These are the pants that I was wearing on June 30, 2004. That was such a busy day, a Tuesday, I think. Maybe a Wednesday. Richard and I had returned home from our vacation in New England, first at Linekin Bay for sailing then on Cape Cod for his cousin’s wedding.
We had so much to do after two weeks away from home–laundry, cleaning, paying bills. I went right back to work. I was teaching a Microsoft Access class that day. Richard spent the day trying to get seen by a doctor to see if anyone could figure out why his vision was going blurry.
The day before we left for vacation, he cut the backyard with a push mower. When he came inside, I noticed that he had a big red spot in the corner of his eye. I asked a nurse friend and she said it was probably a simple burst blood vessel. A common instance when one overexerts oneself. It would clear up in a few days. But it didn’t. Over the two weeks we were away, the eye stayed red. By the end of our trip, his vision was so blurry that he had to pull over to the side of the highway and let me drive through Boston.
Richard got in quickly with Dr. Blue, the ophthalmologist. Dr. Blue looked inside Richard’s eyes and found what he thought was a dangerous bleed. We spent a few hours in a panic–what if Richard lost his sight? How could our life work if he went blind? There was talk of going to Atlanta the next day to see a retinal specialist. Fortunately (I guess), Richard also mentioned to Dr. Blue that he hadn’t been feeling well for a while and Dr. Blue had the foresight to order a CBC. While I taught Access, Richard had the blood test done. By that afternoon, Dr. Blue had called to say that we must get Richard to a hematologist that day. A normal white cell count is between 4,500-10,000. Richard’s was over 70,000.
We didn’t know the specifics yet, only that the doctor would be waiting on us at Northeast Georgia Cancer Care. There was that word. The unimaginable prospect of Richard losing his vision melted away and was replaced by that word. We sat in the waiting room there, among those people with cancer. I couldn’t find a single thing to read on the coffee table that wasn’t about…that.
So. Dr. Marrano brought us back. Richard took my hand and told me to wait in another room, that he wanted to talk to the doctor alone. Dr. Marrano was so gentle with us that my heart went hollow. You don’t have to be that nice and careful with someone who has anemia or an infection.
I sat in an exam room by myself. I was so afraid that I couldn’t raise my head up and look around. All I could see was those ridiculous pants. Orange jungle print. Ludicrous pants that hadn’t a care in the world. I sat there thinking, “He’s over there on the other side of this wall and the doctor is telling him that he has cancer and I am over here trapped in this room with these incredibly obnoxious pants!” If only, if only, if only. If only one thing could be different. Staring at those pants as the knowledge sank in that our normal life was over.
Dr. Marrano tapped on the door and brought Richard back to me. The door closed behind him–I didn’t get to talk to the doctor. Richard held my hand again and told me how it was going to be. Looked me right in the eye and said, “I have leukemia.” How there were lots of treatments and he had youth on his side and he was heading to Johns Hopkins for the absolute best experts in the field.
Maybe those pants held me up. I remember wanting to fall down in a heap.
We drove home, like people do. I started crying at the traffic light at Prince and Satula. He patted my hand on the gearshift. The light changed and we moved on.
That night, we tried to find a doctor to talk to, any doctor. My sister wasn’t answering, so we called Richard’s college buddy, Eeric. A giant Viking of an orthopedic surgeon, but he knew how to interpret a CBC. Richard was on one phone breaking the news to his parents. I walked out on the deck to read the numbers to Eeric. When I read the hemoglobin score, he sucked in his breath and whispered, “Shit.” Normal range is about 14-17. Richard’s was 7. Eeric made me promise that I wouldn’t let Richard so much as brush his teeth until he had had a transfusion, which was scheduled for the next morning.
At the end of that long day, I took off my jungle print pants. Nine years later, and they’re still hanging in the closet, with a fine haze of dust over the hanger. I never could bring myself to wear them again–those are the cancer pants. Couldn’t give them away either–they are part of a day in my life that will always be vivid. Livid. Obnoxious. That innocent woman who walked out into the world in her ridiculous pants. She never came back.
What’s that crazy thing in the back of your closet that you can’t throw away?