Save me 'til the party is over
Kiss me in the seat of your Rover
Real sweet, but I wish you were sober
-Wish You Were Sober, Conan Gray
The C Word
No, not the four letter word.
The six letter one.
When you answer the phone and it’s not the nurse but the doctor, you know shit is serious.
It’s painful for me to talk about, even with Alicia.
Once, I opened up to her about it. I sat in her office this time, the lights dim and a blue box of tissues next to me that I didn’t think I would need.
I used all of them.
So much so that she fucking gave me another small box at the end of our session because I couldn’t stop the tears. I still have it in my car console as a reminder of all I've been through. Sometimes I use them to pat away the tears that escape the high-end mascara trick I've told you about.
Even now, my stomach clenches and my chest is tight thinking about telling you this.
I found out the day Frank died.
That’s what I was yelling at him about. No, not that it was his fault per se. But it could have been.
The doctors weren’t sure what caused it but uterine cancer was confirmed. It would be a miracle if they saved my ovaries and I didn’t need to be on hormonal treatments at twenty-five which would increase my risk of other kinds of cancer.
My hands were shaking when my doctor called me and I remember frantically writing down the names and numbers of oncologists and surgeons who would be reaching out to schedule the surgery if that’s the route I wanted. It was certainly the one they recommended.
Funny how the doctor had me take the names and numbers down. I mean, when people tell you life-altering news they generally give you a moment before they expect you to move on. To function. To be able to maintain a single cohesive thought without breaking down because, as we all know, life goes on.
Even the end of a life still marches on ruthlessly and without reprieve.
Like pumping the brakes on a car headed for a cliff, there’s only so much you can do before you roll on, ever onwards to the bitter end.
Life’s just that way. The wise know it moves on and they move quickly with it, lest they fall behind and are caught up in the aftershock of trauma’s wake.
I am not wise.
I’ve always been a little foolish that way. Clinging to the false hope that I didn’t need to move on so quickly, that maybe life would stop for me.
It never does.
As unceremoniously as we are yanked naked and bloody into this world, we go out. Screaming and clawing all the way, holding onto life with the fragile fingers of a body breaking and a soul clinging on out of some innate sense of survival.
It jars me that I am no longer talking about life in the abstract.
My life in the abstract.
I must now face the reality that my life hangs in the balance as meek and as breakable as the stem of a red-bud clover.
My life. My death . Not abstract anymore.
Funny how the immortality of youth fades out. Not in a slow, gradual decline of believability but in the quick snuff of a candle flame. One moment you’ll live forever and the next, you’re as good as dead and cold in the ground next to some soul that passed three-hundred-years ago.
Our existence is held in the balance of a cell phone conversation. Mine was.
The moment I picked up the call, I became mortal. In the very real and tangible sense, I died. A sort of small death, but a death nonetheless. You stop existing when you hear you’re dying.
That’s when you truly start to live.
I remember hanging up the phone and staring blankly ahead of me at my desk, eyeing the letter-opener that had been in my office since the dawn of time, long before I practiced law there.
I wanted to take it and plunge it into my gut and cut the damn tainted cells and organs out myself. Knowing, just knowing something dark and evil and sick and twisted was growing unabated inside of me was enough to make my skin crawl. I wanted it out. Out, out.
Then came the surgeon consults, I had two.
One was a male surgeon, an older gentleman who looked at me and said, “No kids? You sure you don’t want any?”
As calm and cool as if he'd asked if I'd wanted a slice of lemon to go in my ice water.
Of course I fucking want children you goddamn idiot!
As if I wasn’t already sitting there with a fucking paper dress on wrapped around my nether regions, I had to sit there and look at this bastard questioning if I wanted to risk death itself to give birth.
I definitely reported him for that. To whatever end, I'll never know.
Thankfully, the female surgeon was gentle in her questioning as I signed my rights away and my acknowledgement that I would never get pregnant after the surgery.
They fucking make you sign that shit.
About three papers of consent to remove your ability to have children.
I wish I were kidding.
Liabilities and all.
Trust me. As a lawyer, I get the logical reason for it. The ethical one? Not so much. But what is ethics in the land of medical malpractice and lawsuits?
The finality of it all plants a seed of doubt in my mind that I succumb to in a moment of pure idiocy.
I look at my new surgeon, Rachel. I call her by her first name, she insists.
“Can I? I mean figuratively, if I wanted to? Can I postpone the surgery and actually have a baby?”
Rachel’s hazel eyes were kind and she pushed her blonde ringlets out of her ever-so-slightly protruding eyes to answer.
“Yes,” She chose her words carefully, “But I’m not going to lie to you, Claire. The risks are great. You would have to conceive as soon as possible if you wanted to. But honey…”
She reaches out a small hand, cold from washing it in the medical sink next to me.
How much it means and how little it takes.
Concern and honesty.
This is why I picked her.
Picked her to gut me open in a four-hour-long surgery to explore my abdominal cavity and remove all the living death in my organs.
“I’ll be completely honest with you, I don’t recommend waiting.”
