I deposited my paperwork and purse on the counter, skirting the edge of the desk to stand in front of the purple fabric, taking a moment to wonder why they'd chosen that color, before smoothing my wind-tousled hair before smiling at the camera.
I'd paused before answering the 'number of years driving experience in the United States or Canada' question, realizing that 33-16 = 17. I've been driving more than half my life, I realized, as I watched elderly couples shuffle toward the window as their numbers were called. There was a toddler with the woman just ahead of me and I finished the journal I'd brought before she woke from her nap. She fussed a bit before being lifted from her stroller and relieved of her blankie, proceeding to charm all who occupied the DMV on this sunny afternoon. She would grin easily and explore a bit before hurrying back to her mother and I found her adorable.
Then there were those in between. Teenagers with their parents who beamed at the pieces of plastic they were handed without meaning to. Every one of them looking so self-possessed and mature as they waited patiently for photos or forms. Then, upon the completion of the process, there was this irrepressible pride or joy or anticipation.
Dad is not yet 65. And while I would frown at people who claimed to have 'quarter-life crises' in their mid-to-late 20s, wondering if they'd really live past 100, I didn't expect to be encountering my potential midway point at 33.
"I'm 41," a colleague told me this morning. "And my dad died of lung cancer at 44, some 20 years ago." Yet tears filled her eyes as she told me - the diagnosis and treatment and eventual failure. "It was fast," she said, "and my family relied on me. It changes you," she warned. "Makes planning too far ahead seem silly. Instead you want to jump out of planes or have sex with someone irresistible, and if he's married, well, life isn't very fair."
"Yes," I agreed. "It is changing me - I can't tell how, exactly, but I feel like a stranger in some moments."
"Take care of yourself," she advised kindly and I nodded, blinking back my own tears and hurrying to my next meeting, eager for the distraction. Because how do I take care of myself? I pray, sleep and eat. I work, read and pray.
I need to do research on more aggressive treatment options - surgical procedures, hyperthermia, RF ablation, radiation therapy. I want to have a plan should this first round of chemo not be as effective as we need.
I can't make myself learn though.
"When I was so happy in Venice?" I said the other day. "I'd already screwed up that project. The cancer was already growing in both my parents. The only difference is that now I know. And that knowing changed everything."
"I wish I hadn't come," Dad said a few times in the hospital. "I don't want to know."
I call daily, discussing my dog (who's here) and my cat (who's there) and dinner plans. What happened to me at work and what the girls did that day. It's nice - we get a chance to catch up and love each other. I reassure myself that he sounds healthy, that Mom sounds rested. That they're OK. Normal. Just as they always have been.
And it helps me sleep at night. Keeps me from thinking that I'm just working my way, painfully at times, toward the end.