Sammie got home in time to pick up Steve and drive him to the hospital for his first radiation treatment.
The nurse that had scheduled the appointment had told them that Steve might be a bit nauseous, and a little more tired than usual. Depending on how long he received treatments, the side effect may get worse.
Sammie sat in the waiting area until Steve came back out.
“Ta-da!” Steve announced.
“Yeah, let’s go home.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
That afternoon was surreal, both men felt as though they were shell-shocked. Even without the doctor saying so, they both knew the score. Pancreatic cancer was serious. There was a good chance Steve would not survive.
“Would you like me to call your mother?” Sammie asked as they sat in the living room. The television was on, but neither of them was really watching it. Only pretending, going through the motions.
“My mother? God, no. Why would you want to do that?”
“She would want to know.”
“Well, la -di -da for her. It’s a little late for her to care. Besides, you don’t know her. Trust me; she really doesn’t want to know. I am dead to her and Dad. Have been for years.”
“But, maybe if she knew…”
“Knew what?” Steve interrupted. “I don’t want her pity,” he paused. “She’d only say I deserved it. That this was my punishment from God.” Steve shook his head. “I know, you mean well, Sammie, but please, no matter how sick I get, do not call my parents. You hold my power of attorney; you’re named in my life insurance. There’s no reason to involve them. Okay?”
“Except that they are your parents.”
“No, Sammie, they’re not. They gave birth to me.”
“And raised you.”
“And turned their back on me. No, I mean it.”
Sammie nodded. “Okay.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Thursday and Friday went by quickly. Sammie drove Steve to the hospital both mornings, and spent the afternoon at work, trying to fit eight hours of work into four.
Since he didn’t go into the office until after lunch he didn’t get to spend any time with Tyler and Sammie wished he had a chance to try to explain. He felt badly for the way they had left things. He really wanted to help Tyler; the kid seemed so alone in the world.
On Friday, Sammie left work around six. He found himself dreading going home. The thought of having to face Steve and his cancer was almost more that Sammie could bear.
When he finally walked through the door to the apartment, Steve was asleep in the recliner. Sammie tiptoed into the bedroom, in hopes of not waking him. He turned on the TV there in his room and stretched out across his bed. He hadn't been there long when he heard Steve clanging around in the kitchen. Sighing, Sammie got up to see what he was up too.
"Hey, when did you get home?"
"About half an hour ago. You were asleep. Are you hungry? I can fix something to eat."
Steve shook his head. "No, I'm fine, just getting a soda."
"You aren't eating enough, you have to keep up your strength."
"But I feel worse after I eat."
"I know, I'll fix you a protein shake. Would you try one?"
"Yeah, sure. What the hell." Steve sat down at the breakfast nook as Sammie got out the powder mix from the cabinet, stirring it with milk to give it more calories.
"Here, try this."
"Thanks," Steve said, taking a sip from the glass. "Not bad."
Sammie sat down across from him. "Maybe we can have Lisa and Terri over this weekend."
Steve shook his head. "I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I don't feel up to company. It's too hard to pretend everything is okay."
"What makes you think you have to pretend?"
"Because the reality is too scary to deal with. I'm gonna go lay down now. Thanks for the shake, Sammie."
"But you only drank half of it."
"Maybe I can drink more later." Steve stood and walked off toward his bedroom, closing the door behind him once he entered.
"Fuck. Could I feel anymore helpless?" Sammie mumbled as he straightened up the kitchen. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Saturday seemed to drag on forever. Steve was gloomy as he had been for the last week. Sammie tried to interest him in a movie, then a game of cards. Nothing he did or said seemed to help. By that evening Sammie was feeling as if the walls were closing in.
"Want to go for a drive?"
"A what?" Steve asked.
"You mean as in ride around in the car? What for?"
"I don't know, to get out of the house."
"You go on. I'm fine here."
"You are not fine. Come on work with me here. I'm trying to cheer you up."
That was the wrong thing to say. Steve sat there in the chair and glared at Sammie. "Maybe I don't want to be cheered up. Maybe, just maybe, I am past being able to be cheered up."
Sammie bit his bottom lip as Steve continued to rage.
"Maybe I just want to be left the fuck alone, without someone hovering in the corner, fussing over me constantly."
"Fine. I'm sorry," Sammie yelled, feeling his own rage rising. "This isn't exactly what I wanted either."
"Fuck you. This isn't about you."
Sammie opened his mouth to shout back that it was about him; that Steve had come in here with his cancer and fucked up all of Sammie's plans. But nothing came out. Instead he closed his mouth and grabbed his jacket, racing out the door. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Sammie drove around, trying to get his anger under control. Finally he parked his car in front of the dance club, NV. Maybe a drink and some dancing would help him loosen up and let go of some of the resentment he was feeling.
