Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cancer: Pear-Shaped Day

Between pictures, the photographer told us to just
"Be Ourselves" for a minute. This is what we did.

I’ve been mindful of my new agency in Cathy’s life as not only a caregiver but also as a cheerleader, emotional coach, court jester, and intellectual backup. It’s not that those things haven’t been part of the deal in the implicit marriage contract to begin with, but now they are up front, twenty-four seven. And I’ve also been reminded, encouraged, and flat-out told that I have to take care of myself, as well. I’m no good to Cathy if I’m short circuiting, myself.

And yet, we still have shit to do. A business to run. Day-to-day activities to attend to. I recently turned to bullet journaling, with better results than I anticipated. It’s helping me keep up with the day-to-day so that I can handle the unexpected things that crop up. Or so I thought.


Yesterday sucked. I had one major errand to run, and it was somewhat time sensitive, in that it needed to happen during the morning so that I’d have time in the afternoon to knock my other responsibilities out. Nothing big; just a full day.

The schedule blew up. It blew up in slow-motion, like a Sam Peckinpah explosion at the end of a movie. I watched it blow up with a kind of sick fascination. Even though I was fairly sure everything was recoverable, one of my real shortcomings as a person is a continued inability to schedule on the fly. Once I make a plan of action, I stick to it. Any interruptions enrage me.

It’s a mystery to me why I overslept like I did; it wasn’t bad, just an hour or so, but it made me extra groggy and loopy and not really able to spring into action like I wanted to. Cathy, for some reason, didn’t wake me up. I later found out why; she was sick. She wasn’t throwing up, but it was close. The other meds weren’t working. She had other things happening, too. And all of this came crashing in on me through a fog of sleep when Cathy said, “I need to go in. I am not going to make it.”

Only, we didn’t just put on pants and slap leather for Wichita Falls. No, there were errands to run. Cathy insisted. Some of them were part of the necessary day-to-day operation, and I was sympathetic to this, but my window to do my errand had closed by now and I was going to have to make a hole in a day that now included taking Cathy to get an I.V. full of medicine.

I knew this was a problem. I knew it was a thing. I knew I was being an unreasonable asshole. But I was mad at all of this. Cathy was throwing me a curve ball, dammit, and I didn’t want to play sandlot today. I just wanted to work my list.

We threw a bag or two worth of stuff into the car and I took off, driving like a maniac. We slid into the parking lot of Texas Oncology on two tires, like something out of The Cannonball Run. We got her checked in, and the nurse hooked her up to the Def Con 5 nausea medicine, and I sat in the waiting room and tried without succeeding to re-organize my schedule. But I was able to calm myself and get my anger in check. This is what you do, I said to myself. You’re her legs, now. You have to be. And if your day and your schedule goes pear-shaped, then that’s just what happens. Stop fighting it.

I said that to myself, over and over, until I started to believe it.

After the infusion of Def Con 5 anti-nausea meds, Cathy came out, red-faced. She’d been crying. But she was talking, animated, and trying desperately to get happy. I felt even worse about earlier. But I agreed that we could do a couple of errands before we went and did the one thing on my list.

We were both talking around my anger. It was just so frustrating. I waited in the car while Cathy did a return at a store. It was one of those returns that also involved “just a little shopping,” and I said yes, even though I knew we’d be at it 30 minutes. At the 20-minute mark, I went looking for her. Taking deep breaths. Reminding myself that my anger at a situation was merely that—my anger.

Still, knowing and accepting are two very different things. I got out of the car, walked into the store and found Cathy in mid-transaction. She saw me and got an “oh shit” look on her face, and I just didn’t feel like fighting with her or myself any more. I smiled at her and asked her what she found. I made a big deal about liking what she’d picked out. I joked with the two sales girls who were helping her. And with everyone laughing, I thought to myself, okay, see, you don’t have to be an asshole all the time. It’s okay to just let some stuff go now and again.

Then I heard it on the in-store music: Natalie Merchant. We all call it “the ‘Thank You’ song,” but its name is “Kind and Generous.” I sort of blurted out, “hey, we played this at our wedding!” and that got an “Awww” from the sales girls and a smile from Cathy. This was the music we played during the bridesmaids walk. It was the music that played just before Cathy came into the sanctuary.

I’ve always alleged that the reason why you have ceremonies is to anchor meaningful moments in your mental map. They are landmarks on your journey through time. That song took me right back to that day, watching Cathy walk down the aisle, and I remembered how happy we were and how emotional I got…

Cathy was looking at me. She knew what was coming. “I’ll be in the car,” I said.

“Yes, do that, go, I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Take your time,” I said over my shoulder. I barely made it to the car before I was overcome with huge, soul-rending sobs. It has been a while since I’ve cried that hard. I cried for every fight we ever had, every stupid argument over something equally-stupid, every misstep, every mistake, and I cried for all of the times when she did me a kindness, or helped me in a thousand little ways or just told me the right thing at the right time. I just let it all go.

By the time Cathy was back in the car, I had calmed down. She just held my hand as we drove back to Vernon. Sometimes, that’s all you need from another person.

I’ve since kept the song on a loop in my brain to remind me that we are a two-way street, a team, and we support each other all the time and not merely when it’s convenient for us.

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