The Big C

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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Come Clean

"And I hope that there is. Because I have to believe that there's going to be someone on the other side who's going to leave the light on for me. When I get there, that someone's going to be there to welcome me."

They nod, they pray for her. They don't know why she's so afraid but they do know that fear. That need to believe someone's left the light on; that someone will welcome us home. She can't believe it. She feels accepted, loved. "Pray for me, because I have managed to turn my once-average life into a complete fucking mess," she says, shocking herself and the whole congregation. Charming, and delighting, Andrea Jackson. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say fucking..." They turn, they will not look at her; it wasn't tourism but it wasn't a great moment either. She sits down, embarrassed; finally her courage leads her eyes back up, to Andrea in her choir robes, looking delicately down. She nods; it is confession, too.

"I'll see you tomorrow at school," Andrea says, staying out of arm's reach so that Cathy won't hug her, after the service. Cathy smiles and nods, carefully. When Andrea is gone she turns her face up to the sun.

In college, Rebecca took Cathy's clothes without asking, and lied about it. Rebecca prefers to remember this as "sharing clothes," like girls do. Confession: One pair of black slacks, tiny red stripe up the side, Rebecca loved. Referred to them as her Date Pants, even though they belonged to her roommate. And when they stopped fitting Cathy right, she said -- couldn't believe she was making the accusation, like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight about a pair of slacks -- that Rebecca must have done something. To the pants. The truth feels good: She'd had them tailored, so they wouldn't fit Cathy anymore. The things that Cathy loved, she wanted them too. Confession: "I'm a terrible friend." Confession: "I missed your fucking wedding."

Cathy doesn't care anymore. She's happy, in fact, to have confirmation on the pants. She's more than willing to admit she screwed up in their friendship too; that in fact it takes both parties to do that, always. But when Rebecca starts to promise, to talk about the future, to "promise from now on," Cathy's voice goes cold as ice, just for a moment: "You do not promise." Cathy shakes her head.

And Rebecca thinks, of course, that Cathy is drawing lines around her in the dirt, saying she's not trustworthy, saying she'll only embarrass herself if she promises because she can't be trusted. Cathy doesn't mean any of those things, at this moment, so she only pauses for a moment: "Just be you." Cathy missed the pants, they were flattering, her ass looked fantastic in them; she's missed Rebecca more.

Honesty is a drug. The truth feels good, and whatever feels good, we want it. Just one little slap more, we think. But once you start confessing it becomes harder and harder to stop and what starts as just a little light, chinks and spots and half-truths twinkling, can become a rushing river. You could drown in light, senses awake to the world in ways you never dreamed; honesty is a drug. It makes you stronger, never weaker; it's a weapon that only ever heals; a tool that only ever breaks off and burns away what doesn't work. It is a drug, but its addiction is grace. There's a reason it's called coming clean.

Adam sees her in the hallway, back in senior summer school, and takes a breath and approaches. He opens up his mouth and wonders what will come out, after all. "Look, um, I just wanted to say that I didn't mean what I said at the party last week. I mean, I think you're cool. And I just kind of want things to go back to the way they were."

She doesn't disagree. But when he presses for an answer Andrea tells him to prove it. To lick her locker, her summer school locker, older than all of us, touched by millions. It wasn't quite confession, but she's not being honest either: If he doesn't do it, this penance, then he isn't really sorry. So he does it. She can't really believe it.

"That's fucking disgusting! You nasty little bitch!"

Andrea laughs. Adam laughs. She can't believe he did it, not really.

Cathy buys a jar of olives, and takes them to the sister's house. She holds them out, explaining the grocery store was out of olive branches. The sort of jokes she makes; the sort of jokes he enjoys. Paul stares at her, terrified. Honesty coursing through his veins. He keeps his mouth shut tight against the flood.

"I want to talk to you. Actually, I've wanted to tell you something for a long time, but I guess I wasn't ready. So I want to come clean with you. Sort of a do-over."

The world conspires, every time, to show her to the door. To give her the easy way out, easier and easier outs, to keep from reaching that terrifying point. The slap. First it was because she was a hero. Because she carries him upon her back. Because he will fall apart. Because Sean did fall apart. Because he threw them, tantrum after tantrum. Because the phone rang, or the dog appeared, or their son was imperiled, or Paul's feelings were hurting. The world was generous. The world is generous.

Tina appears, looking for her thong, stops stock still and terrified, stares. When Cathy asks for a moment with Paul, Tina says her goodbyes. Paul stares, building up Taurus anger under what he imagines is a cold Cancer moon. To be angry first, to be angry hotter and better, to make the anger Cathy's fault, to have no accountability at all.

"What, no yelling? No lecture? No judgmental condemnation of my abhorrent behavior? I fucked her, Cathy. Multiple times in fact. I mean, why shouldn't I?"

Confession: She has hurt him so deeply that it made him a man. This is how he chose to show it. Childish and brutal and very, very afraid; drunk enough to act out. Man enough to sober up and pretend he meant it all along. He's very dramatic. Every day is Valentine's Day, with Paul Jamison; either Valentine's or a massacre. "You fucked somebody, so I fucked somebody too. And what do you have to say about that?"

But the volume doesn't change the clarity of the message; the way the honesty sears itself clean. His quid pro quo, he thinks it's about sex but it's not about sex. It's about the fire and the burdens and the little cracks of light. It's not about sex, it's about gift-giving. His honesty for hers. It's not about sex, it's about opportunity. To forgive him, to forgive herself, to lay down the burden at the river side; to come clean. Pulled, torn, between honesty and charity, to finally split. To dive in:

"I have cancer."

To love him louder still.

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The Big C

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