He walked up to the bar and ordered two shots, downing them both. Then he went out onto the dance floor and started moving to the music. In no time a hot hard body pressed up against him. Sammie didn't even open his eyes to check the guy out. At this point it didn't matter what the guy looked like, all he wanted was something to make him forget for a few hours. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
"Sammie? What the fuck? It's three in the morning."
"I need, um, I need a favor."
"Shit. Are you drunk?"
"Yeah, you could say that," Sammie giggled.
"Where are you?"
"I'm not sure, but I don't think I should drive."
"Tell me where you are," Lisa sounded exasperated.
"Um, I'm not, shit. I don't know."
"What do you see? Are you inside or out?"
"Can you see your car?"
"Where did you go tonight Sammie?"
"To the club."
"Are you still there?"
"Maybe, wait. Yeah, I think so."
"You think so."
"Oh yeah. Now I know, I'm in the alley behind it."
"In the alley? Sammie, what are you doing there?"
"Um, I think I was getting blown."
"Shit, Sammie. Okay, stay right there, you hear me? I'll be there shortly."
"Okie dokie," Sammie sing-songed.
He thought about getting up, it was dirty down where he sat, then he decided to close his eyes just for a minute, then he would get up and go find his car. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
"Sammie. Sammie, wake up."
"Lisa? What are you doing here?"
"You called me, shithead. Don't you remember?"
"I called you? Where am I?"
"Come on, stand up. Terry, can you get on his other side? Okay, ready? Up, Sammie. Get up."
"I am, I am."
"Shit, come on, let's get you to my car."
"Where's my car?"
"Right where you left it, sweetie," Terri said.
They led him over to Lisa’s car, parked down a few feet from his Jetta. "Okay, here, stop. Shit, Sammie. Okay, here, lean up against my car. Okay, now where are your keys?" He could tell from Lisa’s voice that she was running out of patience.
"Um," Sammie stammered.
"Fuck, never mind."
"Whoa, Lisa. What are you doing?"
"I’m trying to get your keys out of your pocket, idiot."
"Oh," he giggled, "I though you changed teams."
"Yeah, yeah, you're funny big guy. Here Terri, here are his keys. I'll meet you over at their apartment. Come on, Sammie.” She opened the car door. “Crawl in there, and don't you dare get sick in my car, asshole."
Sammie got in and laid his head back closing his eyes. He heard the car door close, then the car start.
He opened his eyes. "I don't think I can do this."
"Do what, dear?"
"Watch Steve die."
He closed his eyes again. "I don't know how."
"Shhh... Sammie, lets talk about this later. Okay? You're too drunk, you're just going to get upset."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, keep it all bottled up, Sammie. We don't want to hear it."
"Fuck," Lisa muttered. "Sammie, that’s not true."
Sammie closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Lisa was pulling the car into the parking garage. "Sammie? Come on, let's get you inside." ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
The next conscious thought Sammie had was on Sunday afternoon. He awoke laying face down, crossways on his bed, still dressed.
His eyes burned as he opened them; his throat felt sore and raw. He could not remember ever having a worse headache. As the events from the night before came back to him, Sammie felt his stomach roll. Bolting up from the bed, he barely made it to the bathroom in time.
When he came out of the bathroom, Steve was standing there, by the door.
"Um, yeah," Sammie said, not able to meet Steve's eyes.
"Have fun last night?"
"Um, I guess." He stopped. "No, I didn't."
Steve frowned and walked away. "Steve?"
"For running out on you yesterday. For being an asshole."
Steve shook his head. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. I'm the one that’s dumping all the shit on you." Steve walked into his bedroom and shut the door.
Sammie rubbed his hands over his face. "Fuck," he mumbled. Sighing, he decided to go take a shower. ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
When Sammie came out of the bathroom, Steve was sitting in the living room. The TV was off; he sat in silence looking out the window. Steve spoke without turning to look at Sammie. "I'm going to go," he said.
"I don't know, doesn't matter."
"Steve, I said I was sorry. I know I was wrong to bail. I'll be here for you from now on I promise."
"You shouldn't have to be. Don't you see Sammie? I can't put you through this. Hell, I don't even want to go through this."
The realization sunk into Sammie's foggy hung-over brain. "What are you saying, Steve?"
Steve shook his head. "Nothing,” he sighed. “I don’t have the guts to do anything. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“What would I do without you, Sammie? I really have no place else to go. I mean, you could say ‘fuck off, you walked out on me’ and no one would blame you, but instead you take me back in, and offer to nurse me back to health, only we both know health is probably not an option for me anymore. If I had any balls at all I would just go off and die somewhere, instead of making you do this. So if you need to go out and get away from me for a few hours, if you need to go get drunk or get your dick sucked, or whatever; then do it, and don’t feel bad about it.”
