“The will to survive is the most important factor. Whether with a group or alone, emotional problems resulting from shock, fear, despair, loneliness and boredom will be experienced … When isolated from his unit in the course of combat operations, the individual soldier is obligated to continue to fight, survive, and/or evade capture so as to rejoin friendly forces.”
-Survival Evasion and Escape, Department of the Army Field Manual, 1969
When one of your favorite people is diagnosed with cancer you go for a run. You climb a snow-covered mountain to talk to God. You climb until you think you are high enough that he will hear you. And then you do not speak. Instead you think terrible things about him. Because you know he hears those, too. And then you turn around and head back to where you came from.
And at night you talk to your nana. You ask her to come back from wherever she is. You picture her as dust. Flying through this galaxy and beyond. Smiling. If dust can smile. Visiting all that she never got to see in this life. At the edge of the earth. Or, maybe just down the road, at the nudie beach she always wanted to go to. You summon her to your side. And ask her to look out for your person.
In your dreams she comes to you. For the first time. And you cannot believe it. You haven’t seen her without oxygen tubes sprouting from her nose in years. She is not wearing glasses either. But she is lying next to you in bed. And she locks eyes with you and tells you about the cake she bought. It is in the freezer.
“There isn’t a lot of fruit inside,” she says, shaking her head and pinching her fingers close. It is important that you know this.
You wake up. That afternoon you get a phone call from the hospital. The surgery is over. The doctors couldn’t find much cancer. You are relieved. But you already kind of knew. Because an old lady who loved strawberry and banana cream cakes didn’t order any.
Later, your favorite person has a shunt put in his brain to deliver chemotherapy to his spine. The idea is that poison will kill the bad cells that have gone haywire and leave the good cells intact. Mostly.
Weeks ago when he was diagnosed with cancer he did not ask why me? Instead, why not?
Still. The demons come for him at night, he says. They whisper things to him. Bad things. They scare him. And then he remembers everything. His lovely wife. And he is no longer afraid.
A pretty lady comes to visit him every day in the hospital. She smiles and talks to doctors and handles the incoming calls. She is his cheerleader. And she is a pretty tough one too. She is the rock. Always has been really. And she is preparing for him to come home. Everything must be sterile. Everything must be clean. Everything. Even the mind.
There are no dark thoughts allowed. Just books. And a Bella – a yellow lab who is a little bit dumb and a whole lot to cuddle. She will sit beside him and take up too much space on the bed and make sure there are no demons here.