One year ago today, Matt and I breezed over the George Washington Bridge in record fast time. We made it to his whole brain radiation appointment early and the technicians took us early—nearly before Matt had a chance to sit in the waiting room. Ten minutes later, we were done and collecting our car from the garage. We were back in New Jersey before noon. It was a timing miracle.
Every day after radiation, Matt would ask to go to lunch. Every day, I’d tell him we couldn’t—we could only pick up lunch from wherever he wanted and take it home—because we had to be home for G’s and H’s school bus.
On December 15, 2017, thanks to our timing miracle, we went out for lunch. I suspect that our lunch date was memorable to others besides me.
Matt struggled to order at the counter. He couldn’t see the words written on the stylized menu hanging above the counter. When he was offered a paper menu, he couldn’t process the words he read. A line began to form behind him and I offered help, which he didn’t want. I didn’t ask again–I didn’t want a (bigger) scene. He asked the waitress questions that didn’t quite make sense, and she appeared bewildered as she struggled to provide an answer.
I remember the debate that warred within my head. Whether I should somehow let the waitress know that Matt was struggling with cognition due to brain cancer or whether I should keep that information quiet and let the scene play out. It’s an internal debate I’d had many times before—with the plumber and electrician—and one I would have many times again. Every time, I chose to let the scene play out. In looking back, I can recognize the complicated web of emotions that fueled this choice. Denial—if I didn’t say it out loud, maybe it wasn’t real. Uncertainty—maybe I was simply being too critical. Loyalty—Matt was trying his best to feel normal and I couldn’t take that away from him. And mostly, a sense of protectiveness.
Around this time, probably even earlier, I noticed that the way strangers looked at Matt had started to change. Where, in the time before, strangers would warm to Matt instantly—his quick smile and flash of humor—now there was a wariness in the way they looked at him, the way they observed the scars and strange bumps on his head and the almost removed manner in which he observed his surroundings. Matt wasn’t the same as he’d always been and the world didn’t approach him the way it always had.
It was a change I hadn’t expected, hadn’t been warned about, and didn’t know how to approach. It was a change I hoped Matt never noticed.
Months into Post Hope, I returned to that restaurant and saw that same waitress. She flashed the same smile and I couldn’t tell whether she’d remembered the last time I’d come in or not. If she remembered my husband and his strange behavior. She didn’t ask about Matt and I was spared from having to tell her—as I’ve noted, there are still words that I cannot say, cannot even begin to type out.
But if she’d asked, maybe I would have found the courage to tell her how much her patience meant to me that day, how the fact that she didn’t become agitated as the line behind Matt grew was an overwhelming kindness.
One year ago today, Matt and I had lunch out, just the two of us, and it wasn’t without dramatic incident. It wasn’t without a reminder that brain cancer had infected our life and our marriage. But it was almost normal thanks to a stranger who maybe understood everyone is fighting his own battle, everyone has a story, and for that reason, everyone could use a little extra patience.