One year ago today, a friend texted me to ask how Matt was feeling while he was away. I responded with this: he says he felt great.
A year ago, I often read meaning into Matt’s text messages and overanalyzed every mistake and typo. Similarly, in post-hope, I often use hindsight to overanalyze Matt’s text messages and search for clues to help identify when and how I lost him without realizing it. But rarely do I look into my own responses, overanalyze my words, and search for clues. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing when I sat to write today’s post.
I typed: he says he felt great, which is different than typing simply: he felt great.
The distinction is minor, yet meaningful. The word choice was deliberate. From the moment Matt was diagnosed, I always very carefully chose my words when it came to describing how Matt was feeling. He was sometimes great—with two exclamation points—, sometimes okay, sometimes fine, and sometimes struggling. The answer I chose was always the one that told the truth as much as I could admit it to myself.
When I started this blog at the end of March, I had a vague idea of how each month would look. I knew April would tell the story of a rapid mental decline. I knew May would be the story of an upswing and the introduction of a dangerous drug—the repercussions of which have yet to be revealed in our story. And I knew June would be slow on the 2017 story, so I’d use the space to tell the story of Matt’s 2016 diagnosis.
If you’d asked me back in March, I would have said the story for July is the beginning of a brutally slow mental decline. But looking back at all the July posts, I don’t see that story. That’s not the story I’ve written based on text messages and emails and photos. There are blip days and off days and exhausted days, but mostly kinda fine days. So why, when I look back, do I think of July as the month when everything started to slip away?
The answer is that the text messages and emails and photos cannot tell a full story, because I was not telling a full story, to myself or anyone else.
Last July, when things with Matt were changing, when again something in our relationship felt off balance, but that something was too indefinable, too fuzzy and formless and beyond my ability to pin down with words, I didn’t text a friend with my worries. I didn’t always admit that I’d noticed a subtle shift in Matt’s personality. Honestly, I didn’t want to admit that we—Matt and Elaine—were a little off again.
Because if I admitted that Matt seemed slightly changed, if I admitted that we were off, there could be only three possible explanations. One, the tumor wasn’t getting better and polio was failing—which was simply an out of the question conclusion. Two, I was inventing an overdramatic narrative in my head and everything was fine—in which case, no need to talk about it with family or friends. Or three, we were truly off and it had nothing to do with the tumor growing and everything to do with the weight treatments and tumors and doctors had placed on our lives—which meant our relationship was cracking and that would have been a truth too unbearable to speak.
So, what truth was I avoiding on August 1, 2017, when I wrote he says he felt great? Honestly, I can’t remember what specifically was on my mind one year ago today. I know only that the answer is still fuzzy and formless and beyond my ability to pin down with words. All I remember is the way Matt looked at me had shifted just that much, we’d started to laugh just a touch quieter, what had been easy had become just a pinch less easy.
July was the month of slowly slipping away, but also the month of questioning myself. Once again, the cruelty of brain cancer takes center stage in the story as it steals Matt while leaving me wondering whether the problem was him or me or us.