16 Feb A Late Valentine
Last night I heard a pack of coyotes yipping and yapping like college kids on a bender. They don’t often make a racket but, when they do, there’s no mistaking them for dogs. We love the country for its wildlife. It’s just a matter of time before we see a bear lumbering across one of our fields. They’ve been sighted all over the county and as close to urban centers as Randallstown. Okay, you won’t see a bear in Baltimore, ever. But it’s, I don’t know, interesting to know they’re getting near?
One of Jill’s favorite programs nowadays is “I Was Prey”: each episode features two survivors of animal attacks who recount their tales of terror. Mostly it’s about sharks, bears, and alligators. But there are some oddities thrown in: e.g., one survivor’s tale featured an angry giraffe. And hippos. Don’t forget hippos, the most dangerous of all wild animals, killing more people annually than any other beast. Maybe you already knew that.
Another of Jill’s favorites is “The Monster Inside Me,” about parasites, strange infections, and bizarre diseases that nearly kill people. She also binges on true crime documentaries. Do you notice a viewing pattern here? It seems Jill is deriving some satisfaction from watching travails and near tragedies that, perhaps, make her feel luckier than these survivors? I can’t watch any of these shows because I don’t want to inhabit such dark realms. That’s not to say that Jill is morose or, like Wednesday Addams, devilishly relishing the misfortunes of others. It’s more that these shows give her a kind of perverse balance.
Now that we’re into the third year of her three-year prognosis, Jill is convinced this will be her last. Her right lung is ruined, thanks both to radiation and cancer. As a result, she has coughing fits several times a day. She’s now housebound, on the couch with her three cats where she reads her books, surfs the web, and Wordles the day away. Though she insists she has a keen appetite, she doesn’t eat much. Still, I enjoy making her favorite meals. Tonight it’s spaghetti and meatballs.
Her oncologist wants to stay with the current chemo, even though it doesn’t appear to be working. Or, rather, it’s apparently working in some parts of Jill’s body but not all. Her cancer antigens continue to rise week after week. Jill and I suspect the doctor doesn’t have anything better to offer after this. We won’t know how bad her condition really is until March, when her insurance finally allows another PET scan.
I’ve been going out once or twice a week to clear my head. Jill and I agree that, for my emotional health, it’s a good idea for me to engage socially and exercise my humanity. This decision marks a significant divergence in our lives, as she prepares for the end and I prepare for a beginning of sorts. Neither of us is happy about this but we’ll try to make the best of it.
As I’ve said before, the most remarkable element in all of this is Jill’s continued resilience. She still throws off sparks: a wisecracker, a jokester, an irreverent, a puzzle lover, a tree-hugger, a voracious reader, a provocateur, a thoroughly empathetic observer of the world. I love her dearly!
We are vulnerable creatures, we humans. Of people who, like my father, “die before their time,” we may ask, What is our time? Actuaries encourage us to embrace the notion of averages: i.e., the average lifespan of American males is 73; American females, 75. Given human nature, it seems inevitable that our expectations fly high. Even in the face of adverse evidence, most of us take for granted that we’ll live to an old age. And we feel cheated if we don’t make it that far. Are we so presumptuous? Entitled? Or are we simply scared?
I had my will notarized the other day and am now comforted by the fact that, if I die before Jill (car accident? Fall from a ladder? Slip on black ice?), she will know her options and have the help she needs (a family friend will be my executor). If it comes down to that is a catch phrase that sits at the center of our lives. Hard to say what the “if” and the “that” might be. But we tell ourselves we’re ready.