28 February 2011

The raw things

So it's like this. No one will hear this. No one will read it. And if they do, they probably wouldn't care. But that's okay. This needs to be told.

When I was 20 years old, I got married. I got married to a man who was a real sweetheart. But he got cancer. I didn't know him for very long before getting married, so him getting diagnosed was a real shock and an even bigger tragedy. I had planned to spend the entire rest of my life getting to know him, having fun exploring the nitty-gritty hardships, and feeling like it was in our power to overcome anything. I had not expected such a hard test so soon, though, that much I can say.

My daughter was 18 months old when we got married. When my husband was my boyfriend, he was so sweet with my daughter, talking with her, playing games with her, and even babysitting her for free when I had to go to work. I had already known a lot of stress in my life by then, having been a single mother who could not afford to pay rent, so finding someone who was caring and loving of both me and my daughter was not only soothing, it was all I needed for proof that surely this man must be the one. She even called him "daddy" before I was ready for it!

He wrote me a poem once, using words like "starry night" and admitted that he loved me and my daughter, because she was an extension of me. Somewhere in the eight months from date number one to our law office vows, he wrote this poem and said a lot of nice things to me, which I'm sure he meant, but those were the only memories we'd have to work from after cancer...

We had already been preparing to move to Canada at the same time we learned his cancer had come back. Yes, he had been sick with it once before, in the July of that eight-month stint we called "dating," but it had been operated on and removed. This time, instead of the remaining testicle, the cancer "metastasized" into his lung.

He was treated, went into remission for a few months, then got it again. Only this time, this very third and awful time, the diagnosis was bad and we had just had our second daughter (for he considered my girl his first.)

It was bad. It was so bad. I can't even tell you how bad it was. So bad that after he went into remission and we got to resume our lives, I cried for months without tears inside my chest. I never tore any boxes down, for fear of settling into our new apartment too much. But funny thing, just when I thought I'd get to tell my story, no one listened, so I just learned to shut up about it.

I learned to shut up about many things. I learned to shut up because I learned no one gave a shit about what you did, they only cared about how things were going in their own lives. So I trained myself to not think about the aunt that took advantage of us while living with her, the constant prison I was in having no immigration status, having no friends nearby, no family, no car, and absolutely fuckall to do or to resource while my husband was in the hospital; because, you see, all those things happened when he was in the hospital, and more. No one knew how much I was suffering because no one called me and I didn't call anyone.

But I was supposed to be strong. No place and no time to be a ninny. I've just kind of always had the sense to know people weren't listening anymore, and I've just about never been surrounded by the kinds of people who would listen. I knew they didn't exist. No one had the capacity to understand how scared I was, how nervous, how sad, angry, trapped, stressed (oh my sweet Lord stressed), lonely, isolated, unforgiven, pressured, forgotten, lost, and stupefied I was. I was just expected to do... what? I don't know. I was expected to do or be something that meant understanding no one in the world would be there for me or come to my aid; and if I wasn't, no one surely told me. I was too overwhelmed to think. I was overwhelmed to a screaming degree ALL. The. Time.

Between Cancer No.1 and Cancer No.2, we got engaged, were in a horrible automobile accident (rollover), got married, went to Nevada for Christmas, found out I was pregnant, and moved to Canada.

Between Cancer No.2 and Cancer No.3, we lived off of his two, minimum-wage jobs in his dad's house, found him a teaching job up north, had our baby, moved 800 kilometers north with a 2-week old infant and two year old toddler, and just barely settled into our shoddy apartment.

The amount of time between our first date and Cancer No.3: 1 year, 8 months

While my husband was in the hospital for No.3, I lived in two places back down south because we had to give up our apartment for his hospitalization. In the first, it was with friends who had grown tired of my presence there and offered to kick me out. In the second, it was with my mother-in-law's brother and wife, who stabbed me with raising my rent every month and tried threatening to get my children taken away, talking to everyone under the sun about it before talking to me. Turns out she was baby crazy and a 'little' mentally unstable, but I didn't know that. All I knew is that she lived in the same city where my husband was laying in hospital and offered to let me and my girls live there. I have forgiven her, but I never talked to her again.