I bite my lower lip and nod, tearfully.
“Let’s do it. I want it done as soon as possible.”
My voice sounds strange to my ears. Dull and dead.
She held my hand and pressed it gently, a sad smile on her face as she nodded and quietly brought me the forms to sign over the rights to my fertility permanently.
With no thought to the burden of controlling my body, God gave me the ability to have children.
With much thought into the burden of making the responsible decision, I sign over my rights to have any.
Seems like a decent exchange of power, huh?
Curse God and die.
In the book of Job, all his friends tell him to curse God and die in the face of plagues and tortuous loss.
I didn’t cry when my husband died.
Pretty sure God isn’t listening to me anyway.
I’ll save my breath for the Savior who won’t save me.
His absence from my life has always been a curse in and of itself.
I’ll not waste the precious time I have left in cursing Him.
I don’t tell people it’s an option to try right away. To risk my health and my life.
Least of all my mother.
She’s literally in my phone under that, sometimes I change the name to “Mommy Dearest” when I’m drunk.
I call her in the coming week to tell her I may need her to watch Adso for me.
“Uh, I guess I can move some things around, why?”
Her voice is cold but so am I. I learned from the best, Mommy Dearest.
I tell her the truth and expect nothing. She delivers.
“But… but this means you won’t be able to have kids.”
“But you’ve always wanted kids. What about grandkids? God, this is awful.” I can hear her eyebrows twitching on the other end of the phone. The way they always do when she’s mad at me.
“I know, Mom.”
“Well, can’t they like... do treatments or something first. I don’t know, Claire. A hysterectomy seems kinda dramatic for all that…”
Hot tears rush to my eyelashes and I don’t bother blinking them back as they run down my face.
I’m fragile lately.
This morning I forgot to push start on my coffee machine and actually burst into tears when I didn’t have a ready pot waiting for me after my shower.
My inner bitch rears her head to answer this one.
“Hmm. Got it. Well, when “all that” is an aggressive form of uterine cancer, I’d rather not take my chances, mk?”
I know I’m being sassy to her.
I’m walking a dangerous line.
If I’m too mean or sassy she won’t help me. I’ll need someone to watch Adso. I need Joe to physically help me to and from the hospital.
“Well, let me know when it is then and I’ll see if I can move some stuff around.”
“Okay, will do.”
I hang up.
Curse whoever invented the cellular phone. Hanging up on one doesn’t have the same effect as a landline. You could slam that motherfucker down on the receiver and the other person would know you told them off with that final clack of plastic to plastic.
That was the last time I really talked to her or asked her to watch Adso for me. Now Joe, or my neighbor Bev, does it for me.
Speaking of Joe, I haven’t been honest with you and I apologize. I guess it’s time I told you everything.
Ah, Joe and me.
The duo that would never, ever work.
Not in a million years.
Except one night, we did.
Joe visits me that night after work.
I’m already half-drunk.
I squint my eyes at him. He’s just started shaving his head and I’m still not used to it.
He has a perfectly round cranium and looks a lot like a chocolate Teddy Graham cookie right now, complete with arms outstretched to greet me and a cautious smile on his face.
“Sorry, would have been here sooner, got caught up at rehearsal. Bit of a MIA case with our lead guitar at the moment, but I’m here… oh honey, what’s wrong?”
He rushes to me and wraps his arms around me, I sink into them and crumple like a piece of wet paper that’s been left in the rain. Too soggy and drunk to read.
I take his hand and lead him through my house until we’re cross legged on my living room floor with two good bottles of wine and two full glasses. I’ve lit a few candles around me for some ambience but it seriously looks and feels more like a prayer circle.
Joe looks unnerved. I mean, I guess it does kinda look like I’m a witch about to practice some dark magic here with a human sacrifice, but for fuck’s sake, he knows me. Murder is illegal. We’ve both worked too hard for the bar to falter now as I teeter on the brink of full-on insanity.
I’ve been toying with it since Frank passed. God knows I’ve wanted to slip away altogether.
But not tonight, tonight is different. I need to be drunk to be deathly serious. I can't do this sober.
“Ookay.” Joe nods surely. “What we drinking to, babe?”
“The end of an era.”
I dramatically toss my hair back and hold up my glass in the air above my head, looking up at it from the bottom. It looks as dark as a rum raisin and tastes just as delicious.
“A goodbye to Frank Randall. Farewell to my fertility. I have my surgery date and they’re gonna rip me apart like some science experiment and put me back together again. Think they’ll make me bionic if I ask?”
A bionic vagina. Could have perks. I’ll ask Rachel.
“I have no idea what you’re-” Joe frowns and looks rather alarmed.
I blurt it all out before I can think on it. He needs to know.
“Cancer. The c-word. Uterine cancer. Farewell to all my hopes and dreams.” I down the glass and look at him.. “I shall never, ever, ever….be a mother.”
A painful hiccup escapes me.
There’s not exactly two of him in front of me. Maybe one, one and a half.
