Archive for October, 2010

Elena’s Plan

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

I remember that night as if it were yesterday. That kind of memory never fades. We had just learned of Elena’s diagnosis hours before. Still in shock, Brooke and I decided that it would be I who would stay with Elena and coordinate with the doctors while she would return home to deliver the news to Gracie and our family. I knew I had the easy job; that night I would sit in the chair beside Elena’s bed at the hospital while Brooke would fake the confidence and courage to make our family believe it would be all right. But neither of us were convinced and neither of us would sleep that night. Looking across the room I saw Elena’s profile by the glow of the IV machine. She was also awake and so began our journey as we would talk for hours about her plans while I held her hand in mine – yet my mind drifted back to Gracie. Brooke and I would survive, but what about Elena and Gracie? Best friends for life, they were constant companions, separated only by 18 months that melted the moment Gracie was born. Elena was the first person to make Gracie laugh and since then it was Gracie who kept Elena laughing all the while. I dreaded the news that Brooke had to deliver to Gracie that night – that her and Elena would be separated for the next month as she sought treatment and Gracie continued with school. Only a month; Brooke and I prayed that this would be the worst.

And so that night I started to write, first on the back of the folders I had brought from work when we originally thought it was just strep throat. Oh, how I wish it was just strep throat. Each letter addressed to Gracie, in the hopes that one day the journal would be forgotten when Elena was cured. Still, that day never came and the notes continued.

Two weeks later the journal became an email, eventually carried online at the prompting of relatives. Coincidentally it was also the first time I saved it to my computer as one letter to Gracie: “135 Days with Elena – Notes Left Behind.” The 135 days came from our first meeting with the doctors. They told us to expect three months after radiation, nothing more. The notes left behind came from the notes I was leaving for Gracie about her sister. That day was the same day I took the picture of Elena walking away from me down the halls of the hospital. And for 256 days, it was that picture that gave me the courage to keep writing. Today it is the cover of the original version of the book.

Ultimately, we would discover that we were not alone, for while we were capturing notes and memories for Gracie, Elena was creating her own. And today, the title of “Notes Left Behind” has another meaning. Ironically, when the journal was posted on the Internet, I omitted the title of “notes left behind,” fearful that it foretold of a fate that we still denied. Instead, I used “135 days”, confident that she would beat the odds. She did. Though, now, we use the title of “notes left behind”, aware that to many 135 days has no meaning in a story of hope and inspiration.

Tomorrow as “Notes Left Behind” is released in paperback throughout the U.S., I’m reminded that this is not so much a book about cancer as it is a note shared between two sisters who are the best of friends. We’re just lucky enough to be the messengers. This was Elena’s intention all along.

Bathroom Concerto

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

I can hear her all the way down the hallway. She couldn’t hold it any longer. After an hour of waiting for the doctor she had to go and now I stand by the drinking fountain waiting for her to come out of the women’s restroom. People pass me in the hallway and laugh. I just smile and wave. They make the connection and know I’m waiting for her.

When she was little it was the alphabet song. I think she inherited this habit from my mother. I know because she doesn’t know the words. Today it’s the latest tween pop song she heard on the radio. And she still doesn’t know the words. “Boom boom clap, boomty clap,” she starts at the top of her lungs, “shuffle and jump with your hands on your hips.” Is she dancing now? A woman opens the door and walks out of the bathroom shaking her head and covering a smile with her hand. “She’s mine,” I tell her. She already knows.

By now it’s been eight minutes. I start to pace. Still I hear her singing. So does everyone else. “Don’t worry,” my wife told me once, “she’ll grow out of it.” That was three years ago when she used the restroom at the church. I’m surprised she wasn’t recruited for the chorus after that experience. That was about the time that she loudly commented to Brooke how pretty her pink panties were. Even I heard that comment from outside the bathroom. After that, we went to the bathroom in shifts. Now all we have to contend with are the occasional comments about “what’s that smell” and “that lady didn’t wash her hands”. I can’t blame her, I’ve always wanted to ask people about washing their hands too.

Brooke swears next time she’ll send her with me. I counter with tales of men’s room filth and the lack of privacy. As far as she knows every men’s bathroom is fashioned from an old rusty bucket or a hole dug into the ground. They’re lies, but they do the trick. From the men’s room I can her next concerto, this time louder than the last. I love my wife.

You’d think as the years go on she’ll become more discrete. Instead the singing grows louder with every year. Then again, why wouldn’t it? Many a concert hall has been designed after the acoustic model of the classical rest area bathroom. With tiled walls and concrete floors her echo is the perfect accompaniment to her melody. Thank God for the captive audience. Maybe she’ll get a standing ovation.