When Cancer Whispers Down the Lane

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July 8, 2014 by Melanie L.

“Are you sitting down?”

Four little words each one of which is innocent enough to be found in children’s beginner reading books.  But string those same four words together and infuse them with a somber tone in the lower range and you can forget sitting — those words will bring you to your knees.  It’s always a death sentence.

It was June, 2010, the last time someone asked me this very question.  My beloved elderly grandmother had just passed, but instead of mourning, I was basking in the glow of my second pregnancy and reveling in the anticipation of my firstborn’s first birthday party.

At the time, I lived in a quaint, tall townhouse on a quiet but urban tree-lined street adorned with year-round lights.  I was settled, married, and busy with diapers, feedings, prenatal visits and the ordinariness of my life ever after.

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Until one day in June, my neatly stacked pile of birthday invitations toppled over from the vibrations of my intrusive cell phone.

Caryn, a life-long friend who also happened to be pregnant, was calling.

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Here we are, pretty super pregnant at Monkey’s first birthday party.

 

“Hey, Car.” I answered.

“What’s this about Ali having cancer?”

I sunk back into the couch and examined my cuticles.  “What cancer?” I asked with bored incredulity.

“I heard through the grapevine that Ali has cancer.  How the f*@k would someone else know first before we would?!”

Unfazed, I answered, “Because she doesn’t have cancer.  We would know if she did.  She would have told us.  She probably had a cyst or something removed and somewhere along the way some gossipy alarmists played whisper-down-the-lane and turned it into cancer.”

“Well, I intend to hear it from the horse’s mouth!” Caryn screamed.

“Ok, call me after you talk to her.”  Click.

That’s weird.  Who would gossip so carelessly?  I truly believed that if Ali were sick, we would be the first to know.  We, three, were friends since before we could spell the word.  So, I easily forgot about my conversation with Caryn as I neatly re-stacked my party invites and later settled in to watch our regular 10:00 pm drama.

But, around 10:45 pm, the landline’s ring sliced through the period piece with contradictory anachronism.  My ex, closest to the handset, retrieved it and read the caller ID aloud:

2-1-5-4-9-9. . . .

That was not Caryn’s number.

SHIT!

That’s a number I know by heart.  I know it because that number belonged to the same loquacious owner for at least ten years.  I know it because back then we still memorized numbers.  I know it because that number called me.  all. the. time.  I know it because it was Ali’s number.

Ali, herself, was calling me.

My mind raced to fill in the gaps.  Caryn had called her.  Caryn had told Ali about our conversation earlier in the day.  Ali was calling because she wants to tell me herself.  SHIT! SHIT!

My pulse quickened while a tiny army of goose bumps declared war on my nervous system.   I pushed the green “talk” button and exited the den quietly.  I raised the handset to my ear. Without waiting for a “hello,” Ali’s uncharacteristically somber voice fractured my world:

“Mel, are you sitting down?”

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18 thoughts on “When Cancer Whispers Down the Lane

  1. Learning someone is sick is never easy. I’m so sorry.

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  2. chills on my heart. 😦

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  3. Jen says:

    aw worse five words in the entire universe. I sure hope she’s ok.

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  4. Tina says:

    There is never any good way to talk about such a thing, even among friends. I’m very sorry for your loss.

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  5. Robbie says:

    I hate those words & phone calls. Beautifully written.

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  6. blainecindy says:

    Oh, how sad! I remember how I felt when I learned that my father had lung cancer and when my mother-in-law had breast cancer. It’s never easy to hear this news. I often think it’s more difficult for the loved ones than it is for the person who is sick. Nicely done.

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    • Melanie L. says:

      G-d bless her, she was so worried about upsetting the two of us with bad news while we were pregnant rather than focusing in on taking care of herself. She was such a sweet soul. I’m sorry to hear about your family members. 😦

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  7. Stacie says:

    This is so sad. I have survived cancer twice, the last time 16 years ago. I feel so lucky. I’m sorry for your loss, even though it was some time ago.

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  8. inNateJames says:

    Your writing made me feel like I was there with you putting every horrible revelation together. So sorry for your loss.

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Behind the Blog

Melanie L.

Melanie L.

I'm a happily re-married, full-time lawyer, and full-time mom raising two adorable vilde chayas (Yiddish: wild things) named Monkey and Peanut (not their real names!). I am often seen in public counting to three. In addition to parenting and writing, I also love photography, cosmology, evolutionary anthropology, and all things Israel.

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