The thing about cancer is that it doesn’t come with a warning. There’s no way to prepare for it before it happens. Like most things in life anyway, cancer ambushes you in many forms and sometimes it feels like there’s no way you can hold it back because there really is no way so, it consumes you and you can’t fight it. Sometimes though, the cancer gives you space to breathe, like just for one moment of your life, you can pretend you don’t have it. The thing is that you don’t know how many moments you’ll have like that before it destroys you and you’re just waiting to die. But it’s just life anyway right because we’re all going to die someday. Some of us just don’t have as long as others.
So if you asked me what I was doing in this very moment, I would say watching a movie because there’s a movie playing in the background so, it’d seem like the plausible answer. But, if you asked me the question that really mattered: what are you trying to do. I’d say I’m trying to live because that’s what we’re all doing. We’re all trying to live. Some of us are better than others at it though. But, we all do deserve to live. That’s one thing I’m sure of.
I’m here, sitting in this treehouse, that is probably only safe for maybe a maximum of three people, with my best friend, Liz. Because I don’t know how many days I’ll have that will be like this. Because I don’t know what my last good day will be like.
I laugh at how cheesy the situation seems, with the fairy lights hanging from the walls and the ceiling and the pillows decorating the floor. It was like our first sleepover at her house when she decided we had to be best friends. It’s been eighteen years since she decided we couldn’t live without each other, and she was probably right. She was the only one that never treated me like I was dying.
When she turned to look at me and grinned, I laughed so hard I felt the pain in my ribs and had to slow down. I tried not to wince and smiled, hoping she wouldn’t see right through my feeble attempt at trying to convince her I was okay. She probably did, but she didn’t comment on it. We had been through countless bad days since I was diagnosed with lung cancer thirteen years ago to realize that this was a good day. There were always good days.
“The movie’s starting!” Liz announces. I smile when I see it’s 10 Things I Hate About You. The first movie we fell in love with. Even after all these years, like many things in our friendship, it hadn’t changed.
I know I have little time left, so I’m grateful I can spend this time like this. When I read 'The Fault in Our Stars' for the first time, I decided that if cancer did kill me, I wouldn't be bitter the whole time before it did. There were things far worse than cancer, I knew that. But sometimes it was hard trying to be okay with being stuck this way. Being cheerful sucked when you knew other people had it way easier than you did. It sucked when you saw your parents age almost as fast as you did because your cancer was affecting them almost as much. It sucked because you knew it was killing the people you loved the most too.
It hurt looking at the man that married you despite the cancer and promised to love you for the rest of his life. It hurt more looking at the daughter who’d never really get to remember you. The daughter the doctors were so sure wouldn’t make it. Your miracle baby that you sang “You Can Close Your Eyes” to every day, hoping she’ll remember it when you’re gone. It hurt knowing that there would come a day when you’d have to lose it all.
I used to read all those articles where people would say they’d prefer to know when they would die, like knowing would change anything. All it does is make you paranoid because with each week, each day, each moment that passes, you’re reminded that you’re getting closer to your death. Knowing when you’ll die doesn’t help you cheat death if you can’t change how you’ll die or avoid it. Because no one cheats death. It’s either your time or it’s not and my time is coming very soon. So instead of watching the movie, it plays in the background because if this is my last good day, I don’t want to just spend it watching 10 Things I Hate About You. The air is serene as we reflect on moments we’ll cherish when I’m gone.
“Okay wait, I’ve got a good one. Do you remember the time Jeremy Williams bullied me in the fifth grade and you pushed him off the swing set?”
At that one, I blushed bright red. It was the only thing I had ever done out of impulse. I remember how much trouble I got into that week.
“How could I possibly forget? I had to make a presentation in front of the entire school and his parents during assembly!”
“That was the day I knew we had to be friends and invited you for my sleepover. Before then, I thought you were this boring nerd. Definitely didn’t think you had it in you.”
“Gee, thanks,” I tell her.
Liz just threw her head back and laughed. Liz was an upbeat teenager in a woman’s body. She was so vibrant and so full of life. She was the type of person who would laugh when nothing was funny and you’d have to too because her laughter was contagious. She’s not the one dying and yet I’m talking about her in the past tense.
“Remember when we decided what we’d name our daughters if we had them?”
At this, Liz smiled and her eyes twinkled like she was remembering the very day. “How could I forget?” We knew how slim the chances of me getting pregnant were and yet we chose to dream. Liz taught me that I could dream.
“Trinity and Danica,” we say at the same time and smile at each other.
“Hey Liz, when I die, take care of Trinity for me, okay.”
“Don’t do this now, Cami. I can’t handle it.”
“And you think I can! I’m dying soon! We both know that and I’m scared.” Soon the tears I’d been trying to hold back hit me like a ton of bricks and I realize that I can’t handle it either. Because even though I remind myself that it's just life, I know that’s what’s scaring me. It isn’t JUST life. It doesn’t get to be that easy.
“I’m scared too. After everything we’ve been through, what do you think I'll do without you? Since the very first day we became friends, we’ve shared each other’s pain, to the point where your pain has become mine. I’m grateful that I know you because many people live longer than you will and they crave this: a friendship like ours. So if you want to talk about it, okay, let’s talk about it. When you die, I won’t regret a thing because knowing you is a blessing I’m not sure I deserve, even till now. But it doesn’t make letting go of you any easier because I’m scared to lose you too.”
The tapes in the treehouse all had dates written on them. This one had November 10th, 2008 -ten days before my mum died- and had the caption: PLAY WHILE LISTENING TO ‘YOU CAN CLOSE YOUR EYES’ written on it.
A song I grew up hearing because my dad would sing it every night to me and remind me my mum had too before she died. A song Danica heard every night too because her mum would sing it to her as well.
We look at each other and in all my sixteen years, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as close to my mum as I do right now. Not even when I looked at pictures of her and saw that we had the same wild black hair that looked untameable or the same chocolate brown eyes. Not even when I watched videos of her when she was a teen just like I am. There wasn’t ever a time before the cancer, there was only a time before it was discovered. So, I watched all those videos knowing she was living with the cancer and she was trying to be strong because we’re a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
We had come up to this treehouse every day since the summer began but, this was the first time we had come across this tape.
Danica and I share a look and the only thing she says is, “Oh, Trinity…” Like she can’t find the right words and I can’t either. I think about everything I’ve taken for granted. I think about how brave my mum was and how brave aunt Liz is. I think about how unfair life is sometimes and how lucky I am. Because I know even though she isn’t physically present, our souls are tied together. Because I know a part of her will always be with me and a part of me will always be with her.
So, we hold hands and enjoy this moment in the late summer afternoon we’ll never forget, staring up at the ceiling and looking at the fairy lights draped everywhere as the lyrics of the song fill the room, “… But I can sing this song, and you can sing this song when I’m gone.”
Danica sighs, and I feel it. It’s the content type when you realize you have so much to be grateful for.