I suddenly realized that I had much better things to do with my time, especially now that I had some living to do….
“Of course, I can’t give you an exact time period but from my experience with this kind of illness, I’d say, give or take 12 to 24 months. I’m so very sorry. Are you sure that there is no one I can call for you?”
Why is this office so sterile white? White walls, white shelving, off-white accessories…
“No. I’ll be fine.”
The doctor’s voice sounded a thousand miles away and even my own voice didn’t sound like mine in my own head.
“Kate, I don’t think that you should be dealing with this news alone…”
They could at least have splashed a little color on a few of the walls, especially in the waiting room where it is so depressing…
“No. I’m okay.”
The doctor’s eyes pierced holes into my face, probably wondering how much longer she would have to wait before I cracked and crumbled into pieces onto the floor in tears. She gave me a doubtful look before scribbling something down vigorously on her prescription pad. I looked at the array of diplomas, degrees and certifications that littered her wall behind her, boasting her credentials.
All of those credentials and none of them can help me…
“I’m referring you to a therapist. It would be good for you and your family to speak with him. He can give you some coping strategies to help you through the difficult times to come.”
She scribbled something else on another page of her pad.
“And this is a prescription for something to take the edge of your nerves.”
The doctor tore the sheets from the pad with such force that it startled me back to attention. I took them without saying a word and shoved them into my purse.
“And I’d like to see you back here next week so that we can discuss your options.”
“Options? You just said that it’s terminal.”
I knew that I was looking at her all kinds of crazy. What kind of quack was she?
“I’m referring to options related to delaying the effects of the disease and to make things more…cope-able.
Cope-able? Was that even a real word?
“I apologize. I should have made that more clear, Kate.”
The doctor pushed back from her chair and stood up, signaling to me that my time was up, in more ways than the obvious one. I did the same, not feeling any sensation in my legs. My head felt disconnected from the rest of my body and I steadied myself by placing a hand on the edge of her desk. The doctor caught me by the arm to help me balance.
“You’re not okay. You need to let me call someone for you. What about your husband?”
“I’m divorced,” I spat out. The doctor looked uncomfortable.
“I forgot. I’m sorry. What about one of your children?”
“They both live abroad,” I lied, watching her face as she ran out of options. “I told you, I’ll be fine.”
The doctor nodded and gave up. She walked me out of her office door and back into the corridor but not before giving me a look filled with genuine sadness and pity.
“Don’t forget to have the receptionist give you an appointment for next week, okay?” she said loud enough for the receptionist to hear. “We’ll discuss a plan to…deal with all of this.”
The doctor nodded, to the receptionist, handed her my chart and called the next patient into her office. I took a moment to observe the faces in the deathly quiet waiting room that was overflowing patients. I felt invisible – most of them were focused on their smartphones while others looked off blankly into the distance worried about their own fates. But they weren’t invisible to me. I wondered which one of them would be joining my express ride to the other side.
“Ms. Reynolds? You need an appointment with the doctor for next week, right?”
I turned my attention to the always upbeat and pretty receptionist. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old.
Twenty-five… That was only 15 years ago. When I was twenty-five I was young and vibrant too…
“Ms. Reynolds? You need an appointment with the doctor for next week…”
My heart was racing but my spirit was calmly and clearly speaking to me.
“No. I don’t.”
The young girl looked confused.
“But the doctor said that you needed an appointment for …”
I ignored her and walked away to the elevators, my sole focus was on getting back to my car without passing out. As the elevator doors closed, I looked back to see the receptionist on her feet and staring at me as if I’d lost my mind.
Maybe I had.
But no, there would be no need for an appointment next week or any other week for that matter. I suddenly realized that I had much better things to do with my time, especially now that I had some living to do.
It was time for me to start living to die…
A is for Aloha
For the first time in weeks, I could no longer hold back my emotions. I fell to the ground crying hysterically…
Photo credit: Corey Ann via Foter.com / CC BY-ND
You’ve heard that saying about life flashing before your eyes before you die, right?
Well, that is absolutely wrong.
It’s not your life that flashes before your eyes, it’s all the regrets in your past that blinds you.
