“I wish I had lived a life true to myself and not the life other’s expected of me” From Bonnie Ware’s research on Regrets of the Dying.
I worked at a cancer center during a particularly challenging time in my life. I’ve written and talked about this experience a lot because it had such a profound impact on my life. I was twenty-eight, a young professional woman, and I thought I knew what I wanted.
I didn’t and my patients could smell the deceit on my breath.
“Are you really happy?” they asked.
“I’m here to ask you that question” I replied
“Are you really happy” they responded
“Of course, I am” I replied
“You’re lying. I know you’re lying because I was lying, too. I was lying until I came here. I was lying to myself until death showed up and made me tell the truth. Don’t wait for death, kid. She’s a brutal motherfucker” they responded.
I smiled and sat with them during their transfusions. Some made it through. Some didn’t. Some will haunt my heart forever.
One man, etched his story on my soul. He showed up today and brought be back to the page to write about him. I told him I would never forget him and this is the proof. Maybe he’ll back off once this is published.
He was only a few years older than I am now when he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He called me pretty and said “fuck the rules” he said “fuck boundaries”
He was so angry.
I would call my brother and talk about this case (protecting confidentiality) because this man got under my skin. He was money rich, he was handsome, and he couldn’t buy one more minute on this earth to tell the truth about his life. He raged against the end like no patient I met before or since.
He bought into the capitalist bullshit of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “More and better shit will make me happy” and “Vulnerability is for dumbasses” He was tricked and he knew it. He threw items at the televisions at the infusion stations. “They’re fucking lying”
“IT’S A FUCKING WASTE OF TIME” he would scream (literally scream)
I gave him a David Sedaris audiobook to try and make him laugh. He said he liked it but I don’t think he ever listened to it and I never got it back. Because despite the rage, he died. He died on a Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the infusion machines continued pumping toxic cancer cures into other patients. I went on to sit with those patients.
He was right about everything. I wasn’t happy. I left my bullshit PhD program during my dissertation. I walked away from a soul crushing academic program. I got married in a courthouse wearing a dress from a head shop. I moved to Paris for a month with the money we saved by not getting “married”
We moved to a crap shack apartment on the corner of hell city and drug street in Kalamazoo. It all worked out more beautifully than I could have dreamed because I started telling the truth.
If he’s haunting me, I need to stop writing and figure out where the bullshit is hiding. That bastard always knows when I’m full of shit and I will love him forever for teaching me how to spot it.
I mean, he’s right, there’s no time for bullshit and death is a brutal motherfucker.
Tell the truth. You know what it is.