I’m sad tonight. Not sad like a few nights ago, not sobbing sad, just quietly, tiredly sad. It’s starting to break all of us. Tonight I watched a grown man crumble, literally, his legs give out beneath him, fall to the ground on his knees and sob those wrenching sobs that steal your breath and make you wheeze. He is K’s partner. They have two children. They had talked about adopting a third.
Grief is such a strange thing. I noticed this when we were all gathered around T’s hospital bed. K has cancer. T is still unconscious after a suicide attempt. MJ’s mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer as he’s approaching his 31st birthday, two years longer than doctors gave him to live when he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease seven years ago. Yes, he’s gay. No, it isn’t AIDS. I’m not sure why I’m still angry when that’s the first thing people ask. You’d think I’d know this world by now, I’ve lived in it this many years.
So one of us with cancer. One of us unconscious (though no longer in a coma). T’s partner, pale and thin, for the first time in the years I’ve known him, he actually looks fragile. K’s partner who drove out with me, looking solemn, which, sadly, isn’t a new look for him after four years and three battles with K’s leukemia.
K looks peaceful, his face is unlined with the worry that marks T’s partner’s face. But I know that is an illusion. K, I’ve known since I was twelve. We’ve been lovers and we’ve been friends, and I know the blankness, when he has retreated far into himself.
I can’t see myself but I can feel my own expression, alternately as blank as K’s and tightening at my jaw as a wave of grief rises and I grit my teeth to stop it from spilling out from my eyes, from trembling on my lips.
Ten minutes ago we were laughing. Laughing in a hospital room, talking about string cheese, of all the stupid things. Grief is like that. Islands of peace, islands even of laughter, and then the shift back to tears, or silence, or anger… Sometimes the shifts are so blurry I find myself crying even as I’m still laughing. Someone would say something, innocently recall a memory, and suddenly the reality of how things are now, how different from how they were, hits everyone like brass knuckles to the gut and laughter becomes the struggle not to cry again…
K has chosen not to do chemo or radiation for this bout of leukemia. The doctors can’t tell how much time he will have, if the cancer will progress, it’s still in an early stage. He might survive if he treated it now. He might get well and live another fifty years. He might see his son graduate from high school, get married… He might see his daughter have her first child, his first grandchild… Maybe, maybe, maybe. Or maybe he’d die anyway, in isolation, sick from the chemo, in pain, sick, and alone. He wants to die at home, if it comes to that. We’re all still talking in positive language, lots of “if it comes to that” because… he’s not sick enough to remind us all that he’s dying, yet, so we can still pretend that maybe things won’t go the way the doctors say they will. But if it comes to that… he wants to die on his own soil, at home, with his ancestors…
No one knows what will happen with T, either. He wanted to die, and his plan was good. So many things had to go right in sequence that he could never have anticipated for his life to be saved. But here he is, living in the twilight, his worst nightmare. In his darker moments when he and I would sit outside and look at the mountains that the lake and the stars, anything but each other, and say the darkest things that we can’t say to anyone else… he told me that there are times when the strongest tie keeping him to this life is the fear of attempting suicide and failing and crippling himself for life. None of us say that now. We won’t talk about it. It is another “if it comes to that” which none of us wants to rush towards by discussing it.
MJ is in New Mexico with his mother while she goes through surgery and will stay while she goes through chemo and radiation. Somehow I had the hubris to think I had settled my debts with the pain of my own mother’s breast cancer. But talking to him opened wounds that I thought were sealed and healed. I cried all over again, for him, for his mother, for his father, for my own childhood, for my mother and my grandmother… for The Clan of the One-Breasted Women which is my birthright and my fate to join.
Six months ago I was making jokes about the 2012 doomsday prophecies… As the date approaches and one after another of us is taken to our knees… Superstitions start to whisper words of doubt in my pragmatic mind. Am I cursed? Am I a curse on all who touch me? Is the world really coming to an end, but not in a dramatic and fiery fashion, but by a thousand paper cuts? Perhaps the whole world isn’t ending, perhaps only mine… though even in my grief I can’t quite make myself that self-important.
I’m tired. I tried to remember today when I used to enjoy writing. Used to enjoy anything at all. Now I only feel weary when I think of doing the things I once enjoyed.
I just realized I left a raw chicken on the counter top for the last hour. I’m always afraid of food poisoning, having had it three times… I’m not sure if I should throw the chicken away now or cook it anyway and hope any bad bugs will be killed off by the heat. Or maybe it is the curse coming for me, like some sad and quiet Final Destination where Death will claim me one way or another… if I throw out the chicken, a spider will bite me in my bed… I’ll be mauled to death by a muskrat, or maybe I’ll just give up and walk into the lake and let the water take me again.
My practical mind isn’t completely gone, I guess, or I’m more perversely superstitious than average – my only thought now is… Dying would be too easy. I’ll probably get food poisoning and live for days only wishing I was dead. I’m sure whatever being is pulling the strings, if that’s what this all is… reality TV for celestial beings… wouldn’t let me out of the show until all the entertainment had been wrung from me… There are still too many loved ones to take away before I’ll be granted an exit stage left.
So I guess it’s chicken for dinner tomorrow. I’ll put it back in the fridge, make it a crap shoot, gotta keep the suspense up if you want the audience to keep coming back…