I had barely gotten out of bed in the past two weeks and had no interest in anything except ignoring basic personal hygiene, dialing out for fast food whenever I got hungry and sleeping the days away with the help of what the doctor had prescribed for me. The pills were supposed to take the edge of my nerves but all they did was make my head feel disconnected from the rest of my body. My brain was still as sharp as a tack with the reality of the situation.
I had managed to make time in those first few days to transfer my contracts to a fellow translator I knew. Janet was more than happy to take them off my hands for the extra income, which I knew she needed badly. And there was no point to taking on any new work, right? When Janet had asked if I was going on vacation, I simply said, “Yeah, I’m taking a hiatus.”
A permanent hiatus is what I should have called it.
Suddenly starving, I crawled out from under the covers and headed to the kitchen where I rummaged for left-overs but came up dry. I had been wavering between bouts of having no appetite to eating anything I could lay my hands on and I could already tell that today would be a binge day. I found my cell hidden underneath a pile of old photo albums, placed a call to the Chinese take-out place nearby and ordered enough food to feed four people. If I kept this up, I’d need to put their number on speed-dial and get myself a larger size of yoga pants.
When was the last time I had eaten? Yesterday? Or was it the day before that?
I flopped down onto the floor in the middle of the messy living room filled with my old family photo albums, sentimental mementos made by the kids when they were little and stray photos I had never had a chance to find a proper home for. The empty wine bottles and stinky empty take-out containers littered among the memorabilia made for an odd juxtaposition. The amateur photographer in me would have taken a picture of that contrast if I had had the energy to get my old camera from the bedroom closet.
Was this what 39 years had boiled down to?
It was like a collage of colorful memories sprinkled with the frustration of putting my life on hold while I raised two children and gave 150% of my time and support to my now ex-husband’s aspirations.
What did I have to show for all that sacrifice?
A big lonely house from the divorce settlement.
Grown children who had little or no time for me.
An ex-husband who discarded me the minute he hit the top of his field and replaced me two minutes later with a shiny younger girlfriend.
My dream of one day becoming a professional photographer was as old as time and now I had no time left to chase it. A dream of traveling the world, taking photos, eating strange exotic foods and interacting with people from all walks of life was like a moving target held tightly by the grim reaper already knocking at my door…
What I did have was a truck load of regrets and a wish for a life do-over.
As the realization hit that the past 20 years of my life hadn’t been my own, the thought of a fresh bottle of wine and the pills sitting on the coffee table felt enticing. I could end it all here and now before any of it even began. It was an option I planned to keep in my back pocket.
My cell buzzed with a voice message ringtone for Meghan, a girl who had befriended me when I joined a yoga class last year as a way of getting out of my hum drum boring routine. She was quite a bit younger than me but she had such a lovely spirit that I had taken to her immediately. We often went for mint tea after yoga and I knew that she probably wondered if I had fallen off the face of the earth. I’d missed the last few weeks and then she had gone on a business trip to Hawaii the week before – so it had been about month since I’d last seen her.
But Meghan would have to wait. I had zero interest in speaking to anyone, including her.
I scrolled through the rest of my missed calls and texts. There was a message from the doctor’s office probably trying to push me with a follow-up appointment, two texts from Meghan and a text from my daughter Hannah asking to borrow money again. And then there was the text from an idiot I’d met from the online dating site I had signed up on and had coffee with weeks ago. Before my coffee had gotten cold, I knew that he was a total loser just looking for an older woman desperate to snap him up. The bright side of my mess was that I no longer needed to bother with dating at all now.
When I wasn’t zoned out sleeping, I wasted time googling my illness and lurking social media to look at the profiles of anyone who came to mind – past classmates, old boyfriends, my ex-husband, the kids and even my doctor. I was in complete awe at how everyone’s lives were fun, exciting and perfectly photo filtered while I sat alone considering a handful of pills for dessert.
The doorbell rang and I didn’t think twice about who it was as I grabbed money from my wallet for the delivery guy. Unashamed at how awful I looked, I flung the door open to be greeted by Meghan, not the delivery boy.
