It was eighty-four degrees in San Francisco and I was riding the bus after concurrently confessing my love and breaking up with a boy I had been dating. On our first date I told him that my brother had brain cancer. I had just discovered the fact myself and wasn’t sure what the protocol was for these things in regard to first dates. Was it a sit-at-home-and-panic or an attend-with-pocketed-Xanax sort of situation? The idea of distraction and a lovely, little pill that allowed me to abandon anxiety for four hours won.
Months later, my brother faintly acknowledged he had cancer. Was it the result of fear or peace? I didn’t know, but the brain, I thought, was where our souls and cores resided and the fact that it couldn’t be cut off like a frost bitten finger alarmed me. Together on a velvety, nearly-dead grandmother’s purple couch, was how I pictured my siblings in my memory. With four children in our family I thought it was rude and in poor taste to choose the favorite child’s brain to invade, but I wasn’t sure who to direct this distaste to. Not conspicuous to those that liked our Facebook statuses about such, nor those who read my mother’s posts from her blog through this hell (but still with humor as we are The Darlings, after all), nor acquaintances who had heard, but I was the one with the most life experiences, the most selfish, and I thought it should have happened to me instead.
The girl next to me on the bus had messy hair. Tangled and together, a chaos of dreaded ends, like a cabbage salad with tough-fleshed tomatoes. I wondered if she had just been fucked too and I wondered when I should cut my hair. I hadn’t cut it since April and that past weekend I had driven to San Diego with a person whom I used to love. I pretended to sleep for most of the ten hours because I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable towards him ever again and surface conversations are exhausting for an introvert, you know?
I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t know what I would find. The last time I was there my brother was lying in a hospital bed and hadn’t been welcoming of my hug before he went to get his melon sliced open. We waited in a waiting room for hours. My sister drew our portraits. I wrote an essay about a man ejaculating on my leg crevice. My aunt and uncle talked about possible treatments. I yelled at them. The surgeon came out, exhausted. He removed all of the tumor. Was it cancer? My brother and sister and I went home. My parents stayed. My sister’s girlfriend came over. We bought alcohol at CVS and danced in the kitchen to songs we listened to when we were young because the surgery was over.
I thought about staying in San Francisco instead with this boy. My parents repeatedly told me that I was selfish for traveling, for not folding the laundry, for not wanting to go to church, and that tone replayed in my mind when I needed to make a choice like this. Was everything alright? I needed to see how my parents were doing and if my family was going to fall apart like soggy toilet paper after food poisoning in Thailand.
This boy I confessed my love for (and in written word nonetheless) was angry and jealous about my road-trip with this other man I used to love. I would have rather gone on a road-trip with him, of course, and it was challenging for me not to say, “Yo! My brother has cancer, my heart wants you even though you have a surplus of medicated hemorrhoid wipes in plain view in your bathroom, even though you’re awful at sharing desserts, and you go soft when we are very naked sometimes, and you have some serious mommy issues that really freak me out.” All of which I was happy to accept in my post-college, post-traveling, young adult, San Francisco life, but when combined with the lack of compassion I was receiving during a time I actually needed him to be soft, I knew it had to end there. He cried and we moved his bed into the middle of his bedroom so that it could be an island that we lied on. He read me a Japanese death poem. I gave him back his story that he had written about two devil children and I went to the bathroom in his house one more time to make sure I wasn’t elaborating on the amount of packages of medicated hemorrhoid wipes he had on his counter.