You hear it. First, from a distance. Then it breaks through. You are dumped out of the island hammock that is REM sleep. You do not open your eyes but you roll them. Cough, cough. You pull the pillow over your head. You count. Five, six, seven— Cough, cough. She had it last night too. It never stopped. Not until she stood up. It’s postnasal drip, you can tell. Cough, cough. Nine seconds that time. Maybe it’s slowing. Cough, cough. You should get up. You might as well. It’s not going to stop. Would your husband get up if he were here? Not in a— Cough, cough. Will she wake up her sister? Why do they sleep in the same room? It was your husband’s idea. You could shoot him. If she wakes her up— Cough, cough. Get up. You gotta get up. Where are you slippers? It’s so cold. What time is it? Don’t look, you shout to yourself without speaking. Don’t ever look at the clock in the night. That insomnia article said— Cough, cough. Get up. Get up right now. Put an end to it.
You are up. A little lightheaded. You move towards the hall. Were you always this stiff? Is this why they say parenthood is for the young? Cough, cough. There is no cup in the bathroom. How could there be no cup in the bathroom? The cleaners. Why do the cleaners always take the cup—it’s like they hide it, along with your face lotion and your kitchen sponge— Cough, cough. You are down the stairs, in the cabinet, at the fridge. You press the cup against the door. The light—don’t look at the light. You’ll never get back to sleep if you look— Cough, cough. You are upstairs again. In the bathroom again. You have to turn on the light over the sink. You keep it low. Where is the Tylenol Cough? What’s this…Robitussin…from 2004. Is that expired? I’ve gotta throw some of this shit out. Cough, cough. Why do we have so much Motrin? Oh yeah, Costco. God, I haven’t been to Costco in years. Well, here’s some Tylenol Flu. Bad idea? Cough, cough. It’s all you’ve got. The little measuring cup—where is the little cup? Goddammit. How many little cups have we gone through? Don’t get mad, you say gently to yourself, it’ll wake you up. Cough, cough. You take the open bottle to your kid, oh and here’s a lozzie. That’ll help. You're at her bedside now. She’s hot and red. “Claire, honey, take a sip…”
CRY (as if dropped-the-ice-cream) “Okay, have a little water. Sit up. Two hands, there you go. Now,” you say as you bring the Tylenol Fl to her lips, “just a sip of—“ CRY (as if car-running-over-toes) “Claire, honey, you have to just take a quick sip so you can sleep—“ CRY (as if lion-charging–her-full-on) “Okay, forget it.” You put down the Tylenol Flu dramatically. “Have this lozzie.” Whimper. “It’s the lozzie or the medicine,” you say to her in the dark. “It’s too spicy,” she half-whispers. You tell her this is the minty kind. She succumbs. “Okay good. Okay lie down now.” Stroke, kiss.
You walk quietly back to your room and slip back into your bed. Still warm. You are so happy to be there. Silence. You imagine her sucking her lozzie on her side and then her back. Silence. Is she okay? Is she choking on her lozzie? You want to check. The coughing wasn’t that bad. You should get up. You are crazy. She is five. She knows how to suck a lozzie. Silence. She could swallow it whole. She could die. Tonight. Just so you could sleep. More silence. Did you put the cap back on the Tylenol Flu? What if she drinks it? All of it. Silence. You know what’s coming. You looked into the light. You know what time it is.
March 17, 2008
Glamour's April issue has a great collection of essays on friendship by writers like Jennifer Weiner, Julie Klam and, um, me. I have always felt slightly unworthy of my friendships, like I couldn't possibly have done enough to deserve them. So I was glad to have the chance to spill some ink on a few pals. I hope it gives a little honor to the many women who accompanied me through cancer, including Missy (in the photo at right). Whatever your crisis is--infertility, unemployment, divorce--I'm sure you can agree that when it's over, you're left with a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude for the people who showed up. Here's to you guys, a model for us all.
APRIL GLAMOUR: 7 Friends Every Woman Needs
The friends who show up
You never know until you know, you know? You hope your friends are what you think they are—loyal, deep, fast—but you don’t find out for sure until, say, a big lump in your breast turns out to be a bad tumor. Shannon called from vacation in tears when she heard my news. Mellie hired me a house cleaner. Carolann knitted me a warm, kicky beret that I wore for months until it began to fall apart and my husband said I looked like a 40-year-old pothead. One by one, in choreographed succession, Phoebe, Tracy and Missy packed bags and came from points east to California, because they “had to be with me.” They didn’t know what they were doing—my cancer was a first for all of us—but they came anyway. They brought things— art supplies for my two kids, books for my husband, slippers and sleeping caps for me.
And all this came as quite a surprise to me. Had I earned this much support?
I had lived most of my life in the company of men. When I was growing up, my older brothers dominated our house, as much with their giant bags of sweaty ice hockey equipment that filled the laundry room as with their epic tales of triumph at the boy-girl dance. I lived in the space that was left over, sometimes boldly (if ineffectively) inserting myself into the action, but mostly saving my voice for a later day. I’ve often pretended that I preferred hanging out with men. After all, I had learned how to cuss like a sea hand and tell a joke like a bartender and, damn it, I wasn’t going to rein myself in for a bunch of lily-livered “ladies” who bored me with their small talk about wrap dresses and Pilates and sisal rugs.
But it was the ladies who saved me, physically and emotionally. My surgeon was a woman, as were my ob-gyn, my chemo nurse, my radiation oncologist, my genetic counselor and the psychologist who gave us the words “cancer is like weeds in a garden,” a phrase my husband and I used over and over again with our small children (who are, incidentally, both girls). When my fertility was sacrificed to the cause, I found the empathy I so needed in the arms of Mary Hope and then Meg and then my mother, all of whom knew to listen for a long time (days) before reminding me that the two girls I already had were double-good, and would surely fill me up if I let them. Maybe it was the central role my breasts were suddenly playing in things, but looking back, it was a distinctly feminine time and one that left me wiser than it found me.
Since then, since I’ve become a regular person again instead of a cancer patient, I’ve kept a soft spot in my heart for guy friends, but I woo girlfriends. I cultivate and collect them because I know. Believe me, I know.
—Kelly Corrigan, author of the New York Times best-seller The Middle Place.
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