behind her eyes. “You could have been here.” In the next instance, remorse extinguished the flame. She hadn’t had these feelings in months. Something about seeing Loretta—Rett, she corrected herself—brought back all the pain of losing Cy, of the one argument she’d had with him about the cancer. That’s how she’d referred to it: The Cancer. Not his cancer. She never wanted him to take it as his own, like if they didn’t give it a pronoun, it couldn’t become real. It couldn’t overcome him. Couldn’t steal him from her.
Except it did. And the disease caused her to do things, feel things that she’d regret the rest of her life. She couldn’t forget the day he confessed to her that he was tired of fighting, that he wanted to stop treatment, he wanted to just go home. At first, she thought he meant their house in Morro Bay. But his next sentence made it all too clear.
They were in the hallway of the medical center in San Celina. The doctor had said they could try again, another round of chemo and radiation, but the chances of remission were slim and, in his weakened state, the side effects would be even rougher this time.
“Love,” he said. “It’s time. I want to see Tommy.”
“No,” she’d lashed out, exhausted by months of inadequate sleep, worry over his pain and struggles with hospitals, doctors, pharmacies and insurance companies. All the nights on the Internet, reading through websites, Listservs, chat room archives, looking for some hope in this vast inner space of souls.
“Please,” he’d said. That was all. Just please .
Like a spoiled five-year-old she’d pressed her hands over her ears. She knew what he was asking. “No, no, no,” she said and walked away from him. She couldn’t . . . wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Permission to leave her. How could she bring herself to give him that? How could he ask that of her? If he left, she would have no one. She ran out of the building, leaving him there.
He found her three blocks away sitting on a curb in front of a taco stand popular with Cal Poly students. He sat down beside her and, without a word, took her hand and kissed her palm, his lips chapped and dry. It was his customary way of asking for her forgiveness.
“Okay,” she whispered, staring into the gutter, unable to meet his eyes.
She called hospice the next day, and the focus of their life moved from helping him live to helping him die. To this day, she regretted that she never apologized to him for making that moment harder than it had to be. She never said she was sorry for behaving so selfishly. But, the truth was, she never stopped being angry. God forgive her, but she couldn’t help wondering if he’d just hung in there, something would have happened, he would have conquered the cancer. He would be here to see his granddaughter.
She shook her head, trying to dislodge her troubling thoughts and concentrate on the joy of seeing Rett again.
It was disconcerting to see this almost grown woman in the place of the four-year-old burned into her memories. So many years lost. Love closed her eyes and tried to recall the particular things she remembered about Rett. The last time she saw her, she was playing with stuffed animals; Love vaguely remembered a pink and black skunk named Lily. Rett carried it with her everywhere, even throwing a little tantrum when Karla Rae wouldn’t let her take it to Tommy’s funeral. Or was that Patsy? The two girls, so close in age, blended in Love’s memories, despite the fact that physically they’d been very different. Patsy was tall and redheaded, like Love. Rett was shorter, thin, but solid-boned, like Polly.
Polly and August. Heavenly stars, it just occurred to her that she needed to call them. They’d want to know right away that their great-granddaughter was in town. Polly had mourned the lack of relationship almost as much as Love had, though August had been more pragmatic.
“You marry a person, you marry everything
Andy (ILT) Bob; Rash Balaban