrigued me. Why not?

“We should switch.”

A comfortable, but simultaneously uneasy laugh and smirk escaped from Nicole’s perfect lips. “Yeah,” she muttered, casually considering the idea to herself.

I changed the subject quickly to make her feel comfortable again, but the seed had been planted. David returned and the lights dimmed. Showtime.

It’s early Monday morning. I’m almost last to go after the table of my peers have confidentially shared what’s happening in their various lives. The content is pretty light, today.

“Work is busy, but good.”

“Family is doing well, though I need to get more intentional with my wife and kids.”

“My health habits are slipping a bit.”

“Spiritually, I’m doing fine, but I really need to be reading the Word more.”

My turn. Everything is going extremely well spiritually, personally, and professionally, I admit quickly. “But…” I pause. Actually, it’s more like the words stop themselves. My bottom lip trembles and eyes swell with tears, halting as if just before a cliff. The inertia carries them forward anyway, falling down my cheeks.

“…I just don’t want her to be in pain anymore,” I finish.

Before the morning is over, the guys pray for us — for Nicole, mostly — and we break.

I call her later that morning around my usual check-in time, as cheerily as possible. I ask my typical questions, about how she slept, how the day with the kids has started out, about…her pain. It’s bad this morning.

I do not replicate the emotion of earlier this morning again, nor of all the previous times I’ve cried over it. No need to scream about it to God on the phone with her. I’ve plead over and over that He work a miracle — or give me the pain instead.

Apparently, He has something different in mind. Job’s repentance comes to mind. “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.”

The surgery is getting closer, at least. Relief cannot come quickly enough.

The December rain paced itself perfectly upon my car’s windows. The view out my windshield distorted in a way that felt romantic like only a rain shower can — gentle, blurry, wet, calming.

Though we had known each other a little over a year by this point, Nicole and I had only been dating two weeks. I needed to know everything about her. Past, present, and whatever of her future she dreamed about and envisioned, I craved to know her, to learn her. I wanted to inject myself into her future.

Could this girl be real? Who let her peek at my entire list of desires? Every thought, every dream, every personality trait, every philosophical idea, every story drew me in, ever nearer. And just stop me before I get started on every glance. Those eyes.

I knew I loved her, already, and I wasn’t afraid to say it. I had confessed it the previous week. Quietly, sincerely, she had questioned me immediately. “How can you say that?”

“I just do. I can’t explain it.”

She believed me, but she didn’t match my words. Not when I first said it, and still, not in the car that rainy night. My falling in love with her needed no reciprocation, though, just as the rainfall outside needed no one to catch it. I wanted her to simply soak in and experience it. Her “Thank you” was more than enough.

She told me later that she knew it was true. She could see it in me. And even though she hadn’t said the words, I could hear it in her hopes and her dreams. Remaining still enough, I could hear it in the soft thumps of her heart dancing to the tempo of the rain.

The weeks blazed by quickly. David was my friend, sure, and I had even gone so far as to initially ask his permission to pursue Nicole as my girlfriend. He politely and graciously encouraged me to do so at the time — or at least he hadn’t prevented me — but second thoughts followed soon thereafter. He was having a hard time with the fact that we were dating, he confessed one night.

Too late, man. I paused before answering, but had to tell him the truth. Here it goes. “I’m going to marry her.”

Three weeks in, I’m sure it wasn’t what he expected to hear. It wasn’t what he wanted. It didn’t matter.

Only three weeks after that, one cold January night swelled to a strange, yet beautiful cocktail of moments and prayers and conversations. As I said goodnight to Nicole, my girlfriend of six weeks, I expressed with as much sincerity as I could possibly convey that she was everything I could possibly need and want. I declared the truth with certainty and conviction.

“I hope I can be that for you, too, someday,” I concluded before we kissed goodbye.

Slightly dazed and a little tired, in almost a dreamlike state, I walked back to my car. As I reached the door, my phone buzzed. I pulled it out casually, driver’s side door ajar in my hand. Her text message was simple.

“You already are.”

I slammed my Honda shut and bolted back to her apartment. She could hear my footsteps stampeding for her place. Needlessly, I banged my fist on her door even more loudly than my feet had ran her way. What would I say? The entrance flung open.

It was more of an impulse than a well-thought-out plan, but I couldn’t help myself. I nearly tackled her with my embrace, trying at first to lift her off the ground. But instead, I realized I just needed to get down on my knees. This was it.

