I’m not sure how many times we refreshed our inbox on July 9, 2017. Too many times, I’m sure, given that it was a Sunday. But hope abounds in this story, even when it comes to something as simple as pressing refresh and believing, this time, an email from Duke University will appear.
Matt took H to a comic book convention in the morning. G and I had a girl’s day. In the afternoon, we went to a friend’s house for a barbecue. The story that the photos and text messages and emails tell is not a cancer story. Honestly, it’s not much of a story at all. Matt and I exchanged a handful of text messages and a few funny memes we found on Facebook while he walked H around the comic book convention. I texted a friend about whether to bring pastries or fruit as a dessert to the barbecue. The story of the day is maybe the story I would have told if I’d been asked to describe happiness in a snapshot of suburban life.
Which leaves me with nothing to write about. (Hence the late post!) Even cycling back through old emails, I struggled to land on a topic. July 9 seems to be an uneventful day across the years. Or, July 9th is a day always devoted to waiting. Waiting for the doctor’s email in 2017. Waiting for radiation to start in 2016. Waiting for an agent to review a manuscript in 2013, a baby to start crawling in 2011, or a wedding day to finally arrive in 2008. Either way, the story of the day, no matter how far back I go, is little more than a paragraph. A snapshot of a life.
I debated writing about post-hope, the grief triggered in the fact that when the comic book convention rolled around this year, H couldn’t go with Matt, or, after I took a screenshot of the funny Internet meme, my finger hesitated over the name to type into the send box because I wasn’t sure who would find the photo as funny as Matt would. Little more than snapshots of grief.
I think a lot about the snapshots I write into the story. As the narrator, as a sometimes unreliable narrator, I can choose how to frame each moment I’ve singled out from the day. The choice whether to lead the story into the light or not is mine. I’ve considered this before, in terms of taking the story too dark, but also recently have been thinking about it in terms of looking back through rose colored glasses.
The further we are from February 3rd, the easier it is for me to look back and romanticize certain parts of our life, especially our pre-brain cancer life. The petty day-to-day arguments over dishes left in the sink didn’t make it into text messages or pictures. I don’t write about the times one of us felt under appreciated or overwhelmed with responsibilities, mostly because those times are irrelevant to the main story. That gritty truth of real life could be lost in this story of hope if I only tell the story through snapshots.
But I think losing that realness would be a disservice to G and H, whose memories contain their own snapshots. H shared one with me months ago that broke my heart when I heard it and still makes my chest go tight. He said something along the lines of: you and daddy fought all the time.
I wanted instantly to wipe out that particular snapshot, explain why his memory was wrong, and show him only how happy we were.
But his memory isn’t wrong. I know the time period he’s remembering. I know exactly the arguments he’s thinking of and I can drill down, without effort, to the heart of those arguments, which will dominate the story in December. Matt was irrational and angry and not himself and I was afraid and stressed and expecting him to still be who he was, which was simply an unfair and impossible expectation.
So yes, we fought, more so in December than we had ever fought in the thirteen years we’d been together. Yes, in retrospect, I wish I had found a better way. And no, I can’t wipe out H’s memory.
All I can do is tell our story, with snapshots of happiness, and hope by the end, H—and G—will know those snapshots they remember from December weren’t our marriage.
But I also hope they know our marriage wasn’t perfect before brain cancer, either. I suspect no relationship is, but I could be wrong. Either way, I want G and H to know that sometimes we argued. Sometimes we annoyed each other and fought about nonsense. We were never perfect.
They should know that we weren’t perfect and we didn’t fight a relentless battle over twenty months for perfection. We fought with determination and love and hope not only for the snapshot of happiness that I can drop into a paragraph, but for the mess and the imperfection and the gritty truth of real life that might not make it into the story.
In telling this story, in giving this insight into our relationship, I hope G and H will see that it was never as simple as perfect or imperfect. I hope they will remember we were more than those December arguments and more than snapshots of happiness in July. I hope they will know we were imperfect in a way that was perfect for us.
It always comes down to hope.