“I think this weekend we should go get the rest of your stuff, move you back in here.” Sammie said. It was early Thursday evening. After they had gotten home from the hospital Steve had taken a nap on the sofa. He was awake now, sipping a 7-Up.
“I told you, I don’t want you to feel obligated.”
“ And I told you, it isn’t obligation I feel. Besides, what else are you going to do, have Teresa take care of you?”
“I don’t want anyone to have to take care of me, damn it,” Steve snarled.
“I know you don’t, dear, but you’re going to have surgery soon, and you’ll need someone to help you out, at least for awhile.”
Steve sighed, too weary to fight, “Yeah, okay, but I’m moving into the spare bedroom.”
“Because, we are not getting back together simply because I am sick. We’re not.”
Sammie chewed his bottom lip. “Steve.”
“Sammie, no. You know I love you, but… ah fuck. I’m just so scared.”
“So lean on me.”
Steve shook his head. “I can’t ask that of you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I walked out on you. I can’t come back and say, ‘Okay, I’m sick, take care of me’.”
“But I want to.”
“What? Take care of me? Yeah, well, I guess you get your wish. Like you pointed out, I don’t really have any place else to go.”
“It’s not that you don’t have any place else, it’s that you don’t have any place better,” Sammie corrected.
“Oh Frog, what would I do without you?” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Sammie was running late Friday morning. “Hey, Sammie, sorry to hear about Steve,” Jarred said as Sammie sat down at his desk.
“Thanks,” Sammie mumbled, not making eye contact. He began pulling out files from his desk drawer.
“Yeah, man, sorry,” Matt added.
“Thanks.” Sammie booted up his computer, finding his mood growing more sour by the minute.
Tom walked by and said, “If there’s anything we can do.”
Sammie nodded. Didn’t these people understand that he didn’t want to talk about it? He just wanted to lose himself in his work for a few hours before he had to go home to deal with Steve and everything involved in, well… in everything. Forcing himself to focus, Sammie began catching up on his email. Finally he stole a glance over at Tyler, smiling weakly.
Tyler nodded and walked up over to Sammie’s desk. “How are you doing?”
“Not so good,” Sammie admitted.
“When are the next tests scheduled?” Sammie had called him the night before but hadn’t gone into details.
“Um, Tuesday, but they won’t be as invasive. Just some lab work and a CT scan. Nothing as serious as what he went through yesterday. Once they have the results back then we go from there. I suppose surgery and radiation or chemotherapy, but I really don’t know.”
Tyler nodded. “How’s Steve handling it?”
“He’s depressed, angry, scared… pretty much the same as me, only it’s actually happening to him.”
“Maybe you two should try to go somewhere this weekend,” Tyler suggested.
“Where would we go?”
“I don’t know, but it might do you both good to get away for even a few hours.”
“Yeah? Maybe, if Steve feels up to it.”
“I wish there was something I could do to help you.”
“You already have.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Sammie worked late that night, trying to get caught up on his projects. When he got home Steve was already asleep, in the spare bedroom. Sammie wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Up until tonight, Steve had slept in their bedroom, in their bed. But tonight he was too tired to care; Sammie undressed and fell into bed, asleep almost before his head even hit the pillow.
When Sammie awoke the next morning Steve was in the living room watching Saturday morning cartoons. “Morning. What time did you get home last night?” Steve asked.
“Um, I don’t know, after ten. You were already asleep.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t feeling too well, so I went ahead and turned in.”
It seemed so different having Steve living here as a roommate, not as a lover. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Maybe after we go get your stuff we could go somewhere.”
“Like where?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know, just maybe get away for awhile.”
“To what? Try to reconnect?” Steve was the one in the sour mood this morning.
“No, just… I don’t know, just get away.”
“Ah, from my disease.” Steve shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way. See, everywhere I go, it just follows me. The constant stomach ache, the cramps, the gas pains, the weakness, oh and don’t forget the night sweats... you want me to go on?”
Sammie put his hands up in defense, “No, sorry. I was only trying to help.”
Steve sighed. “I know, I’m sorry… I don’t mean to take it out on you. This self-pity is a killer, y’know?”
“Yeah, it is.” Changing the subject he asked, “Have you eaten anything yet?”
“How about I fix us something?”
“Yeah, do you have any? It’s supposed to be easy to digest.”
“Um, just instant.”
“That would be fine. Thanks.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
“Why don’t you see if that kid wants to go do something with you tonight?” Steve asked. They had gone across town and gotten the rest of Steve’s stuff. He didn’t take much when he left a few months ago so it hadn’t taken long. Now they were back at the apartment and Steve was trying to pretend he wasn’t exhausted from the exertion.
Sammie smirked, “Because he won’t see me.”
