I get to the Old Bear Inn toting the disgusting herbal tea and a few self help books and check my email – and this from him, “Obviously both of us are going through a difficult time, which is why I think we need to hit the pause button for a while. I’d like to move out of my place and file the paperwork, so I can at least feel like I’m officially single. So maybe we give it a break for a few months and then see where it My reply is both genius and full of humor – I ask him how he can possibly dump a girl with cancer? And propose, “let’s be friends.” He replies “100% yes on the friends. Dinner next week?”
But I’m ok becuase I’m thinking – it’s a romance – that’s what this is. It’s a romance and every romance has its challenges, and it’s ok – and I’m ok. This is the part of the movie where the lovers are separated due to war or bad parenting or the time flux continuum, or careening taxi cabs – like in An Affair to Remember and I’m Deborah Kerr on the couch, and eventually he’ll show up – like Cary Grant full of grace and regret and apology.
We enjoy a summer of careful non dates. Great restaurants, I wear heels and dresses and he opens doors. He is lovely; fascinating, interesting, engaging. He doesn’t talk about his divorce – I don’t really talk about my cancer. Things are not really going as planned, tests and retests, another couple of minor surgeries. Physically I’m feeling fine, and the good news is I won’t be leaving town any time soon – I won’t need chemo or radiation, the bad news is the whole left breast needs to go. It sucks, but I take one day at time, annoyed by the fact that the trivial phrase so annoyingly quoted to me by one of my doctors, “everyone’s cancer is different” has turned out to be true.
Then late one summer evening we duck out of the Hollywood Bowl early – because everyone knows how Westside story ends. We walk down to Hollywood Blvd where I put my feet in Natalie Wood’s tiny footprints and my hands in her hands. We walk along the sidewalk stars and he opens up about his soon to be ex wife. He admits that up until maybe this very moment he didn’t believe it was really over.
In the cab on the way back to our cars he asks how things are going for me and I admit I’m getting a mastectomy – surprised myself how hard it is to say the word aloud. He takes my hand and I squeeze back – missing that natural point where I should just let go then I have to keep squeezing until he has to get his wallet.
We let ourselves in through the gate at my friend’s house in the hills where we have both left our cars. They are still at the Bowl watching the Jets and the Sharks rumble while we put our feet in her infinity pool.
He tells me he wants to visit me in the hospital after my surgery. I decide that is a lovely idea because my best friend will be there, flying out to care for me for the week following my surgery, and the hospital is right near my favorite restaurant. I make reservations for two at Rustic Canyon. They have the most amazing faro fennel mint salad, and it’s not like I’ll be good company after 7 hours of surgery.
I’ve just been wheeled in from recovery when she rushes into the room with all my bags from the car, “I saw him in the parking lot – it had to be him, and he has a Bloomingdales Big Brown Bag.”
I’m mortified because I have awoken to discover that when you are on IV narcotics you have to wear something called a nasal cannula. It is a sort of a flesh colored bumpy textured oval shaped piece attached to a breathing monitor tube stuck into your nose – basically it’s a plastic scrotum sack hanging on my lip.
I tell her to turn down the lights and attempt to remove ballsack long enough to try to look casual, but you can only have it out for 38 seconds before the alarms go off – if you then blow directly into it you’ve got about another minute.
In the Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag is a cashmere throw. A buttery tan cashmere throw. Come on! A guy doesn’t do things like that for friends. He likes me. I know he likes me – and he did say “a couple of months” and it’s been a couple of months! I sink into a morphine induced good night’s sleep with visions of his blue eyes dancing in my head.
The next two weeks I don’t remember a lot. Valium is a mind eraser.
I hear nothing from him. That I do remember.
When I finally do get emails back he uses ellipses a lot and has mostly vague responses.
Then “Hey… (dot dot dot) I probably should be telling you this in person, but it is not an easy one. I’ve started seeing someone, so that of course makes things complicated. I hope you understand and can forgive the wimpy email.”
I wait a week and email him back. I write that I understand, that if someone had walked into my life I wouldn’t have said, “I’m sorry, I can’t date you, I’m not dating a guy named D.” I do call him a ‘Jackwagon’ for telling me he wasn’t ready to date and tell him I’m looking forward to hearing from him one day when he isn’t such a ‘hot mess.’
But I wonder – would he have been my hero if I had really asked him to be?
Recently I came across an article from the New York Times, okay – Oprah Magazine, where the cancer heroine’s advice was to; “Fully embrace the vulnerability of the situation. I would never have gotten through it if I hadn’t allowed people in.” The article goes on to report, “that even included a new boyfriend, who became so intimately involved in her recovery that she allowed him access to her innermost self. The two became engaged in the I.C.U. and plan to marry next year.”
If I had been honest, if I had backed up that dump truck of fear and loneliness and neediness would the deep truths and tragedies in life been some sort of alchemy for real love like it was for Oprah chick?
What if – what if I had asked him to wait with me in the dark lobby of Cedars Hospital – eerie and empty, late on that Memorial Day Sunday night? What if I had called him when I was waking up at 4 in the morning during those the weeks of testing from the dreams of doctor’s telling me they had found the cancer in my stomach and bones and brain and that there was nothing they could do and that I felt that somehow this was all my fault? What if I had asked him to help me with the fertility injections, the weeks of sticking needles in my stomach, or what about that night we were wrapped together on his couch, – what if I asked him to feel the hard apricot pit in my breast as Luke Skywalker destroyed the Deathstar behind us?
Maybe, but I guess I’ll never know.
I do know two things: one, whether it was fear or prudence, I don’t regret my “you can’t handle the truth” executive decision. If I had unloaded on him, and he had bugged out – I would have fallen apart, into the abyss – into the darkness of what was happening in my life and that wouldn’t have been pretty.
And two: if that could happen once – if he, love could find me in that surreal and wildly imperfect state when I needed it the most – it could happen again. I guess it’s hope. It/he gave me hope – in the darkness – it’s that Saint Francis of Assisi saying, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
And how can I be resentful of that? I can’t be mad. This surprises nobody more than me.Tweet