The Cancer Diaries: Sex, Lies and Videotapes
Last week, Jennette and I had the big talk.
You know the one, the talk where you set everything straight, and confess to past transgressions, lies and half-truths.
If you're a caregiver for a cancer patient, you know what I'm talking about.
Even the most solid gold hearted caregiver sometimes has to lie to the patient, if for no other reason than to keep heart and soul together.
My big lie concerned Jennette's apartment which I had to empty out over the course of about six days when she undergoing radiation at the Ottawa Hospital. Her doctor told us that Jay needed to go into assisted living, and would no longer be able to live the swinging single life at her pad on Kilborn Avenue. The oral cancer was now Stage Four, and it was inhabiting the side of her face like a burrowed squirrel.
"Unless you have someone to care for her 24/7, she might choke to death one night," he explained in that concerned oncologist voice. "You don't want to come to her apartment and find her dead. Let somebody else do that."
The doc did have a way of snapping a person to attention, and that is how Jay, her brother and I decided it was time to make a move.
The trouble was, she didn't remember.
Jay was really, really sick and out of it after the docs gave her a huge bolus of radiation.
One minute, she was her lucid and sharp self, the next she was buzzing around her hospital cubby looking for something that was right in front. Thanks, cannabinoids!
To me, time was of the essence. I needed to find her a place and get her moved -- stat. And so I began the thankless task of sorting through another person's life, and making decisions without her.
It didn't help that Jay was a bit of a pack rat. She had some of her mom's clothes, sleeves of golf balls, and two pairs of golf shoes, size 5 -- and I had never seen her play golf in 30 years!
Finally, I got the job done, and came back to her hospital room.
She leaned over, and put her little hand on my wrist.
"After I'm out of here, we'll go back to my place, and I'll tell you what to keep," she said, trying to focus her rheumy eyes on me.
Holy shit, I thought.
How can I tell her that the only things left in her apartment were the drapes?
And that's when the lying began.
It was heartbreaking, but I promised.
A few days later, we moved her into Hunt Club Manor, and she was surrounded by all her nice things: the paintings, her furniture...everything except all the pack rat stuff.
She was still agitated, and fearful.
She kept insisting on returning to the scene of the crime, the place she left by ambulance with none of her memories.
I kept hoping she'd forget, but she didn't.
Weeks went by, and I kept putting her off.
"We have lots of time," I said. "Your lease doesn't finish til the end of the year."
I felt like a dream thief, a scallywag, and a no-good sinner deserving of anything Dante could possibly throw at me in the afterlife.
I've been known to tell a lie or two, in my life, but this was different.
I was lying to a cancer patient and it was eating me up inside.
I fought with myself, night after night. I reasoned that I wasn't lying for my own personal gain or redemption in her eyes.
I was lying to give her hope.
Then I thought back to a small incident that gave me my own version of hope.
I was sitting on her bedroom floor one afternoon, and sorting through her drawers, as well as bags unopened from her last move, the one she made after Roger died. I was hot, and tired, and dispirited.
I reached into the back of the closet and found a big yellow gym bag.
I opened it, and found a treasure trove of black and white magazines.
It was full of porn.
Not just any porn, but 1970s porn, displaying antics of people all shapes, sizes and genders.
I was stunned.
How could Roger have left this for poor Jennette?
And how could he have left it for me to get rid of?
I began to laugh, harder and harder.
What the hell was I going to do with this?
I marched the bag down to the dumpster in her apartment and the bin was locked.
So I had to leave the bag out in public for anyone to pick up.
I snickered at the thought of the maintenance guys opening the damn thing and seeing a guy with a blonde with his wang hanging out.
I left it, and sped home.
A few days later, I mentioned the incident to my son Stef, who lives in the same building.
He just shook his head.
"Why did you get rid of it?" he asked. "That stuff's worth a lot of money!"
I remember another thing about that day.
I remember thanking Roger for bringing me out of my doldrums. It was as if he had reached down and slapped me on the back of the head.
"Come on, kid," I heard him say. "It ain't all that bad. Go home and have a beer!"
The day I confessed my sin to Jennette -- the lie about her apartment -- we were having some libations in the afternoon after working on some paper work.
"You know, I'm so sorry that you have to go through all of this," I said tearing up. "You are such a good person -- you don't deserve it."
"Well," she said. "I brought it on myself."
Then I saw the sly grin.
"But I don't regret one minute of my life. I enjoyed every damned cigarette. I loved them all."
I can't explain it, but it was as if she'd given me a signal.
Truth or dare. I tell you, you tell me.
I blurted out the whole thing about her apartment.
She just shrugged and took another draw of her cocktail.
"Oh well," she said with a wave of her hand.
After that, I couldn't stop talking. And I had to tell her about the little treasure I found at the back of the closet.
"I do have a funny story," I told her. "When I was packing up, I found a bag of Roger's porn. I mean, really, Jennette...did you know about Roger's porn?"
"What do you mean?" she grinned. "Oh, you mean our porn?"
And then she began to tell me a few stories that I won't share here.
We laughed, and drank, and talked about the good old days.
It was as if we'd gotten the band back together, and we were sitting on their deck, trading stories.
There wasn't much I didn't know about the Levetts. Roger often greeted me in his underwear.
But I hadn't known about the porn until that very moment.
And now the circle of hell was complete.
Me, Roger, Jay, and that damned bag of porn.
It bought us even closer together.
But wait, where was the videotape?