“Nicole Llin Goings, I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

She shut her eyes tightly and began vigorously shaking her head back-and-forth, back-and-forth — not exactly the up-and-down I may have expected. As if that wasn’t enough, she repeated one word like a machine gun, “No no no no no no no no no…” I proceeded anyway.

“Will you marry me?”

Tears fell before she even opened her eyes. Then, they opened to look at me.


“I am so in love with you,” I said calmly, plainly, rising from my knees. Now that she had agreed to spend the rest of her life with me, I guess she felt it was safe and appropriate for her to confess her little secret in response.

“I love you, Jonathan.”

Another week, another doctor’s appointment. This time, it’s to review our final plan with the surgeon. He performed Nicole’s surgery last year, and we feel comfortable using him again. While he does not exude the same warmth as the surgeon who provided us a second opinion, he’s one of the best gynecological oncologists in the state.

“Yes” to removing her right ovary. “No” to removing her left. “Yes” to some hormone injections. “No” to the fiercer drugs. “Yes” to post-recovery physical therapy. Most importantly, “I will try not to remove any more of her colon if I don’t have to,” he commits.

Naturally, he’ll see her guts on the inside, but I witness her guts everyday. Though I am listening to the doctor, I mostly gaze in awe of her — her strength, her resolve, her character. I thought that I had seen her endurance before the last few years, but now I’ve really seen it. I testify to what the circumstances have produced in her. My respect has only grown. This woman! Her spirit!

“If you don’t hear from my scheduler in the next two days, call the office to make sure we get surgery scheduled within a couple weeks.”

Exiting the hospital into the blazing 110-degree furnace of Arizona, we primarily talk about what’s next. About schedules. About who will watch the kids during the hospital stay. About what Nicole aims to get done before the surgery. About her hopes for after surgery.

Hope has never been more necessary. When she hasn’t had hope, I’ve tried to keep it for her, flickering in my palms like a small flame as the brutal wind howls. When I haven’t had enough of it, she seems to have held it as tightly as she can. I’m not sure who maintains it most today, but we are trying to protect it together.

Her days will be better soon. Our days will be better soon. We hope.

Nine months was longer than we wanted to be engaged, but after some caution from our parents — my dad, in particular — we prayed for God’s best timing. We went along with the counsel we received, agreeing that dating only six weeks meant we should remain engaged longer than we originally intended.

Our patience was wise, but not always easy. Around our shared birthday week earlier that year, we enjoyed a trip to Vegas with my brother, best friend, and his girlfriend. The temptation to elope was palpable. Thankfully, my brother had warned me that I would be unable to enjoy my honeymoon on the neon-lit Strip had we done so. I believe his exact words were, “I’ll punch you so hard in your balls that you won’t even be able to enjoy your wedding night.” Duly noted, we held to our original date.

October 22, 2005 arrived quickly enough in the scheme of things. That day began a new chapter for us both. While all the details blurred together over time, the memory of the feelings persisted. Rapture, honestly. Intense joy like I had never before known. I stood at the front, facing all our guests, awaiting her.

Wow, wow, wow. In her old-fashioned, stunning ivory dress, down the aisle my bride walked. Her lips were more red than ever. Her brown skin came alive against the white of her gown. Am I dreaming?

I wasn’t. As the ceremony rushed to its conclusion, my father — our officiant — asked me the important questions in front of God and nearly 200 witnesses.

“I do,” I vowed.
“I do,” she agreed.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Then, the invitation: “You may kiss your bride.” My pleasure.

Breathe, here comes another one.” By her third delivery, Nicole knew the ropes. The only difference this time was that we had hired a fabulous doula to help her make it through a natural labor. By this point, Nicole wouldn’t have minded another epidural, but she had nearly reached ten centimeters.

Six years into our marriage, we had already enjoyed five years of parenthood. It hadn’t been even one-year before we had received the unexpected blessing of our first child, Riley. We had a one-month-old during our first anniversary. I was convinced that our daughter would be a son, but Tolan didn’t arrive until the following labor. With two at home, we were keeping the gender of our third a surprise even for ourselves.

I hated seeing Nicole in pain, but for some reason, I would often become more like a drill sergeant than a gracious husband during delivery. Meanwhile, she grew more gentle and passive. In the words she had often said half-jokingly, they became quite true when she gave birth to our children: “I’m a delicate flower.”

Waiting there by her side, rubbing her back, giving her ice chips to chew, encouraging her, I remembered back to her first pregnancy. Night after night after arriving home from work, we spent countless hours naked on a mattress in front of our television. We switched happily between exploring one another and binge watching episodes of Jack Bauer hunting down bad guys and Jack Shepherd trying to find a way off the island. We were lost in one another, 24/7. It had felt just like yesterday.

