“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
This is the story of our last visit with The Doctor. He appeared amongst the roses, his eyes tear-rimmed, his infectious smile missing, his fingers gently clutching a handwritten letter, his other hand tucked into his pocket. Flying straight to us after Rose died; he spent a week with us grieving for that final parting. He left us, his hearts broken, but not his spirit, an infinitesimal smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
This is the story of how we said goodbye.
July 23, 2011
“Linnaea Rose what have you got all over you?” I asked my very muddy daughter.
She held her cupped palms up to me, gifting me with her present. “I made you a pie, mommy!”
“Oh, thank you very much pumpkin. It looks absolutely delicious. Why don’t we go out in the sunshine and have a picnic. You take your pie and set it on the lawn. I’ll make us up some sandwiches and lemonade.” I kissed her grubby little cheek and sent her on her way.
As I puttered around the kitchen making lunch and singing along to the Springsteen song Two Hearts, I heard it. The telltale sound reminiscent of snowfall and just as rare. The jar of mayonnaise forgotten, the knife clattering to the ground, I wiped my hands on a towel and ran outside.
My almost four-year-old, golden-haired daughter greeted The Doctor with a mud pie. His smile felt unbearably sad as he knelt down before her, tucking a letter into his pocket, and accepting her gift. I caught his eyes as I rushed over to him and saw his unshed tears.
“Would you like me to hold onto your pie while you hug my mommy?” Linnaea asked, sensitive to the emotions of others even at a young age. The Doctor nodded, his hands gentle as he handed it back to her.
He stood and I went to him, enfolding him in my arms and tugging his lean body against mine.
My voice a whisper, “Doctor, what happened?”
I felt his shaking head and knew that now was not the time. I could hear the turmoil in his mind even through my mental blocks. It had been a long time since someone’s brain had broadcasted loud enough to break through them. I knew the situation was serious.
Linnaea hovered just outside our hug, but I could feel her excitement at the man who had appeared in the backyard.
I released The Doctor and extended my hand to her. “Remember when I told you about my friend the Time Lord?” Her head bobbed up and down enthusiastically as she reached for me. “Linnaea Rose, I want you to meet The Doctor.”
The look of absolute wonder bloomed over his features. He took her much smaller hand in hers, shaking it. “I had a very good friend named Rose once.”
“Mommy told me about her. She says she’s really awesome. I’m gonna be just like her when I grow up and travel with you in the TARDIS.”
“She’s not kidding, Doctor. She’s been talking about it from the moment I started telling her the stories.”
He smiled, but it took effort, I could tell. “Whenever you’re ready, you just give me a call. I’ll come, pick you up, and take you wherever you want to go.”
Her face brightened. “Oh! And thanks for my Christmas gifts too! I loved my K-9 toy!”
The Doctor, unsurprisingly confused, looked to me for explanation. I simply mouthed, Go with it.
“You’re very welcome, I’m glad you liked it.”
I slipped my fingers through his. “Come on, I was just making us a picnic. You look like you could eat.”
We finished up making lunch in the kitchen, grabbed a blanket, and headed out into the backyard. The Doctor entertained Linnie with stories of his adventures traveling with Rose. We nibbled on fresh strawberries, tossed grapes into open mouths, and sipped our lemonade. The sun sank beneath the horizon, and nighttime fell, I heard the back door open.
“Doctor,” Eric crossed the lawn to join us on the blanket, pulling Linnaea into his lap. She snuggled against her father, her ice blue eyes identical to his, fixed on his face. It took him one look to see that things just weren’t right with the usually energetic man seated across from him.
“How’ve you been, Eric?” The Doctor asked, making small talk.
Eric beamed down at his daughter, “Busy, as you can imagine.”
“My daddy’s a vampire. But don’t worry, he’s not a bad vampire. He won’t hurt you,” Linnaea reassured the Time Lord. “My mommy’s not a vampire and neither am I, though, and he’s always been good to us. He’s the best daddy, I’m really lucky to be the only little girl with a vampire daddy.”
“Well, I imagine so. I knew your daddy when he was human.”
Linnaea scrunched up her face, “Oh! I remember that story.” She turned to face me, “That’s the story of how I was born!”
Even The Doctor laughed at that. “Alright, munchkin,” I said to Linnie as I bent down for a quick kiss from Eric and scooped up our daughter. “It’s bath time.”
She squirmed in my arms, “Awwww mommy! I don’t wanna! I wanna stay with The Doctor and Daddy.”
I almost cracked a smile, but kept on my mom face. I’d gotten good at it. “Now, Linnaea Rose, you know I don’t like it when you take your dirt to bed. But, I’ll make you a deal. If you run into the house and don’t give me a hard time, maybe Daddy and The Doctor will build us a fire and then I’ll let The Doctor tell you a bedtime story. Sound good?”
Her answer came when she shimmied down the front of me, and rushed into the house.
