The Big C
Taking The Plunge

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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The Places You'll Go

Todd smiles and assures him that the woman, Annabelle, is a great nurse. "I'd let her stick me with a needle any day."

But this is not just any patient and it's not just any patient's husband. And at this second Todd loves Paul more than he could ever possibly explain.

"Look, Paul. I'm not gonna tell you not to worry, all right? But she's got top-notch care. And I'm gonna be here every day."

Paul breathes, and nods, and thanks Dr. Mauer. He's always been so important to Cathy. So significant.

And the tears in Todd's eyes, Paul can't help but clap him on the back, for comfort. At this second Paul loves Todd more than he ever could possibly explain.

Sean comes to Rebecca in a clean shirt, with a speech he's memorized.

"The way I see it we have two options here: Either you can have this baby and leave it on the steps of the firehouse for someone more qualified to raise it, or I can help you fuck it up. But you're not going to raise this baby by yourself and fuck it up alone. If we're going to fuck it up, we're going to fuck it up together. So that's where I'm at. Oh, and I have a house now."

He nearly cries. She watches him.

"So what do you have to say about that?"

He looks stronger. He smells better. He smells good.

"Just close your eyes," says Annabelle. "And relax."

Todd watches; Paul pets her. The doctor smiles and her eyes flutter closed.

Sean prowls Marlene's house, her multitude of lamps to chase away the darkness. The couch is ratty but it's too soft. He stares at the ceiling, walls all around him.

Adam sees his mother's purse, and goes looking for the elusive twenty bucks. Beside her wallet there is an envelope, his mother's handwriting; he gets scared before he comprehends what she has written and even more scared when he reads it, and this is what it reads:

DON'T OPEN UNTIL I'M GONE

He opens it: A key for a storage facility, with the address on the fob. Adam hops on his bike and takes out the key, standing before the locker.

Sean takes a sleeping bag out into the yard, and lies down, staring up at the sky. No walls around him. He tries to sleep.

Adam opens the door, and the locker is full. The sports car is there. But it is piled high with gifts. The room is piled halfway to the ceiling, with boxes of every shape and color. Framing a picture of Adam, with his mother. She's not a hoarder, she's a keeper.

Happy 30th Birthday, Adam! reads the card, on the car. His stomach drops; the room goes dark and sad and scary: She doesn't keep the past, she keeps the future. Without her in it.

Annabelle pulls the trigger and Cathy sits back, feeling the cold in her veins and the weight, the fear of nausea before the nausea hits, and then the nausea, and then she's somewhere else. It's another summer, nine months from now. The pool is effortlessly clean, all angles straight; she's wearing a white one-piece as she splits, and dives, far below the surface.

Adam's nineteenth birthday is red. His twenty-sixth is covered in stars. Christmas 2012 will be classic gold foil. 2015 will read XO XO XO XO. High school graduation, he'll be eighteen. College graduation, he'll be twenty-two. And somewhere in these boxes and mysteries is another gift he'll have to open. He'll never be old enough for that, he knows. We all know. But one year, maybe soon, these gifts will be there, because she won't.

Adam sits in the center of them. The wave breaks. They tell a story he couldn't ever understand. No matter how hard she fights, he'll go from being a boy with a mother to a man without one.

Floating at the edge of the pool, under a glorious Minnesota summer sun, Cathy smiles: Marlene, in a dusty rose dress, dancing to polka. Smiling. Offering her strength, and maybe welcome. They are brave women, and strong. Marlene without any pain at all, and Cathy in the place she loves best. Waiting to go home.

You'll find out. I hope that you are very old, and I hope that it is easy. I hope it's not ugly and I hope it's not sudden, but I also know that's not how it works. It is always sudden and it's always ugly and it is only ever hard. One day you will become a person without a mother, and it will hurt.

And nothing anybody says will matter, and you will find yourself saying ridiculous things to cover up the fact that you have no idea how you are feeling because you have never felt this before. You have never been this frightened, and you have never been this close to the enormity of death. Even if you hated her, like I did. Even if you loved her like I did. You will find yourself trapped in every hateful thing you ever said and everything she ever said in anger; you'll find yourself trapped in every wonderful thing she did. You will wonder about your clothes and your stature and how to act in church because it's been so long, and you will wonder how the fuck you're supposed to look people in the eye, on that day.

You will wonder if you're making it all about you, or if you're not showing enough emotion. People will feel sorry for you, in a hazy way that clears like fog the second they leave. You will cry, or you won't cry, but the heat at the back of your throat and eyes, the ball in your throat, won't care what you do. It won't move. The dreams you have that night won't be good, but they will be strange, and they will be true.

You will say goodbye without knowing the words to say it, and without the tongue to say it, because there are no words to say it. There is no way to say goodbye.

It won't comfort you, to know you were surrounded the whole time. That you were loved. That you are loved.

It won't comfort you but you'll know it just the same.

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The Big C

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