The contractions eventually progressed and the time had finally come. “Push!” Roughly one-hour later, we met the fifth and final member of our family.

“It’s a boy.”

We cried with joy, all over again. Our five-year-old daughter would soon cry, too, but not for joy. “I wanted a sister.” She quickly came around, though. “He’s exactly what I wanted,” our daughter exclaimed lovingly while holding him later that day. Agreed.

On August 25, 2011, Beckett Samuel Benjamin joined his sister, Riley Grace, and brother, Tolan James. The Cottrells became a happy, rambunctious party of five.

While we were thankful to be enjoying the Mayo Clinic and its benefits, the surgery awaiting her was quite unwelcome. A fourth labor would have been the far more desirable trip. While Nicole and I had agreed earlier that we felt “complete” after the birth of Beckett, as he — and we — grew older, Nicole and I had discussed the option of adding one more just a few short months earlier.

I was for it. “We make amazing humans. Let’s just give it one last shot. If nothing happens, fine. We’ll close this chapter.”

It was New Year’s Eve, a quiet night for us right before the dawn of 2016. After some fast, but serious conversation, she agreed. Slowly, we meandered to the bedroom to make love. To our confusion, sex had become painful, recently. She had been visiting doctors about it — about her overall increasing abdomen and back pain — but no one could tell us what exactly was happening. Painkillers were becoming too regular a need for her comfort or mine.

That night was wonderful, though. One last effort. Considering every time we had “tried” for a baby before had been successful, there was weight to our decision. With our first two, we knew right away — “That one was it.” Similarly, we knew that the chapter for more children closed that evening. To be honest, it probably wasn’t even possible for Nicole to become pregnant by that point, given what was happening inside of her.

So, there we were just a few months later, Nicole propped up on a hospital bed, me standing beside her. It had all happened like a whirlwind. Two short weeks after organizing a second annual PHX Startup Week and in the midst of fundraising for my latest startup, the doctors had finally pinpointed the source of her pain. Regretfully, I wasn’t even at the doctor with her when she found out.

Host to stage-four endometriosis and adenomyosis, her organs were being covered like a weed. Her ovaries twisted and knotted together. Tissue forced itself into the line of her uterine wall. They would end up surgically removing her uterus, parts of her ovaries, her appendix, and ten inches of her colon. As I would joke with her later, the entire thing gave me pause; “You have a semi-colon now.”

If we weren’t laughing, we would have cried. We did cry.

In the pre-op room that day at the Mayo Clinic, it felt like everything was happening too quickly, as though time was being fast forwarded. A never-ending stream of people wearing scrubs made their way into the cold hospital room to talk with her, take vitals, request signatures, and tell her what to expect.

For the first time, Nicole looked … scared. Be strong for her. Keep it together. Other than the final throes of her natural labor with Beckett — when she had sincerely cried out, “Jesus, take me home!” — this was the first time I had seen such a look on her face. There had been other parental emergencies, certainly, but I hadn’t always been there to look her in the eyes. I had just heard her frantic voice on the other line of a phone. But there she sat silently in front of me, clearly afraid. I could see it. I could feel it.

“It’ll be alright, baby.” Don’t cry. “You’ll feel better soon.” Please God, help!

While preparing her IV line, one of the nurses encouraged Nicole to think about her favorite place.

“Paris,” she whispered.

It was only six months earlier that we had been roaming the cobblestone streets of France together. It felt distant, but the hospital room was nearly the same temperature, which helped remind us of our 10-year anniversary trip. 10 years, incredible. It had felt simultaneously like Forever and No Time.

Faintly smiling, Nicole recalled the shops, the bakeries, the food, the cathedrals, the art. But I thought only of her, our time together, our love. I remembered all the weeks of singing to myself in the car, preparing to belt out what I had written and would share with her on the night of our tenth anniversary.

After making our way out of a restaurant on October 22, 2015, I said her name rather seriously to stop her. “Nicole.”

“What?” She eyed me suspiciously. “Why are you saying my name like that?” She knew my tricks.

Boldly, I let out the first few words…

“30-seconds used to be enough…”

“Nope. Stop! Not here.” It reminded me of her emphatic, tearful “Nos” when I had asked her to marry me all those years ago. Knowing better than to disregard her, I happily waited and held her hand down the street. When we returned to our quaint, very Parisian Airbnb, I had her sit down as I gave it my best. My voice cracked near the end, but my heart held steady. Just the two of us, she was both my song’s subject and audience.

