On the phone yesterday afternoon, Jon gave me the final diagnosis. It's the fourth version of final--the first being high grade, aggressive sarcoma, then possibly a very rare infection, and then low grade sarcoma. The final, most definitive, and hopefully last diagnosis is a cancer of the deltoid muscle, called a desmoid tumor, the same kind of cancer Dave Dravecky was diagnosed with in the 80s. Jon won't need chemotherapy or radiation, but he'll lose his arm about 5 inches below the shoulder. His surgery is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
It was no more than a minute before we were joking about it. He was talking about getting the arm off and he said, apropos of nothing, "but you know, amputation. It's no big thing. It's like a Tuesday night in front of the tv for me." Then he added, "but no chemo or radiation! Damn it! I wanted to lose this last bit of belly." I joked back, and it wasn't long before we were laughing together.
"Are you taking time off of school?" I asked.
"Well, I have to miss one day. But I'm going back the next week."
"That's like a guaranteed 'A'," I said. "'Hey, I had my arm amputated and I only missed one day of class!' How could you not do well this term?"
One of the best things about us was the shared sense of humor we had, how we'd both make things okay by joking about them. I didn't mention it on the blog, but when Jon and I were dating, he dumped me often and repeatedly. Lots of times said dumping would last no more than forty minutes, but it was exhausting, kept me on my toes, made it impossible for me to evaluate the relationship because I was always in recover mode. It was a bad way to go, and it tells me now that there was something seriously wrong with us, some foundational aspect that would have never been fixed.
The first time he broke up with me was maybe a month in*. He wanted to meet up at a restuarant for dinner and "a talk." I drove 30 miles north to do this, missed a class (because he insisted it was that important), and met him at a Red Robin in the middle of nowhere--his choice. I had never been to Red Robin, and was a little taken aback by how bright everything was, how forcefully cheery the staff was (our waiter sat next to me, in the booth!, while he told us the specials).
So when Jon started in with the "I don't think we should see each other anymore," right after the waiter had brought me my iced tea, replete with doll-sized paper umbrellas (plural), I was thinking "there is no way I am doing this in a giant, well-lit burger place in the presence of paper umbrellas," told him so, and promptly left. This was also because I was going to reach across the table and strangle him (I missed class, drove for 30 minutes, for this?) if I didn't walk out right. that. second.
Red Robin has door people--and around these parts these people hand out balloons--and as I was leaving, all bent out of shape, angry and sad and thinking of all the verbal attacks I could launch on Jon later, someone opened the door and offered me a balloon, saying "thanks for coming!" I took the balloon, it was a jaunty purple, and then realized that the person handing it to me was a little person. Also, he was wearing a jester hat**.
It was like I was stuck in a romantic comedy of not-my-own-choosing.
But the best thing about this story is the way that I spun it, much later, to his family, and how we acted out parts, took on roles. "This is how I got dumped," I said at a big family dinner, once. "Jon had me meet him, meet him, as in 'drive 30 minutes,' at a Red Robin. Red Robin. Otherwise known as the brightest place on the Earth, to do it."
"I'm sorry!" he would say, not at all sorry, laughing.
"It's brighter than the sun in there! All those pieces of flash! And the happy waiters!"
At this point, everyone would be laughing, leaning in, elbows on the table.
"So he dumps me, right, and I get all angry and leave," I'd continue, "and as I'm leaving, this guy hands me a balloon. And I'm about 3 seconds from crying, I mean, I've just walked away from a table full of shiny objects and paper umbrellas where I've gotten dumped, so I take the stupid balloon and then I realize that this guy is a little person. And he's wearing a jester hat."
On cue, Jon would say, "I'm really sorry!" while everyone roared.
"It's practically a violation of the Geneva Conventions!" I'd add. Then I'd take his face in my hands, and say, with only a little faux frustration, most of it being authentic but funnelled into the long joke, "if you get only one thing from this relationship, it better be this: you are never allowed to break up with someone at Red Robin. Never!"
His parents loved this story, laughed heartily at it. They wanted to like me more, I know, but couldn't bear the idea of one more painful thing happening to Jon, so they held me at arm's length, as though they knew I'd be the harbinger of some terrible loss. So they loved me best when I was telling a funny story, especially when it was something painful I had spun into something humorous. It was the only time they trusted me. Maybe the times I made everyone laugh, they thought I'd be the person who could finally help Jon best his pain. Maybe they saw in me then a form of caretaking no one else could give him: better than a wife would be an alchemist capable of turning loss into episodic tales, humorous and manageable.
Sometimes I think if I could just have told funny story after funny story, they would have accepted me.
Mostly now when Jon and I talk, I hear what he's asking for, what he needs. So I tell him he'll be fine. I tell jokes, stories about my job and the Things. He is, I am certain, going to be ultimately fine. The cancer has a very low rate of reoccurence once amputation is done, and he has a good, strong family. It's just that they can't give him this one thing. And maybe that's my role in all this. That I let him call me, or I call him, make jokes as if it's my duty to do so.
*At some point in the relationship, I started deeming the constant breakups "putting the relationship through feats of strength." So then, when Jon would break up with me, I'd say, "Oh God. Not another feat of strength!" Is every relationship this insular? I think it is.
**Beyond Red Robin merely being a bad place to be dumped, any restaurant that would hire a little person to stand at the goddamned door and hand out balloons--in a jester hat--should be boycotted. Seriously. I don't care how many stupid paper umbrellas they put in their unsweetened ice tea.*
*I really do have a thing for the paper umbrellas. Also, this is a footnote of a footnote. Is that allowed?