"You have a good arm, for a girl." Smiling back at him was easy that day. For late October the weather was unseasonably warm. A
colorful crop of leaves skittered restlessly across the parking lot.
Since then it has been redone but that day it was a faded gray made
cheerier by the gold and ruby leaves of autumn. A
child sized football had been tossed my way, carefully I aimed it at my
adversary, behind us we could hear our children laughing on the
playground. Both of my girls are in the same grade as two of John's
children. My children are blonde, his sons are dark like their parents
but his daughter has a shining head full of sun bright hair. After
tucking the football under his arm John headed over to the playground.
Like everything else around the school it needed updating but the kids
playing tag didn't care. They were happy because while the adults had
been preoccupied they had gone down to explore the wildlife that lived on the lake.
When I first met John I wasn't sure I liked him. He and his wife
were always nice to me yet I got the feeling that they were nice
because it was easier to be superficially pleasant than it was to take
the time to really get to know people. They were actively involved with
events at church and school but when you retire at forty-one you have a
lot of time to go on field trips and take a van full of kids out for
pizza. People thought John was nice, he was funny, men and women
respected him but there was something artificial about their perfect
little family that I found repulsive. In a community the size of ours
you run into the same people if you're at all involved so I saw John
and Sarah at the Y, our kids were in soccer together and as I mentioned
earlier my girls had two of his children as classmates. As time went by
I got to know John and Sarah better although I was still surprised when
Sarah invited my family over for a swim.
That afternoon by the pool Sarah shared some of what being married
to John was like. Instead of working around the house they had bought
he puttered. Both John and I had worked in finance, Sarah had some
college education but John had a master's degree so naturally he was in
charge of the money. Sarah drove a new van, John had a nice car, they
had a condo down in Arizona, before I started talking to Sarah it
didn't occur to me that their family might have financial trouble since
John had been a professional money manager before he retired. The more
facts Sarah shared about what John was really like the harder it was
for me to be nice to him. Sarah doesn't generally open up to other
people but last January a friend of mine told me that John and Sarah
were going to counseling because Sarah was having trouble handling John
while he was having trouble managing an investment portfolio designed
to carry his family through the rest of their earthly lives.
After the school year ended we didn't see much of John, Sarah or
their kids. Sarah's brother had been diagnosed with a rare form of
cancer so she spent a lot of time down at the condo in Arizona helping
her sister-in-law. While she was gone I saw more of John than I
normally would have. Formerly John was one of my children's soccer
coaches, last year I volunteered to pass out snacks so that's what I
was slotted into this year. When snack time ended the kids ran out to
the field. John followed them but his pace was slower and I noticed he
was favoring his right side. Later on I brought it up but John waved it
away, remarking that it was an old sports injury.
I was sitting at a
table helping assemble crafts for the preschool soccer players when I
saw Sarah next. Our conversation started with the normal chit-chat, how
were the kids, what was new in town, had we gotten an invitation to a
birthday party one of the kids at school was throwing, we talked about
my job some, John and Sarah were fighting because he wanted her to go
back to work. Her argument was that as a college graduate he could make
more money than she could. At the time I took her side because for her
to pay for daycare for three kids would have eaten up whatever money
she would have made working part time.
The next time I saw Sarah the whispered rumors reached me before I
had a chance to greet her. John had gone to the doctor to see what
could be done about his old sports injury. He had been popping
ibuprofen and pain pills without any real relief. Sarah had mentioned
that the pain was so intense it was interfering with his ability to
sleep. He was run down, irritable from the lack of sleep and she was
fed up with listening to him whine about how much his leg hurt. As I
write this I am unsure if I will ever seen John alive again. What he
thought was an old sports injury turned out to be a very aggressive
form of lymphoma.
Over the past few months John has gone through chemo and radiation
treatment. He's had surgery and botched blood transfusions. His wife
told me that breast cancer cells divide approximately once a month.
The cancer cells attacking John's body are replicating roughly every
thirty-two hours. He's gone from being tall,
strong and tan to frail, thin and hairless. He might live to celebrate
one last Christmas with his children but next year his three children
will open presents without him.
Recently the school my children attend put out a memo asking if
people would donate gift certificates so John and Sarah's family could
offset some of the additional expenses they've incurred. It's hard to
imagine what John and Sarah must be going through at a time like this.
Cards seem insincere, with the kids around there doesn't seem to be
time to talk and Sarah is probably sick of people asking her how John
is doing. Without her prodding he wouldn't have gone to the doctor.
Fortunately the specialist John saw referred him to a good oncologist
but modern medicine can only try and interfere with the destiny of man.
Today decaying leaves are littering the fresh coat of
black our school's parking lot has received. Through my rear view
mirror I could see John and Sarah's kids scrambling into her van and I
wonder how long it will be before they have to attend their father's
funeral. I think about the long talks with Sarah and how frustrated she
was before John was diagnosed. My own children were quiet as I thought
about what it would be like to lose your father at the tender age of
seven. We sat in the parking lot waiting for traffic to clear. When my
daughter asked me why I was crying my mind went back to the last time I
had seen John. Together we watched Sarah pull out of the parking lot,
on the way home I told my daughter it was lingering pain from an old sports injury.
For a man who is not named John. I will remember you.
11/21/9 Inexplicably John's condition has improved.
1/9/10 Peace at last.