“I have too many unresolved issues with you, and until I work through them he and I can only be friends.”
“He said that? When?”
Sammie shrugged, “I don’t know. Before we knew you were sick.”
Steve started laughing. “You’re kidding. And now I’ve rejected you, too.”
“What the fuck is so funny, you fucker.” Sammie smirked, throwing a pillow at him.
“Oh come on, can’t you see the irony in this? It is so typical of how the world works.”
Sammie shook his head. “All I see is a fucked up situation.” Sammie thought for a moment. “Is that why you moved into the extra room? Because you thought I had something going on with Tyler?”
“No, I moved into the spare room because I don’t want us getting together just because I’m sick,” Steve said, speaking slowly as if to a child.
“Why does it matter why we get back together?”
“Why, Sammie, are you saying you want me back?” Steve tried to tease.
“I just want to understand.”
“It would be unfair of me to try to woo you back when there is a good chance I’ll be dead in a few months.”
“Steve, don’t say that.”
“Listen, this is serious. We need to face the fact that I may not survive.”
“Steve, don’t talk like that. You have to survive.”
“Sammie, we both know that our emotions are running high right now. Our relationship, or non-relationship, well, everything has to be put on hold for now. I don’t know what you had decided when you took your little trip, and I’m afraid to ask, but I know that what you are feeling for me now has a lot to do with me being sick. I know that. For now, well, we go back to just being friends. Surely you can agree that is best.”
“Yeah,” Sammie nodded. “You’re right.” ëëëëëëëëëëëë
The rest of the weekend was spent lounging around the apartment. Sammie was concerned with how much Steve slept. He seemed to be asleep more than he was awake. Another thing that concerned him was how little Steve ate. No amount of encouragement could get Steve to eat more than a few bites. One other thing that surprised Sammie was how good it felt to have Steve home.
Sunday night they were watching television. It was getting late, and Sammie was thinking of turning in. He looked over to see Steve already asleep in the recliner. He took the throw off the back of the sofa and placed it over Steve, then turned the volume of the TV down and went to bed.
He had only been asleep a few hours when he was awakened by a noise. He lay in bed trying to decided what is was that awoke him, then he heard a moan. “Steve?”
Sammie got out of bed and walked into the living room where he had left Steve. “Toad?”
Still, no answer.
He checked Steve’s bedroom. Not there.
Finally he looked into the bathroom where Steve lay on the floor. “Steve? Steve? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, help me up, okay?” Steve’s voice was weak.
“Here, give me your hand. What happened?” He helped Steve to his feet and put his arm over his shoulder. “Okay, lean on me.” They started walking back to their bedroom. “What happened Steve?”
“Um, I’m not sure. I think I must had fainted.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t hit your head on the toilet.” He helped Steve sit down on the side of the bed. “Here, lay back.”
“What am I doing in here?” Steve asked.
“Steve, just go to sleep, okay.” Sammie crawled into bed and pulled the covers up over them.
“Just for tonight Sammie,” Steve mumbled, half asleep. ëëëëëëëëëëëë
The next day Sammie dragged himself into work.
“Damn, Sammie, you look like shit. Are you okay?” Jarred had never been one for subtlety.
“Yeah, just had a rough night.”
Jarred started to respond with some smart remark. Sammie, not in the mood for it cut him off. “I was up with Steve until almost dawn, he had a bad night.”
“Oh,” Jarred said. “Sorry.”
Sammie nodded, then turned his attention to his computer screen.
“He’s pretty sick then?” Jarred asked.
“Yeah, he is,” Sammie answered without taking his eyes off his screen.
Sammie kept to himself all morning, ignoring everyone around him. At lunch he snuck off to the deli on the corner, not wanting to discuss Steve with his co-workers. It was just too painful.
He had spoken to Steve on the phone a few times that morning and hadn’t liked the weariness he had heard in Steve’s voice.
“You’re not doing so well today,” Tyler said, sliding into the booth across from Sammie. They had lunch in this deli most days now.
Sammie shook his head. “No.”
Tyler nodded and said no more. The two men ate their lunch in silence, Sammie still not wanting to talk, and Tyler understanding and honoring his wishes.
As they were walking back to the office Sammie reached out, touching Tyler’s shoulder. “Thanks.”
“For what?” Tyler asked.
“For being here for me.”
Tyler shrugged and smiled shyly. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Tuesday morning Steve and Sammie were getting ready to go back to the hospital for the tests. The CT scan was scheduled for nine thirty and the lab work was to be done after that. “You know you really don’t have to come with me. I mean this isn’t going to be a big deal.”
Sammie gave Steve a look that asked if he had lost it completely.
“Seriously, there’s no reason for you to be there. You’ll just be sitting in the waiting room.”
“Are we going to go over this every time you have an appointment? I said I want to be there for you. Okay? Now, will you shut up and let me?”
