There comes a moment when I'm ready to disclose information.
"You're being too helpful," my attorney murmured close to my ear after asking if we could take a break from the deposition. I looked at him helplessly and he nodded in understanding. "I know you can decipher what he wants to know. I know it's instinct for people to offer information or help guide conversations. This isn't like that - it's us vs. them. You need to try harder."
I agreed and with grueling focus in a hotel conference room, I forced myself to take a sip of water after each question the opposing attorney asked me so that I would think. And, as I'd been painstakingly prepared to do, would answer as simply as possible.
"Very good," he complimented at lunch. "It's like after that break, you just shut down - stopped being so friendly. Started saying you didn't know and you didn't know why you didn't know. It was great!"
And that adaptability tends to serve people well when they remember to use it.
"I'm fine," I had taken to repeating. Then I would recite the relevant bits of information - Dad's blood counts stayed well within the normal range. He's tolerating treatment well. Mom's surgery is scheduled and I'll return home for that 2 weeks. My brother is helping, yes. We're all doing very well but continue to be grateful for prayers.
And it is fine. Until is isn't.
But those moments come rarely, honestly. A moment in the cafeteria when someone offers an unexpected hug that elicits tears. A random statistic in an oncology seminar that leaves me unable to take more notes, instead suffering through a miserable wave of panicked grief. A meeting request on a day I'll be spending at home.
"I'll pick you up at your door," I told a colleague and friend on Friday at 11. Normally we would have met somewhere on campus, but it was raining and I thought I might get sad so we drove through the sprinkling rain on that chilly day.
And I told her everything. That there are moments where I'm failing at work, so miserably sick of some of the bureaucratic bullshit that I want to scream and escape, never to return. I roll my eyes at promises of upcoming change and brighter days ahead. I cringe at the thought of telling the same collaborators the same stories and having no visible progress.
"His mood is fairly good," I told her of Daddy. Then I admitted that I prayed that he'd either grow hopeful or leave us quickly. Because I couldn't imagine watching him suffer for months that might stretch into years, just staring out the windows, watching for death to coast down the road outside my childhood home.
"She's afraid, but it helps when I'm there," I said of Mom. And I'm happy to do it. Grateful that my presence offers her strength and comfort because I love her ever so much. Given that it's pretty easy to be there, it's an easy step to take. And, later, maybe I'll move home. Or she'll move here. And we'll live together. Because she doesn't want to live alone. Even though I absolutely adore it and dread the time when it may be impossible to do.
I whispered that I worried about Brother - the dramatic mood swings, the drinking and drugs, the unpredictability of support. But I was also frustrated that he couldn't just do this - that his own demons prevent him from being as loving and supportive and present as Mom and Dad want.
And once that crack formed in the wall of denial around my emotions, it's easier for truth to emerge.
Friend sent cheese biscuits - a gesture so completely perfect that I found myself clutching the packages to my chest, overwhelmed as I lifted them from their box and removed them from a brown paper bag with a familiar logo. And it's easier to chat with her - I don't have the desperate desire to beg her to let me hide in her study. To rescue me from the life that has turned on me. To exist in the comfort that she's never overly surprised or disappointed or aghast at my multitude of sins.
M sent a text last week and I smiled and sent a happy reply, then read an email she sent last night to catch up in more detail. "I read an essay on death and dying," she wrote, "and it said one regret so many people have is not keeping in touch with people they loved. And I thought of you and how I love you and miss you so we should try harder."
So I told her everything too. The comfort arrived electronically from across the Pacific, along with the knowledge that there's another spot where I can escape and exist in the comfort of friendship.
I'm stuck by these things as I walk around the neighborhood or mow my lawn. Drive to work or run some errands. It's lovely - this warm support - but it's generated from this cold, awful threat - the damn cells that multiply beyond our control.
And I remember looking at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This compelling structure that was at once stunning and icky. But I found it difficult to look away, finding myself turning back toward the spires that stretch into the sky, the decorations that appeared to drip toward the ground were they not stubbornly clinging to surfaces.
And though I'd have never picked this path, I do feel alive. Like people and places are more vivid. The tulips staggering as they've sprouted and then stayed fresh in the cold weather that lingers just above freezing. Alive and beautiful, graceful and lingering past their expiration dates.