Throughout the past year, my husband, Peter, and I have been seeing no one except Peter’s sister, Lori, and her husband.
Lori has Stage 4 cancer and has had a tough fight. She’s been on oxygen all this time. The decision of how careful we needed to be was easy. If we were going to see Lori, we had to be extremely careful. And as a reward, once a week we have heard Lori’s laughter.
I’ve been writing fiction for the first time in my life. No one told me in advance that writing novels is a lonely process. Especially now, there are no writers’ groups, no coffee shops to write in—although I wasn’t part of a writers’ group before, and I’ve always thought a coffee shop was a noisy place to write.
Instead, I sit alone at my desk with my coffee cup and a vase of fresh flowers in front of me and I write. I write and I wait for the end of the week when we will see Lori.
“Where did we leave off?” Lori will always ask, sounding excited, followed by, “I might need a reminder,” followed by, “I get two chapters this week, don’t I?”
I will read in a mask (something I thought would be harder than it is), and I will listen for the sound of Lori’s laughter, which is loud and frequent.
And many days—most days, in fact—that is enough reason to write.
Because it’s impossible to never have a doubt when you are working on something like this. I wonder if it’s any good or if anyone will find it interesting or if I have any idea what I am doing. But then I read another chapter to Lori, and I remember why I’m writing to begin with. I’m writing to tell a story, to entertain, to amuse, maybe even (every so often) to make a small point.
I haven’t seen Lori in four weeks now.
She’s been too ill for visitors. Her pain is higher, and her oxygen is lower, and we don’t really know what is happening because she is too tired to tell us. Peter keeps bringing her food and I keep writing, but I cannot tell you how much I miss Lori’s laughter.
I did not realize how much I have relied on Lori’s laughter through all these weeks and months. I did not realize how seeing her every week has anchored my life to something real and joyful and positive—because that is what Lori is.
Today the sun is not shining, and a cold wind is blowing, and we have not heard from Lori and I don’t know if we will.
“Maybe we’ll see her this weekend,” Peter says. “Maybe she’ll feel better by the end of the week.”
But we don’t know. No one knows.
There are no platitudes about Stage 4 cancer that will make things fine. Things are not fine, and that is how it is. We don’t know what the future will hold. She has battled back before, and we are hoping she will again.
But we don’t know.
Peter cooks and worries. I write. Lori is now far behind in the story. I am trying to remember what I last read to her.
But every time I come to a part where a deliciously unpleasant person is behaving especially badly, I imagine how Lori would laugh, if I were reading to her, if I finally get the chance to read to her again.
“Oh,” I think to myself. “Lori will love this.”