“Eric, I’ll take care of bath time, if you’ll get that fire going. And be careful.”
He stood and crossed over to me, pulling me against him, “Anything you say, wife. I will try not to roast myself alive. Come on, Doctor, you can help me bring some wood over from the pile.”
I followed Linnie and her bath went easily enough since she had The Doctor waiting for her. I decided that we’d also make some s’mores. It’d mean we’d have to scrub Linnie’s fingers before she went to bed, but it’d be worth it.
She put her pajamas on backwards the first time, which delayed us a bit, much to her dismay. By the time we made it out, the two men faced each other; the only sound the crackling of the fire between them. Linnaea headed straight for The Doctor, winding her way up onto his lap. She reached up and took his cheeks in her hands, pulling his face down to hers.
“I’m sorry you miss Rose, Doctor.” She kissed him on the cheek and snuggled against his chest. “I’m ready for my story now.”
“She inherited my telepathy, Doctor, I’m—”
The sadness lingered, and I noticed when he slipped his hand in his pocket, but he just waved away my almost-apology, instead addressing Linnaea, “Would you like to hear a story about her? One even your mommy doesn’t know?”
She scrambled off his lap, grabbing the marshmallows off the side table. “Yes, please. And I will cook you a marshmallow.” She flopped down cross-legged in front of the fire pit and got to work.
“A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—” The Doctor tried to begin.
Linnaea whipped her head around. “That’s the beginning of Star Wars, Doctor. Everybody knows that.”
“That it is, my little Rose, but it also happens to be true.” Her mouth opened into a lower case ‘o’ and her eyes widened. “You want me to continue?” He asked, his eyebrow lifted in question.
She nodded enthusiastically and mimed zipping her lips closed and throwing away the key. Her marshmallow dipped down into the fire and Eric was quick to blow it out for her.
“Once upon a time—is that better?” She giggled, her face lit by firelight, shaking her head yes. “In a galaxy far, far away, there was a girl named Rose who traveled with a Time Lord named The Doctor, that’s me,” he whispered, pointing to his chest. “Rose was lost for so very long, and because he missed his friend, he took your Mom and Dad to help rescue her from an alternate universe—”
“What an al-ter-net universe?”
“Oh, yes. Yes! So sorry. It’s a world just like ours, but different, like…um, like…” The Doctor was speechless trying to explain to a child the concept of an alternate universe.
I decided to help him out. “Linnie, it’s like our world, but with cars that can fly. Or kitties that bark instead of meow.”
“Ohhhhh. Ok. Can we go there?”
I shook my head, “No, sorry honey. It’s locked away.”
“Like the good snacks?”
I chuckled, “Yes, darling. Like the good snacks.”
She picked up the chocolate and handed it to me, and I set to work putting together the s’more she’d made for The Doctor. She walked it over, balanced on her palm, and made her offering to the Time Lord.
“Thank you.” He nibbled at the marshmallowy goodness. “Yum! Delicious. So, now, where was I?”
“In the good snack world, rescuing Rose,” Linnaea replied. “Daddy, will you make me a s’more? You make ‘em best.” Eric simply grabbed the poker and stuck a marshmallow on it.
“The good snack world, yes, of course. The Doctor rescued her, and when he asked her where she wanted to go to celebrate being back together, she told him anywhere. Anywhere, as long as they were together.”
How long are you gonna stay with me? Forever.
The Doctor fell into his memory: Rose, staring at the double suns of Rajidae in the Grajick Major solar system. Flying skates swooped around the craggy rock formations, and Rose promised she wouldn’t leave him, but he could feel the oncoming storm.
He forced himself out of his mind palace and back onto the adorable face of the little girl munching her snack, one arm outstretched for him to help her into his lap.
He obliged, picking her up and letting her settle, and then continued, “He knew the one place he wanted to take her home. His home. He couldn’t go there anymore for real, like to meet his mom or anything, but he could take her there in the past. The TARDIS danced excitedly through the Time Vortex, she wanted to find Gallifrey as much as he did.”
Linnaea wiped her grubby, sticky hands on his jacket, and he chuckled. No matter, he didn’t think he’d need this suit much longer anyway.
“Have you ever seen a planet being formed, Linnie?”
Her face puckered in concentration, thinking long and hard about his question. “No, I don’t think so, but maybe when I was sleeping once.”
“Well, I took Rose to go see my planet, Gallifrey, while it was being born. We stood in the doorframe of The TARDIS in the Kasterborous Constellation with little bits of rock flying all around us. Twin suns burned as I held her hand, and we watched as those little bits of rock flew together and shaped a brand new planet; the earth formed beneath the TARDIS, welcoming her home. Gallifrey’s orange sky dawned to life, illuminating the bits of mountain that matured into white-capped monuments.
