Friday, March 1, 2013

What Remains

The Best Bits of What Remains from Carole Radziwill, which is a memoir of her marriage with a man who died of cancer and the death of her friends, JFK Jr and Carolyn Bessette.

The thing is, one of us is sick and the other sits by the bed, and some days it seems that’s all we know. There was a hint of what we might have had when we first met, but it was overshadowed. We might have been the sort of couple who gave dinner parties. There might have been children, or maybe a dog. We were both headstrong and stubborn, so we might have fought a lot, or we might have been people other couples make fun of, sappy and giggly and always holding hands. But cancer showed up like an unplanned pregnancy and completely defined who we were together.

The night was ordinary. It usually is, I think, when your life changes. Most people aren’t doing anything special when the carefully placed pieces of their life break apart.

But when it doesn’t feel like you’re turning, it feels wrong to correct it. He wouldn’t have corrected it enough. He wouldn’t have corrected it at all. He would have followed what his senses were telling him to do—an overwhelming feeling of what he should do—and it would be exactly the wrong thing.

We never seem to fight about interesting things—always passionately about the trivial: our different manner of cutting tomatoes, driving techniques, the high frequency with which I wash clothes and how much detergent is appropriate to use.

The dandelion is a gawky yellow flower that blooms and then collapses into a soft, clumsy one that little children blow wishes on. There was a sea of dandelions in our back yard on Madison Hill, and Grandma Binder, swinging her scythe, would mount a futile attack on them in her housedress and apron. They grew into a clotted forest of long, milky necks in the backyard, and the best she could hope for was just to cut them down to stubs. It starts with one slouchy weed—pluck it out and it’s gone. You never quite remember, can’t pinpoint the time between when there was one weed and a sea of them. There was a time when the thing seemed manageable, and then we were looking backward over our shoulders, running away from it. You never stop thinking you might have beaten it somehow, and there were moments when we thought we had. Your husband can be dead years, and you can’t stop thinking how you might have beaten it. Or how they could have left ten minutes earlier, or the next morning. Or that damn lighthouse could have flickered through the fog.

It steals in the moment we feel invincible. It depended on our denial, our disbelief. Cancer is nothing if not discreet. Look at me, it whispers. I dare you, say my name on this sunny day with your future spread wide.

Nothing is ever as it seems. We hide our reality from the outside world and from each other. We float along on process, Anthony and I—What will we have for dinner, did you call your mother, what time do you think you’ll be home? Phone calls and kisses and thank-you notes. You can lose a whole life on that. 

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