July 15, 2017 was another quiet Saturday. In the morning, Matt took H for a haircut, followed by lunch and errands. I took G to a birthday party. That afternoon, we invited over another family and had a barbecue at our home.
I vaguely remember the afternoon. Matt was determined to set up the basketball hoop that he’d bought the week before. I remember feeling slightly irritated that he was so single-mindedly focused on setting up this basketball hoop, even though we had company over. He even recruited the other husband to help him build a part of the hoop.
If I was nitpicking back then—which I was, all the time—I would have noted that single-mindedness. I might have had an internal panic attack when Matt put a part together the wrong way or when Matt’s unshakeable focus had him send our friend to pick up his own tool set. I would have paid attention to how it wasn’t wrong to want to set up the basketball hoop, but how the timing and the energy of his focus felt strange. I would have taken these mental notes and then done nothing with them.
Because how could I explain to a doctor that Matt’s energy felt off? How could I tell a nurse that the Matt I married would have enjoyed the afternoon and built the hoop later, especially when I couldn’t even be sure if that was true? Maybe even if brain cancer never entered our lives, he would have spent the afternoon steadfastly determined to build that basketball hoop and I would have spent the afternoon wishing he’d be a better host.
As is so often the case, I still do not know whether Matt’s inflexible focus was a result of a brain tumor impacting his thought process or simply a manifestation of his desire to build something for G and H. The question always becomes: what was tumor and what was Matt?
I’ve told a version of this same story before, too many times, probably. The only way I know how to explain the experience of watching brain cancer steal away a family member, a spouse, is through examples. But, as a writer and a reader, I know that simply saying the same thing again and again adds words but not context. And words without context does not make for a dynamic read. So I thought for a long time about what distinguished today’s story from other similar days when I noticed a minor, clinically insignificant change in Matt.
The basketball hoop. Because though I think of the worry, the anxiety that swelled in response to Matt’s single-mindedness, when I look at that basketball hoop, G doesn’t. She looks at that hoop and thinks of it as the last thing her daddy built for her. (To which H responds, he built it for us. And now they are both planning to be famous basketball players, among a handful of other big career dreams.)
And I realized today’s post includes a challenge that other posts have not: how to write about my memory of this day without staining the memory for G and H? How to tell my truth, because that’s all I can tell, without rubbing the shine off G and H’s memory?
I think the best way to share my memory, while preserving theirs, is to ask this final question: does it matter? Does it matter whether his single-mindedness was tumor or not?
The answer, very obviously, is no. It doesn’t matter. Because Matt did finish building the basketball hoop for G (and H) over that weekend. And he did encourage them to play basketball. And they do have fun memories out on the driveway.
And whether we were in a down cycle, an upswing, or on flat land on July 15, 2017, what matters is that Matt’s focus was building something for G and H. The takeaway from the day is even if the tumor did cause Matt’s single-mindedness, his mind was always turned toward them.
I hope by the end of this story, even after reading the worst days, they always know that, and their memories will never lose the shine.