Writing group had a cool topic this week as the word interpretation, so I decided to whip out a chapter of Full Circle that I felt was relevant to the topic to share with the group. The topic was "time" and I used a chapter where Jack is writing a sort of farewell letter to Cate. I changed it a lot from the original chapter, its shorter and is more like a short story or one shot, its easier to get the jist of what's going on without having to read the entire story.
We were young once. You came from the land of sea and sun to spread your hurt in my world. We came together and drifted apart like magnets of the same polarity often do. You can hold them in your hand, forcing them together but eventually they do pull apart.
We were like magnets, and we let go. Somehow, though, our polarity was reversed and I found you again. You, Catherine Elizabeth Buckley, made my life. You were the single greatest event ever to happen to me. Because of you, my life was whole.
But now I have to say good-bye to you. I have to leave you here, all alone and honestly Cate; I just don't know how I'm going to do that. I really don't. I can't leave you, I just...can't.
Emotion over took me. I threw the narrow pen down at the desk. It bounced and projected itself toward the wall, hitting it then clattering to the floor. Tears filled my eyes and I violently wiped them away with the back of my fist. I couldn't do this, couldn't write this letter. Writing it meant I was done - done fighting, done living, done loving - and I wasn't. No, I was far from done, but time, damn time, was running out and that wasn't something I needed a doctor to tell me.
I could feel the weariness settling in my bones, the never-ending exhausting nestling into the folds of my mental state. It wasn't just cancer I was fighting; it was the clock as well. In this case, literally and figuratively, Cate would be home soon and I did not want her to see this.
With a sigh, I bent down, retrieving my pen from the floor and continued my letter.
I want to tell you all the clichéd things, Cate. I want to write things that - when you look back and re-read this letter on the darkest of nights, your fingers gently caressing my words - will lift your spirits. But honestly Cate, I don't know what those words are.
I wish I could tell you that I'll never leave you. I wish I could say that I'll always be there, tucked away in the most sacred part of your heart, or in the lyrics of the songs on the radio; or even that soft warm ocean breeze that wraps itself around you as you sit on the balcony of the beach house and stare out at the ocean. But those aren't the things you want to hear.
I stopped, setting the pen down on the desktop. Picking up the pages, I re-read the letter. As my eyes skimmed the words written there, anger seethed in the pit of my stomach. Cate deserved something so much better than this; she deserved a husband who could pour his heart out in a final letter to her.
I closed my eyes and exhaled, ashamed that I wasn't that guy; the one who, in all the movies, always had the right things to say. Part of me wanted to be Gerard Butler and leave her notes for every month.
The mental image of Cate curled up on the couch, the last letter in her hand was too much to take. I couldn't do that to her, it would destroy her when the last letter came and she was left to face my absence literally on her own. It would be like losing me all over again. To do that to her would be selfish of me. Hell, even leaving this seemed selfish, it was one letter, though, one little token for her to cling to when things got to rough.
A photo on the desk caught my eye. I'd seen it a million times, but tonight it looked different. I reached for the silver framed and picked up the picture, holding it under the light, looking at it with new eyes.
Cate's tanned face stared back at me, the corners of her eyes crinkled, a huge grin on her face. The sun made her butterscotch highlights sparkle. Avery was propped on my lap, index finger shoved up his nose. Cate had begged me not to put this picture on display, but it was perfectly imperfect, I just had to.
My thoughts went to Avery, my son. He might not have been biologically mine, but I was the only father he ever knew and he was the only son I'd ever have. He was the second greatest thing to ever happen to me. He made my life with Cate worth it. DNA or no DNA, there was more to life than that. Family, the real kind, the kind that'll stick with you no matter what, is made up of the people you let into your heart, the people you'd do anything for. This family would never be more than this, more than just the three of us and a goofball dog.
More tears flooded my eyes. I shut them, forcing the tears away. They spilled, hot and salty, down my face. This isn't fair, I wanted to scream petulantly. I wanted to scream period. I wanted to scream myself hoarse and I wanted to hit something. How could this happen to me? Why me? Why not some piece of crap child molesting s.o.b rotting in jail?