“Aloha! I come bearing gifts!” Meghan extended a beautiful synthetic lei, draped it around my neck and waved a bag of coffee beans in my face.
“Did you know that more than meaning hello and goodbye, “aloha” is about the spirit of teaching ourselves to love our own beings first and then spreading the love to others? Isn’t that absolutely awesome? I also brought you some real coffee!”
I said nothing, still a bit confused that it was Meghan standing in front of me and not the delivery boy with my order of five-spice chicken, General Tao and Pad Thai. Meghan’s smile slowly vanished as her eyes rolled over my reeking state of unkemptness.
“When you didn’t show up for yoga and didn’t return my messages, I decided to drop the lei and Kona coffee off to you in person. I also wanted to make sure that you weren’t dead or anything,” Meghan joked, still observing me from head to toe.
I felt tears forming behind my eyes.
“What’s wrong? You look absolutely awful. Are you sick?”
My body suddenly felt heavy and I could feel my knees giving out.
“Sick? Yeah, you could say that. But I’m not dead yet.”
For the first time in weeks, I could no longer hold back my emotions. I fell to the ground crying hysterically. Meghan knelt in front me and grabbed onto my shoulders. We both sat crumpled up in my front doorway as she held me tight.
“Well Kate, that’s definitely not the kind of aloha I was expecting,” Meghan whispered as I held onto to her for dear life.
B is for Beach
“When we all leave this earth, our loved ones may miss us but with each passing day, they will carry on and live their lives and eventually we are just a thought on their minds every once in a while. Do something for you right now. Deal with everything else later…”
Photo credit: Foter.com
I turned over in bed and stretched like a cat, waking up to what smelled like the best homemade soup ever. My stomach immediately rumbled with hunger as it hit me that Meghan was still at my place.
How long had I been sleeping and how many days had she been here?
I felt more human than I had in weeks. After scooping me up from the ground in my doorway, Meghan had stripped me down naked and forced me into the shower. She followed up by standing guard like a warden as I brushed my teeth and combed my hair. Then, before letting me slide back into bed, she changed the sheets and made me put on a fresh pair of pyjamas.
After that, it was all a blur for me. Between almost non-stop sleeping, Meghan waking me up to eat something and spilling my guts incoherently to her about what the doctor had said, the days were fuzzy. This cycle continued until Meghan was satisfied that she had the complete story.
I couldn’t imagine that this acquaintance of mine was taking such good care of me. I’d forgotten how comforting it was to have someone take care of me. Actually, no one had ever taken care of me and it felt so good.
As I got up and reached for my robe, I noticed that my bedroom was no longer a colossal mess and when I stepped into the living room, everything was clean, tidy and put away. It almost brought me to tears that Meghan had done that for me.
How had she known where everything needed to be? She had never even stepped foot in my house before.
I stood in the kitchen doorway and watched Meghan throw ingredients into a boiling pot of goodness. My fridge had been empty which meant that she had either magically conjured up fresh food or she had gone grocery shopping during one of my sleeping marathons. She turned around and motioned for me to take a seat at my own table.
“Are you hungry? I’m making black bean soup, grilled chicken and rice.” She gave me a look that told me that I would have no choice but to eat regardless of how hungry I was or wasn’t. “How are you feeling? A little better?”
I nodded. “I almost feel human again. How long have you been here?”
“A few days.” Meghan slowly stirred the pot.
“My God Meg, I truly appreciate it but you’ve got a life. I can’t impose on you like this with my…situation. You don’t even know me that well.”
Meghan left the stove and sat down across from me. “I know you well enough and it’s my pleasure. If anything, you’re helping me. I needed to take a few days off work anyways and being here has made me realize that there are much more important things in life than work.”
I felt happy tears on my cheeks and Meghan wiped them away like a mother would with a small child.
“What more can I do to help?”
“You cleaned my place and you’re cooking for me. You’ve done plenty already. As for anything else, there is nothing that can be done. It is what it is.”
Meghan took my hand and squeezed it gently. I could see that she was trying to choose her words.
“Look, cleaning calms my nerves and after what you told me, I needed to find something to do after deciding to stay.”
“But you can’t stop your life to….”
