She felt limp, like a wrung out sponge smelling of mildew. Slightly nauseated. But surprisingly together. She sat, knees curled to one side in the corner of the charcoal velvet couch, fingers tracing the ring where someone had set a hot cup of tea. She leaned her head on the crook of her elbow and closed her eyes.
It was halloween and thank goodness a neighbor was hosting the annual gathering of the little ghouls and ghosts. She had thought she could do it. Wanted to in fact. It was her favorite thing they did with the neighbors. But her husband had said, “you’re crazy. no. No way.”
And so Kim down the street had the lights and the cackling cauldron out front. It was a good thing she supposed. The chemo made her lethargic and out of herself. How would she have hung paper bats like that? As airy and thin as the paper herself, and as black.
It was her third treatment. It was going better than she had pictured. She had at first felt she would die if she did these treatments. Felt threatened not by the cancer, but by the chemo treatments. She fingered the ring flattened in the velvet and the shadows shifted around her. Soon it would be time to pick up the kids from school. Eyes closed she could hear her dear friend Chris cooking in the kitchen. He had shopped that morning after picking her up from the hospital. She had slept for several hours. He had then passed the time reading until she drifted downstairs. It was funny knowing someone was just in the house.
Now there was always someone in the house. Her. The house was her little sphere now, but also there were many people in and out taking care of her family and her. And that was lovely and it was weird. She drifted around and the house went on running with very little involvement from her. Another exercise in letting go. Cancer is so much about letting go. Up until the final letting go, of death if that’s how things progress. That’s a very real end point she realized. Much more tactile than ever before much more now.
The smells of tomatoes and onions wrapped around her warmly. Later she’d find she could not eat tomatoes or onions. The heartburn would be too bad. But for now it would still be a pleasure. She had no appetite, but ate because she needed too. Ate to take care of herself even if the impulse wasn’t there. But it was forced. Many things were.
Listening to the knife sounds against the wooden chopping board, and the water running now and then as he rinsed something she thought about how long they’d known each other. It was probably 25 years now. They’d known each other since she was 16. When she had shown up junior year to a new school he was one of the mod kids. She didn’t even consider they could be friends let alone that he’d be interested in her. She was fairly normal. He was very stylish and very Californian. She remembered how her step father had automatically labeled him “gay” because he wore black eyeliner. She realized now as she thought of it that that was her first example of blatant bigotry. It permeated everything now, but then she was less aware.
She thought the eyeliner was hot. The first time she had talked to him in fact he had stepped in front of her between classes in the outdoor courtyard. Dramatically he unfurled a piece of paper and tossed his blue dyed flock of seagulls bangs out of his eyes.
“is this you?” he said.
It was her schedule of classes and address and phone number.
“How did you get that?” She said.
“I work in the guidance office, ” he answered. Then turned and walked away. He bounced on the balls of his feet, wearing china black flats. He had come on pretty strong. There was no indication then of the multiple incarnations their relationship would take over the years. From lovers, to roommates, to an old friend who would take weeks of his time to come care for her when she was sick.
He doesn’t wear eyeliner any more and he doesn’t have enough hair for bangs. Matter of fact he has no hair. He still walks on the balls of his feet, though he’s doing it very quietly now. More like tip toeing around her, bringing her tea. Making sure she gets her smoothy, nasty with all the immune supporting herbs. Like a child she complains. It tastes awful.
He says I know, but you need it. So please drink it. He would call regularly when he couldn’t come down and he would beg her to drink her smoothy.
He took care of everything, picking up the kids, feeding us all, cleaning it all up. Later when it was time for trick or treat he even had a costume. A blow up Samuri of pasty nylon. The kids giggled. They drank manhattans from a thermos as they walked. The sweet sting of bourbon cutting through the pasty metallic coating on her taste buds.
She walked with them for the two short streets they historically did and it felt hopeful. The cool air, the happy chattering of children, and rustling of wrappers. The warmth of the bourbon and the love of her friend and family. Perhaps she would make it through the next 10 months of treatment.
And she does make it through the months. Wrapped like a present, tied a little too tightly in their worry and care. Everyone’s worry was palpable, their thoughts about what what she should do and how she should do it. She knew it was because she was precious to them, and that was the positive take on all of it.
Still though, she felt wrapped.
Wrapped too tight.