I could still see her walking down the aisle as I sang that evening in Paris. Somehow, though, she was even more beautiful to me in the then-present moment. On the bed she lay in her hospital gown, just as stunning as she had been walking down the aisle in her wedding gown over one decade prior. Her beauty had only grown more ravishing in my eyes, day by day, year by year.

Soon, the soft glow of French dreams were disrupted. “Okay, it’s time,” a doctor spoke.

I kissed her one last time before they wheeled her down the long, cold hallway. The fear returned to her eyes as I pulled away. I wanted to take it all, but I couldn’t. As much as we were one, I could not remain with her for this. She would be alone. As would I.

Nicole works beside me on school curriculum for the kids at the dining room table. It’s the first week of July, a few short hours before we will watch fireworks with the kids and sing our patriotic favorites. She has no clue I’m writing this.

Working diligently, she asks for my opinion about the coming year and what’s right for the kids. This remains her chief goal before undergoing surgery again. “I don’t think Beckett should be studying British history before American history, do you? That doesn’t feel right to me for first grade.”

First grade, already? Goodness. It feels like just yesterday that we were meeting him in the delivery room, unsure if he would be named Jocelyn or Beckett.

When we were first engaged, I never expected us to homeschool our kids. I simply hadn’t foreseen all that Nicole would become and accomplish. I already loved her exactly for who she was, perfect for me in every way, but homemaker and homeschooler were not on my shortlist of expectations. I believed in her completely, but had no idea this would be our future.

I offer my opinions as no more than two cents. History, geography, math, reading, we casually discuss it all. It has been a hot topic the last few days. “Go with your gut, babe. You know what’s best for them and you.” How does she do all that she does? Her intelligence, her approach, and her ability continually amaze me.

Sitting next to her, looking down at her relentlessly wrestle with what will be best for our children and their future, I cannot help but want to share Nicole with the whole world. She’s too magnificent only for me. I want everyone to see her as I see her, because I have experienced her extravagance. True beauty. True love. She is my muse, at all times, in all ways.

What I have found amounts to something that few others ever find, I realize. In fact, no others have found what I have found in her, for she is entirely unique in her existence, the perfect treasure I found awaiting me at the perfect time in history. She is mine. I am hers. We are one.

How do I share you with the world, Nicole? Even this won’t do. Unfortunately, it’s all I have right now. Words continue to taunt me, not nearly enough to express my heart, but I keep them flowing anyway. I type furiously and freely, ever-inspired by her.

“I got it,” she soon explains, satisfied. “I’m much happier with this history solution that I have now. It’s going to be much better.”

Of course it is. You can do no wrong, My Love.

We had no idea the the recovery would take so long. Three days in the hospital and seven days with a catheter were only the beginning. “Six weeks,” they lied. Six weeks trudged along, eventually passing. Still thick and difficult, the pain just … changed. It became surgery recovery pain, something entirely new. Better? We weren’t sure.

Maybe by eight weeks it will pass.

No. Eight weeks also came and went. As did three months, fourth months, five months. Still, things had not returned back to “normal,” whatever that word meant. Finally, a solid six months passed before the pain dissipated completely.

The time was difficult, no doubt, and increasingly so, it seemed. But by the time September came and Nicole’s pain had eased, we were hopeful again. We had things to look forward to, as well.

Nicole had always dreamed of visiting Japan. Since she was a child, she had been fascinated by the culture, the art, the food, the history, having kept a pen pal for much of her youth. So, when I was invited to visit Japan on a sister city trip for Phoenix, I had only response. “I’d be honored to go, but my wife will kill me if I go without her.”

Adding Asia to our other European, Latin American, and island trips, we were really getting around. The trip of our lifetime crept upon us quickly. Unfortunately, it arrived not without a torrent of other turmoil.

Had hospitals implemented a frequent flyer program, my mom would have quickly become a VIP. The first time she checked in to Honor Health during 2016, she and my dad thought it was just a case of dehydration. Unfortunately, it was quickly revealed that her diabetes had escalated to the point at which she would need a new kidney. In and out of the hospital over a few months, the beige walls and bad coffee had become far more familiar than any family should desire.

I joined the club, too. The night after Thanksgiving, my stomach started hurting enough to notice. I told Nicole I expected to just sleep it off, but around 3:00 AM, the pain woke me up. I couldn’t even stand up or walk. What is this? The pain obviously warranted a speedy trip to the hospital for myself, which led to a few rather unpleasant findings. While the negative results were eventually reversed with some purposeful pursuit of my health, it did enough to focus me on my own health, not just Nicole’s or my mom’s.