“Stop. It’s fine. Do you want to talk about it? About what you are going to do?”
“Not really. What more is there to say? I’m dying. End of story.”
We were both uncomfortably quiet until Meghan got up and went back to check on her pot of soup.
“I don’t want to think about me for a little while. Distract me – tell me all about Hawaii and your conference. Did your new guy tag along with you? How is that going?”
“No, I didn’t invite him. I want to take things slow, especially since we started off on the wrong foot. I’m in no rush to make any bad decisions. If this is really love, I want this time to be right.”
Meghan cocked her head to one side. “Have you reconsidered going back to the doctor? Or at least getting a second opinion? I’d be more than happy to go to your doctor with you.”
I shook my head. “No, not yet. What would the point be?”
Meghan sighed deeply.
“The point is that you’re hiding in the darkness instead of walking in the light right now. Knowledge is power and you should be making decisions while standing in the light.”
Once again, we were silent. I chose to ignore her statement and pointed to her purse on the table.
“Did you take lots of pictures in Hawaii?”
Meghan sighed but nodded. “Of course I did. Do you want to see them?”
When I nodded, she whipped her tablet from her purse, turned it on and handed it to me. As I scrolled through dozens of photos of beautifully lush greenery, beaches and mountains, Meghan’s running commentary about them were like white noise – I was too deeply hypnotized by the beauty of the pictures.
“You’re not listening to me, are you Kate?”
I looked over to Meghan and nodded, admitting to my crime.
“These pictures are breathtaking! Which was your favorite beach?”
“That’s hard to say because everywhere we turned there was a beautiful beach. But I would be partial to Kaanapali since my work colleagues and I spent most of our beach time there. It was amazing.”
“What was so great about it?”
“Well, the beach was about three miles long with white golden sand as far as we could see. We did some snorkeling and even jumped off the cliff at Black Rock which wss totally insane and awesome at the same time! And at Whaler’s Village, there was a beach boardwalk with lots of other condos, hotels, open-aired restaurants and shopping.”
“I always wanted to go to Hawaii but it never worked out. Either it was because of my ex-husband’s work schedule, the kids being too young or in school. The timing was never right. Now it’s too late.”
I slid the tablet across the table to Meghan and she promptly slid it back. “It’s not too late. You could still go to Hawaii. I can’t go now.”
“Why not Kate? If you are refusing to go back to the doctor’s right now, you have no excuse. You could take a trip, clear your mind, get a change of scenery and come to your senses about going back for a follow up. You really do need to follow through with at least a second opinion… ”
“I can’t go. I have to think about the kids. They always need me for something. Then there’s the house… I’ve got to start making plans…making some kind of arrangements…”
“I may never be a mother but your kids are grown and out of the house. You’ve told me that your boy is super sweet and settled while your daughter is…well, I’m not sure how to describe her from what you’ve told me without possibly insulting you.”
“Yeah, Hannah is pretty indescribable. She’s the complete opposite of Kevin.”
“You need to think about you right now. What you want, what you need and what you want to do for you and only you. Regardless of what happens to us, the wheels of life will keep spinning. Bills will still need to be paid, people will still need to go to work, take care of their own lives and carry on. When we all leave this earth, our loved ones may miss us but they will carry on and live their lives. Eventually we will become a thought on their minds every once in a while. Do something for you right now. Deal with everything else later.”
Meghan got up, took a tray of marinated chicken breasts out of the fridge and washed her hands. I watched as she thoroughly caressed each one with a variety of spices before laying them one at a time into my frying pan. The kitchen was silent except for the sizzling of the pan.
Like the chicken breasts left marinating in the tray waiting for their turn to bask in the heat, Meghan’s silence allowed me marinate in her words of encouragement.
Could I just pick up, go to Hawaii and leave reality behind for a little while to clear my head?
Maybe I could.
Continuation – C is for “Coconut”
All Rights Reserved ©2017 Marquessa Matthews.
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All Rights Reserved ©2017-2018 Marquessa Matthews.
Disclaimer: I have no copyrights to the photos, song and/or video and/or hyperlinks to songs and/or videos and/or gifs above. No copyright infringement intended.