“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”. Ecclesiastes 3:1
Because of you.
I have become infinitely more grateful.
You declared your battle.
And we became your army.
The difference is……..we were scared.
And you were brave.
I stand in the shower, and I think of you.
I run my fingers across my scalp, counting my blessings; thinking about the twisted strands of fate I’ve done nothing to earn, and certainly do not deserve. I marvel at the thin, limp tresses plastered to my back, unfairly attached, as I work the shampoo through my hair. I’m grateful for this small gift, this prideful conceit……the luxury of locks firmly rooted, my worthless vanity intact. I think of you, and I’m amazed. Truly. Incredibly. Utterly. Amazed.
I wonder how you did it; how you retained your composure while the furry, woolly chunks ejected themselves into your hands. Where did you find the strength to ‘share’ the silky swaths of hair, ungraciously evicted by the chemo? I cried for your glorious golden mane, when you were compelled to shave it off. And maybe you cried too, behind closed doors, in private places and quiet spaces.
But for us, you adjusted the tilt of your head, chin held high; resolute and unflinching, regal and steadfast in your optimism. As if to spare us. We, who were going through nothing. Sheltering us, safeguarding us……..from the panic and uncertainty, the naked ragged fear. And because you were strong, we believed we could be strong too.
I make my breakfast, and I think of you.
I set the kettle to boil, inhale the spice and earth of freshly ground coffee. I ponder its pungent aroma, so appealing, yet something that could easily roil a queasy stomach. I consider my good fortune to have this abundant appetite, and the strength to perform these simple tasks. I am grateful, to be in a moment of truce with my own body. For the first time in a long time, I feel an unlikely affection for my thick thighs, my generous curves; strong reserves of energy should my body decide to forsake me. I am conscious of the nourishment that my system accepts with ease, aware of the fragility of this perishing human shell, this body I so easily take for granted.
I think about you and your slender frame; the delicate petite-ness of you…..forced to withstand so much. The chemo is a bitch on the body. I grab a mug, pour the scalding water, the acrid scent of wilting lemons rising in the sleepy air. I contemplate your fatigue, the queasiness, the series of prescriptions that keep your nausea at bay. Yet, you are unyielding………firm in your conviction that you will beat this thing, this monster. You are a fighter, a warrior, a pocketful of feist. You are guts and grit and unwavering determination. And because you were hopeful, we believed we could be hopeful too.
And then the sky fell.
So many words.
All the wrong words.
Tumour. Growth. Treatment. Not. Working. Radiation. Months. Months. Months.
I used to love words.
FUCK. YOU. CANCER!!!!!
FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK U!!!!!!!!
And in that instant, the earth cleaved beneath my feet.
An existential bitch-slap in the face.
I’d been living in a fucking fantasyland: a nirvanian, elysian, utopian world of my own invention. One inhabited by unicorns dressed in rainbows, sprinkling cures and remissions like Midas with a bag of golden glitter. Good is supposed to triumph over evil, justice is supposed to prevail, and beautiful heroines vanquish the evil demons. That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? Wasn’t that the deal we made when we bought our ticket for this ride called life?
What the actual fuck?
There are coloured ribbons!!
And F*ck Cancer t-shirts!!!!
People aren’t supposed to die from this shit anymore!!!
Not unless they’re old and frail and ‘had a good life’.
I’m bereft……..and deeply ashamed.
I’d naively gone about my business, more or less assuming that this was all a mere formality, everyone being extra cautious, ultra-vigilant, doing their due diligence. Procedures would be undertaken, doctor’s orders would be followed. The troops would rally, healing being obvious and imminent. Something to be filed under the “this too shall pass” chapter of life, and the twisted shit it likes to dole out. I never imagined any other possibility, couldn’t fathom it ending any other way.
I did you a disservice.
I should have done so much more.
I should have understood so much more.
How dare this disease dig its clutches into you, a sweet undeserving friend…..a beautiful young mother with everything to live for. A life unfinished. There are children to raise, graduations to attend; weddings and births and grand-babies to hold. So much to do, and a clock ticking far too fast.
Never has there been a more loving mother, a more devoted wife. Somehow you knew, before you knew….that staying home with your family was the right choice, the only choice. And when your babies were no longer babies, you remained steadfast in your conviction. Maybe the universe knew something……gently guiding you, giving you an intuition that time would be precious….fleeting….and measured.
And you take such good care of them……….orbiting their world with a fierce protection and a tender heart. Your family always takes priority, the big rocks in your jar. And lady, you should be so proud! You raised them…..and you raised them up!! They’ve come out phenomenally – true wonders to behold. Your son – handsome, brilliant and motivated; a young man resolved in his goals and his determination. And your girl is lovely and smart, funny and precocious….the spitting image of her beautiful mother. And while they may not realize it yet, the years will deepen their sibling relationship. Rivalry will yield to history, a gift – each to the other. They are your greatest creation: your legacy, your pièce de résistance, an artful treasure left to this wonderful world. They are what your love made.
And that’s why we feel so helpless.
Nothing we can throw at this goddamn body snatcher makes a bit of difference. This isn’t a problem that’s healed by our politics or our pocketbooks. We want to take action!! We want to murder this mother-fucking home wrecker. Our impotence is agonizing. We want to DO SOMETHING…..ANYTHING!!!!!
We feel completely useless to you.
My gifts are words, an invention of scrapings in the dirt. They are powerless against the math and the science; the division that multiples, the cells wreaking havoc in your body.
I’m so bloody angry, frightfully and viciously vexed.
Miserably, rage-fully, wrathfully, bitterly, mother-fucking mad as hell!!!
I am bargaining with a God that I don’t really know, and I’m not even sure that I believe in………a crisis of faith. File the relationship under “It’s Complicated”. Yet, I persist through my doubts, sending wishes to the heavens on the feathers of an angel’s wings. Begging and bartering……for the days and weeks and months and years that are deserved, but no longer promised. I want for you what the rest of us have…….not a lifetime guarantee, but the benevolent bliss of blindness. We believe our day of reckoning undetermined and distant: sometime far, far away. When we are long in the tooth……..plagued by wrinkles and crinkles and flossy hair; withered bodies, battered by life, eroded by love. So I’m pleading for a miracle, trying to cash in on those random acts of kindness. Because miracles walk among us, and the magical and the inexplicable happen every day. And I am devout in my faith of choice: that life is crazy-beautiful, and we can all believe “six impossible things before breakfast”.
And because we are not ready to let you go…….I want you to fight girl!
We need you to fight like you’ve never fought before!!!
I want you to weave your hands into the fabric of time and hold on for dear life! May your nails grow ragged and raw, bloody to the quick……scratching and screaming and clawing your way out of this darkness.
And when it all becomes too much, I want you to rest.
And reach up, into the light.
And grab a hand.
A thousand hands.
And we will hold space for you.
Until you are ready to fight again.