It’s raining, again. The gloomy light from the partially drawn curtains filters into the room and dimly illuminates the bed. She hears me walk in, wet from cycling outside, and awkwardly props herself onto her elbow. The skin on her face is pale and blotchy, framed by charcoal-coloured smears under swollen eyes.
“I don’t want to be married to you anymore” she says.
I stop undressing, having removed my sodden outer layers downstairs, standing at the foot of the bed in bib shorts. We had argued the night before and agreed to hold over until morning. I had left to ride before dawn and made sure to be back early enough to finish our discussion before the rest of the inhabitants of our house awoke.
“Married at all? Or just married to me?” I ask, trying to keep my tone neutral.
Being married is like riding a horse. There will always be the moment, when you least expect it, that you will get thrown off. She was exhausted. I could see that she hadn’t slept well and when I left hours earlier, she was restless, and I noticed that the container of sleeping pills had been moved and was open next to the bed.
“Those things tend to have an impact on your mood so maybe we should have breakfast and discuss this later” I say, nodding toward the open container.
She reaches over, picks the pill bottle up and throws it at me. I let the container hit me in the face, delivering the plastic slap that was intended. The blue and yellow capsules scatter onto the floor at the foot of the bed, most rolling underneath it. I don’t move. She follows up with the water bottle. The brushed aluminum container is nearly empty as the last few milliliters of water spit from the top of the cartwheeling bottle as it sails past me and hits the wall. The bottle rolls back toward me and I bend down to retrieve it and begin collecting up the scattered sleeping pills.
“For shit sakes, leave them” she implores, “and put some clothes on, you look like a giant baby in a black nappy.”
I stand up and walk to the bathroom and turn on the shower. I love her so much. I know that this behaviour is a result of the combination of sleep deprivation and chemically induced depression. Doctors warned us that the treatment would often seem worse than the disease. She suddenly pushes past me and throws up in the sink, then slumps onto the bathroom floor. I hand her a towel and fill a glass with water for her to rinse her mouth out. There is a bucket next to the toilet that I slide over for her to use, without her having to stand up again. I start cleaning the sink. It’s like a concoction from George’s marvelous medicine, in both consistency and colour.
“Just get out” she sobs.
This instruction I ignore. I wrap her in a dressing gown from behind the bathroom door and finish cleaning the sink. The room fills with steam from the shower, and I pull her gently up, removing the old t-shirt that she is wearing and steer her toward the jets of warm water.
The muscles on her torso have atrophied and her skin is covered in scar tissue from multiple surgeries, both front and back. I check her port, inserted just below the right collarbone, for infection. It’s clear. As I rinse her hair, strands of it come away and cling to my fingers. I hide my hand as she looks up. She looks at me through bloodshot eyes and begins to cry.
“I’m so sorry” she says.
“I know. It’s OK” I reply. “It’s going to be OK”.
I really want to believe this. I’ve lost count of the number of rounds of treatment that we’ve been through. I’ve watched her. It’s all that I can do. Watch. Attentively. As though my noticing a new symptom or side effect will somehow be of use. I study side effects. Take temperatures. Obsess over our diet. Anything to gain just a little more control over an utterly uncontrollable situation.
“You would be better off without me” she mumbles, as I embrace her in an oversized white towel.
We’d argued about the treatment the night before. She couldn’t take it anymore. I’d advocated for her oncologist. I believed that if she finished the round of treatment then it gave us a better chance at remission. She didn’t care. She told me, often, that I had no conception of the agony that each new round of treatment brought. The anxiety. The disassociation. She wasn’t living, she’d reasoned, so what was the point of being alive? All of my counter arguments centered around logic and statistics. Papers that I had read. Doctors that I’d consulted. She’d told me that I couldn’t reason my way out of her decision. She was stopping treatment and that was final.
I deposit her onto an oversized armchair in the bedroom and fetch her clothes and pass them to her. She begins to dress, slowly. Dressing myself and cleaning up the bedroom I consider her position for the hundredth time since the night before. It’s untenable. There’s certainty in following medical advice. There’s control. Even if it’s just the perception of control. How could she consider giving it up? How could she ask me to give it up?
“So, my options are death or divorce?” I ask, as I finish making the bed and look over at her, sitting on the chair.
It’s a flippant thing to say. I’m so scared of losing her. She’s right. She’s the strongest person that I know and if she’s decided to stop treatment then I’ll support her.
“We’re not in control” she reminds me “you need to accept that”.
How do you accept that? Even now, years later. How do you rationalise such a decision? How do you find the quiet within?