Slipping Away By Chance, Not Choice

I saw her sit all to herself in college. She wasn’t her chirpy old self. She attended class and after college excused herself and headed home. Sometimes, we need our own space and so I didn’t intrude. But this went on for a while so I enquired if everything was alright and all she said was, “I wish I could hang on longer to talk about it.” She would then give me a hug and walk away with a faint smile which was very unusual of her. At that point it seemed like she referred to staying back in college until later, when I realised what she really meant by that.

She was diagnosed with stage II of lung cancer. When we learned of what happened, we were shocked, I was appalled. For a minute it seemed like a joke. Well we played those pranks on each other often. But when she held my gaze and stared right back with that hopeless look in her eyes, it had to be real. At 18 she was told that she would be a cancer patient for the rest of her life, the rest of what was left. At that point those words stung me so hard and I realised what she meant when she said, “I wish I could hang on longer to talk about it.” She kept it to herself because she didn’t want any reaction, she hid her pain so that she could seem normal, she avoided my questions so that she wouldn’t break down but after all that time she held it to herself, the bodily pain took over her mental strength and she was at my door cursing her life.

This wasn’t a passing cold, it wasn’t a bruise that would heal over time. It was an illness that would always stay, it was malignant. There was nothing in the world that I could tell her to make her feel better because it was awful and we couldn’t deny that. She would watch us plan our futures, our careers, talk about having a partner, at times she would be a part of those conversations but suddenly hold back realising that in a short while that wouldn’t matter. Even if that short while meant a few years, it was still short. I couldn’t tell her it would be alright. That wasn’t right. Maybe, after receiving some treatment and a sudden miracle things would turn around, but right now life was unfair and loathsome to her. I had to accept how harsh it was because only then would she know that she wasn’t the only one who was hurting and that it was okay for her to hate all that was happening around her. I didn’t want to be her parent trying to console her with tears in my eyes nor did I want to be her doctor suggesting the best treatment. At that point, she didn’t need any sympathy but an agreement and an assurance that she was not alone because I would always be there to curse, to cry, to moan with her – it was important for her to know that she had someone who was listening to her.

As time passed she lost interest in attending college, she couldn’t watch us laugh and pretend like everything was alright. She wasn’t to blame. She tried but for how long can one pretend? But that didn’t mean she couldn’t live it up the way she wanted to. I wasn’t there to protect her or console her alone but to make sure she did what she wanted to do and feel the excitement for a change. So we decided to go out with the girls and take down a couple of shots, we dressed sexy, we went crazy on the dance floor, clicked pictures till the memory card was over loaded and like there was no tomorrow, made her take a dig at that hot bartender, rode back home on a carriage, yelled out each other’s names in the middle of the night on those silent streets, had the best night of our lives together and woke up with the worst hangover the next morning only to find ourselves sipping on some more whiskey to ease that throbbing head ache.

As I watched her laugh and be her old self again, I couldn’t help but feel the angst. Why did it have to be her? She was the nicer one, she was her mother’s only child, and she was the loving one. Sadly, I couldn’t say any of that out loud because it would only remind her of what she had to deal with. I’ll always wonder, “Why her?” but that won’t call for a miracle, will it? I wish it did.

We reached a point when I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know if she would ever get cured of it completely. But as she went through those emotional battles, the treatment and facing people’s sympathies and I couldn’t tell her it was okay because that would be a lie. I knew I had to be with her and deal with it too. I know she would be right there if it were me.

It was a late afternoon when we sat together and went through our journals, spoke of all those life changing moments we shared together, sipped on our favourite tea and giggled like our young selves. Suddenly she stared at the sky and I could see her yearn for ease and relaxation. In that silence all I could tell her was that I truly loved her and that seemed to be enough. We hugged for long and she whispered back with her weak voice, “I will miss you.” We still hugged. I got home that night and cried and hoped for that pain to be gone.

From when we first met till that moment as she lay so peacefully in a box full of white roses, I have felt nothing but goodness. She stood by me when I needed a friend, she held my hand in that crowd on our first day at school, she walked with me along those dark streets, she sang to me when I was sad, she was my best friend – the kind I know I will never have again.

It barely took a few months for cancer to win over her until she turned completely pale and went into a deep sleep that night, a sleep she didn’t wake up from. None of what happened mattered at that moment – she was finally at ease and in a better place. She rode on those clouds in the bright blue sky and would shine every night as a star, that lived forever.

It’s not always the cure you need to live but sometimes it’s that cure you need to rest in peace.