The Big C

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Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
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The Three Cathy Jamisons

"Shit, sorry. Um... Uh, well, okay. You... You seem happy?" He calls out a hallelujah, he grins and shakes and smiles and nods his head, brittle and terrified and alone, resenting Carl, resenting his strength and his beauty and the sadness behind his eyes and resenting most of all the resentment he thinks might be there too. Carl, who got himself a passport too, the day Leon got sick.

Cathy can't take her eyes off the poster, the happy rainbow in a bright blue summer sky. Walking in here, performing at Stage IV, bringing the dark clouds with her. Leon is terrified that she sees something else; Leon needs her to validate this for them, it is a project and an exercise built for two:

"Yes, I am! I'm happy! Cancer's made me happy!" He laughs, shrugging, sweet. "That's ironic."

It's Cathy's turn. She seems anxious, Leon thinks. She is nervous, in her own way. She rode here on her bicycle and walked into a room full of death where the people smile brighter than they do on the outside, and congratulate each other on their positivity; where everyone is afraid of letting everyone else down, opening the door, letting it walk in among them and bend the ceiling black.

"The truth is I... I haven't told anyone that I'm sick. I mean, besides this roomful of strangers. So I think that's why I'm here, just to try and... Just to try it out. I don't think anyone I know could handle it."

She knows they couldn't. She knows they'll have to, but she putting her toes in. Her laugh goes quiet and then falls away. The truth: That this room is just practice. A passport to the horrible thing she knows she has to do, to every single person she loves. Just to try it out.

"You seem really sad," says Leon, finally, as his face falls apart.

"Actually Leon you seem sad." Every skill, every moment as a teacher, coming into her voice and modulating it so that it doesn't sound half as mean, and defensive, and angry, and terrified, as she knows it sounds inside. Leon gets afraid for her. He thanks her for validating his feelings, but they are not his feelings. How could they be? Sadness is a negative, like anger: It has no place in the new life. Cancer hasn't made him sad, it's made him happy. And ever so grateful. He uses her words like a weapon, turning them back on her. Leon clarifies: He's sad, but for Cathy Jamison. Because she is alone.

It's not wrong, he's not wrong, but he's too close to crying and she doesn't want to carry anybody else's shit for them. Leon's not allowed to be sad, or angry, or anything but happy and grateful for the passport. If he will be sad, he will be sad for her. This is exactly the sort of thing Cathy Jamison hates most. The awful weight of pity, the nasty need it always hides.

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The Big C

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