Fear turned to anger as I shoved the chair away from the desk. Standing above the desk, I shoved everything off the top, screaming as pens and pencils and pads of post-it notes, even the lamp, clattered to the floor in a chaotic spread.
"Why?" I roared, "why, God, why?" I screamed myself hoarse, collapsing to my knees, finally allowing the grief and tears to swallow me.
Stage 4, non-Hodkin's lymphoma was slowly exhausting the light of my life from within, one vital organ at a time. The doctors kept telling me I'd be "lucky to see Christmas," and that "Stage four, high-grade lymphomas were really aggressive, growing and spreading more quickly than other kinds of lymphomas."
Killing me more quickly was what they meant, but never said. I tried to remain optimistic, I had options, there was chemo or radiation, and something called biological therapy, not to mention clinical trials. It's kind of nuts, letting doctors inject stuff into your body that might kill you faster on the off chance that it works and makes you life that much longer.
The worst part was the toll that this was taking on Cate. I watched her walk around, a shell of her former self. She did a good job of pretending for Avery's sake, but at night, her hysterical sobs would often wake me. I tried to stay away, to hold, and comfort her, but most nights I was so tired that by the time my head hit the pillow I was already fast asleep. Her cries, and the shaking bed, would wake me and I would roll over and hold her, whispering in her ear that everything was going to be okay - even though we both knew it was a lie. I had to lie to give her hope even when hope was hopeless.
We cycled through the five stages of grief. Wake up in denial, at lunch I'd dine with anger, by mid-afternoon I was bargaining, dinner was served with a side of depression and at night, in those last few seconds before I fell asleep, acceptance would sneak its way in and I'd drift off to sleep at peace with the world.
Then the sun would rise and I'd be right back at denial. It was like one of those teacup rides at Disney world. You'd spin around so fast, the platform was spinning and your cup was spinning, it created this blurry madhouse effect on your senses and all you wanted was for it to stop, but you couldn't, the dizzying rush was to exhilarating and when the ride ended and the cup stopped spinning you were left dizzy and disoriented.
That's what a cancer diagnoses is like. At first it's the spinning platform, the doctor's mouth forms the word cancer and you see it, but the platform is spinning so it's hard to tell if that's really what he said. Then your cup starts spinning, and your world is spinning and everything is confusing, your mind swirls around and around and it's hard to believe what your eyes are showing you.
Then you're left with the after affects, the spinning head, and blurry vision. The world you know and the world you thought you knew are suddenly blurring together and the future is suddenly not as clear as it was when you woke up that morning.
And that's scary.
One minute you think you've got it all figured out, and the next minute your throwing pens and pencils around like a pissed off two year old and sobbing on the floor of your office.
Five stages of grief?
Yeah, they don't even begin to cover it.
As acceptance, at least something as close to acceptance as I was going to get to today, weaved its way around my psyche, I began collecting the fallen pens and pencils, returning all the tossed about items to their original place. A calm sadness washed over me. I needed to finish this letter. Sitting down in the microfiber office chair, I reached for my pen and pressed it to the page, the words spilling forth in a river of black ink upon the snow-white page, raw emotion tattooed the page.
So I'll tell you these things Cate. You are the most fantastic actress our high school theatre department has ever seen, that every moment I got to spend with you, being your friend and growing to love you, are the moments that I'll take with me wherever I go. I'll tell you that after waking up from surgery when I hurt my shoulder and seeing your face smiling back at me that made never playing football again worth it.
I'll tell you that hearing you tell me I was going to be a father made life worth it. You marrying me, that made my life worth it. No matter what bad ever happened, or any of the horrible things that happened, loving you made it all worth it.
Everything happens for a reason Cate, I know it hurts and I know it's not fair now, but at the end of all this, you'll understand that reason. Maybe our love is serving a higher purpose. Maybe we're destined for something more, maybe this was my reason for being - to love you so that I could guide you to where you needed to be.
Maybe I'm full of crap and this is the worst thing that will ever happen to you. I don't know, but I have a feeling that somehow, it will all work its self out in the end. And besides, this isn't goodbye, we will see each other again, somewhere, some day, some place, you will be mine again.
All the love my heart can hold
(and then some)