“Graham, I…we need to talk.”
Kate held the phone in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. She paced her kitchen floor back and forth, feeling the smooth, warm wood against her bare feet. She was nervous about this conversation and how it would go. She’d barely spoken to Graham in the year since the separation, and now she needed him more than she ever had in her entire life. It figured.
When she found out he cheated on her everything happened quickly. In a white-hot haze she was made bold by the injustice and lashed out, struck back. She told him to leave, no fight, no dramatic scene, just get out. She even threatened to call the police if he weren’t gone by that evening. Her bravery was fueled by his acquiescence; he complied with her demands entirely. But she knew he would, knew he’d rather die than have anyone find out what went on behind closed doors. Valuing privacy was his Achilles heel.
After the shock wore off she realized his infidelity was the greatest gift of her life. She was not only glad he’d done it, she was relieved. It finally gave her permission to do what she should have done years ago, end the marriage. She'd repeatedly planned their demise year in and year out but never managed to gather up the guts to follow it through. Now he not only provided her with the motivation, but with impeccable justification…she couldn’t second-guess herself this time and no one would ever fault her. For once in his perfect life Graham Collins had been unequivocally wrong, and Kate could play that card to the hilt for all it was worth. It felt good to be in the right. Liberating. Satisfying.
During the first few monthgs he begged to come home, begged forgiveness, but she would hear none of it. He’d call and she would hang up, he’d leave notes and she’d rip them to shreds. He tried to speak to her through Nola but she silenced the girl. All those times she refused to talk to him other than to exchange the most basic information through Nola, “Tell your father this bill needs to be paid,” or “Tell Daddy there’s mail to be picked up,” nothing beyond that, nothing beyond the incidentals.
She’d even declined to let him in the house on more than one occasion. The place had been deteriorating as fast as their marriage towards the end, but now that he was gone the rapid decline was startling, even to her. She didn't want him to see, didn't want him to think she couldn't handle things without him. So Kate changed the locks and would simply refuse to answer the door when she saw his car. Who cared about a stupid mess anyway? She was done. She was free.
But now she had cancer and her bravery seemed to be as savagely stripped away as her body would soon be maimed.
Immediately after her diagnosis all Kate could think to do was numb the terror, not think beyond the minute in front of her. But anxious thoughts wouldn't leave her for long. She was alone. She was scared. Slowly she would pace her house like a caged animal, trapped, unable to find her escape. As she walked from room to room and looked at the filth her panic grew. The conditions were nothing short of disgusting. This was the home Graham had loved and bought for her, the home they’d shared together with Nola and where Ethan had lived his short, precious life with them. How could she have let it go this far? It only proved she needed help, this was too big a mess to clean up by herself. She knew what she had to do. It was time to dig out.
This house, her entire life was practically trashed, let go way beyond her ability to put it back into any semblance of order, especially now with all that was coming at her. She was going to be sick, ill beyond her imagination; she might even die. Graham was now her only hope, her best plan. Putting the marriage back together was the only thing that was, perhaps, within her control. So, she would allow him to come back. Allow, what a joke! Kate needed him to come back, to the house, to her, and most importantly to Nola. She needed to create order out of the swirling turmoil and if nothing else Graham could do that; he was very good at order.
But Graham’s voice on the other end of the phone was terse, “What do you want, I don’t have much time.”
Kate knew that was a lie, she still knew his rigid schedule by heart. “Graham, there’s no easy way to do this, so I’m just going to start, okay? But I want, I need, you’ve got to hear me out and just listen and not say anything. If you say the wrong thing I think I’ll break right now and I can’t…”
“Kate, would you just tell me what the hell this is about?”
“Okay, see, that’s what I mean, you aren’t being very…supportive.”
Graham let out a slow, annoyed breath, “I’m listening, just tell me.”
“I have breast cancer.”
Kate waited, wondering what his face looked like, wondering if it sunk in immediately or if this was going to take a while. She remembered the accident with Ethan, the episode with Nola and that awful boy, when his mother died, all the terrifying events that changed their lives together. Each of those times she’d been with him, right there with him, yet now she couldn’t remember his first reaction in any of those moments, she could only recall her own.
“How do you know? Did you have…?”
“All the tests, yes, it’s for certain, no doubt.”
“When did you find this out, how long…”
“Six weeks ago.”
“Six weeks, Christ Kate, why didn’t you tell me sooner!”
“Graham, remember I asked you to be supportive. This is about me, not you.”
“Still, that’s a long time…does Nola know?”
Kate knew now that she’d done this wrong, once again she hadn’t handled something the right way. Damn, he was her father, she should have told him before Nola! They should have told her together. She tapped her fingers nervously on the side of her wine glass, “Yes, she does, she lives here, it was hard to hide it from her,” she offered.
“I would live there too if you hadn’t asked me to leave.”
Clearly, this was not going to go smoothly, Kate thought. “Graham, you know damn well why you don’t live here anymore. And besides, that’s not the point. Look, I don’t have time to worry about your feelings, okay? Geez, Graham, seriously. I’m probably dying here, don’t you get that?”
