Matt spent his first night home from Kessler in much the same way he’d spent his last night home before the fall that led to stitches at the local hospital—waking up countless number of times to go to the bathroom. The difference, this time, was with me. Each time Matt stood from the bed and walked to the bathroom, I held my breath. Each time he stepped from the carpeted bedroom floor to the more slippery bathroom tile, my heart stopped beating. Each time he climbed back into bed, I had to stop myself from asking if he was okay, if he needed help. (He did not.)
That morning, when I woke to write in the pre-dawn light, I didn’t go downstairs with my coffee in an effort not to disturb Matt. Instead, I retrieved my coffee and laptop and sat on the floor just outside the bedroom door. New routines for a new life.
For his part, Matt was ready to return to normal life. He’d so far missed all of H’s soccer games and had no intention of missing another. We (our family of four) threw on our extra layers to protect against the chill in the air, grabbed H’s soccer gear, and headed to the field, where we’d no doubt run into at least half of our small town.
I remember parking the car and walking onto the field. G and H ran ahead. I stayed behind with Matt, who walked, slowly, somewhat stiffly, but surely across the grass to H’s team field. A number of our friends and neighbors and acquaintances stopped him. That amazing brain. He summoned a few jokes. Made a couple of wise cracks. And ultimately proved he hadn’t been beaten by what he’d been through.
By the end of the hour long game, he grew visibly more tired. He sat in a chair and didn’t talk much. He took the hat off his head and ran his fingers over the bump created by the shunt—sometimes when he did this, it looked to me as if he was reminding himself that it was there. Or, maybe that he still couldn’t believe it was there.
That afternoon, G was supposed to cheerlead for the second grade boys football team. Matt had wanted to go, but decided he needed to rest. I took G and H to the game while he rested. When we came home, we invited friends over for dinner.
I don’t remember much about this night. The text messages after dinner reveal that our friends thought Matt seemed good. I responded saying I was happy to hear that because I very much wasn’t sure. I felt mean even thinking Matt was noticeably not himself. I felt like I was being too critical and maybe the problem was me and not Matt, if no one else saw what I saw.
In retrospect, though I don’t truly remember, we were probably both right—that contradictory nature of brain cancer. He was good and we should acknowledge the miracle that he was up and walking and socializing after all he’d been through. And also, I was allowed to be critical and compare him to the person I’d known for almost thirteen years. I was allowed to be grateful that he was good and also miss him and want even more of him back. To hope that one day it would be the way it was before.
After all, that’s what we (Matt and I) were fighting for. Not simply good. But for the way it was before. Because we always hoped and reached and strived toward the highest star in the sky. From the beginning, we didn’t know any other way.