Radiology sent me a letter saying my right breast warranted a second look.
My first thought was, Thank you.
My second thought: Oh my God, I have cancer!
The letter came on Saturday. My follow-up appointment is not until Thursday, and this is only Tuesday.
I can think of nothing but the prospect of dying:
Everyone who has ever felt a fond feeling for me will flock to my beside when they hear the news.
Even my ex-husband, who hasn't spoken to me in ten years, will probably send a large bouquet of red roses with a note: "Hope you're on the upswing soon."
(He knows perfectly well there will be no upswing.)
Those from whom I've been estranged will be stunned to learn of my imminent demise. They will visit or write or call to say that I had never been far from their thoughts.
I have been an important person in their life.
Despite whatever came between us all those years ago (who can even remember what it was?) they never forgot me for more than six or eight months at a stretch.
Dying has a certain appeal. If I were truly dying, I could throw a big party and everyone would have to show up.
All of my loved ones, past and present, would gather together in a spirit of love and remembrance...of me!
Then again, is it my duty to inform people who have deliberately opted out of my life that I am dying, and that this is their last chance to return to the fold?
Dare I ask those people to journey back to me one last time--at the risk being told that I have been dead to them already for a very long time?
That's not what a dying person needs to hear.
And how would I notify them? Would it be like a birth announcement or an obituary?
Notification of a change of address?
I would order cards with nice calligraphy.
Greetings from Wisconsin! I am sorry to tell you that I am dying. I would love to see you one more time, maybe two. What does your schedule look like? RSVP
Perhaps, instead of a party, I could expect a steady trickle of attention from a large field of acquaintances.
Women from church would bring food.
Cards would arrive, two or three a day, like Christmas.
I will read the cards, and think to myself, Who are these people?
As my hour glass grows bottom-heavy, sweetly stinky bouquets would crowd my beside table, making it even more difficult to breathe.
I could go to Hawaii, where I have some friends, and we would have a great time. Later, at the airport with my luggage, I turn back one last time and mouth the words, "Friends, I'm dying! Aloha! Good-bye!"
Or would it be better and more courageous to slink silently off into the night to die alone under the hedge, like a cat?
I struggle with these questions. Whether or not to die nobly or in extremely poor form, what difference would it make? The end will justify the means.
What about the people who are going to be so freaked out by the whole business of death and dying that they will avoid me altogether, for that reason alone?
Such a reaction could come from anywhere, creating a Judas of denial from anyone who cannot bear to step foot inside a hospital for anyone.
I'd be all like, "Where is so-and-so, my dearest, best friend? Why aren't they here at such a time?"
And my dad would harrumph and explain, "So-and-so's an asshole."
But, I will be saintly and tell everyone who is blowing me off while I am dying that I forgive them.
I'll be a martyr, a real martyr, with the back of one hand against my humid brow and the other making the sign of the cross.
"Godspeed, my brother, whilst I die over here, all sweaty."
I'll dole out absolution to every lost soul who's ever screwed me over, no matter how great or trivial the sin.
For friends and lovers from my past who have already buried me in theirs, I shall leave word:
"Fret not, dear soul. We're cool. No worries."
Of course, I too have apologies to make.
I would quickly point out, however, that I have never done anything to merit an early death. Nothing that you would actually hang me for.
I could associate some degree of shame with most of the people who are not talking to me.
I can see myself calling them to apologize as part of my process of taking inventory, tidying up my soul, and so on. Preparing to meet my God. Judgment Day, etcetera.
That could be a solid excuse, actually, to call and just let it drop that I'm dying.
Thursday, 4 pm. Am not dying. False alarm. Oh, well! Tomorrow's Friday!
[Originally drafted in 2008.]