I remember the last time I saw you, two months before that. Liz and I were prepared for something somber, but you wanted none of it. You wanted to talk about the skiing competition that was on TV; and Jill (you missed her, you wondered about winning her back); and your syllabus; and Columbia College; and vegan recipes; and where to get the best organic produce; and various doctors; and what commuting to Chicago might be like and whether to go by train; and my pregnancy; and the people in the photos on the wall. You wanted, in brief, to make your version of small talk. It was the only time I’ve known you to do so, and it made me glad; it seemed like a way of saying I want to be alive, which you did. You wanted to live.
At some point you and I were alone and you said a thing that put a bright and terrible blank in my brain, namely: how it was part of your work to suffer, and it had been all along, and you understood this. And you said that you thought this cancer would kill you, but not yet. It would go away, and you would get to do the chief things you meant to do, and then, some years later, it would take you. I remember thinking, Okay. Okay! Let’s go with that — ten, or fifteen, or twenty more years. That sounds like a fairer deal.
But you didn’t even get a year. And at the end, from what your mother said (and she’s become our teacher; she’s teaching all of us), it was not a passing, or a thin place, or a decrescendo, or a veil. It was excruciating and it choked you and you fought. It was the cup you wanted to pass. It was what she had mightily strived and prayed against. It was a cross.
I had planned to see you the first weekend of October. I did not. The head of Iraq Veterans Against the War said he had planned to see you the day you died. He did not.