The Big C
Happy Birthday, Cancer!

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The Suitcase Kid

There's not an answer. They both know there's not an answer. The answer is yes, double yes, built on a thousand other times you took the easy way out so nobody would get hurt. So everybody would get out alive. Lenny understands this but it doesn't change anything.

"I'm not big on giving people advice -- especially when it butts up against my own happiness -- but maybe you should spend a little time making sure that I'm your best move. And if you decide that I am, you call me."

What he means is, don't call him. In a normal world, they would both know this. But because this is a freight train, because she can't help but laugh, she'll take him at his word. And he'll respond, because he trusts her judgment and he respects her and when he looks at her, he can see her. Actually see her.

Cathy leaves her suitcase upstairs and heads down to her cake, Paul's favorite; Sean and Rebecca clap for her, when she blows out the candles. Looking around at them, old friends that aren't really friends, and new friends that might be, family in constant flux, she realizes Lenny was right: There is a way in which she already had it all. Already has it, whatever it is.

This feeling of having no consequences isn't a place, like the Bahamas, and it isn't a person, like Lenny, and isn't a time, like twenty years ago: It's now, here, it goes everywhere with Cathy. Now is a gift like an atom bomb and she takes it with her everywhere. We are all Suitcase Kids, she thinks. Without a future there can't be fear, because the consequences lie beyond the event horizon. Imagine them, plan for them, but you'll never even get to live through them. There is only what you see when you look at the world, and that's the life Cathy Jamison loves best. The facts.

"Thank you, Paul. I mean, I didn't know it but I really needed this. And you have made me very happy today, which is a really big deal," He sighs, happily. "Because I have to tell you something, I... You know, I've just realized I haven't been happy -- I mean, really, truly happy -- in a long time. In years." His blood goes cold; cocks his head. "I mean, in like twenty years. Because I remember, I was happy."

She gets lost in her words, they tangle at her feet like cats, like Thomas the dog, and she's drunk, and the thoughts aren't coming out right. She wants to say we are Suitcase Kids, she wants to say that freedom is a gift like an atom bomb that she thought she left somewhere a long time ago. It comes out wrong. Everybody lives inside their bubble, all the time. It's basic survival. Cathy Jamison talks about what it's like to be Cathy Jamison today, Paul waits for the part of the story about him, Rebecca likes the parts of the story that are about Rebecca:

"I was happy when Rebecca and I... When we broke into that ice cream store in college in the middle of the night, and we took pictures of each other in our bras, eating ice cream. I don't know, what is it about college that makes you want to take your shirt off all the time?" Rebecca shrugs, showily, nodding her head. Paul begins to melt like fresh paint.

"So even though I have my shirt -- I mean my dress -- on... I'm as happy now as I was then. So thank you."

Paul wasn't a part of the story at all. He threw her the party, he surprised her with bukkake, the whole thing, and the story is about skipping over their lives together. What he doesn't understand is that the reason she loved him, and will always love him, is because when she looks at him she sees that atom bomb. He is her joy now, Paul and Adam are the happiness now. She took it out of herself and put it in them, so she could carry them on her back. It's not an insult, it's a fact. And he's the one who gave her this happiness. She trips on her words; he falls off the edge of them. Her gratitude touches all of them, but him.

Upstairs Adam's talking to Brent about the bukkake: They kept saying it, laughing, shoving it in their mouths. "Oh, bukkake! Yum, yum!" He wanders the upstairs, banned from the party, looking into rooms and out of windows. Marlene is in the yard. He stares for a moment and gets off the phone, quietly and without fanfare.

Marlene paces in their yard, looking for her house. "I think one of those big trucks must have picked up the whole damn house and drove off with it." Adam nods, takes her arm.

When Cathy gives the guests her gifts, chosen at random, they think she's drunk but she's not drunk. She's free. When Cathy greets Aunt Allison at the door and tells her what a privilege it is, growing older, she thinks Cathy's drunk but she's not drunk. She's jealous. Aunt Allison wanders away, shellshocked and confused.

Cathy sees her son out in the yard, leading Marlene by the hand. "I know I'm grounded. It's just... I'm gonna walk Marlene home." Adam wishes his mother a happy birthday, and tells his mother that he loves her, and walks the neighbor home. Every birthday, he thinks to himself, and doesn't finish the thought. Somewhere Marlene has two daughters and neither of them are here today to help her, and every birthday leads his mother somewhere, and he doesn't finish the thought. Cathy is touched; she has no idea what's in her son's suitcase.

If Marlene knew what he was doing for her, hiding this from Cathy, she'd call it even. But she doesn't, and she won't, and that suits Adam Jamison just fine.

Samantha looks at John, as the sun comes up over the Caribbean, and they both feel jetlagged and they both feel slightly weightless and heavy as lead. She doesn't have to say anything, but he smiles: All that awkwardness, family you barely recognize, this one's old college roommate and that one's latest fling. The shoes, shined, little creases in his trousers; the veil, ripped at the last second; somebody's dress trailing through the wax of a candle, beer on the dancefloor, the endless questions about children. We'll catch hell when we get home, she thinks, and she smiles right back at him. There is a lot of bullshit that comes with John's family, and though she secretly loves it, to be honest she'd wanted to elope all along. She'd always found the idea dreadfully romantic: One suitcase, and the man you love. And home waiting for you, when you come back.

In the kitchen, Paul is staring, breathing hard and dark. Cathy doesn't get it, at first: She thanked him. She felt twenty years younger and more free. "You haven't been happy for twenty years?" the part of the story that didn't contain him. "Is that what I said?" she finally asks, trying to remember. He nods, angrily.

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The Big C

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