Chapter 12: Tara's Despair
He had leukemia. He decided it was no longer worth his while to continue treatment. It seemed to be doing more harm than good. He wanted to just let himself fade away rather than fighting with a strength he claimed he no longer possessed. For a long time I had subscribed to the belief that our bodies do what they think they need to do in order to protect us the best they can. When they hear our call for mercy, they decide to shut down and let go of what we find unbearable. Detached belief, especially unschooled belief like mine, was one thing. The reality of imminent loss was quite another.
I sent a prayer to whoever or whatever listened to prayers from confounded human beings who didn't know how to pray or where to address their prayers.
"Be well, Kevin," I chanted. "Be well, be well, be well."
I tried to calm myself after I had flipped my cell phone shut. I had finally called him. We talked only briefly. A new mode of communicating for both of us. I hated the telephone. I don't know about him. He didn't seem much of a telephone person either, as proven by the fact that we had had each other's phone numbers for a long time but hadn't talked on the telephone before. Ever. Texting would have been better in any event, no scratchy sounds of restrained agitation, no wild puzzlement that one could actually still miraculously form intelligible words on the spot. I put down the phone with shaking hands, unable to hold anything steady.
Then I got angry. I screamed. I wanted to toss the phone against the wall. I wanted to kick it. Step on it. I used every cuss word I had ever hated. Screamed more. Punched my fist into the floor, then on the kitchen counter. I wanted someone to hear and feel my pain, someone other than myself. Any startled neighbor would do.
My anger was all directed at myself. Here I had been sitting for weeks twiddling my thumbs, doing nothing, and Kevin was out there somewhere, alone. I should have been with him somehow. Told him I cared. I would do it now.
But it was no use of course. It was too late. What could I possibly do? What's more, he wouldn't care if I cared or not. But that was wrong, too. He probably would care. A lot. Instead, I'd been sitting here, worrying about turning forty. Was that next month already? God, how vain can you be, I chided myself. Here one of my friends is dying, and I worry about turning forty. But that wasn't it either, of course. There was no reason to be angry with myself. I had to be angry at something, though.
I wanted to scream again, but I had already done so. What was I supposed to do now? Kevin, what am I supposed to do? Can you hear me? Of course he can't, you demented little idiot.
And then to realize that I had wanted to savor our budding tango relationship. Slowly. I had wanted to have something to look forward to forever. Instead I felt betrayed. I had taken Kevin for granted. He'd always be there, after all. I'd have him to dance with for all times.
What had I been thinking?
If I sat down at my laptop right now, it would probably slip out of my hands.
But the laptop behaved unexceptionally. It worked. For a while anyway. I scrolled to Kevin's last email in my old mail. Propped the laptop further back on the table so it wouldn't fall. Took the damn coffee cup with the cold coffee left in it and put it on the floor. Anywhere but near the laptop for fear of sending it flying with my fluttering hands.
I started Googling. It was frustrating as hell. What the hell kind of leukemia did he have anyway? Obviously something that somebody at some point thought they could cure. Otherwise he wouldn't have gone away for weeks of treatment. Otherwise he would have just stayed put where he was. That made sense anyway. It was all no use. I didn't even want to know.
I put on a sweater and left the apartment. I needed to walk. Or run. Something physical.
Idiot, I snarled at myself, catching the apartment door from shutting just in the nick of time to get back in to take my keys. I took the opportunity while I was already back inside in to shut down my computer, checking emails just in case of a new one from Kevin. Which was absurd. We had only just talked on the phone.
It was frustrating to feel so helpless. Okay, apartment key in hand now. Open the purse once more to make sure. Indeed. There it was. I scraped the serrated edge of the key against my palm.
Kevin, I whispered as I left the building. Kevin, be well. I'm sorry I am so stupid. Forgive me my stupidity.
A gust of wind pushed rain sideways into my face. I wasn't about to go back in yet one more time to pick up a raincoat. Let the sweater get wet. I started jogging down the sidewalk. It was empty, except for a young girl with a backpack moodily frowning at me as she stepped out of my forceful way.
We always imagine we have so much more time than we have. I was no exception.
What would I say to him when I saw him? What can one possibly say? Sorry you are so ill. Get well soon. Be well. I love you. No, not that. Although, yes. That's what I felt. I love you, Kevin. I love you. Don't go. Don't die. Stay. Who will I dance with if not for you? I'm only just getting to know you. I'm only just . . . realizing what you mean to me.
Suddenly I was so tired, I wanted to sit down right there on the pavement and sleep. Idiot. You stupid idiot. It's not your fault you didn't know. Oh, isn't it, though? I could have put the pieces of the puzzle together sooner. Instead of playing female ego games. Mustn't seem too eager. To whom? To a man who might be dying? To my own dented and voracious ego?
Calm down, I told myself. Go to sleep. Except, try really hard to get home first.
Well, no, I could find a bench. One more block and I'd be at the seawall. With benches. Or even just a wide segment of stone wall.
There, I made it. To the bench. Not home. Still raining. And windy, too. But a seat. With waves rolling in front of me, in and out, a constant reassuring dance. I was close enough to hear my favorite pebble sound as the water receded back, raking them, click-click-click, back into the ocean, before rolling out another wave onto shore.
Eventually I calmed down, soothed by the steady water. I fell into my own rhythm. Be well, Kevin, be well.
I thought about my fascination with Robin. Whom I had also learned to love. Robin's words, Robin's thoughts. Beguiled by a ghost. At the expense of the still living. And slowly I began accepting my kinship to Robin and realized that it was not, in the end, at the expense of Kevin. There was no loss in feeling tenderness for both.
Back home at long last after hours of fear and acceptance, storm and calm, I avoided my laptop as long as I reasonably could. First I had to make some chai tea. Then I noticed that the kitchen sink looked like it could use a good scrub. And there was dust on my towel rack in the bathroom in places where no towel ever touched. Then there were dust bunnies by the side of my desk, ignored long enough that I could now simply scoop with my hand and gather up dust, a few hairs.
And finally there was nothing else to do. True, I could go out and buy more milk. But that would have to wait till later. I decided.
"Hello, dear Tara," he had emailed. "I'm so very sorry you found out I am in town again the way you did. I meant to let you know some other way. Only I'm pretty tired these days. I really wanted to meet you at the club again, but I haven't had the energy for dancing. Come see me if you like. Any time is fine. Just let me know ahead of time so I can be decent."
"I'm coming at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow," I typed. "Okay?"