E before he quit smoking.
I’m not a mind reader. I don’t have X-ray vision. No telepathic abilities that I’m aware of. I’m definitely not a clairvoyant and the last time I checked I don’t have ESP. But on occasion I do have an acute sixth sense. Like Spider Man. Sometimes I just know something’s up.
Such was the case the night we went to visit a gravely ill friend at the hospital.
After two decades together I thought E and I shared everything. Our thoughts. Feelings. Fears. But I learned that with this cancer thing, that wasn’t true. Fact is, no one really knows for sure what’s going on inside another person’s head. Nor do we know the things kept tucked away in timorous hearts. Our interior worlds are ours alone. We share what we share. Give what we give. Reveal only what’s comfortable or safe. We’re transparent at times. But more often than not, opaque. The proverbial window into a person’s soul is often dirty. Foggy. Obscured. Dark and scary.
We rode up the hospital elevator to the seventh floor in easy silence. Each in our own private world. Elevators have this affect on us. I watched attentively as the red digital numbers over the doors changed. Floor by floor. Thankfully no one else joined us on our ride upward. I wasn’t in the mood for company. A fleeting thought of our sick friend crossed my mind. Followed by an unsettling twitch of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I took a gulp of air and let it out with flapping lips. I sounded like a horse snorting.
Just before the doors swung open, I glanced over at E. There was something about his expression that concerned me. Did it bother him to be back in a hospital? Was he looking down the road to the day he’d have to return? Was he afraid?
The doors opened. We stepped out into the bright glaring lights of the corridor. A startling contrast from the dimly lit elevator car with its hypnotic hum. The steel box that confined and contained our emotions.
Boom. Reality hit. Raw. Intense. Chilly. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“How do you feel?” I blurted out.
“I’m fine,” he auto-responded.
“No, how do you really feel?” I persisted.
“I’m tired,” he exhaled fully, releasing weeks of held emotions. “And depressed. I don’t know if I’m tired because I’m depressed. Or depressed because I’m so tired.”
“I understand,” I said.
Finally some truth. A place to start.
For the first time in a month, E fully understood that he wasn’t alone. He had me. No matter what. Although the cancer was inside his body, the journey was ours. We were in this together. The good. The bad. And the ugly. We were a shameless spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, this movie belonged to us.
The next day I sat down at my computer and wrote this poem.
The Truth About This Thing Called Cancer
Yesterday when we got off the elevator at the 7th floor
And we were heading towards room 721
To visit our friend who was back in the hospital
Having a blood transfusion
In preparation for surgery the next day
His third in nine months.
His body was covered in scars
From years of cuts and mends
Repairs and retribution
A missing foot
An ulcer on the other
Now in peril.
But this isn’t about him.
I asked you how you were feeling
No fake bullshit
No more keeping secrets.
I’m a big girl
I can hear the word cancer
The Big C
Without wanting to dive
Into the river of terror.
I’m your love
And you are mine
We’ll do this together.
So you confessed.
You said that even though
You laugh and joke
Put on your happy face
There are times that you feel tired
Because you are tired
Which makes you depressed
So you sleep
To make the depression
You can’t tell
From the effect.
I told you that I understood.
But the truth is
I only understand
Half of the equation.
I don’t know cancer
But I know depression
And the desire to sleep it away.
I know love
And the power it wields
The healing it contains
For both of us
I told you right from the start
That all I ever wanted
Was for you to
Tell me the truth.
And that goes for this thing too.