While I was trying to suffer this aunt to remain close to the girls' daddy, I was also at the hospital every day, watching our daily mix of "Northern Exposure," "Three's Company," and "Golden Girls" while making him toast, helping him sit up, watching nurses fix his lines, asking questions, learning about stem cells and T cells, and trying to make his room as un-hospital-like as possible. Also things I did: wake up on the cot in the middle of the night to the sound of him cough-gurgle-puking; accompany him to the lower floors to make sure his pants stayed up in the halls; wash his soiled pants; sponge-bathe; clean his PIC line; hold his hand; bring the girls occassionally; meet his cancer friends; brave the death ward every day for four, very long months; and watch him sleep.

Do you know the color of a person's skin after being chemoed to death? Yellow. Sometimes bluish. Splotchy. Gray. It's the color of life going away. His eyes were so dark and sunken that with the loss of his eyelashes, I could see the whites of his eyes almost all around the whole eye. He looked liked this almost immediately and I was terrified. This was the man I married? What?

Between the house of the aunt and my days at the hospital, my life was hell. How did I get so irreversibly stuck in the bowels of life? I was filled with resentment and desperation more and more each day. Luckily, my girls made me laugh and smile. They kept me going. I had to keep it together for them.

Resuming our lives to some capacity (by which I mean being a family of four in a home and my husband resuming his teaching job,) involved transition of living with his dad for a few months to remain close to the hospital. He was not allowed to be outdoors very long and not allowed to breath or be around freshly cut lawns because asparallagus was a mold that came from cut grass and could get trapped in his freshly chemoed-to-shit lungs. He could not move around too much or he would risk opening the sutures of his freshly removed lung lobe (the upper part, about 20% of his lungs). There was no cuddling.

I waited for him to see that I was right beside him, that we could figure things out, that I stayed beside him the whole time, but he didn't say anything. I was hoping he could tell me before we got back up north how much I meant to him. But he didn't, and I figured it was because he was so ill. Poor guy. I didn't want to be making wifely demands for affection just yet.

I waited some more. I waited for him to look at me in some moment of stillness and quiet and utter grateful, sweet words of appreciation. Words that would melt all of the pain from the whispers off his lips, but I would wait until he was feeling better.

I would be waiting a long time.

One morning, after we did get back north, I was sitting on the floor with my daughters, playing with them, relieved to the point of tears, to be in my own home, with my own things, safe. But the relief was to be short lived, because after the school year started, my husband came home with a pulled groin muscle that actually turned into 5 more years of playing wait-and-see of crumbling, deteriorating bone joints.

Nobody I know understands what it's like to live with and 80-year-old 26-year-old. As the doctors struggled to diagnose and subsequently replace the joints, which were full of dead bone tissue and grinding together bone-against-bone due to the steroids he was given in-hospital, we had to deal with about a million doctor appointments, 1600 kilometers a pop (sometimes by car, mostly, thankfully, by plane), and having to "say good-bye to Daddy" every 3 weeks or so at the airport.

Some people know that. Some don't. But no one has an ever-lovin' clue of what my life consisted of after he was finally confined to a wheel chair in a town where there was no, absolutely none, handicap-friendly buildings; having to take the wheelchair out of the trunk and put it back in to go anywhere plus two small children in carseats; building the muscle to lift the chair with him in it to avoid potholes in parking lots; having to squeeze past people when you just don't want to intrude in busy places, tiny restaurants, church; taking out the trash, chopping the wood, carrying the groceries in, doing the heavy lifting, getting the tots in the house, plus all of the rest of the work women in isolated northern towns do: cooking, cleaning, washing, folding, sorting, checking over school work, putting the children (my precious, precious daughters) to bed, getting them to brush their teeth; and making the occassional batch of actual, real, homemade, from-scratch bread just to make the house smell good.

I just wanted to be appreciated by the man I loved. Before there was the realization that we, too, were crumbling from the inside out, I did more than just talk about loyalty and devotion. I lived it.

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