Authors: Sarah White
2013, Sarah White
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To those who have struggled with unbearable loss and are still with us
I am almost out of breath as I race ahead and cut the corner short on the
inside. Court is in the rear laughing as Matt tries to regain the lead
and recover from my newest trick as our bikes glide along the hot
asphalt. When we reach the lot we drop our bikes and make a mad dash for
the shoreline. The sun has set about two hours ago so darkness conceals
the beach ahead of us and the only light we can see is the moonlight’s
reflection on the ocean.
Still in front, I run as fast as my legs can carry me, looking back for just a
second to see if they are catching up. We have been playing this game for
years now and I know that if I can make it to the water before both of them I
have a chance gaining the distance I will need to win the game once we are all
submerged in the water. I can hear Matt’s breath behind me and I propel
my body into the surf and dive deep below the surface swimming as far as I can
away from them until my lungs insist on fresh air.
My mother has not yet left work, not that she ever cares where I am at as long
as I am home when the bar closes to help clean her up and put her to bed.
I know that I have at least four more hours before she will need me so I push
the thoughts of her out of my head and let my body float on the surface
surrounded by night, waiting for Matt to come find me. I can hear the
sound of water moving to my right and I hold my breath when I feel a presence
draw near me. In the silence I can feel his eyes on me but he doesn’t
rush to grab my hand, secretly my favorite part of our game, but instead
lingers there for just a moment and then reaches out his hand to mine.
It seems like recently he has held my hand a little bit longer each time we
play and I let myself pretend he is doing it on purpose but I know it is just
me being childish. I am his sister’s best friend and even if she was ever
to be okay with us being together I am not naive enough to believe he would
choose me over the older more curvy girls that sneak in to his room at
night. For now I just look into his eyes as he let’s go of my hand and I
smile when he puts one finger over his mouth to remind me to be quiet while he
searches for Court. Just before he swims away from me he smiles a
beautiful smile that always makes my stomach feel as though I have swallowed a
Once he has found Court we float out in the darkness, sharing stories about our
day and laughing at each other as we splash in the ocean and attempt to pull
each other under. When we are tired we let the surf carry us into shore
so we can get back onto our bikes and pedal home. Even though my mother
could not come looking for us, Court will have people looking for her.
Court is being adopted by the Argyles after living with them as foster parents
for five years, but Matt is getting too old to be adopted and they respect his
wish to join the military free of any family ties at home. If Matt ever
knew what I was going home to I would die, always preferring my misery be mine
only so that no one knows how fucked up my life is. Court will always
keep my secret.
When we stop in front of our houses it is close to the time my mother usually
comes home and I pray that she is already inside so that they won’t see her
fumble out of her car with a bottle of liquor she always purchases after
leaving the bar before returning to home. I secretly wish I could stay at
Court’s house, leaving my mother to fend for herself while I live my childhood
the way other children get to. We say goodnight to each other and I let
Matt put my bike in their garage, not wanting to wake my mother if she is
already passed out. Matt has looked out for me since the day they moved
in and it gives me the hope that someday some other boy will love me and want
to take care of me too.
As soon as I open the door I can smell vomit and I am reminded that I am alone
with a woman who is destined to drink herself to death and I whisper under my
breath, “Please just do it quickly so I can live my life.”
I had always planned on being in practice longer than five years and had a
beautiful office to prove it. It was my dream to work well past retirement
age doing what I have loved for as long as I can remember. Looking at the
couch that offered comfort to so many hurting clients I can’t help but to
recognize the irony of the whole thing, knowing that most therapists enter the
field because it is them who are damaged. I run my hand across the suede
fabric and straighten the pillows one last time wishing that I did not have
somewhere more important to be.
Closing the door to my office I glance at the worn sign
Caitlyn Reed, Family
I can remember how proud I was the day it was posted to my
office door. I had tried to pretend not to be overwhelmed by the pride I
had felt knowing I had reached my goal and was on the path to what I thought
would be the perfect life. I turn the key and shake the handle to ensure
it is locked then head through the courtyard to the shared waiting room to say
goodbye to Evelyn.
“I will call you when I know when I will be back. Please let anyone who
comes looking for me know that I am taking an extended leave and will not be
taking new clients.”
“Okay Cait. Should I forward your mail?” she asks as she grabs a pad of
paper and a pen from her neatly organized desk.
“Please just hold it. If I need it I will send for it,” I answer,
ignoring the curious look she directs to me over her small black-rimmed
I take a moment to sit in the parking lot outside the window of my
office. Inside every piece of furniture is so carefully chosen to
compliment the others. My clients never knew that each item had a story
or that I appreciate second hand furniture because it reminds me that although
someone had stopped loving it, someone else could still appreciate it. In
fact the things I enjoyed the most in my office were those given to me by
clients who just felt they belonged there. When I don’t come back it will
make some other therapist very happy.
