The Good to Death
“… they can relate to you because you understand what it’s like. Now I know why you said you want to be an oncologist.” I gave Sandy a smile and went back to my post. I hadn’t gone to volunteer at the cancer center for over a week and it was surreal to be back. Sandy was the first of many staff members to give me condolences that morning. It wasn’t busy so I sat down to think.
My boyfriend Selvin passed away the week before.
I hadn’t cried harder in my life. Growing numb from nursing my singed heart, I forced myself not to shed a tear at that place where I felt so much comfort. As I was waiting for patients to seek my help, I opened up the locket in my necklace; inside was a piece of the rose I threw down to Selvin before he was interred. Surprisingly, the rose hadn’t dried and crumbled through all the action my locket got, having been compressed against the hugs of people who felt bad for me. Then I remembered.
“I…I have um…brain tumors…. listen, you don’t have to stay with me okay?” Selvin felt awful that his girlfriend of one month had to find out but he couldn’t do anything; he had surgery all of a sudden and had no excuses to hide that harsh reality from me. Before I said anything, I looked back to when we first met. Selvin was a tall, handsome, and athletic young man of 17, who had an overbite of a smile that enhanced the precisely matched outfits he wore. With the addition of his charisma and jokes, the scar that spanned half the top of his shaved head meant something of little importance to me. The memory of that Selvin who accepted me unconditionally gave me no doubts to say “I’m staying with you. Don’t you dare think I’m staying with you out of pity. I just…think you’re pretty cool because you’re the only guy who has a good sense of fashion.” And we giggled over the phone that evening in October, the day he was discharged.
Selvin is my locket- he didn’t break in action: countless surgeries, chemotherapy, and humiliation; I am the rose- the entity consumed and protected by his infinite amount of strength.
I got up from my post in the cancer center and went to the cafeteria for lunch. I sat with my friends Jasmin, Kavya, and Jovin. I looked up to say how much I missed him when I heard “You’re so strong Minna; you knew he was going to die anyway and you stayed with him.” In anger, I raised my voice and said “I believed he would get better until the day he died!” That anger was not towards them. It was rather annoyance bottled up in respect to the numerous elders who claimed our relationship was nothing more than young, foolish sympathy for a hopeless boy who needed someone to cry to.
“Hey Baby, I know you’re in school right now and I couldn’t say this over the phone so I’m emailing it. Yesterday afternoon, I was kind of seizing up and had to stay in the back of an ambulance for an hour. But don’t worry; it was cute in a way haha. Anyways I’m sorry I sounded so knocked out for New Years…” I read Selvin’s email in horror at the school library. I felt guilty every time something happened to him, knowing there was nothing else I could do to help but stay on the phone with him. Whenever I started to cry over his situation, he would tell me jokes until I stopped. He eased my tears, pain, and sorrow to the point where our conversations would climax with me yelling “Stop letting the nurses change you Bay! I’m getting jealous!”
Selvin is wiser than the oldest person I know- he found a beautiful purpose behind everything, even his illness; I am the purpose behind his illness- our relationship grew when there was no one else to understand us besides each other.
I left the cafeteria and went back to my post in the cancer center. Things finally started to speed up as I was asked more and more where Dr. Blackwood or the mammography office was. The cancer center startled me; it aimed to end cancer but needed cancer to survive as an institute. I had the easiest job there directing patients to offices; but I loved my job. Every day I walked through those automatic doors to my podium in the lobby where I chatted with the chemotherapy and radiation patients, kept me away from the frown inside my worried heart for Selvin. The people I had come to know there called me “Smiley” because they were positively puzzled as to why I never stopped smiling. They didn’t know it, but it was because of them. These patients and relatives gossiped and complained about the television channels in the offices before even thinking about their cancer. They were engulfed, like my boyfriend, by the biggest symptom of the terminal disease: bravery.
“Bay I want to be a doctor… Do you like it?” After hearing this, Selvin asked me what kind of doctor I wanted to be; I replied “an oncologist.” There was a silent understanding between us as to why I chose that specific field, an understanding we didn’t have to make obvious. Selvin told me “You’d be a great doctor. You’re not like the rest of those kids who just want money; you like stuff like that.” I was nervous to tell him at first; it was March and the chemotherapy wasn’t working, I didn’t want to upset him. My boyfriend had earnest faith in me. “Look Baby, I never told you what you should do or not, but I think you should try out for medicine more than anything- you’re a natural at it.” I replied with an “I love you, you crazy guy,” as I thanked him silently for reading my mind.
Selvin is the cancer center- he fought his brain tumors but became who he was because of them; I am the cancer patient who forgot what was plaguing me when I was with him, in my safe haven where I never stopped smiling.
It was time to leave the cancer center that afternoon. As I was gathering my belongings for the routine ride back home, something peculiar happened. The music in the lobby where I sat usually played a select number of songs in one month. Since I spent hours in the lobby, I knew every song that would play. Before I left however, I heard a new tune even though the playlist was the same. The loving melody of “My Girl” by The Temptations left me with no doubt that although my boyfriend had left the world; he hadn’t left me. Even when I can’t see him, Selvin makes me smile.