Thursday, September 01, 2011

Love Means...

I’m not sure why you stopped talking to me. It happened slowly, methodically, like rust. There was no big fall-out, no noteworthy event. Suddenly you and I were no longer speaking. The divide formed.

Women are weird. They’re passivity can run deep. But you and I are different. We’re the outspoken women who yell when angry and sob when sad. We express. What happened? Our voices became pale and garbled suddenly. The lines between us fell.

Maybe it started when you received the diagnosis. I knew it. You knew it. Even as teenagers, you knew you’d get breast cancer. Your mother had it and you just felt it in your bones. Your bones were my bones, so I felt it too. It was no surprise.

The size was a surprise, though. A baseball, they said. A fucking baseball. When I moved from San Francisco to New York, it was partially to be closer to you. But somehow, my own survival became overwhelming and I wasn’t at your bedside the way I planned on being. Maybe that’s when the divide began.

When they removed your breasts, you showed me your flattened, sutured chest in your sunny kitchen one Sunday. There was nothing you could show me that would shock me. You are my best friend. Your scars are mine.

“No, they’re not, Beth. They’re mine. You still have breasts.”

I tried to understand the difference that was forming but somehow I never grasped it the way you wanted me to. Perhaps I was unable. Maybe I’m just too damn self-centered.

“When am I ever going to have sex again, Beth? Who’s going to want to have sex with me now?”

You always loved sex, almost to a fault. You put the horniest sailor to shame.

“I want to have sex,” you’d say so many times in the past, apropos of nothing. “I want to have sex now.”

“Kris, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe there will be someone at the party tonight.”

“There better be because I want to have sex.

“I heard you the first time, Kris.”

Breastless, you now felt sexless. Your sex drive was your lifeline. And I didn’t know how to give that back to you.

“I’ll get out of New York and come visit you over Christmas,” I told you during our last phone conversation. (No one tells you it will be the last time you'll speak again. No announcements are made. But it would be our final phone call. You would accept no more of my calls after that.)

A year passed. Calls placed. Letters. Pictures. Anything. Friends tried to intervene on our behalf.

“She’s getting worse, Beth. You need to come see her.”

“She doesn’t want to see me. She hasn’t responded to me in a year. I did something very wrong apparently.”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

The stories about you grow worse. You can't walk that well. Your bones snap. Your face hollows. You are 42 and dying of breast cancer. A massive clock in a pitch-dark sky keeps ticking in my ears. Will we speak again?

You always served as the big sister, a role you didn’t always relish. I was the emotional mess and you were the semi-reluctant anchor. Maybe this time you wanted to be the emotional mess and it was too late for us to switch roles. Is that why you're mad at me, Krissie? PLEASE don’t be mad at me.

I know, I know my problems seemed so petty in relation to yours. You yelled at me one time after a reckless where I put myself in jeopardy with drugs, booze, men, sex and fucking stupidity. “What the hell is your problem? What would possess you to put yourself in that situation?”

Unable to answer, I just felt shame. Shame that you, my closest friend, saw the train wreck that was my life and could no longer tolerate it. I didn’t blame you. It disgusted me sometimes too.

It’s now. And I’m racing down a highway in South Jersey trying to get to you. You have hours to live, they tell me. Hours. I race but cannot erase. What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong?

When I get to your house, your mother is waiting on the steps, cigarette in hand, shaken, deeply worn.

“Please, Beth…just don’t upset her. I know you two haven’t been…please, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

I think of the other times in my life when a gatekeeper intervened – someone to warn me before I walk through a doorway and face something awful. When my mother was dying, it was my brother-in-law. “Wait, Beth…you need to know…she looks different than the last time.”

“Get out of my way. It’s my mother and you don’t warn me about her.”

Krissie, when I enter your air-conditioned bedroom—the shrine—with the curtains drawn and music playing, your eyes light up.

Oh my God. You’re not mad at me! You’re not mad at me! Those eyes are happy to see me.

I crumple next to you, exhausted, in your hands, totally and completely in your hands. You try to splash cold water on my face because you see how red I am, from racing, crying, humiliation. Leave it to you to worry about me and my comfort at that moment. Leave it to you to be so much better than me.

Then you say something that stuns me:

“I don’t know how to say I’m sorry,” you utter, in this garbled voice.

You? You don’t know how to say you’re sorry to me? I’m sorry. I’m the bad friend. I’m the selfish one. I didn’t show up enough and….”

“No. That wasn’t it. That's not why…It’s…”

“Then why? Please tell me. Please!”

You try so hard to find the words but it's exhausting, stretching and reaching for words, words, words, and you are so tired. You look me pleadingly, as if to say: Read my mind, Beth. I can't work any harder.
“Does it matter, Kris...huh?”

“No. No, it doesn’t. At all.” That comes out very clearly. In your old familiar voice.

And we let it go. At that very moment. The silence is broken. The doves fly out the window. All is forgiven.
I sit bedside and sing quietly to you for the rest of the afternoon. You sleep restlessly, fighting some imaginary blanket being pulled over you. I sing all of the songs we’ve sang in the past, songs of love, life, loss. Our anthems, our songs from the troubled but occasional magical little suburban life we shared.
And you enjoyed it. A slight smile sometimes. I sing our songs like little lullabies and put you to sleep.

One of our favorites:

Sara - Fleetwood Mac

Wait a minute baby...
Stay with me awhile
Said you'd give me light
But you never told be about the fire

Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown
And now its gone
It doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
Call me home

And he was just like a great dark wing
Within the wings of a storm
I think I had met my match -- he was singing
And undoing the laces
Undoing the laces

Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown
And now its gone
It doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
Call me home

Hold on
The night is coming and the starling flew for days
I'd stay home at night all the time
I'd go anywhere, anywhere
Ask me and I'm there because I care

Sara, you're the poet in my heart
Never change, never stop
And now its gone
It doesn't matter what for
When you build your house
I'll come by

Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown
And now it's gone
It doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
Call me home

All I ever wanted
Was to know that you were dreaming
(There's a heartbeat and it never really died)