There are some known facts in life: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Coca-Cola is far superior to Pepsi, it will always rain after you mow your lawn or wash your car, and cancer is a motherfucker.
For May’s father, what started out as “just a stomach bug” turned into him having half of his large colon removed and being faced with the possibility of having stage 4 colon cancer. Perhaps “motherfucker” is too lacking of a word to fully describe the magnitude of how dastardly the disease is. If anyone can come up with a better adjective, please speak up.
May, for the most part, expected the diagnosis to an extent; colon cancer runs rampant on her father’s side and has taken many relatives over the course of their family history. Well, cancer and suicides, but that’s a different story altogether. If the cancer doesn’t kill ya, ya kill yourself.
Even though the news wasn’t shocking and filled her with “why, God, why?!” platitudes, it was jarring nonetheless. To be faced with the sudden mortality of a loved one is never an easy pill to try to swallow, and yes, one could argue that we are faced daily with this very realization, if you want to get philosophical about things, but the difference is while some may cheat death and live to ripe old ages, May’s father’s number of lives are running out. There is no “start over” option here, no “whew, that was a close call!” As Bill Paxton says, “game over, man. Game over.”
So, in short, May’s dad is dying and May can only sit back and watch. It’s already grievous seeing him as he is. The tall, strong man of her childhood has shrunk an inch or two over the years, and lost thirty pounds so far. She shudders to think of what is to come and welcomes any distractions from pondering the future, which is why May finds herself at her favorite coffee shop, tucked away at her usual table in the corner, headphones on and listening to music and trying to write. “Try” is the key word there. Between fits of people-watching and checking her phone every few minutes, it’s slow going. She silently berates herself for setting herself up for failure by coming here to do something she does best in the solitude of her bedroom, and for perpetuating a cliché: oh, look at the writer, writing in a coffee shop! How unique and different! But here she is, pecking away at the keyboard and eyeballing a woman sitting directly in front of her who is switching between messing around with her iMac, iPad, iPod, and iPhone. iConsumer.
May also chastises herself for how she left the house and presented herself in public. Ratty, old Converse sneakers with a hole near her right little toe that provides unwanted ventilation from the chilly January wind; faded jeans, also with a hole in the right knee; a sweatshirt she bought recently but decided she hated the constriction of the collar, so she cut it away and now looks like Jennifer Beals from Flashdance. She’s a maniac, maniac… But perhaps her biggest regret is forgetting to put on a bra in her haste to exit the house. Her nipples are rubbing against the flocking on the inside of the sweatshirt and are sensitive to any subtle movement. It’s annoying and arousing all at once and makes her mind wander to carnal things. She makes a mental note to pencil in some special time later. But for now, she slumps slightly forward over the small table in a vain effort to hide her breasts, which causes the fabric to rub again, which brings the thoughts on again. What a vicious cycle.
Thinking it will help her regain focus, she steps outside to smoke a cigarette. The wind blasts her face when she opens the door and inhales sharply as the cold air hits her lungs. You idiot, she says to herself. Before she took up the habit five years ago, when she’d see someone outside in the winter smoking, she would shake her head at how silly they were. Bundled up in winter coats, scarves, and stocking hats and still shivering while they took quick drags off their smokes, alternating hands between holding their cigarette and jamming them into their coat pocket to warm them up. Dummies.
But here she is, doing the same damn thing. She repeats in her mind, I gotta quit this shit, I gotta quit this shit and thinks of all the times she’s said that, tried, quit for a week or two–the longest span was six months–and then goes right back to the filthy habit. She’s also acutely aware of how it looks to have her father having cancer and she’s still smoking. Even more horrible is the fact that when she goes with him to get his chemotherapy, she sheepishly walks to the parking garage across the street from the cancer center and smokes while her dad is getting poison pumped through his body. If that isn’t a giant “fuck you,” she doesn’t know what is. She did decide again last week to try to kick the habit. This will make attempt 11 or 12; she’s lost count. She’s tried the patch, the gum, a vaporizer, pills…each brought with them a small amount of success, but nothing has really helped her stay quit so far, which is why she decided to seek the counsel of a health coach from work. Their first appointment is this coming week and May is cautiously optimistic. She tries to remind herself of the money she’ll save by not smoking, how much better she’ll feel and smell, how her hair won’t have a dullness to it anymore, how many years she’ll gain back to her life…but admittedly, that last point doesn’t really matter a lot to her at the moment. Ah, depression, you ignorant slut. It’s hard to give a shit about your life when someone you love is dying.
May feels eyes watching her and looks up from her laptop screen to look at the window a few feet in front of her. The drive-thru to the coffee shop is right outside and an older woman driving a black BMW is staring at May while the woman waits for her latte or frappe or whatever the hell she ordered is made. May stares back. The woman quickly turns her head to face forward again, visibly embarrassed May caught her looking back. She reaches up to fiddle with the rear view mirror as if it’s suddenly extremely important she be able to see traffic behind her while driving, then her car lurches forward when her drink is ready.
May returns her attention to the laptop and manages to type out several paragraphs, but ultimately decides to quit while she is ahead. The distractions are just too much and she forgot to eat breakfast this morning, so in addition to her nipples threatening to poke through her shirt, her stomach is rumbling something awful, as well.
With a quick save of her work and a gentle slamming shut of her laptop, she leaves her words behind.
A simple action she wishes she could apply to real life; close it up and get back to it when you’re ready.