On Thursday, August 1, 2019, Dr. Barnes walked into my brother's hospital room. Swept in, is more like it. The door rushed open and in he came, white lab coat moving around him as if caught in a breeze. Van had been sitting up in bed, watching the news. I sat against a far wall, laptop open, editing Claire Fullerton's upcoming novel, Little Tea.
I immediately hit "save," and lowered the top as the good doctor said, "Turn off the TV. We need to talk."
"Okay," my brother said, as if this were any ordinary day, any ordinary talk. But I knew ... over the last two days something inside me had prepared for it. There had been too many tests. Too many procedures. Too many words of ominous news.
Dr. Barnes sat in the chair opposite Van's bed, crossed his legs, laced his fingers, and spilled, "You've only got one way out, man ..."
I could see by the rise and fall of his chest that my brother had been caught off guard. "Okay," he said.
"I've called Dr. Negrea," Dr. Barnes continued. "There's really no point in continuing the chemo unless that's what you want. But the tests indicate that the tumor is growing in spite of our best efforts and the chemo is doing nothing but beating you up."
Van nodded. We both knew that much was true.
"I've also called hospice." He raised his hands as if in surrender. "That's not to say you're going to die tomorrow."
My brother looked at me. For confirmation? For comfort? Both, perhaps. "Van," I said, allowing my words to come slowly. "The goal of the hospital is to keep you alive. The goal of hospice is to allow you to die with dignity and in as much comfort as possible. We both know, you've been in awful pain here."
He nodded again.
Dr. Barnes was clearly upset having to bring such news to someone so young and he said so. And then my brother did the most extraordinary thing. He leaned forward and locked eyes with the one who had dealt such a blow. "Dr. Barnes," he said, "I'm not going to die. I'm only changing my address. I'll take one breath here, and the next with the Lord."
The words moved the doctor; I could see that much in his expression. "I like that," he said. "I like that a lot."
He shook hands with us both and left the room, his footsteps much slower than when he had come in, as if to deliver such news was something he'd had to take a deep breath to do. He'd taken a deep breath and pushed that door open as quickly as he could to say what he had to say in the only way he knew how: straight and to the point. But this was news he had not wanted to give and my brother's words back to him, had been a gift. A reprieve. Forgiveness.
Van looked at me. I at him. I had placed my laptop on the counter next to me--I don't know when--and so I stood and walked over to the bed. Sat on the edge next to my sweet little brother who had grown so frail, so like a Holocaust survivor. I wanted nothing more than to gather him into my arms and cry and scream and wail, but I knew this was not in his best interest. So, instead, I held his hand.
He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbed up and down in a neck that had grown so thin as to display every artery and vein, the skin stretched taunt. "I didn't see that one coming," he said.
"I did," I replied honestly.
I nodded. "I did," I said again.
He paused. His eyes told me he was calculating things the way he approached so much of life. Mr. Analytical. The air around us grew thick with grief, as if we'd invited it in. As if it had any right to take its place so soon in our journey. "I wonder how much time I have left?"he asked me.
I couldn't stand it and I wouldn't stand for it. Grief would not win out--not yet, anyway. We had plenty of time to cry. To mourn what we would lose, both of us. "Twenty-seven minutes," I quipped. "What do you want to do with it?"
Van's eyes grew large. "What??"
I laughed then. "Scared you, didn't I?"
He laughed, too. "Yeah!" And then we laughed together.
But on the way home ... I cried. I screamed at the top of my lungs and beat my hands against the steering wheel.
And, at home, while petting Vanessa, I cried until there was nothing much left in me.
When it was time to go to bed, I laid on the sofa (too tired to walk from the living room to my bedroom and crawl into bed), and, in spite of thinking all the grief and torment had been depleted, I cried myself to sleep.
The Crown Jewels. Or, as they are more formally known, The Honours of Scotland.
Clare and I--having lost her parents along the way--had walked through several areas of Edinburgh's Castle, finally arriving at the room where the Crown Jewels were displayed. A sign informed us to put our cameras away. Photography was not allowed. And, to make sure no one stole either the jewels or the chance to take a photograph, a guard stood firmly in place. Across the room from us, a guide explained to those who crowded around the glassed-in jewels that it had, at one time, sat upon the heads of regents from Mary I (1543), also known as Mary
Queen of Scots, to Charles II (1651). (Now, I know what you are thinking right now. There is a photograph of the crown, so obviously Eva Marie took a photo in spite of being told not to. NOT SO! This is, honest to goodness, a photo I took of a postcard of the crown. I took it in the gift shop while Clare Campbell held it up. Don't believe me? Ask her. :))
The Honours of Scotland are, for those of you who care to know such things, the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles. For 111 years, they went missing until the future King George IV demanded that Walter Scott (who wrote Ivanhoe, and Rob Roy to name a few of his works) break down a wall where the treasure was expected to be (or hoped to be) hidden. Sure enough, the Honours were found in an oak chest. The news rang out, cheers were raised (along with the Royal Standard) and they've been on display since.
There is more than just the crown, of course. The entire set is comprised of the crown, the sceptre, and the Sword of State. And, if you are wondering about their worth: somewhere between three and five billion pounds.
No wonder there's a guard.
After several minutes of oohing and aahing over the jewels
(and other fine objects), Clare and I went into the gift shop where we played around the like queens we are (or at least we believe ourselves to be), giggling among the trinkets until we found ourselves ogling over the real jewelry locked behind a glass case. Clare spotted a garnet ring (her birthstone) she really liked while I fancied the matching earrings.
After pointing and sharing our desire to "try these," one of the sales clerks went to the back to fetch them while another stood guard over us (pretending to "just be talking"). I didn't care. I was having the grandest of times. We were laughing, Clare and I. We were playing like children instead of grown women. We were touring a castle perched high in Edinburgh, Scotland, for pity's sake on a glorious, nearly cloudless, day in the middle of September. And, we had just seen the crown worn by Mary, Queen of Scots (not to mention the room where she gave birth to her son, James). And ... thirty minutes and two transactions later, Clare had a new ring and I had new earrings. I knew how low life could go ... but, right then, I wasn't sure life could get any sweeter.
Additional photos from Edinburgh Castle