“You’re not dying, Kate, I know it’s bad but it’s not necessarily a death sentence, Joe Donovan’s wife had…”
“I am not Karen Donovan. I am me and this is bad. Considering the way my life has gone thus far I’m not thinking the odds are in my favor. Okay, can we move on now?”
“What are you doing about this, I mean, what kind of treatment, who is your doctor?”
“Graham, I can tell you all of that, and I will. But right now I want to talk about Nola. She’s, she’s not handling this well at all, today she—“
“Can you blame her? Kate, I, I know you want to talk about Nola, and we will. I promise. But Kate, I need some time, some time to digest this, some time to get this straight in my head and figure things out.”
“Time? Graham, I don’t exactly have oodles of time on my hands right now. What do you mean you need time?” She could feel the shrillness of desperation creeping back into her voice, that voice that she just realized went away when Graham left.
“Kate, I just…let me call you back, okay?”
“Call me back, are you kidding me?”
“Kate, please, just, I’m hanging up now, I’ll call you back later, I promise.”
“Graham, don’t…” but she heard the click before she could finish. This wasn’t the response she expected. She stood looking at the phone receiver with disbelief, as if somehow the telephone itself was to blame. Kate wasn’t exactly sure how to feel. She understood not being able to process this all at once, but to essentially hang up on her after she told him she was probably dying of cancer was not even in the sphere of possibilities that she had considered!
Dying. Oh that word, it did still sound melodramatic even to her. Yet whenever she said she might be dying the ring of truth that phrase held resonated more and more with her as the days flew past.
When they’d told her it was Stage II she didn’t know exactly what that meant. She vaguely understood it had something to do with the size of the cancer itself, the tumor or lump or whatever it was you called that thing found growing in her like a ticking time bomb.
During those first days of doctor visits and a battery of endless tests she mentally agonized over what she thought were going to be her decisions, the treatment choices and options she expected to have. What a fool she was, a hopeful naïve little fool. Because once she fully understood her diagnosis the decisions were actually few and simple -- there were really none to make beyond hospital location and which doctor she thought was the nicest. Every single one of them, one by one, every doctor wanted to do the same thing. There was no difference in opinion, no glimmer of a reprieve. Bilateral mastectomy, both breasts are to go, simple as that.
As the truth sunk in she felt brutalized, under attack like the victim of an evil assailant about to hack her to pieces in some second rate horror movie. She couldn't face it. Maybe if she saw another doctor, went to another hospital? She wanted to find someone, anyone to give her another choice, something else beyond the violence of amputation.
But sooner than she could have ever imagined she gave up. It was surprising to her how easy it was after only six weeks to think of letting them go, her beautiful breasts, her lovely body, to be mutilated beyond recognition. But they weren’t hers anymore; these breasts belonged to cancer, to a villain that was trying to murder her with them like weapons of torture. Let cancer have them, they were toxic now anyway, damaged goods. Maybe her whole life was damaged goods, seeping poison that created the cancer in the first place. But she couldn’t go there. She needed to get things in order.
The doctor insisted the operation would be nothing; no more painful than a cesarean section is what she was told; tho not nearly as rewarding of course. It was the treatment after that scared her most. Being sick and alone was terrifying, unthinkable. Who would ever want a mutilated invalid? She would be alone for the rest of her life, however long that was to be. Alone except for Nola, of course.
Nola had been a trouper, at first. Taking care of so many things, not telling Graham a word about it. It wasn’t hard to keep it from him, eventually after the flurry of reconciliation attempts he’d stopped coming around or calling as much. It seemed he’d given up on both of them after only a few months. Strange how he’d suddenly just let go so easily, Kate had thought, surprised. Sure, he’d tried for a while to convince her to let him make it up to her, to take him back. Promised her everything and more. He even tried taking Nola out on Saturdays for the first few months like a typical weekend-Dad…but Kate threw it in his face, told him she knew it was just for show, just to prove something to her, to try and make himself look like the dutiful father she’d always hoped he’d be. After that he stopped calling, stopped everything.
Now she prayed with all her heart that those accusations were unfounded. She hoped with all her heart she’d been wrong, and that he really was capable of change, of loving Nola enough for the both of them, enough to make up for the years they were too wrapped up in themselves to put her first. Enough to make up for the fact that her mother now had cancer.
She always told Nola that her father loved her. She’d make excuses for his tyrannical behavior and say he just didn’t know how to show it, didn’t know how to express him self. Imagine that, a writer that can’t express him self, wasn’t that ironic. Who was she kidding? This was a man who wrote books with beautiful passages about quiet cowboys awkwardly professing true love, yet couldn’t manage to do so to his own wife or daughter. Jesus Christ, now he couldn’t even manage a telephone conversation with his dying wife.
Kate’s attention was snapped back to her surroundings; there was a knock at the back door.
It was Graham.
six words: see ya soon - minor eye injury still needs healing