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His expressions of affection were, for her, tiny victories.So when she held up the photo of him with a Mohawk and laughed—"Look! "—I knew she meant it in the most competitive, gloating way possible. "It was more fun than me just shaving my head bald," he said. Later that year, I remember him standing sentry at the hospital.Her body no longer recognized food as useful and was now expelling it directly out the front of her abdomen, like a foreign substance. "Before this is over," she said, "you will long for it to end." I said.
Dane and I could hardly see it, because we never left her.
When visitors came, though, we could see it reflected in their faces, or when her shirt slipped to the side, exposing her collarbone.
We don't tell each other the truth about dying, as a people. Real dying, regular and mundane dying, is so hard and so ugly that it becomes the worst thing of all: It's grotesque. The tiled floor of life—morals, ethics, even laws—became a shifting and relative thing. But she asked me to meet her in the living room with a towel, scissors, and my beard trimmer. "Give me a Mohawk." Afterward, we stepped into a bathroom so that she could look in a mirror.
She dragged a chair into the middle of the room and pulled her hair—long and dark and cascading—into a ponytail. I sawed at it with the scissors until it came free in my hand. She was Creek Indian, and I had never seen her cheekbones so proud, her eyes so defiant. We had met Dane fifteen years earlier, when we all lived in New Orleans and they were in college together.
I remember white tile and a hope: Nicole was thirty-four, and the doctor had been direct: "It's everywhere," he said. *** Dane decided to move in around Christmas 2013, on the night our dog died. Nicole had ovarian cancer, which had metastasized to her stomach, and she endured a series of physical insults that, taken individually, would have been shattering; a single trip to the chemo ward, watching what looked like antifreeze flow into her veins while the nurses offered me cheese crackers, would have changed my life forever.
"Like somebody dipped a paintbrush in cancer and flicked it around her abdomen." I staggered down a hallway and then collapsed. Taken together, though, the surgeries and chemicals all form a smear that can't be taken apart and examined.
He offered us his friendship with such humility, such deference to our marriage, that I trusted him from the beginning.
I'm not sure Nicole ever forgave us for both being men, because over the years it allowed me to grow close to him in a way she never could.
Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house.
Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.