Cancer, a tale

“The cancer has spread throughout her body. She waited too long to come in.”

“How long?”

“Weeks. Maybe less.”

“Weeks? What can we do?”

“Keep her comfortable. It is aggressively attacking her.”


“She is too weak. It would only speed up the process. Look, I’m sorry to say this but you have to be prepared. Sit with her. Say your good byes.”

The doctor stared at me, concern in her eyes. I could barely make her out through the tears. Her stance said she had said what she had too. Too rigid. Ready to catch me as I threw myself to the floor.

“There is nothing we can do? No test drugs? Something. There has to be something. Anything.”

Pleading. Denial. Anger. A tsunami of negative emotion sweeping through my mind. Relentless.

“I’m sorry. But she is too far gone. You have time to get her affairs in order. Listen to her. Be with her. Make the last bit of time matter.”

Hope. Isn’t that something people hold onto? Shouldn’t I feel a small sliver of that right now?

What does it feel like? Not like my guts are grinding stone. Not like the pressure in my chest is forming a diamond from the broken pieces that used to be a heart. Not this migraine rushing like a marching band through my skull.

“I want a second opinion.”

“I understand. I will call a colleague, a specialist I know. He can be here today to run some more tests.”

“Thank you.”

“I have talked with her. She said you two haven’t been close the last couple years. I went through this with my father. Trust me. Make amends before it is too late. For both of you.”

“Okay. Yeah. Amends.”

When I look at her now I don’t see that evil woman with the belt folded so the buckle makes first contact. Don’t hear the voice calling me a fat idiot. The words worse than the belt ever felt. I don’t see any of that.

I see a shattered doll. A storeroom mannequin tossed about in an earthquake.

A dessicated little thing where there once stood a giant. Shriveled and ravaged by time.

A raisin in the sun, all the hate and vitriol sapped by the heat and light.

A stranger in familiar skin. A mother in name only. The wicked witch after the bucket of water. An after image of nuclear rage.

The doctor had set her hand on my shoulder. I don’t know when. Didn’t realize I was sobbing. Why am I on my knees? Why do I cry for her? I swore I would pop a bottle of champagne on her day of reckoning.

I don’t feel like celebrating.

I wiped my eyes on the back of my sleeve and murmured an apology I didn’t mean. Stood tall and straight like an oak tree. Never bending like the willow no matter the gale force winds. And I turned to walk down the hall.

The doctor was talking but I didn’t understand the words. Meaningless syllables of nonsense. The too bright hallway seemed dimmed. Like a cloud swept across the light.

The sounds of her room felt tangible as I stood in the doorway. Her labored breathing. Beeping of heart rate, hissing of gas. Her barely occupied corpse unmoving on the too big bed. Tubes and air lines like roots growing from her body.

The monster of my childhood now the nightmare of my adult life. The television casting shadows on her sleeping face. Her fingers like gnarled branches covered in paper thin skin.

I felt the urge to go to her side and hold her hand. To tell her I forgive her. Thank her for the gift of life. Apologize for the decade of silence.

But I didn’t. I stood with tears falling down my cheeks and looked at her for a time. Like a spell had been cast upon me and wouldn’t allow me to enter the room of her death. The spirits barring my way. Leadened legs and concrete shoes.

I wanted to yell at her to get up. Stop faking for sympathy. Get up and let’s go get a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of wine. Make your famous ham and scalloped potatoes and we can sit like a family again. Call me names and let me know how I disappointed you this time.

Make another promise you never meant to keep.

Hit me again.

Anything but lay there and die.

But I didn’t. And she didn’t. And nothing happened but me walking away. Calling the elevator and finding my car to drive home. Home in the bottom of a bottle. Home in a ball hating myself for caring. Hating myself for not going in the room. Hating myself for wanting her to get better. For praying she died. For being everything she called me. For deserving every single lashing strike.

For not feeling that thin strand of hope.

I never went back. Three day later the phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number. As I heard the doctor tell me via voice mail she had died I sat and let the sorrow fall.

So much for second opinions. Second chances. So much for hope and hatred. It all equalled up to a zero loss zero gain.

The cancer her last gift to me.


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