But I didn’t exit the lot and before I was in arms length S came running toward me and gave me another one of those too tight hugs. The yellow was blinding. I closed my eyes. She felt so small. She was small, smaller than I remembered. She wouldn’t let go so I asked, “are you alright?”. She pulled my head towards her mouth and whispered, “I’m scared”. Then she released me. I announced, “Well you look great?” I scanned her throat and she grabbed my hand imploring, “Do you want to feel it?”
“No! God damn it! I don’t want to feel your fucking neck, get the fuck away from me!”
I didn’t say that! Oh I wanted to. It’s like those people you meet one time at a party and they think you’re their best friend, but she wasn’t my friend. I gave her my number she never called. So what was all this, her whispered proclamation, me touching her neck? But my hand was already there, guided by hers to the bulls-eye, a tumid rise below her right ear that could be felt but not seen. “Does it hurt?”. She said it did, sometimes, but mostly she just knew it was there.
A few agonizing moments passed. I wanted to feel for her, but I could not. S was glowing and it wasn’t because of her shirt, it was something else. It was the spotlight, a concentrated beam of concern focused on all of us when we receive a diagnosis. I am not saying this to be callous. I am saying it because it is true, but I am saying it in hindsight because I did not know about the spotlight that day in the parking lot. I found out about it much later in my own way, but that’s another story. I will say this, when something catastrophic first happens you realize how much you are loved. You are showered with a kind of attention you may not have experienced since childhood. It’s intoxicating and devastating, Yang and Yin.
S was facing the possibility of death and we stood in a crooked circle discussing her treatment options like four mechanics trying to figure out the best way to replace the fuel pump on a car. K said the most fool proof way to get rid of the tumor was to cut down through her chin, open her jaw and go into her neck. He demonstrated the procedure on his own chin using his index finger as a faux scalpel. This option would leave her horribly disfigured. Her alternative was radiation. K didn’t have to demonstrate that. A voice inside me said, “She will never have her face cut open” and an image of that monster from the movie “Predator”, flashed across my mind screen, you know the scene where the creature takes off his helmet and the bottom of his jaw opens out both ways from the middle? Yuck! When I looked at her again the voice said, “She isn’t going to make it!” These are not premonitions you announce in mixed company. So I just stood there, listening, while K held S close to his side.
It was twilight by the time we left the credit union parking lot and it was also the last time I ever saw or spoke to S, but it wasn’t the last time I spoke of her. In fact the next day I called my good friend, the one who hosted my engagement party? Much to my disgrace I related the events of the previous night much like a stand-up comedian and she reacted in kind. It was the kind of gossip you only share with best friends because you don’t want anybody else to know your dark side. We were cruel though, terribly cruel. We concurred that S would become the ultimate damsel in distress and K would be her knight in shinning armor. And so it was for a long year I heard on and off from K who told me S had opted for the radiation and he stayed at her side nursing her while she took all her meals through a tube in her stomach. I admired their love from afar while I went through some life altering events of my own. One day I found out that S was better. She had survived it all. She had made death her bitch! I didn’t see that one coming, but I was glad the voice was wrong.
Soon I started getting phone calls from K, infrequent though they were, all of them had to do with his unhappiness in his relationship. He said they kept breaking up and getting back together. Her regular litany of questions took the same course every time.
S: Do you love me?
S: Tell me you love me.
K: I love you.
S: Are you just saying that because I told you too?
K: No I do love you, you know I love you.
S: If you love me, why can’t we be together?
K never had an answer for that particular question and she believed that by asking it over and over again, but in different ways he would find it. This was the same contorted dance I did with him and for as many years.
One night in late December, K called to ask me how to spy on S. I am an excellent spy. I asked him why he wanted this information and he said he thought she was cheating on him. In lieu of our previous conversations I said, “Wouldn’t her cheating on you be a good thing?” He said yes, but that he had to prove it. I can not count the number of times I have heard this line, “If I can prove it than I have a valid reason to break up with her/him.” I know this was a stupid question, but I asked just in case, “Isn’t wanting to break up with her a valid enough reason to break up with her?” (This is just a side note, but 2 forty-year-olds using the terminology of high school students ~break up~ with someone is just sick). He said his wanting to break-up wasn’t reason enough for him to do it, so I told him what to do if he wanted to catch her cheating.
When I spoke to him again he told me that S had not been cheating on him that night, but instead had gone alone to a motel room with a bottle of pills, but she didn’t do anything she stopped herself, called her, mother and came home. I didn’t hear from K after that.
When a mutual friend of ours called me I asked him about K and S. He said he couldn’t figure them out, but thought K was just staying in it because S threatened to kill herself if he left. We both agreed that manipulating someone is not a way to keep them in the relationship, but we were wrong it did work. It worked for a long time, until their final end a year after I last spoke to K.
It was that same mutual friend who called me to tell me that S had killed herself. It was K who told me what happened in the final days of her life when he broke up with her in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lived with her mother. He said, “When I told her it was over once and for all she told me she was going to kill herself”. I said, “That I would not be responsible for that if she did do it and she told me she had a gun, I asked her to show me the gun, but she refused, so I didn’t believe her.” Then he said if he had known she was serious he would have sat with her while she did it, just so she wouldn’t be alone when she ended her own life, and I thought, you would sit with her while she ended her life, but you wouldn’t fucking sit with her through it?
S didn’t leave a note, but before she checked into that motel she made several frantic calls to K imploring him with the same questions she always had. He told her he was busy and would call her later, but he never did.
I think about S a lot and although I have known two others who committed suicide, what happened with her bothers me the most. I think it’s because on a deep personal level I know what she was going through, with K with the cancer and with the wondering. How could someone love you enough to take care of you and then leave you once you are well? You see the cancer still got her in the end, not the disease but the care that came along with it, because knowing someone loves you can sometimes be more important than living.