More Letters to Cherie

It makes me angry, now, to watch Battlestar Galactica. One of the main characters, President Laura Roslin, has cancer, and it hurts me and makes me angry all at once, that she looks nothing like a cancer patient. Oh, they give her a skincap once in awhile to show her bald, and her wig is sufficiently un-shiny to look like a wig rather than natural hair, but other than that, she just looks tired all the time. Like, mother-of-three-children tired, not fighting-for-her-life tired. They tried a little harder with a cameo role of a character that died of cancer--but they but such odd, harsh makeup on her that she just looked dirty, like she'd been playing in mudpies. She was still fleshy, whole, untouched by disease--just dirty.

It makes me think of your graveside service, when I see Laura Roslin. It reminds me that standing next to your coffin was probably the hardest thing I have had to do in my entire life. I thought it would be difficult, beforehand--I had no idea.

It was all I could do, hanging physically on to Jayne for dear life and biting my lip, to keep from screaming and throwing myself forward. If it had been an open-casket service, I don't think I would have made it.

I kept looking at that coffin and picturing your disease-wasted body lying there. And I think it was painful on two levels. I wanted to throw myself onto your body, to touch your body one last time, to see your golden eyelashes and your freckles--it was some deep visceral need that I didn't anticipate or understand. And on another level, I couldn't stand to even imagine your wasted body there, so unlike the body I used to know, before it was twisted by cancer and treatments and prescription drugs. I know in either case, I know, that that body is not you, was never you, even before that disease captured you. I know that your "you-ness," your soul, is long gone and destined for a better locale. But that didn't make it any easier.

The last time I saw you, barely able to lift your legs onto the recliner footrest, your legs were mostly bone, kneecaps knobily protruding from what had once been vibrant, muscular legs, capable of back-handsprings and running after two energetic kids. Your arms were so thin that it's painful to even think of it, and your face was swollen from the steroids--you wryly compared it to a chipmunk's. You made us all laugh at your comments about your complete lack of any butt, the fact that you could still somehow gain weight in your face and your stomach. But in the end, it was so hard to see you look so alien, to wonder where that body I had known had gone. To see my strong, vibrant friend so frail.

So I see these characters on TV shows, in movies--they all have cancer now. It seems everwhere I turn, there's a plot where someone dies. I'm sure everyone feels this way when they lose someone. But still, it makes me so angry. I want them to take the President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galatica, and make her face look pinched and drawn--or swollen by drugs. I want to see her arms look thin and wasted, her legs look so frail as to nearly be incabable of supporting her body. It makes me resent her, that her acting expects me, the audience, to be sympathetic toward her plight, to fear for her health and feel sorrow for her pain. I simply don't believe it. She doesn't look sick, or exhausted. She doesn't have cancer, and I know it. My suspension of disbelief is no longer willing.

I cry a lot more now, at anything. Part of it is that every plot line is related to death, or cancer, often both. Part of it is that emotion seems always to be bubbling just beneath the surface--good ones, bad ones, all kinds. Except for those days when I'm too numb to feel anything. On those days, I wonder if I'm dispassionate, or happy you're no longer in pain, or too busy to feel anything, or forgetting you, or if I'm simply over your death. But I'm not--it's just another wave of numb, to be followed by another wave of sorrow. In and out, the tides flow.

I feel like no one who's not in this sorrow with me can understand. I need to talk about you, think about you, look at your pictures and--even more so--your handwriting. When I look at your handwriting, you seem so alive. Perhaps everyone feels this way, or perhaps it's just that in high school and college, we wrote so much together--stories, yes, but also notes in class and goofing around. We didn't write notes and then hand them to each other, we wrote entire conversations, sometimes talking at the same time, sometimes simply silently communicating through words. Your handwriting is, to me, like your voice--therefore reading it isn't like watching some static photograph of you. It is you, almost audibly speaking to me, in the present.
Your photo is on my bedside table, on my desk at work, and I've been carrying your senior picture with me in my backpack for weeks. I feel like anyone who doesn't understand will see it as some bizarre shrine, some evidence that I don't believe you're in Heaven, or that I'm obsessed. I think it's just my way of reaching out for your presence, not to hold you on earth, but to know that my (I keep using the word "vibrant," what's another word for this, for you?) hilarious creative friend is still alive. Not here on earth, but alive in a far more real way.

Everything I just wrote was about my own selfish sorrow--I certainly feel a lot of that, but it's tempered by my knowledge that for you, this is better. You are happier, you are without pain, you are waiting for us. But I also hurt far more for your family, particuarly for your mom and your sister. I cannot fathom what they must feel, knowing that their sorrow must be so much deeper than my own. It makes me unspeakably sad, and it strengthens my resolve in the promise I made you. And I pray for them, oh I haven't prayed this much in years. When I hurt for them, I pray.

And I remember what you told Mom, at Sasha's funeral, that it wasn't sad, that this was just the beginning for her. That it wasn't a waste of her young life, but that she got to go on to the real life that much sooner. And I know you were right, that you are right. Sometimes I can nearly see your wry smile as you shake your head about all the fuss we're making. But it's so amazingly hard, being left behind. I cannot believe it, it amazes me constantly how hard it is. I didn't see you every week, every day. I lived far away, I hadn't lived in the same room as you for twelve years. And still, it is this hard.

I've been talking a lot with a friend at work, who lost her younger brother in a car accident three months ago. I cannot believe, at times, that she is able to keep going. She didn't get a last chance to say goodbye like I did, she had no idea that this was coming, that he would be lost in an instant in a car crash. I know it's incredibly difficult for her, every single day--and I'm thankful that she talks to me about it, that we each have someone who understands a bit of this experience.

I started reading "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion, about the year after her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. I'd been wanting to read it for over a year--and now it's exactly what I wanted. I would have thought the last thing I'd want is to read a book about grief--but that's what I want, to hear someone else say "this is how it is" and "this is okay" and "you might later expect this." It makes me cling to Alex like he's a life preserver, or like he might suddenly vanish. It makes me almost want to have kids and screw that I'm not ready for that or wanting them at this moment--but just in case, just in case. To quote "The Time Traveler's Wife," when Claire talks about wanting a child with her husband, Henry:

"...I wanted Henry to be in this child, so that when he was gone he wouldn’t be entirely gone, there would be a bit of him with me…insurance, in case of fire, flood, act of God."

I know it's irrational, and we'll wait for kids at the right time, if and when it comes. And I know that ultimately Alex's safety--and mine, and everyone else's--is up to God. But right now I feel like I'm clutching desperately at everyone, to keep them close.

And in the end, if that makes me reach out to my friends more often, treasure each moment with them more dearly, then I think that would make you happy. So I'll wipe my eyes--yet again--and I'll do just that.

1 comment:

Kali Shanti said...


We just found out this past weekend that Joel's cousin has cancer. He starts aggressive chemo soon. Joel only has two cousins. His name is Alex and has four kids and a wife.

Tragedy, daily, in this rebellious world.