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Essay: Chemo is Conditional
Becoming a Ghost
By Jon Bolduc
It is a summer morning. We are cooking breakfast.
I get lost in my own kitchen on a regular basis. In my own domestic kingdom,I have trouble
finding the right spatula, or the vinegar, or the baking soda. Helping you cook inevitably
becomes “watching you cook.”
“Hey Jon, can you get me the butter?”
Yes, I believe that I can. But I am overconfident in my ability to navigate the interior of your
fridge. I am lost. Milk in the front high shelf, soda on the sides, leftovers in the middle—but
where is the butter?
I ask you.
“Next to the milk.”
I’m still not seeing it.
You come over, reach around me, and grab it without even looking. For you, it's muscle memory.
“Oh,” I say. “That’s where the eggs were.”
I close the door of the fridge. I glance at the cold white front. The front of a fridge tells a story,
in patchwork. A frayed picture of your sister on the tee-ball team. Your brother smiling for his
seventh grade school picture. A bill for an oil change.
A chemo appointment reminder. An invoice, bold, red, blaring.
I look away.
The eggs begin to fry, the tea kettle begins to boil, singing in the silence of the empty morning
house. I chug coffee, you sip tea, I get another cup before we even sit down.
You bring the plate of bacon to the table; the bacon is microwaved. I`m skeptical of the quality
of microwaved bacon. Crunch. It tastes the same. It has all the qualities of fried bacon, a bit less
greasy. I rejoice internally.
The wooden table top has a beta fish bowl as the centerpiece, and we gaze across it, at each
other, as we eat, parted at the middle. Conversation is sparse in this empty morning house;
your father has gone to work, mother gone to work, brother gone to work. A new sun filters
down through a front window, and we are placed in the center of its light. Illuminated shadows
dance across the floors, the low hum of the house sings in the background, your dog’s tail thumps as I sneak her scraps.
Every house has a ghost.
Or an almost ghost—someone slowly dying.
That morning, your father’s deep, hidden graveyard of bottles, buried behind the cereal boxes,
was supposed to be kept secret. It was only touched and emptied by your mother, after she
decorated the fridge with his chemo appointments and his doctor visits.
Everything we did that summer was strung along by the implicit undercurrents of the dead
among the living. That strange dichotomy of life and death—the barely here, the almost gone.
How do you live with a man who has six months? A man who has five months? A man who has
One hot night, late, we snuck into the garage, looking for tiki torch fluid. We wanted to keep
the bugs away while we watched the stars. You saw the haunting, a new hiding place for the
demons. It was a high shelf. You stood up on a chair, reached for the clear bottle of Vodka, brought it down. There were scissors and paper laying on your father’s workbench. I watched.
You cut a hole in the paper large enough to fit around the neck of the bottle.
You left him a note.
It read, “Is it worth it?”
You have hope. Deep in your heart, you know that he is not a ghost. You try to tell him that.
The chemo could work. You try to tell him that he is alive, he is flesh, he is not some skeleton
poltergeist pouring whiskey into a red cup.
You can’t make him listen. He wants to become a ghost.
#Real #CancerStories #StoriesOfDeath #StoriesAboutDying #CancerEssays #EssaysAboutDeath #NearDeath #Essays
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