An empty table

it Used to be Huge

It used to be huge. Everything was huge. She didn’t have a party, she had events. Summer parties for a hundred of her closest friends and food and drinks for two hundred. If you were her friend you were a close friend.

The circle was huge.

There were no simple acquaintances.

Ringing the cowbell from the car, for every mile of a 200-mile bike race. And laughing. Laughing and ringing that bell for 14 hours. Every time she saw me she’d yell, “you got this bro…” Every time.

Thanksgiving – two turkeys and hams and roast beef. One year we had take out Chinese too. A constant flood of people. Me, the perpetual neat freak finally throwing in the towel and taking a plate and a seat on the floor. No way to keep up with the mess.

She’d say, “We will clean tomorrow. Tonight, Siesta.”

The constant background of Spanish music. I never understood a word, except, “Caliente”.

One year we had twenty pies. We lined them up on the table and took pictures and laughed.

We laughed, but there was a present and palpable gratitude. Nothing taken for granted. A deep and abiding thanks for every friend and every bite of food.

Huge.

Christmas – and maybe the mortgage was forgotten or a car payment. There were gifts to buy for everyone. Every one of her close friends. And trees and more pies. I gained ten pounds every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a condition of being within the sphere of her friendship.

Her huge friendship.

The night I met her she was mad at me. She tried to run me over with her car.

She said the other night, in a whispy and frail voice, “I am glad I didn’t run you over that night, bro…” and we hugged and laughed, but it wasn’t the huge laugh, it was quiet and small and subdued.

The huge is gone.

Eighty pounds gone.

The long, black curly hair is gone.

I shaved my head. She said, “now we are twins, no one will be able to tell us apart!”

That’s the body, I realize, the spirit is and will always be huge.

The days of enough food to feed an army is replaced by a small bowl of soup. Half-eaten, she is full.

OxyContin and Morphine…

The spirit is becoming contained. The hundreds of close friends are shrinking to a core few. I’m honored to still be in that shrinking group.

The circle is smaller.

I’m watching you fade away before my eyes and I’m helpless.

For the first time in my life, I realize there is nothing I can do.

I realize screaming only makes my throat sore.

Punching a wall only breaks my hand.

Diminished is the word that will not leave my head. A life diminishing, fading. It seems to be one cell, one molecule at a time. Imperceivable daily before my eyes, but evident week to week.

A sense and a sadness that now that cancer has eaten the body with its unending hunger it has now turned its horror on the soul.

It will never take that life force that is my friend. She is more than any person I’ve ever known.

She will always be a force.

She will always be huge

it’s All Good, Bro

Sitting across from you, that smile.

How does someone fill a hospital room beyond capacity, every day? Standing room only.

People moving out of the way to allow passage near your chair, where you hold court.

Some of us are simply your jesters. Joking, trying to keep it light while inside we all crash to the ground.

You are a magnet. You’ve always been a magnet.

Someone says, “the most amazing and powerful woman I’ve ever known!”

I can only reply, “true dat.”

The nurses come and ask us all to quiet down – again.

Jokes

Memories

Everyone in the room is connected to each memory.

Last January, another hospital room. Twenty-four hours after an emergency call to your “family”, we converged on Georgia.

Some of us traveled over a thousand miles. Most of us drove. No time for arraignments to fly.

There wasn’t a plan, none of us even questioned, we all simply migrated from all over the country to find ourselves sitting by your side. Your troops, your court.

We all cried.

We all cried a lot.

But, you woke up. You said to me, “I kicked cancers ass again, bro!”

And I hugged you so hard I thought I’d break you, and cried some more.

“Bro”, I don’t think you ever called me “Bill”. I will always be your “bro”,  my sista…

Team Pisces, you and me.

Elegance and courage, you, not me.

Jesus, courage. I want to stand up and yell at you, “don’t you understand how fucked up this is?”

You, always a peace, a smoldering calm, sometimes it came after a raging storm, but you always return to peace.

Calm.

That smile.

I’ve envied and lost any hope of ever finding that peace.

This is not to say that Panamanian temper wasn’t there, ready to come out and declare war on something that was wrong.

“I don’t play!”

Those were the words you lived by.

Today, 2 minutes and thirty seconds into the fifteenth round of this fight.

Hospice

Fucking hospice?

What the fuck!

Hospice?

I’m crying again. I’ve cried more in the past year and a half than I’ve ever cried in my entire life.

You sit there smiling.

Calm

Elegant

Courageous

“I got no time for no sadness!”

You sit across from me. Machines are hooked to you pumping you full of drugs to kill the pain.

I saw that pains ugly twisted face the other night.

The morphine tapped out. You held my hand so tight I could feel my fingers about to break. Doubled over, like you’d been kicked in the gut. You had been.

Round fourteen to cancer.

You sit across from me, connected to those machines, you’ve lost a million pounds, your hair is gone, but in a way, yesterday, you’ve never looked more beautiful to me.

Sitting in that crowded room, in the oncology ward, Vassar Brothers Hospital, for a second it was just you and me. One on one.

I saw the face of courage and grace and peace.

You smiled that smile. Your eyes met mine and in silence, I heard you, “it’s all good, Bro, it’s all good…”

It’s Small now

It is small now. Everything is small now. The days are smaller. Time is smaller. The goals are smaller.

