One year ago today, Matt drove himself into the city for his final Avastin infusion before the August 16th MRI, the one that would let us know whether CCNU had worked to shrink the third tumor, the one that would confirm to us that the poliovirus was saving Matt’s life.
After the infusion, Matt went to the neuro-oncologist’s office. Whether he saw the doctor or simply had his vitals taken and blood drawn, I can’t be sure. The text message chain between Matt and me ends with him leaving the infusion chair to grab a slice of pizza. My instinct is to assume that he did not see the doctor, or, if he did, the visit was nothing more than perfunctory.
Afterward, Matt went to work and then out to dinner. He didn’t arrive home until after the kids had gone to bed, and by then, he was understandably exhausted—the chemo, compounded by a night out, a corporate retreat, and a long day. I don’t know what we talked about once he fell into his spot on the couch. My text messages and emails and photos cannot reveal the words and sentences that filled in the silence that, now, in post-hope, permeates the living room after the kids have gone to bed. Maybe he filled me in on his dinner, updated me on which fantasy football leagues he’d be joining this year, and weighed in on how to untangle the latest plot snarl in my most recent manuscript. But, maybe not.
I’ve said before that Matt encouraged me to take up writing after G and H were born. But encouraged may not be the right word. Advocated, applauded, supported, even cheered might be better descriptors. Matt didn’t just tell me I should take a writing class. He offered up a book idea that had been percolating in his mind. (He promised it would be a best-seller. When I get back to writing fiction, I’ll have to seriously consider his idea.) Together, we spent hours building worlds and plot threads during car rides while the kids sat in the backseat with headphones plugged into iPads. We debated, heatedly, often publicly, whether or not a fictional character would act in a certain way. He read my first drafts and second drafts and told me he knew one day, it (the dream of being published) would happen.
Then, those conversations vanished. Whether slowly or not, whether over months, or weeks, or within the space of a heartbeat, we stopped debating how realistic it was to frame a supporting character for a crime she didn’t commit. We stopped building worlds.
As the story enters the month of August, the month when everything changed, I am realizing there is a flaw in my plan to recreate our year of hope. I am realizing that not everything was captured in electronic records and I may not be able to identify exactly when certain parts of Matt—of Matt and Elaine—disappeared. Some of the most important parts of us weren’t lived in text messages or emails.
I’m realizing that I may not find all the answers I am hoping to find in this project. I will certainly find some—I have already found a few—but there’s a good chance I won’t know exactly when we stopped debating character choices and unraveling plot threads. I won’t know the date of our last debate and I will never know—because I won’t remember—why we stopped building fictional worlds. Did I stop asking Matt for his opinion because I stopped trusting his opinion? Did Matt brush me off when I tried to ask him because the Dex made him brusque and the tumor made him foggy? Were we both just too busy talking about everything else to have time to talk about figments of my imagination? I don’t know, and the tragic answer is, I likely won’t know. Even at the end of this story.
By the end of this month, every inch of our lives will have turned inside out. Text messages and emails might fail me. My imperfect memory is going to have to fill in missing gaps, but it all happened faster than my mind could commit to memory.
The choice becomes one Matt and I were forced to make a hundred times last year: keep going, even though the goal keeps moving further and further away, or give up.
In our year of hope, the answer was obvious. We knew what to expect if we gave up. We could only begin to imagine the world we could build if we kept going. So we kept going.
In post-hope, the answer is obvious, too. And I think it’s one Matt would advocate, applaud, support, and even cheer.