Then, January came — or as I would later refer to it, The Suck. The hope of a new year came crashing down more quickly and harshly than ever before, sending my usually very optimistic self into a tailspin of situational depression. It affected everything in our life together, and it resulted in intense relational, lifestyle, and work changes for our family. While the events soon resulted in a good deal of positive impact, Nicole and I were walking hand-in-hand through what felt like a very dark valley.

Despite the difficulty of life, Nicole remained a rock to me, even while she had begun to experience an increasing amount of pain herself. In fact, it had only been about three months of relatively low pain before it reared its ugly head once again.

She returned to her physicians for check-ups to discuss what she might be experiencing. The doctors were concerned enough that they eventually ordered more tests. This sounded like too much pain in too short a time.

Nearly one-year to the day after Nicole’s initial surgery, we both sat down in an all-too-familiar room at the Mayo Clinic. We were quite accustomed to the furniture and their standard operating procedures by this point — the friendly attendants and quick check-in, the comfortable-enough waiting room, the niceties the nurse would ask us as we walked down the long hallway. There, on a bench in a small office, we found ourselves in a familiar state — waiting.

Slowly, our doctor entered, shook our hands, and sat down. “Nice to see you, again.” Really? No, it’s not. Not at all. While he may have padded his explanation, I didn’t hear him. It was within the first few moments that the words came out of his mouth and hung there in front of us, dreadful.

“It’s back.”

Tomorrow, July 19, 2017, Nicole revisits the Mayo Clinic for surgery preparation. I have to publish this today, I insist to myself. Any ounce of encouragement and compassion I can offer her, I am compelled to do so. I must.

Do I just post it on social media and let her discover it? Do I tell her I’m sharing something about her with the world? Will what I’m feeling really come through as passionately as she deserves?

I don’t have answers. All I know is that the best I can do at this current point in our story is share this small token of my love for Nicole. Our story is not finished, of course. There is no story but that which continues to unfold before us.

Even now, I can see us old, gray, wrinkled, and hilarious. Our inside jokes and happiness and sexual innuendos run constant. In the kitchen, she and I make food for a holiday gathering with grandchildren running and playing and causing a glorious ruckus all around us. We find ourselves growing slower daily, hoping to at least see some of our grandchildren reach their wedding days — maybe we’ll even become great grandparents given our early start as parents.

As only long lovers do best, we weave stories for our children and grandchildren in meandering fashion, telling them of how we met, when we were married, where we succeeded and failed at times as parents, the places we saw, the historical events we encountered, the accomplishments we worked toward, the failings we learned from, and the friends we held dear. Laughter and love abounds in our home and hearts.

But I think too far in advance, Nicole often tells me. Actually, she more directly states her opinion. “You’re weird.”

However long we have to age together, it doesn’t matter. Long after death, our story will continue, for she birthed and we both raised three incredible humans who — we are convinced — will change the world. Even more importantly than this, we know it is well with our souls and that this brief love story is but a drop in the ocean of eternity’s Love story.

Together, our memories and thoughts and hopes swirl elegantly together, doing far more than loosely affiliating two people under the banner of a shared last name. Nicole and I have become so interdependent and intertwined and singular, there is no use separating us anymore. We are entangled together, united.

True, this remains a mystery I cannot fully explain, but one which I have experienced firsthand. Were I forced to summarize conclusions, I might say that this is what love feels like — oneness and mystery. Then again, I don’t prefer oversimplifying such exquisite complexities.

Honestly, things haven’t changed that much since I first encountered Nicole nearly fourteen years ago. Words continue to fail me, as she remains too marvelous for human language. I must simply rest, having given the page all I have.

Climbing in bed tonight, I will slip under the covers next to her and pray with her about tomorrow — not to mention the recovery soon to follow. Perhaps we will cry together. Perhaps we will laugh. Perhaps we will make love. Perhaps I will just hold her before she complains that my feet are too cold against her always-warm flesh and we turn off the lights. Just being with her is enough for me, whatever ensues.

As with most nights, though, the likeliest of endings will arrive as I whisper the words that cycle repeatedly upon my mind, unstoppable yet patient, simple yet profound.

“I love you so much, Nicole.”

My consciousness will drift quickly to sleep, but not before I try mumbling the great truth of my heart once more. “So much….”

Your prayers for a quick recovery and lasting result from Nicole’s surgery are greatly appreciated, as are any encouraging thoughts and words you wish to leave her below. We thank you.