What to say but that I have an incredibly full life.
I have friends, long time friends, short time friends. I make friends easily, I am charming, I can shake a hand and tell jokes and sometimes it's the old Bergin bit, but they don't know that yet, they are new. And my friends smile when they introduce me and I feel warm and glad and being outside is wonderful.
On a Friday night, I sit in a bar for four hours with Sam and we decide we are going to help the world, to give back. And we bullshit and we laugh and I run into an old high school classmate. Sam leaves and I engage with her until my time is up; my mouth has run dry, the painkillers have receded. The narcotic warmth I once felt is slowly creeping back inwards from my fingers and my toes, back into my gut, and I know I must be going home.
I get a cab and my friends are in Bushwick, telling me to come to the show, but I give the driver Genevieve's address, where I am staying while she is away. I climb into bed, and I count out my pills and I do not feel lonesome, not yet. This act is familiar.
Two hours I awaken and the pain is red hot, black mascara tears streaked across the pillow case, my face swollen, eyes puffy. I have to be at the museum in 8 hours but I do not sleep for the rest of the night. I take the drugs, I read, I mumble the f word until I linger between feeling and sleep.
On the subway uptown I think of the ways I will avoid the pain today. I text message pictures of my mouth to my friends in med school. We agree that upping the prednisone will heighten my blood sugar but will decrease the sore and that needs to happen, because the sore, the big one, it is a white albatross on my tongue, a crater, an open wound in the most vulnerable of places. I buy Anbesol for 10 dollars at Duane Reade and subway drivers look at me, ever so briefly, as I apply the coating.
At the museum, I have fun, I hold babies and I make children laugh but I cannot forget about the pain; it takes the wit I have and it dulls it, as sharp as the butter knives the Indians used to husk corn. I point out the tools to the kids, and they are amazed at the hunting and gathering done so many years ago.
Sometimes I want to talk in sentences and paragraphs but I cannot and when Claire and Jess ask how I am, I cannot lie. I am finding more and more that the lie I have told so much: "I'm feeling better!" will not come. It sticks, stubborn in my throat. They know how to do nothing else but to hug me; this is enough, it is what I need. Slowly the Anbesol I have reapplied saves me, and I forget momentarily that my day's obscured by sickness.
It is on the train ride home that I let the drink I had at the station mix with the half of the painkiller I had left and I lie across an empty seat and thank the NJ Transit worker who let me into an empty car when she saw that I could not be among the others, the noisy others. She found me a bathroom and an outlet and did not ask me about the tears of pain and exhaustion in my eyes.
What I am saying is that there is kindness here, in this world.
When I get home I finally scream, I throw up from the pain, I let my mother rub my back. She does not tell me to buck up, to think of the children in Africa. I reach out in a wild rush to a friend and his response is as perfect as one's can be. My cancer friends remind me of things to look forward to.
And I do, I do, I see how good I have it, I see this love-filled life I have, I see the miracle that is being me. I see my strengths and I loathe my weaknesses. I love my life; I want to leave it forever.
I cannot change the physical pain, though, and I fear it is slowly taking me away. Am I defying this fate or am I avoiding it?
I am avoiding it, and I will, for as long as I shall live.