“It’s just that…” Steve began. “I mean, you didn’t sign up for this.”
“Yeah, well, neither did you. Come on, we’re going to be late.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Sammie sat in the waiting area, flipping through an old magazine. He made a mental note to start bringing his own reading material. All that was ever in the hospital waiting rooms were parenting magazines, Women’s Day and Sports Illustrated.
He began pondering the situation to himself. It all seemed so surreal. He was too young to have a boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend with cancer. Shit, Steve was too young to have cancer. This is what happened to old people, not young, okay, relatively young men. Shit, what if Steve died? What if the cancer had spread?
Sammie pulled out his cell to call Tyler. He had no idea what he would say; he just wanted to hear Tyler’s voice. He started to dial, then remembered it was Tuesday. Tyler was wherever it was that Tyler went every Tuesday morning. Sammie let out a breath. He still knew nothing of Tyler’s past.
Tyler’s past, Steve’s future; nothing but questions. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
After all the tests were complete, Sammie drove Steve back home. They had an appointment with Dr. Ross that afternoon at four to go over the results. “You look beat. Are you not sleeping well?” Steve asked as they walked into the apartment.
Steve looked at Sammie, waiting for a more honest answer.
“I’m just worried about you,” Sammie mumbled.
Steve frowned and nodded.
“You hungry? I can warm us up some soup,” Sammie offered.
“Yeah, okay.” Steve sat down in the recliner as Sammie went into the kitchen.
“Chicken noodle or vegetable beef?” Sammie asked, sticking his head back into the living room.
When he didn’t hear an answer he walked on into the room. “Steve?” He was already asleep in the chair. “Yeah, I’m not very hungry either,” Sammie whispered
He put the soup back away and went back into the living room. Steve had turned the TV on to a news channel. Sammie lay down on the sofa, closed his eyes, and listened to Wolf Blitzer. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
The water was warm around him soothing his tired body. Sammie could feel the motion of the waves wash over him pulling him under. Letting the water take him felt right. Surrendering to the warm current seemed to be the answer. Sammie noticed a figure below him. It was being pulled under, the same as he was. As the figure came into focus Sammie realized it was Steve.
Something was wrong, but what was it? Sammie couldn’t remember. Steve. Something was wrong with Steve. Sammie had to get to him. His arms wouldn’t move. His legs couldn’t kick. His limbs were so heavy, he felt so weighted down. His body was sinking, falling toward Steve’s, yet Steve was falling faster, getting farther away.
Sammie tried to call out, his mouth would open but no sound would come out. He could hear Steve’s voice calling to him, asking for help.
“Sammie. Sammie, wake up,” Sammie opened his eyes to see Steve leaning over him as he lay on the sofa.
”Wake up, you were dreaming.”
Sammie sat up blinking his eyes; the images from the dream still vivid in his head.
“Are you awake now?”
“You sure you’re okay? You look, I don’t know, kinda upset.”
“It was just a fucking dream, Steve, I’m all right… drop it, okay?”
A beat then, “We better get ready to go. It’s a little after three already.”
Sammie nodded. “Let me go splash some water on my face.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Their appointment was at Dr. Ross’s office, down a few blocks from the hospital. Steve and Sammie sat side by side in the waiting room. Steve’s leg was bouncing up and down, an annoying habit he had whenever he was nervous. Sammie, not able to take it anymore reached over and placed his hand on Steve’s knee.
“Sorry,” Steve mumbled.
“Steve Moore,” a nurse appeared at the door.
Steve and Sammie rose and followed her back. She led them past the exam rooms and opened the door to a room that looked to be Dr. Ross’s private office. “Have a seat in here, Dr. Ross will be with you shortly.” The nurse then left pulling the door shut behind her.
Sammie took a seat in one of the chairs across from the desk. Steve followed. They sat in silence, waiting for the doctor to appear.
Steve shifted in his chair. “I feel like I’m waiting for the judge to come in and sentence me.”
Sammie reached over, grasping Steve’s hand. “Whatever the sentence, you’re not alone.”
Steve squeezed Sammie’s fingers. “Thanks.”
The door opened, Dr. Ross entered. “Steve, Sammie,” he said, shaking each man’s hand before sitting down behind the desk. He opened the file he had in his hands and began leafing through the pages. He stopped, looking up at Steve.
“I’m sorry I don’t have better news. Your cancer, based on the size, location, and the level to which it has metastasized is considered a stage three. Stage one is the least serious and four is the most serious.
“The tumor is on the pancreas and extends directly into the bile duct and peripancreatic tissue. Distant lymph nodes as well as regional and local nodes appear to have metastasized, but no distant organ metastasis seems to be evident.”
“What does that mean?” Sammie asked.