His dark face pales to light taupe in the candlelight.
“Wait. You’re sure? Like sure sure….”
“Yes, I’m fucking sure. How would you like to live with a disgusting looking abnormal cell replicating in your body like fucking wildfire? Only a matter of time before it’s in my bones and then I’m walking death, so yes I’m fucking sure, Joseph Abernathy.”
“No…. I mean, cancer .” The air leaves his lungs faster than he can think as his mind races to catch up. “They’re sure that’s it?”
“So I’m told. You know me, Joe. I’m thorough. Now get me thoroughly wasted so I don’t spend another night fucking crying over this.”
Joe nods and purses his lips, his eyes dark and confused.
“I want you to have this. Signed, sealed and notarized.” I reach over and pull out a neat envelope I took from the office.
“Last will and testament. Just in case. I know, I know. Tres morbid. But come on, you know it’s the first thing I did since I didn’t have one and dealing with Frank’s estate was a hot mess.”
Joe opens his mouth and closes it again sputtering his dismay into the silence.
“Yes, you fucking get my fur-son. So treat him well. As far as the rest of it, burn it for all I care. Don’t feel bad. I don’t. You remember what I told you to do after they cremate me, right?”
Joe doesn’t smile, but I do. We cackled that night in law school when I told him I wanted him to find Leonardo DiCaprio and throw my ashes at him. What? I admire his work and wanna be a part of him somehow after I’m gone.
“Fucking hell, Claire… I… I don’t know what to say,” He stammers. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I demand, my voice louder than I intend it. “Drink.”
“Better this way,” I muse to myself as I rest my head on his shoulder on my couch.
He’s solid and his shoulder is round and warm and his sweater is soft.
“Could’a had kids with Frank. As if. Seriously. Nope better this way. Twenty-five year old fucking widow with no baby-making organs. How the fuck is anyone going to love me now?”
I run my hand down his arm and feel his sweater soft under my touch. October. My favorite month. Least if I don’t make it, I’ll go out during my favorite season. Autumn.
Joe stiffens up suddenly and looks down at me.
“I love you.”
“Do you now?” I’m barely listening. The alcohol is buzzing through my head and I’m trying to focus on whatever is playing on the tv in front of us. I forgot what movie he put on, but it doesn’t matter anymore since neither of us are watching. We're touching each other's hands in the slow, heavy way people have when they're drunk. When all inhibitions are gone and people are at their most honest.
“Cross my heart." He says quietly.
“Okay, Joseph Abernathy. Make me a promise then, eh?” I scramble up from his shoulder and look at him seriously. I close one eye to see straight and hold out my pinky finger.
Joe catches it in his own. His hands are warm and solid and everything I’m not. Something about him makes it easy for me to blurt out my pipe dream.
“Be my maybe? Someday? Shit, if we’re fifty and still single...”
Joe chuckles and nods, “Whatever you want, Lady. I accept this very drunk proposal.”
“I am sotally tober!” I whine, slurring my words together on purpose now.
“Sure, I guess if my future wife’s gonna be a lush I better get used to it.”
He’s smiling now. More to himself than to me but I look at him and my heart goes soft.
“You’re blushing.” I crook a finger and giggle as I tickle under his chin.
He slaps it away.
“Fifty. It’s a date. You, me, the courthouse. We’ll adopt a three-legged dog and call it Tipsy after you and buy some condo on the beach in Barbados after I retire. Sounds good?”
I smile like a sleepy kitten.
My clumsy drunk hand reaches out and grabs his cheek, pulling him towards me. Before I realize what I’m doing, I plant a very sloppy, wet, utterly disgusting kiss on his full lips.
To my shock, he kisses back.
It isn’t half bad, either. Of course I’m drunk now so don’t take my word for it.
But it has more feeling than I expected it to. It still feels a bit like trying on a shoe that doesn’t quite fit, but you really like the style of it and want it to suit you.
I reached out to him needing comfort and he gave it to me without reservation.
My face contorts into wrinkles and my nose starts pricking again all over with the sure sign of… yup, tears are now streaming down my face.
“Oh honey, no.” Joe shakes his head and wipes them away with his sweater sleeves. “I gotcha.”
I close my eyes and hold onto him, holding his hand as it wraps around my shoulders.
“I always gotcha, Lady Jane. Always.”
My shoulders shake as silent sobs wrack my body.
“I love...you…” I gasp out.
“I’ve always known, honey.” Joe smoothes my hair like a child. “Never, ever doubted it.”
He holds me while I soak his shirt in the tears of half-dead as I mourn the life I’ll never have with the man I’ll never have it with.
Well, now you know.
Joe is the only man I’ve ever truly loved. Even platonically. Until now.
What I wouldn’t give to take back my decision that day. Maybe if I’d have pursued other lines of treatment, other witch-doctor remedies… maybe …
Maybe is a dangerous game.
In order to remain in the land of the living, I give over my right to create life. A decision I never once doubted until now.
When I met a pair of blue opal eyes that made me want to risk my life a thousand times over for just one maybe.