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.
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.
“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.
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: