March 27, 2017: The Day Before

Killing time the day before the polio protocol at the movies.

On a Monday morning one year ago, Matt and I left the kids and flew to North Carolina. Flying high above the state, we could see that some of the trees and plants had started to blossom. Too many others remained bare and bleak. I didn’t know if they would blossom soon or whether they hadn’t survived the winter. But I worried.

The 2016-2017 winter was an odd season. A heatwave of sorts hit in December and some of the trees in New Jersey began to blossom, confused by the warm streak in the middle of winter, tricked into believing it was Spring. By January or February or so, a burst of absurdly cold air gripped the Northeast.

Watching the blossoms on the trees on my jogging route that winter became my own personal vigil. I’d study them as I’d run past. Did they look smaller or grayer? How many had surrendered and dropped to the sidewalk, overcome by the cold, unrelenting wind? Would they make it through the next forecasted storm? Would new ones take the place of those that had fallen.

I could do nothing for the blossoms but watch helplessly and count down the days until winter was officially over.

Flying over North Carolina and seeing the patches of bare branches among the bursting flowers revealed the extent of winter’s reach. I had no way of knowing whether the trees and plants survived, whether they just needed more time or the brutal weather had been too much. But, my anxiety swelled. Was anyone else paying attention? Was anyone else watching out for these trees?

We checked in to the hotel in Durham on Monday and found ourselves with free time. No kids and a lot of hours to not think about the next couple of days, the procedure that would cure Matt’s brain cancer. We took the hotel shuttle to see Logan. I can’t remember for sure, but I’m almost certain Matt made small talk with the driver, who knew we were staying in the hotel under a medical reservation thanks to the color of the shuttle ticket we showed him. The driver, whose name escapes me now, came to earn a front row ticket to Matt’s battle.

I often wondered during those first trips to Duke what the drivers thought of us. A young couple, staying at the hotel, going to the movies, to dinner, to the trendy areas, staying under a medical reservation. I wonder if they tried to guess why we were there, which of us was sick.

Eventually, it became obvious.

I wonder often about the people in North Carolina who played a role in our visits if they ever think of us and wonder why we stopped going. If we faded into the sea of guests who have come and gone to Duke for treatment over the years. If they know why we stopped coming and hope it’s because the cure worked.

As it turns out, that Spring, a lot of plants never blossomed. But even more survived.

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