The thing about having a relative dying of a terminal illness is that no one asks you why you’re crying. They think they know. (Which sometimes means they know more than you do.)
And they may be wrong, but if you don’t want to talk about it, then it’s perfect. Ask me today why I was crying and I can tell you people’s lives aren’t the only thing to grieve. But if you’d asked me then, I don’t know if I would have been able to answer.
Remo opened a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for me and didn’t ask any questions. I was grateful for his sympathy even while most of what I wanted was just to be alone to lick my wounds. They were old wounds by now, but I guess the reason I was in so much pain was that what Barrett had said had made them bleed again…?
I don’t think Remo or I said more than a couple of words to each other that whole day. He talked a bit more to the staff at Claire’s new place than I did. They didn’t seem to mind I didn’t say much.
Neither did Claire. She was feeling exhausted from a restless night’s sleep in a new bed and was content to just sit with me. Now that she wasn’t hooked up to any IVs or monitors, she could move more freely. We sat on a wicker couch-type thing inside a screen porch surrounded by a flower garden.
At one point she said, “You know, I thought I’d be bored. But it’s like my brain knows that all my energy should go into things like breathing. Breathing is a completely absorbing hobby right now.”
“That’s how I felt after my hand surgery.” I’d assumed at the time that it was because of the painkillers they gave me, but I didn’t bring that up.
“How is it?”
“Yes.” She gestured for me to show it to her.
“I’m supposed to be rubbing cream into it to make the scar better.” I showed it to her, palm up.
“Do you have the cream with you?”
I took off my denim jacket and dug in the chest pocket. Yep, there was a sample size tube of the stuff. “I do.”
“Here, let me do it.” She held out her hand for the tiny tube.
I didn’t sit there wondering to myself what the last time was that I could remember her doing something nurturing for me. That would come much later. Right then, I just held out my hand and watched while she put a dab of the cream on her thumb and gently worked it in circles along the dark line of the scar.
We didn’t talk. We didn’t have to…? This was a very unusual thing for Claire, who normally felt the need to fill up silences, but over the last few weeks had come to terms with silence, I guess.
I remember one of those first few days at the new place showing up to meet her, and being told by the staff she was in the garden. And walking out into the garden and seeing this rather butch older lesbian standing there, in short hair and a man’s collared shirt, and approaching her to ask if she’d seen Claire, and then realizing that was Claire herself. The shirt must’ve been Remo’s.
“You look so happy to see me,” she said with a somewhat puzzled tone.
“Yes,” I answered, even though that answer didn’t make sense to her.
Before the week was out, Remo left. He’d been there for the really urgent part, I guess, and once Claire had made it to palliative care, he felt he had to get back to Melissa. Claire chewed him out a little: “And you wonder why I’m such a drama queen? Because obviously I have to be on my death bed to get any attention from you.”
Mortality had made her frighteningly self-aware–or perhaps just unfiltered.
(Happy Pride Month, everyone! Since two separate people have asked for a pointer to the “Daron’s first Pride parade” chapter, I figured I’d post it here in case. It’s called “World Shut Your Mouth” and it can be found here: https://daron.ceciliatan.com/archives/5411. I wonder if he’ll made it back to New York by June in 1992…? -ctan)