By Andrew Taylor-Troutman
This is the first time we sit across the desk from the oncologist. We are speechless. We are shouting. We are weeping. We are numb and staring at the medical diplomas mounted to the walls. We are holding our spouse’s hand, our partner’s hand, our child’s hand. We are alone.
We lie awake in bed. We are listening to the sleet tick tock on the roof, the sirens wail in the distance, the heartbeat heavy in our ears. We are staring at the ceiling. We are wandering into our kitchens. We are watching the full moon through the window, the cup in our hand forgotten as the tap water runs in the sink.
Who are we? We are alcoholics and teetotalers. We are couch potatoes and marathon runners. Summa Cum Laude graduates and class clowns. Homebodies and pilgrim travelers. We are orphans. We are childless. We are sh’khol—Hebrew for a parent who has lost a child. We are young at heart. We are old souls.
We break the news to our children, our parents, our in-laws, our friends. We are visiting. We are calling, FaceTiming, Zooming. We are hearing them ask, “What can we do?”
We do what we can do. We are cutting out sugar and starting up exercising. We are smoking again. We are going back to church, synagogue, mosque, temple. We are in disbelief. We pray. We curse. We pray with curses.
We lie awake in bed. Then, we find ourselves standing at our kitchen sinks. The moon is full.
We love our nurses who skillfully take our blood. We cannot abide the smiling vampires in scrubs. We are wrapped in prayer shawls as the IVs drip. We are freezing cold. We are burning hot. We are nauseous. We are reading eight-year-old copies of The New Yorker and Good Housekeeping left in waiting rooms. We are watching and not watching Ellen on TV. We see the same strip of gray sky outside. We track the ray of sunlight slinking up the far wall.
We know who we are. We are our first bike ride without training wheels, our first cross-country trip. We are our first friendship, first awkward-as-hell kiss. Our first time making love. Our first time holding our babies. We are our last day of high school, college, work. When we gave our last lecture, saved our last dance. We are the last person our loved one laid eyes on as we sat beside their bed.
We are a lasting impression upon more people than we can ever know.
Now we know this is it for us. We are making our amends. We are nursing our grudges. We are saying our goodbyes as best as we can. We are saying our last words, which are the same as our first words. Please and thank you. Love you. Yes and no. More? Yes.