Sammie walked over to Steve, taking his face into Sammie’s hands, forcing Steve to finally look at him. “You going somewhere and offing yourself would not be easier for me. You know that, right? You have to promise me that you won’t go do anything stupid. Promise me?”
Steve nodded, “I promise. Like I said, I don’t have the balls for it anyway, but now I want you to promise me something, too.”
“That when it’s time…”
Sammie placed his finger over Steve’s lips. “Steve, no. Don’t ask me that,” he said, thinking the worse.
Steve shook his head. “No, not that. But when it’s time, when I’ve had enough and I say no more, that you won’t try to change my mind, or make me feel guilty for giving up.”
Sammie had tears in his eyes. “I promise.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Monday morning they were back into the routine from the week before with Sammie taking Steve to radiation treatments in the morning and then trying to stay caught up with work in the afternoon.
Sammie talked with Steve on the phone Tuesday afternoon, he was feeling tired and was going to sleep, so Sammie opted to stay late and try to get some more work done. Shortly after five the other engineers had cleared out, all but Tyler.
“What are you still doing here?” Sammie asked.
Tyler smiled. “Just finishing up this project. I could ask the same of you.”
“Ah, I’m trying to keep my job.”
Tyler shook his head, “They wouldn’t fire you. Not now.”
“Whatever, maybe. But I still need to try to keep up with my workload, well, as much as I can anyway.”
Tyler rolled his lips into his mouth. “Are you sure?”
“About why you’re here, and not home.”
Sammie froze. “How do you do that?”
“See right through me?”
Tyler just smiled and shrugged.
“You’re right, you know. This place, this job, it’s like my only link to sanity. It’s the only normal thing going on in my life right now.” He stopped and sighed, then began again. “Steve is so depressed. I’m half afraid to leave him alone, and then when it’s time to go home… well, I don’t want to go.”
Tyler furrowed his brow. “Afraid of what you’ll find? That he will hurt himself?”
Sammie shook his head. “No, not really. More like I just don’t want to deal with it again. How shitty is that? The poor guy is sick, I mean really, really sick, and I whine that I don’t want to deal with it.”
“Sammie, this affects you too. Even if Steve is the one that is sick, you, as his caregiver, are affected, almost as much as he is. You need to give yourself permission to be mad; to feel cheated… all those emotions. Even if you have to keep them from Steve, you need to allow yourself time and space to feel them.”
It was Sammie’s turn to furrow his brow. “How do you know so much?”
Tyler shook his head. “I don’t know so much. But I am serious Sammie. You have to take care of yourself. If you need to talk, I want you to know that you can call me. Any time. I’ll listen, I promise.”
Sammie felt the tears well up in his eyes. “Thanks, Tyler.” He grabbed a tissue and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry, I seem to cry at the drop of a hat these days.”
Sammie took in a deep breath, pulling himself back together. “Really, thanks, Tyler. It means a lot to me.”
“I could go to the deli and bring you back a sandwich.”
“No, really, I’m fine.”
Tyler nodded. “I better go. Don’t work too late.”
After the radiation treatment on Thursday, Dr. Ross had scheduled another CT scan to see if the tumor was responding to the treatments. The results would be known later that afternoon. Dr. Ross would call with the news.
Sammie dropped Steve off and went into work. So far Steve wasn’t having too many side effects from the treatments, mainly just fatigue.
Steve called later that afternoon. “Dr. Ross just called.”
“What’s the word?”
“Yeah, the tumor’s not responding. In fact it is getting bigger, so they want to operate as soon as possible.”
Sammie let out a breath. “Okay.”
“Ah, but the good news is that I don’t have radiation treatment in the morning,” Steve tried to joke.
“Woo hoo,” Sammie deadpanned back.
“Yeah, I’ll see you tonight.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” ëëëëëëëëëëëëë
Later Sammie would look back on that weekend and say he had felt like a man waiting for his last supper. On some level he knew this was the beginning of the end. Yet, he couldn’t allow himself to give up hope. They had to approach this with the idea that Steve would live. If not, then why even bother? To prolong his life? That seemed too cruel to even consider.
Friday evening Sammie folded out the hide-a-bed and the two spent the weekend cuddling and watching some of Steve’s favorite old movies and in-between reminiscing about their first few years together. Both men did their best to keep both the reality of what was happening and their regrets at bay. The reality was a train they couldn’t stop and there would be time for regrets later.
© Melina Catts 2005