The daylight in Jersey City is smaller now.

The circle of friends is smaller.

The general consensus is don’t show up now crying and waving Bibles. If you ain’t been here through it all, all this hell, don’t show up now.

Word

This is a tough crowd, don’t test us…

A life so full of life. A life so full of excited, albeit, at times crazy ideas, but so full. So full of the shining essence of this miracle we call life…

So full

Now reduced to naps between bouts of pain.

And meds and more pain.

The morphine, the twenty-four-hour morphine ain’t cutting it.

There used to be no bad days, at least by comparison. Then there were one or two between chemo, but we took them because there were ten-twelve-fourteen days of good.

You were a miracle on the loose.

On fire.

Doctors were perplexed.

We watched and smiled. If anyone was going to beat this it was you.

It’s so big. But, so are you.

This you. This all powerful – you.

My daughter asked me last night how it was going.

I cried again.

I told her I think I figured out why people die.

We die when the bad days win.

The two weeks of good days have given way to a week of good and two days of bad.

Then five good and three bad. Then one not so bad and two pretty damn bad.

The goals are so small now.

Your goal is Thanksgiving. Not thanksgiving with all of us and your sister and twenty pies.

Thanksgiving maybe with some soup, if you can keep it down.

I want to scream at the phone, “Thanksgiving is only a month away! What the fuck are you talking about?”

Then I recall the climb, pushing that massive boulder up the bigger and bigger hill.

The hill seems to be getting steeper. Suddenly it appears to be straight up.

No one ever pushed harder than you. No one ever could.

The game has changed, we fear the hill now. It has started to loom huge and out of control. The hill is in charge now.

The hill has a name. Its name is cancer.

The chemo is stopped, the cancer now runs this show, unbridled and unchecked.  The cancer grows large now, as everything else tightens into a smaller and smaller circle.

I watch you wince in pain as I see it, the cancer, squeeze out what is left of the light.

The time for anger has even passed. All that remains is agony.

When you’ve lost the desire and ability to pray what do you do, cross your fingers?

Prayer and crossed fingers seem pointless now. We just watch the cancer grow. The hill too high, too steep to climb.

Please, don’t today, challenge me once again with your “will of God” story. I want no part of the God responsible for this or his plan.

Everything is small now.

Less Now

Less now…

Less than small…

No longer huge, no longer big, no longer loud.

Down among the dust and grains of sand.

Down among the stuff we miss, we ignore with our business, our busy-ness.

These remaining moments.

Down to a handful, or half a handful, a few grains in the center of the palm of the hand.

These moments are small and quiet.

Holding your hand I’m in close and tight, almost cheek to cheek, to hear you.

Your huge voice is now a whisper, more like a breeze. Faint and breathless.

Even breath has become hard.

You talk to me about your fear. It’s a fear I cannot even comprehend.

You keep the TV on all night so you can’t hear the fear. The noise in your head.

This is not a time for talks of Jesus and salvation. Your soul, wherever it is headed, is as safe as any that has ever lived.

I don’t know much on this subject of soul.

I know this to be true. Your soul is headed where the good souls go.

I tell you I’m the wrong one to discuss this with.

You say, “no, you are who I need to discuss this with!”

I tell you I don’t think it’s an end, but a change. That is all I can be sure of.

Maybe just a change to a different plane.

A plane without screaming and wincing pain and vomiting and morphine.

In that regard a better place.

Down here in between the tiny bits of sand I see your fight is still alive. You hold my hand tighter and look into my eyes and tell me you will see your grand-babies one more time.

I tell you it’s ok to let go. We all know your pain.

You say “No, not today. There will be one more thanksgiving.”

Your sister walks in and we all, at the same time, remember the twenty pies.

That was your life. A table of over-abundance, not of too many things, but your overwhelming energy.

You, the earth mother.

The one everyone was drawn to.

You set a table with a place for everyone to sit.

Not for the rich or the well placed.

You set a place for those of us in need.

A place for everyone who needed a place to be.

Anyone who needed an ear, or a smile or a laugh

That laugh will echo around inside me forever.

At your table, we were all served and fed whatever we needed. Loud laughter and quiet assurances. Things only shared with the closest of friends.

We all needed something different.

Soon the table will be cleared. The fine china and crystal and silver cutlery will be taken away, the flat wooden top laid bare.

The high-backed chairs empty

The loud Spanish music gone silent.

 

7 thoughts on “An empty table”

  1. Your friend is one of the rare ones. Bigger than life, making her suffering so unfair. I can feel your love for her. She gave so much of herself to her friends, making those holiday dinners so special. Her selfless, strong, beautiful spirit will continue. Like you, I am not sure what lies ahead when this life of the flesh is over. Surely she will find that light. She knows that you love her. Just hold her frail hand—and love her. Please take care of yourself during these painful days. You have touched many. You are loved my friend!

  2. I am literally sitting at work, crying as I read this. I hope I don’t get a call any time soon. I only know if her from your and my conversations, Bill, however, your words are so painfully descriptive and full of emotion that I love and miss her, too. Hang in there , Bill, through the end. We’re all here for you, man. You are an incredible friend and a great “bro”.

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