Dad: Happy Valentine’s Day. You know how I’ve been seeing doctors and couldn’t get a diagnosis? Now I have one. I have cancer.
Dad: I have lesions on several of my internal organs. We begin chemo on Friday.
Tata: You do?
Dad: That terrible taste in my mouth the doctors should have been able to identify? Cancer.
Tata: It was? And the fever you’ve had since before Christmas?
Tata: Phantom debilitating pain?
Tata: How do you feel about this?
Dad: I could be dead in a year.
Tata: You could?
Dad: It’s within the range of possibility.
Tata: I am actually relieved that you finally have a diagnosis. I didn’t believe it for a minute when the doctor said you, you know, just had a fever. For two months.
Dad: Oh. Also: Happy Birthday. What are you doing to celebrate?
Tata: I was thinking of drowning myself in the Raritan.
Dad: Don’t be ridiculous. That river’s frozen and paramedics are tougher to please than Ukranian judges.
We hang up after exhanging tender words both of us would deny under oath. I immediately call Daria, who is still sobbing. Daria calms down and tells me to call Auntie InExcelsisDeo, who is also still sobbing. To distract her, I mention the braces came off and I can’t stop doing that ridiculous Pearl Drops Tooth Polish “It’s a great feeling!” gesture with my tongue, which will eventually make me very popular in town. Then I call Daria back. Daria asks if she should call our mom, who divorced Dad in the seventies. I say yes. Daria calls me back later. We do this again and again for five days. No way could I afford this with regular phone service.
Thursday was my birthday, which is usually a very big deal in my family because it has for the last decade kicked off a long series of birthdays. We have a season. Every two weeks, we go somewhere and celebrate. All that festivity can really suck the life out of a clan, plus now Anya’s husband Dan’s birthday is a week before mine, so we’re all receipts and wreckage. In any case, I could have been perfectly content to let go of any claim to birthday-based overeating but Mom insisted on taking me out to dinner.
Tata: We’re expecting snow and ice like nobody’s business. Are you sure?
Mom: I’m sure. Where would you like to go?
Tata: There’s an excellent Thai restaurant blocks from here.
Mom: I don’t love Thai.
Tata: …Or we could go to…um…
Mom: How about the new Greek restaurant? How about 6?
Tata: Terrific. I’ll be ready at 6.
At 6:30, Mom and Tom picked me up, which I knew would happen and for which I was totally prepared. It was just dinner, and ya gotta eat. They gave me a 16-quart stock pot with a glass lid and I was content to let it go, again. We keep trying to get as much of the whole family together before the next series of birthdays and it just isn’t working because Mom’s having her Annual Harvesting of the Melanomas. Our next proposed date is Tuesday, the 27th, and the proposed get-together is at a fondue place for cheese, meat, seafood and chocolate fondue. Last night, I told Daria if the date moves again, we’ll be celebrating Anya’s and Corinne’s birthdays, too, and everyone will have to eat twice as much. We should just suck it up and fondue.
On Saturday, Siobhan took me to a spa in Livingston, where we got facials and massages. I’d spent five weeks crying my eyes out and I looked like it. I’ll write about the facial and the massage some other time because…because. Another time. Suffice it to say that after two hours of soothing smells and gentle music and charming people saying nice things, the masseur whispered many times, “Let it go, Ta” and I couldn’t. I realized I was a giant, clenched, terrified knot, which is exactly what I don’t want to be, and what I know will not help. The result: I forced myself to calm down and consider a way forward.
In less than two months, my dear pussycat was terribly ill, then I put him to sleep. My best friend nearly died. My son-in-law and by extension my daughter suffered a career trauma. My father started cancer treatment. My mother’s post-cancer treatment regimen has become a little less low-key. A friend moved away. Daria keeps saying to me, “I’m fully cognizant that I have Tyler and you’re over there in your apartment alone.”
I am fine. I have no regrets about the pussycat, the career trauma will pass, I’ll get used to the missing friend. The treatment is being aggressively pursued by a family of Type-A fighting freaks with oncologist friends. And last night, I spoke with a woman who rescues stray and abandoned cats about my desire to have two feline companions. I have appointments with the dentist to get one of my teeth fixed, and this afternoon, I will see Carmello for a new coif. I’m drinking lots of broth, miso shiro soup, juice, water.
The future arrives, whether we fear it or not. I intend to greet it with composure and a healthy mix of ferocity and acceptance. My manicure will be perfect at all times. My hand will be open.