This is the cruel hammer of grief, of loss. No matter how rational you try to be. How much you know it’s a losing game with no resolution but another ass kicking, you cannot stop the “maybe’s”. They linger, they float past you, whispering hateful things, Reminding you of choices you made, actions you took and wondering if you’d just changed this one choice...maybe...maybe...maybe...
There was a light snow on the drive down to the Mayo in Rochester. We’d hit the point where we were now pursuing every “alternative” (hack) therapy we could find. But we were still hoping science might give us something. Thus, the Mayo.
Traveling was hard for Jill. She had bad stomach problems and she was generally in pain. The jostling and bumping of a nearly 2 hour drive could be hard on her. She was pretty quiet on the drive. I couldn’t get her to engage, really. Eventually she fell asleep.
Her denial...our denial and desperation...was at its peak. You could look at her and know...well, you would know. We were still pretending the outcome wasn’t inevitable. Even though Jill was clearly hoarding information and keeping things from us. We wanted to believe the optimistic story she was spinning so we chose not to fight it.
She didn’t want me to go in with her. Insisted that I don’t even go wait with her in the office.
She wasn’t there very long. When she came out she was quiet. Far away. Furrowed. She fended off my interrogation with “I’m just really tired. I don’t want to talk”. She burrowed into the backseat with her pillows and blankets and smoothie and stared at the ceiling. Not sleeping this time. But somewhere else.
30 minutes into the drive she started talking. Telling me all about the treatment options she had and how optimistic the Mayo was. Which I knew wasn’t true regardless of how much I wanted it to be. Thinking, “baby, you don’t have to go through this alone” but she was back there spinning her tale and smiling for the first time in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out what winning the argument would do for either of us. I was okay with this fantasy. I needed it. And, obviously, so did Jill.
She started talking about all the things we were gonna do. We’d be back in Arizona by February and we’d hike up to Sunrise Peak. We’d knock out the wall in the dining room and put in an arched doorway to the the side yard so you could take your morning coffee out and sit under the orange tree. Hikes with the dog. England with the girls in the summer. On and on. I had two choices...I could let that hurt or I could let it feel good. I chose the latter. I wanted all those things. I stopped passively listening and started contributing. I could see her in the rear view mirror, pale, drawn, so thin, tiring fast...but happy and bouncing the way she used to all the time.
We used to take long drives on a regular basis and we’d talk and talk and talk and talk. We’d goof. We’d dream. We hadn’t done that in about a year at the time this was taking place. She looked up and saw we were at a fork where we could take a quicker route through Minneapolis or stay right on the interstate and do a long, meandering hook shot through St. Paul and up and around to our house. She said, “why don’t we stay to the right”. I stayed to the right. It extended the drive, with the traffic we hit, by 45 minutes or so.
Oh, the things we planned.
Oh, the beautiful life we dreamed.
She hung in for as long as she could. I watched her eyes grow so heavy and the weakness spread through her. But she was smiling. Looking so happy. She wanted me to tell her a story. So, I did. One I made up for her on the spot. She was sound asleep in about five minutes. Grinning. It was a fairly tale I told her about the Deeply Flawed Tattered Prince and the Beautiful Freckled Princess. It was rather salacious. I think that’s the part that made her happiest. For awhile, though she was asleep, if I stopped talking she’d make some unhappy sounds until I started again. Eventually she was all the way out.
I had this irrational impulse to keep driving right in into forever. As long as it was just the two of us in that car we could outrun the black shadow that was chasing us. We could outrun that goddamn cancer. We could make it impossible for Death to find her. Of course, I knew that was absurd and I knew we were about at the limits of the time Jill could spend away from the comforts of her house, her nest.
Still, I wish I’d kept driving. Because...maybe…