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Tuesday, April 08, 2008 

Cancer Sucks, Part 2

Shortly after I wrote yesterday's piece, I stumbled across an obituary of an old college friend.

Okay, a boyfriend. A boyfriend with whom I had a fiery, passionate relationship. Our lives together were fraught with the drama of make-ups and break-ups through the years. I met him my sophomore year of college, and parts of that time I remember quite fondly. Other times, it was downright scary how awful we were to each other. I'm not sure if it was because we were so similar as people, or whether we were just two really great people who were really awful together. But either way, we both definitely enjoyed the roller coaster we were on.

We lost touch during school, but shortly after I graduated, I tracked him down. I was living in another state. We were a full 8 hour drive apart from each other, yet we re-ignited that relationship, and made the trek one way or the other nearly every weekend.

Looking back, I'm not sure if graduating had really mellowed us, or whether we were acting calmer toward each other because we thought that's what you do when you start growing up. Either way, things between us were good. Healthy, even. We slowly began to plan a life together. We talked of places to live, who would move where, how to find jobs, etc.

One weekend he invited me down to visit him and he planned to really take me out. He took me to a place I knew he couldn't afford on his new job, and I bought a dress far too expensive for my meager budget. Yet there we were, gazing at each other across a table with promises in our eyes. I remember going home with him that night, my head swimming with future possibilities.

The next day he took me into the city. I began bitching to him over the rumble of the El about the job prospect I had been offered in International Falls, MN. It was way too cold there, too far away from him, etc. I was in full blown rant when he interrupted me.

"Hey, does this look weird to you?"

He pulled his collar back and tilted his head to the side. At the base of his neck I saw a lump the size of a golf ball. Swallowing bile I calmly replied, "I don't think it's looks *awful*, but I think you should definitely get that checked."

He did, and within a week we had a diagnosis....Hodgkins Disease. Talks of apartment hunting shifted to talks of loving him without hair, whether I'd be ok if we couldn't have babies, or whether I would be willing to be artificially inseminated, since he would be undergoing radiation.

I tried to get down there for his surgery, but I was too new on my job. He insisted that he didn't want me there anyway. He would be under, so why bother coming? I thought about him a great deal that day, wondering how things were going for him. Imagine my surprise when I had a call come in from his father. I had never spoken to him before, and quite honestly, up until the diagnosis, I don't think he knew I existed. We had a great talk that afternoon. Surgery went well, his son was in good spirits but not able to talk yet. Just as we were hanging up the phone he said, "I really look forward to meeting you."

He never did. I was a young 24. A painfully young 24. Life was about parties and bars and good times. It wasn't about things like babies and hospitals and cancer. So I did something I have been profoundly ashamed of my whole life. I stopped answering calls, quit returning messages, and never once gave an explanation. He deserved that explanation, and it was thoroughly shitty of me not to give one.

I'm embarrassed to tell you how easily I put him out of my life. Shortly after this I met someone else, and we spent two years together. Two years of my life I'd rather get back (though thinking back on it now, maybe that was my penance for being such a bitch). Time passed, I met hubby, had kids.

I often wondered about the ex, though. I wondered if he had beaten the odds. I imagined his life with someone better for him than me, with two cute little kids. I googled his name off and on through the years, hoping to find information on him. Nothing ever turned up, so I assumed he was okay.

The death of my aunt brought a lot of these old memories back. I decided I was going to find out once and for all what happened to him. Imagine my surprise....after years of searching in vain for him, the first thing that popped up yesterday was his obituary. Phrases like "family will be receiving friends" and "service celebrating a life" punched me in the gut. And the word "was"? Fuhgeddaboudit.

35. He was 35 when he died. A number that used to sound so lame, so fuddy-duddy, so old now just sounds extraordinarily young. Shockingly young. It amazes me he lived with his disease for 11 years. I try to imagine how it changed him, not knowing if it even did. I hope he made peace with things before he left. I hope he forgave me.

But the phrases that were so jarring were nowhere near as jarring as omissions. Things like a wife, or kids. He never did marry. I can't help but wonder why, even though I will never find answers. It doesn't do me any good to obsess. I know this. I can't stop.

So I'll finish this post with a song. A song that meant so much to both of us. I find these lyrics so haunting today:

He left this song on my voice mail the last time he called me. If I could talk to him today, I'd tell him I will never forget that night on the roof, and it will never be easy. I hope he rests in peace.

To my friend.

I'm so sorry you are having to deal with all of this now. I know that with everything else in your life, this is so much.

I know how hard this would be for you, and I really hope you can find some peace. If I had you on the phone right now, I'd tell you over and over how we all do shitty, shitty things. Things that we hold in small pieces of our heart in secret. I think your bravery of putting that out for the world is an amazing gift to yourself. If I was with you, I'd get you a beer and give you a big hug. Maybe bring over some delicious dessert.

You are in my thoughts.

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