So many things have changed since July 27, 2013.
I worry more about my mother.
My mother worries more about me, with a tremble in her voice.
I have more nightmares. Horrible, vivid nightmares.
I dream about my remaining siblings dying. About my mother dying. My children. My dogs.
Their deaths are gruesome.
I dream about my close friends disappearing without a trace.
About adopting a new dog; bringing it home, naming it, loving it. And then it dies.
When my alarm buzzes in the morning, my blankets are on the floor and the cases have been ripped from my pillows.
I have come to dread the night.
And my child dreams. She wakes up crying, unable to catch her breath and unsure if the reason is asthma or anxiety. She runs to the living room and checks the dogs, feeling all over their tiny bodies for any hint of a cancerous lump.
My other daughter is just angry. All the time. Every day.
When my husband or children are more than five minutes late coming home, I immediately imagine they’ve been in a terrible accident, and then stand in my living room arguing with myself over the stupidity of my worry.
Even as I peer through the window and down the road for any sign of our vehicle.
This winter has been riddled with colds, and anytime I sneeze or cough, my mom shows up with money to shove in my hand and pleas to take myself to the doctor.
“Catch it early!” she says, followed by a hard swallow. “Catch it early and you’ll be okay!”
Because my sister did not catch it early, and my sister was not okay.
And I see the difference in our family doctor, and I remember how she wept when my sister died. If my children or I go in for an asthma flare or a sinus infection, her face pinches up as she examines, quickly firing off questions like Do you have worsening pain anywhere? Night sweats? Random fevers? Have you felt any lumps? Have you checked for lumps? Let me check.
It’s different now.
Because we are now A Family Touched By Cancer.
And that makes everything change.
I notice the difference when I know a friend from long ago — when we were melodramatic teens giggling over boys and clothes and dances — is now battling her second round of cancer. I want to reach out, I want to connect and do something to help, to make it easier.
But I sit paralyzed.
Because I don’t want to see cancer anymore.
I close my eyes against tear-jerker commercials begging for money for bald children, fighting for their lives and losing their childhood innocence and can’t I give just a little of my paycheck for them?
I grab the remote and change the channel.
I can’t. I can’t bear to see it. Or touch it. Or hear it.
I am selfish.
I notice the difference when I stand weeping in a Wal-Mart with a skein of yarn in my hands, wondering at the tears slipping down my face; the burning, choking sensation in my throat.
I think and think and count the days and finally it strikes me. It’s the twenty-seventh of the month, the anniversary that somehow my tears remembered but I tried to forget.
My tears never forget.
I see a tall, thin women in a store; long blond and brown and meticulously straightened hair hanging down her back. I see a brightly colored, peace sign bag swinging from her shoulder and my heart catches and stops for a second and I think Oh! Charlotte is here!
And I take two or maybe three steps and then I remember.
I used to visit my father’s grave. I would cry and leave a poem I had written and I’d notice the cherry cough drops or a crushed Bud Light can left by one of my nephews and I would smile a little bit.
I haven’t gone since we buried my sister next to him.
I cannot bear to see her name on a headstone.
It was too soon.
And I wasn’t ready.
Everything has changed. Every bit, every piece of life has changed.
And sometimes I just really miss the way things used to be.