There's a strange confusion of not knowing if you're telling yourself not to worry or if you're actually not worrying, and then there's the more familiar frustration of deciding that if you are worrying now, it's your own damn fault. It's your fault because it's your job to never be worried, not about this, and even the days where you're good at that are hard.
The waiting room is so familiar it's comforting, and the other people waiting are definitely not comforted by it. Sitting curled in their old but still not worn in armchairs, gnawing on fingernails or staring into space, waiting for news that must be terrifying if you've had to arrive before dawn and sit staring at the words, "Magnetic Resonance Imaging Suite," for a small eternity. I don't stare anymore. Now I scroll through a Facebook feed in which the only activity is the tired grumblings of friends in other time zones, with the cool light of the rising sun reflecting off a lake I also don't bother to stare at anymore.
The lake looks the same no matter where you are in the hospital. It looks the same when you're waiting in the MRI waiting room as it does from the spacious cancer center. It looks the same as from the rooms in the maternity annex where my children were born. It looks the same from the top of the parking lot when it's so crowded the only place left to leave your car is the sky.
The lake is always the same, in that it's always there. Steely grey, aquamarine blue, turquoise, nearly black as it churns in the apocalyptic snow. It's the same water. It's the same great blank expanse of emptiness.
It's neither comforting nor scary, and that makes it unlike everything else here. It is a fact.
I strive to make all of this like that- simply there. Maybe not eternal, but constant.
Forever means so little to me. Forever means romance and idealism, but of the adolescent sort that shrinks beneath experience and fact. The lake will not always be there, has not always been there. The Earth has not always been there, this amorphous rock covered in bacteria and humanity that spins headlong through the loneliness and chaos of space. Space, maybe that has always been there... but I doubt. I doubt there is any forever, any eternity, that truly has no beginning or end.
The only constant here, in this frayed armchair with its floral shades of grey, is love.
Today I woke in the blackness before dawn to begin the ritual of changing M's Optune. This first step isn't complicated, but he can't do it alone. Standing in my pajamas, I peeled the stickers from his head. Wiped away the melted transducer pads with baby oil from the only bottle we've ever had, our eternal baby oil that cleared my twins' cradle cap and scrubbed crayon sketches from my walls. I packed a bag with the supplies he'd need while he showered and shaved, got ready for his day, and then climbed back into bed.
I have a gigantic bag beside me, to disrupt the calm, familiar scene when he comes out of his MRI. While strangers sip coffee and pretend not to stare, I'll attach the transducers to his head according to the maps that have already become dog eared and worn. I'll laugh, no doubt. I always laugh. It's my job to laugh. Just as it's my job not to worry, however much I blame myself for both success and failure.
And in the meantime, I wait; imperfectly as the consistency of the waves on the lake.
I flew over that lake only Monday, gazing down at the flat grayness, the vague silence that shut out even the voluminous hum of the massive machine hurtling through the sky. I flew away from carefree spa days with old friends and champagne toasts with new, flying back not just to the constant concerns and affections of parenthood but to this. To a view of this same lake that challenges my sanity with its sameness.
My husband is not eternal, I know this. He will not live forever, would never have lived forever. Forever was never something we were promised. Never something we promised each other.
What he will do is live. Today, tomorrow, the next day. He will live until something inside him gives out, just as we all will. He's merely aware of the ticking clock that keeps pace with Lake Michigan's waves in a way the rest of us manage to ignore.
I'm not worried. I'm telling myself I'm not worried. I'm too tired to worry. I'm exhausted by worry. I'm exhausted. I'm worried. I'm telling myself I'm not worried.
I'm not worried.
If the tumor were going to grow back, bigger again than it was before, I tell myself it already would have. I tell myself he's dodged that bullet, that we've resumed our old waiting game. Only I don't know if I'm telling myself this or I believe it. I don't know which is safer. I know we're not really back to just waiting. Not when we're here to get prescriptions for chemo and plan for more months and months of exactly this. Of waking so early I can't move my fingers to scrape off the gel congealing behind his ears, and pack up our suitcase of rubbing alcohol and surgical tape and gauze and cart it to the waiting room and the view of the lake.
Months of waiting to find out if he's stable, or if he's not. Months of not being worried.
Years of not being worried.
A lifetime. An eternity.
I dream of a future where he has heart disease and diabetes. Where we experience the daily frustrations and anxieties of normal health hazards. Solidarity with strangers and friends constantly around us. A language familiar to everyone, the pains and hazards of aging.
I would love to lose him to something as mundane as congestive heart failure. It would mean he lived long enough to die too young, not tragically young.
All of this feels tragic, sometimes, and I hate myself for noticing. Because I'm not worried. I'm telling myself I'm not worried. I'm not worried.
He's going to take his children to their school's Father-Daughter dances. He's going to follow them through shopping malls while they load their arms with bags of clothes that are much too mature, much too risque, much too much. He's going to brush their hair from their faces as they cry on his shoulder after their first heartbreaks, and hold their arms as they walk down the aisle. He's going to hold their children and weep. He's going to hold their hands and their hearts when they're old enough to understand why mine breaks on days like this when I'm not worried.
Even that is not enough.
Even forever would not be enough.
My love is eternal, because it loves the him that I never knew, the rambunctious child and the awkward teen. It loves the him that may never be, with hip replacements and a failing memory. It loves the him that could have been, with his morning jogs through a phantom suburb and the corner office he likes for what it gives his family.
The love makes itself exist where it never was. Where it never can be. Where the lake has dried to a puddle on a scorched earth, where human life and human tragedy hasn't existed and has left no trace but the relics of its decaying skylines. Even then, I love that he has been. I love that he was.
I'm not worried.
I'm telling myself, I'm not worried.
Read more about M's cancer and treatment here: Why We Laugh in the Brain Trauma Unit
Read my latest post here: My Three Year Old Told Me She Was Being Pressured To Drink
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