The Things We Cannot Say

I push back from the laptop, my fingers trembling when I fumble with the edge of the drawer, pulling it open. I twist the cap off of the medicine bottle, shaking out two pain pills and popping them into my mouth. Another headache, my vision spotty from it. This morning there was a doctor's appointment, one where I laid out my symptoms and the doctor assured me they will only get worse. He gave me a sales pitch on chemo, along with a fresh script for pain meds. The chemo I passed on, but the meds I accepted. I'm breaking. I can see it in the rigid grip of my stance, the clench of jaw, the tremble of my entire frame. I can feel it in the air, the rough pain that emits, and this is so much deeper, so much stronger, than my own mortality. In that news, there had been no emotion. In this, I am a raw current. I don't know when it happened, or how, but grief is a song I am well versed in. I'm dying. It's a grim start to any story, but I think the news should be delivered in the same manner as a ripped band-aid. Short and blunt, a stab that burns for a moment, then is gone, the moment over. My doctor tip-toed around the news, showing me test results and citing blood cell counts, CEA numbers, and an MRI that showed a tumor the size of a small lemon. He drew out what could have been accomplished in two short sentences. You're terminal. You have three months left. I should be sad. I should be emotional, my fingers shaking as they press cell phone buttons and make depressingly bleak phone calls to all of my friends and family. Only, I don't have friends. And my family… I have no family. I have only this countdown, a dark ominous chant of days, sunrises and sunsets before my body gives up and my mind shuts down. It's not really a terrible diagnosis—not for me. I've been waiting four years for something like this to happen, a guillotine to fall, an escape door to appear. I'd be almost cheerful about it, if it weren't for the book. The story. The truth, which I've avoided for the last four years. I step into my office and flip on the light. Moving forward, I reach out, my hand trailing over the corkboard wall, hovering over the tacked up photos, the pages of abandoned ideas, jotted notes of a hundred sleepless nights, sparks of inspiration—some that led nowhere, some that now sit on bookshelves all over the world. My husband made me this board. His hands held the wood frame in place, cut the cork, and nailed the pieces into place. He kept me out of the office all day to do it, my insistence at entering thwarted by the lock, my knocks on the door ignored. I remember sitting back in this same chair, my hands on my belly, and seeing the final product. I had stared up at the blank board and thought of all the stories I would build on it, the words already itching for their place. It had become everything I thought it would. I stop at the page I've read countless times, its paper worn more than the others, the edges not obscured with clippings or neighboring photos. It's the synopsis for a novel. Right now, it's just one paragraph in length, the type of copy that might one day be embossed on the back cover of the book. I've written fifteen novels, but this one terrifies me. I fear that I won't have the right words, the right arc, that I will aim too high, hit too hard, and still not properly affect the reader. I fear that I'll tell everything, and still no one will understand. It's a book I had planned to write decades from now, once my skills had grown, my writing sharpened, talents perfected. It is a book I planned to spend years on, everything else pushed aside, my world closing in on the one thing that mattered, nothing else moving until it was finished, until it was perfect. Now, I don't have decades. I don't have years. I don't have the level of skill. I don't have anything. There is no time for perfection; it doesn't matter. I pull at the tack that holds it in place, and set the page carefully on the center of my clean desk. Three months. The deadline is the tightest I've ever faced. There will be no frantic calls to my agent, no negotiation for more time. Three months to write a story that deserves years. Is it even possible?


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