The humid air coils and curls around my body, tickling my skin and strangling my lungs. I wheeze an asthmatic’s wheeze, obediently taking in as much of the thick air as I can. Shifting my weight onto my heels, I toy with the idea of sitting down in the old wooden Adirondack chair, under the assumption that being indoors would be infinitely worse.
It only takes him three minutes and half a glass of tart, unpasteurized apple juice to get to the point. He is dying and I shouldn’t worry. He hands me a brochure.
I reach for my inhaler, panting now, wondering how I could have been so stupid. He is dying, but with a capital D, and I remember why I’ve avoided magic shows for all my life. Disappearing (also with a capital D) scares me, and I know that’s what happens when you Die.
The cancer had metastasized, they’d said. It was aggressive, they’d said. He’d beaten it, they’d said.
And now, here it is, a poison stitching itself into the sides of his liver, his bones, his brain matter. Here it is, making a fool of us for being so happy, for being so hopeful. It is laughing at us as it digs its way through his body, tearing him from the inside out.
Miles away, I hear words like “whole brain radiation” and “malignant” and “last resort” but they are just words. They are the same as “bird” and “cupboard” and “mattress” but with more venom and less softness. My breathing steadies as the Albuterol kicks in.
He keeps saying words I refuse to understand. Hospital. Stage IV. Terminal. I hate the words and I hate him for becoming Dead and my eyes begin to sting. I don't cry but I do crush a caterpillar with the toe of my boot, making him Dead too. I am immediately sorry for it.
The day they had said "Remission" and meant it, we celebrated. We took turns reciting e.e. cummings poems and eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon. We drank wine until I danced too much and threw up in a wastebasket.
That day, we were "in the clear" - we were "smooth sailing" - we were a million other clichés that make little sense but everyone understands. He was a Fighter. He had Survived. That day, he was Alive.
But now, he is Dying. He is Dying, and I tear the brochure into infinitesimal pieces as he speaks. I study the shreds. They look like snowflakes, haphazardly strewn across the table. I will them to melt. It doesn't work because paper is not snow and I am not stupid, so I expect this.
I realize that I never read the brochure. I try to piece the shreds back together with shaking fingertips. It doesn't work because the pieces are too small and my hands are too big. I notice chips in the red polish I once thought looked brave but now looks broken. I keep trying. I try until I've ruined every last shred and chipped every nail.
It's all I can do to keep from Dying myself.