Posted Monday, April 26th, 2010
The Last Time
You sat at the patio table on a plush, tan and green striped cushioned chair, fully in the shade. Your brown, peeling skin was taut across your bones, your jaundiced eyes hidden behind giant, stylish sun glasses. Three inches of hair covered your head. Your collar bones and new portacath protruded from your pink Nike t-shirt.
The backyard was vibrant with summer blossoms and foliage: roses, day lilies and hostas, lush shrubs and trees I can’t name. You had bought the house in October – and the garden someone else had planted was now yours to enjoy. Every morning, you looked out the window to see what new flower had sprouted – a surprise, something to get up for, you said.
You looked out of season surrounded by that fertile, summer garden. A dried leaf ready to fall from the branch. I tried to ignore this fact. I wondered if you did too.
We were having dinner – your husband, your mother, Noelle, you and me. We had green salads and fresh berries, white fish with rice and a rich, chocolate dessert. You ate everything. I was surprised and happy because I knew that sometimes you couldn’t eat. Sometimes everything came back up.
We talked about the weather, friends, my new daughter and motherhood, Noelle’s job, about the upcoming round of chemo and buying new wigs. You said you couldn’t wait – anything would be better than how you were feeling lately. I heard you emphasize anything and wished I could see your eyes behind the dark glasses.
You joked about how weird it was that my boobs were huge and yours were tiny, shriveled sacs. It was usually the other way around. I smiled but felt self-conscious about my milk-laden breasts. They were already dictating my timeline – I had exactly three hours to be away from my breastfeeding two month old. I felt the weight of my breasts grow as the deadline approached.
You lifted your shirt and showed us your distended, battle-scarred abdomen – a long pinkish line over your liver and countless other slits where you’d been opened and probed and sewn back up. They looked fresh; the stitches hadn’t fully healed yet.
I felt my milk let down and looked at the clock. It was time to go but I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave you. I wanted to somehow rewind the last year and erase the cancer diagnosis. I wanted to give you back your perky C-cups, your gorgeous hair, your young carefree life. I wanted to take off your sun glasses, look into your eyes and ask you the questions that have been pacing in my brain for months. I wanted to heal you, to somehow nurse you into health. I was already sustaining one life with my milk, why not two? My body knew exactly what to give my baby to survive. Maybe it would know what you needed too.
I wanted to do all of these things but did none of them. The sun slipped lower and shadows lengthened across your yard. Dogs barked, a basketball thumped and children squealed. Cars drove by and planes flew overhead. My cell phone vibrated with my husband’s text: the baby won’t stop crying.
You should take some hostas, you said. We have so many.
Noelle accepted and I declined. My time was up, I had to go. I stood up and hugged you, careful not to squeeze too tight. I didn’t want to hurt you but wanted you to know that I loved you. I said I was sorry I had to go and thank you so much for dinner. We’ll have to do it again soon. You said yes, soon. I said good luck with the chemo and squeezed your cold hand but didn’t say good bye.
I let myself out. I walked through the kitchen noticing the counter full of large plastic pill bottles, each one filled with a different color. I walked up the hallway to the front door and saw a walker near the foot of the stairs. I knew you didn’t use it much; I knew your husband had been carrying you up and down those stairs for weeks. Your house didn’t smell like you; it smelled of sickness and fresh cut flowers.
As I drove home, I cried. And I hoped and wished as hard as I'd ever hoped and wished that this would not be the last time I saw you.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Carrie Carlson [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 at 6:10 PM
Melissa, thank you for writing such a lovely tribute, for this lovely woman. You captured the essence of how we all felt.
Posted by Donna Levy [ email@example.com
] on Saturday, May 1st, 2010 at 8:36 AM
Who could not be moved by your poignant story? Very well done. Love, Donna