We stepped onto the rocky, desert land; the first explorers to wander across her landscape. For the second time Rose promised me forever, and the twin suns followed each other to their burnt sienna sunset. Before the fall of Arcadia, before the Time War, before the death of Davros at the Gates of Elysium; we stood on the soil of a civilization before its rise—or its fall.”
The Doctor came out of his trance, blinking around at the forgotten listeners. Linnaea had fallen asleep, lulled by the melody of his voice, and he reached up to tuck a stray curl behind her ear.
“I’ll take her, Doctor,” Eric reached for her expecting him to relinquish the sleeping child.
Instead, he stood and walked into the house to put his little Rose to bed. He’d meant what he said, if she ever said yes, he would take her wherever she wanted.
When he had Linnaea settled, he rejoined Sookie, Eric, and the smoldering fire. From within his pocket he retrieved Rose’s last letter and an old, tarnished fob watch.
My dearest Doctor,
My favorite moment from our life together was watching the birth of Gallifrey; the last time I promised you forever, a promise I couldn’t keep. Under those twin suns, you retrieved two rings from your pocket, glittering against the sunset, and offered me both your hearts.
Our first night, the last night I spent with you as you truly are, we returned to London for fish and chips, celebrating our reunion. We walked through the darkening streets, planning the future of us. When we returned to the TARDIS at sunrise you began digging through the vast chambers of the TARDIS looking for the Chameleon Arch and an antique fob watch handed down through generations of Time Lords.
The only way for you to live your entire life with me was for you to become human, like me. The Chameleon Arch rewrote that single thing about you, your two hearts forged into one. You lived a human life with me, the one thing you always wanted, but thought was out of reach.
You and I traveled the stars, always searching for adventure. Hand in hand, The Doctor and Rose Tyler, as we were always meant to be. And I would have traveled with you forever, if only I could have.
If you are reading this, I have passed, leaving you on your own again. But, Doctor, this is not the end for you.
Remember our first Christmas together? The old fob watch I gave you, but refused to let you fix? It’s time for you to open it now, Doctor, for me. I need you to go on; I could never deny the universe its hero.
Go back to that sunset on Gallifrey, open the watch, and say goodbye to me. Then go to Sookie and Eric and say goodbye for me. Go to them and heal both your hearts.
You once told me that we were all just stories in the end. Make it a good one.
So if it’s the last time I get to say it, Doctor, I love you.
The Doctor finished his story, his shoulders hunched over, tears openly streaming down, Rose’s last letter clutched in one hand, fob watch in the other.
“I opened it and returned to the man I was before our lifetime together. And now I have to go on without her.”
I moved to the chair right next to him, laying my hand over his arm. “It’s what Rose wanted Doctor. She’s right, you know. I can’t imagine a universe without you.”
He sighed, “I know, but it’s time for me to change. This face remembers too much, wears it like a second skin. I can’t go on without her wearing the face that grew old with her.”
Eric stared into The Doctor’s eyes. I knew he understood The Doctor’s pain, better than anyone. “I would have changed her for you, if you wanted, you know.”
“I do, I wouldn’t let her, though she offered. I was selfish. I wanted to know what it would be like to live as a man, with one woman, my whole life through,” he paused and a smile snuck onto his face. “It was a good life.”
“Then you made the right choice,” Eric replied.
The Doctor’s face lost a little bit of its weight and he explained. “Time Lords can do this thing where we regenerate our whole body, we remember what came before, but in essence we begin a brand new life. It’s why I’m here. You are the ones who gave me my life with her, and you are my last goodbye to that life.”
“Whatever you need from us,” I assured him. “We’re here.”
Linnaea Rose Northman
My mother and father told me the story of that last week with The Doctor so often I feel like I actually remember it. Remember the week he spent grieving; learning to live again. I am told we became the best of friends, The Doctor and I. We ate fish fingers and custard, hot dogs, yogurt, and French fries. By night, around the fire, he told me about Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, and the Time War.
We chased each other through the woods beyond the house, and I fell asleep in his arms every night. He let me swim in his pool and race through the hallways of the TARDIS playing hide and seek with him. His new face never bothered me, though mom tells me I used to ask her when I’d discover my new face, as if I could find it in the bottom of my toy box, tucked between Elmo and K-9.
There is only one thing I remember. The first night The Doctor laid me down to sleep, I was awakened by a brilliant light exploding across the backyard. I crawled up on my bed, peering out of my window. The Doctor seemed like an angel to me then, bathing my parents in his regeneration energy.
That’s how I remember him, glowing against a forest of trees. I watched as the sun rose behind him, and my father saw the sunrise for the first time in a thousand years. The Doctor gave my parents the gift he could never give Rose: sunshine and a life together, forever.
I never saw The Doctor again, but I’ve never given up hope that one day he’ll return.
Tonight, as I turn out my light and stare out of the same bedroom window, the sound of a snow shovel against the sidewalk, and a pulsing light like a heartbeat beckons me on my first adventure through the stars.