“It means that the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes, but at this time the liver, lungs, and other organs seem to be clear.”
“What’s the treatment?” Steve asked next.
“First I would like to schedule a round of radiation to shrink the tumor then we schedule a pancreatectomy to take out the pancreas, part of the small intestine, part of the stomach, the bile duct, the gallbladder, spleen and the lymph nodes in the area. Followed by radiation.”
“That sounds radical. I mean the surgery, removing all that,” Sammie was obviously concerned.
“It is,” Dr. Ross answered. “But I feel it gives Steve the best chance of prolonging his life. Of course, if you wish to seek a second opinion I’d be happy to recommend several good people you could see.”
“No, I’m okay with what you advise,” Steve answered.
“Okay then, I’d like to arrange to start the radiation as soon as possible, I’ll have my nurse schedule it before you leave. Any other questions?”
“How long before the surgery?” Sammie asked.
“It depends on how the tumor responds to the radiation, but not more that a couple of weeks.”
“What are my chances?”
“I don’t like to try to put percentages on the table. You need to go at this with the idea that you will beat it, but it would be irresponsible of me to not tell you that there is a good chance you won’t. Pancreatic cancer is treatable and survivable if caught early,” he paused. “It is yet to be seen if we caught yours early enough.”
“Are you in very much pain? I can prescribe you something for the next few days.”
“No, it’s not so bad. It’s getting worse, but I’m not ready for pain meds yet. They make me so out of it.”
“Okay then, unless you have any more questions, I’ll have my nurse schedule your radiotherapy. She also will give you some more information on pancreatic cancer, and a list of some support groups in the area.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
The drive home was quiet, each man too shell shocked to comment. They walked into the apartment. “I need to go lay down,” Steve’s voice quivered.
“Steve…” Sammie started.
“No. Just, um, I need to go lay down.”
When he heard Steve’s bedroom door shut Sammie sat down on the sofa and closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long he sat there, lost in thought, listening to Steve’s muffled sobs coming through the other room. It could have been five minutes or five hours.
The jingle from his cell phone brought him back to the present, some snappy little techno tune that sounded too happy to Sammie right now.
“Sammie? You don’t sound so good.” It was Tyler. “Was it bad news?”
“Yeah, it was.”
“I’m sorry. Is there something I can do?”
“Yeah, there is. Would you mind calling Lisa and Joel for me? They’ll want to know and I just don’t think I can go through explaining it over and over.”
Sammie went on to give Tyler their phone numbers and the details of Steve’s condition. “Tell them I’ll talk to them tomorrow, not tonight—tomorrow.”
“Are you all right?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to see him through this.”
“You are Sammie, and you’re not alone. If you need to talk, or if there is anything else I can do, you let me know.”
“Thanks, Tyler. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Goodbye, Sammie.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Wednesday morning Sammie went into work early, stopping by Tom’s office first thing.
“Sammie, come on in. What did they find out about Steve?”
Sammie sat across from Tom, looking pale. “I’m, um, well, I’m gonna need to take some time off. Steve will have radiation treatments every morning for a while starting this morning. They really haven’t said how many treatments, but they are trying to shrink the tumor, once they’ve done that, they’ll schedule surgery, probably the week after next.”
“It’s pretty serious, then?”
“Well, they didn’t use the word inoperable or terminal so I guess there is hope. But from everything they did say and all I’ve read since… I don’t like his chances.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sammie.”
“I would like to take him to the treatments in the mornings and then I’ll work in the afternoons, then of course when they schedule the surgery…”
Tom nodded, “Of course, of course.”
“I was wondering, maybe I could work from home?” Sammie asked.
“I’m sure we can work something out.”
“So, I guess I’ll need this morning off.”
“Sure, Sammie, that’s fine.”
“Okay, um, thanks,” Sammie stood.
“Sammie, why don’t you go ahead and stay home this afternoon? Things will be fine here. Tyler’s doing a great job. Stay home and get some sleep. See if you feel up to coming in for a few hours tomorrow afternoon and we’ll arrange the work you can do at home, okay?”
“Thanks, Tom—thanks.” Sammie said, his voice shaky. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Tyler was walking up to the building just as Sammie was walking out to the parking lot. “Sammie?”
Sammie stopped. “Tyler, hey.”
Sammie shook his head, trying not to fall apart right there on the street.
“Have you slept at all?”
“Not much. I can’t. I keep having these dreams.”
“Yeah? I used to have dreams wake me up every night too. It sucked.”
“What did you do?”
“Hey, Sammie, Tyler,” Jarred said as he walked up. “Are you going back home?”
“Yeah, I am. I’ll talk to you guys later.” Sammie turned and head off to his car, alone, before his co-workers could see the tears spilling from his eyes.
© Melina Catts 2005