Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Laying On a Table, Mike

Two years ago I took a friend by the hand, looked her in the eye and said, "I think you should prepare yourself for the possibility that Justin might not make it."

I felt unspeakably cruel.

I regretted it immediately even though I knew it needed to be said. Treatments had been exhausted and options had run out—he was at home, resting comfortably, and my friend believed he was simply gaining strength so he could return for more chemo. She is a perpetual optimist—naive, as well—and sometimes I ache to be that sort of person.

I'm the cruel one, if that's what that means. I'm the realist. I see everything coming—and I knew the time had come to stop pretending and begin mentally preparing for the worst.

Few know this about me, but my first job after college was editing obituaries. No, it was not the most sunny job I've ever had, but it taught me more about communicating with and relating to people than I learned in four years of college.

But it was because of that job that I discovered, alone at my desk, that a friend of mine had passed away. I clicked on a Word document from a funeral home expecting a brief biography and survivor list for a cherished grandfather—not the swiftly written announcement of death for a beloved 20-something I'd never seen without a smile.

I was laying on top of a picnic table in a red sundress drinking a stella when I last saw him. "What are you doing, Fifield?" "I'm laying on a table, Mike." "Well you look good." When I sat up on my elbows he was walking away so I just shouted that I'd see him later.

Nobody took me by the hand and gave me the news slowly.

I've never been afforded the courtesy of finding out bad news in a controlled sort of way.

But I suppose if you want people to treat you like a delicate little tea cup, you have to act like one.