I pull my car out of the lot and onto the road. The call came two weeks
ago and although I had been expecting it, it still came sooner then I had
planned. She is dying. Not the kind of dying that takes years, but
the kind that sneaks up on you and leaves your doctors helpless to help
you. Stage four cancer, which had started in her ovaries and quickly,
spread to her bones, blood and at the time of the call, her brain. She
has a few weeks at best and I am on my way to see her out.
Courtney and I met when we were ten. Her parents had been killed in a car
accident and with no other family she and her brother were placed in foster
care with the Argyles on my street. I only had a mother and not the best
one at that. She could never get over my father leaving her once he had
found out about me but she drank hard each day to try. I was seventeen
when she drank herself to death and I was emancipated and sent out into the
world alone. If it wasn’t for Courtney I would have been placed in foster
care, but her adopted family agreed to rent me the back room and told the judge
they would watch over me for a few months until I turned eighteen.
Every happy memory in my life contains Courtney and now the saddest will hold
her image as well. I called her when I found out that Elliot had been
having an affair and again when I had confronted him and asked for a divorce.
She understood in a way that only a best friend could that after losing our
baby last year I could not tolerate the pain and had no energy to recover from
his infidelity. As I turn onto the freeway I look down at my left hand
and run my thumb over the indent where my ring had once laid.
Elliot was my high school sweetheart. We met our junior year when
Courtney and I had snuck out late to go to the movies and he and a friend were
sitting right behind us. Elliot had found a way to strike up a conversation
and by the end of the show he and his friend were sitting next to us. We
were inseparable from that moment on. Other than kiss, he was my first
everything, but does not have the honor of being my first heartbreak, a title
that only my mother could hold. I knew the miscarriage would be hard on
our marriage but I had no idea it would sever our friendship and destroy our
commitments to each other. I was so busy grieving that I had not seen the
signs until it was too late.
When Courtney dies I will have nothing left. I have lost my mother, my
baby, my husband and soon my best friend. No amount of training can help
me get over the emptiness I feel inside. As the cancer eats away at her
body, the pain and loss devours mine as well. I have read that our body
perceives loss as a physical pain; tricking our brain into thinking our heart
is actually hurting. The pain I feel in my chest is indistinguishable
from that of a knife wound, throbbing with my pulse and stealing my
breath. A few more weeks and it will all be over.
Over the last five years I have seen two suicidal clients that stayed with me
in my thoughts. The first was a young man that could never find
happiness, not even in a single moment. He felt he was a disappointment
to his parents, was constantly angered by the direction our society was headed,
and had lost the only girl he had ever loved to his best friend. I
remember asking him to please tell me if he had any thoughts of hurting himself
and he responded with a concerned look, “Honey, if I am going to do it I am not
going to tell you. Please just know that you did all that you could and I
am just too determined to be stopped. You can’t help me but perhaps you
can be there to tell my mom it was not her fault either.” I did not see
him again after that.
The other was a young mother struggling with postpartum depression after giving
her baby up for adoption. She too was resolved in carrying it out.
Her reasoning was that she had carried the baby to term to make peace with God
and she believed that He could forgive her if she could not stay here on earth
any longer. She chose a wonderful family for her baby and when I
questioned her about how her son might feel if he ever came looking for her and
found she was dead she told me that he might be sad to hear the news but
finding her alive would be worse.
I could not connect with their desperation at the time but now, driving with my
car full of the only belongings I care about on the way to play nurse to my
dying best friend I get it. Nothing matters anymore. Knowing the
option to end it all is there will make watching Courtney die easier. I
cannot bear the thought that I will have to watch her take her last breaths and
then move on with my life without her. I know it seems silly but when you
think of having no one to call and be connected to you suddenly feel so
alone. If cancer were contagious I would have been there the day after
she called, hoping to be infected with the opportunity to leave all of this
The bond that I formed with Courtney was strong instantly and as deep as I
imagine a sister bond would be. In college and in my professional life I
have developed other friendships but none have ever completed me like my
friendship with Court. I realize that soul-mate is a word reserved for
great romantic love, but if ever the word could be used to describe a
connection between two friends, that relationship would be between Court and
me. When she leaves this earth, I know no matter what joy enters my life
it will still feel empty, like completing a puzzle just to find some pieces are
The drive is about an hour and as I pull into her driveway I see a woman
dressed in scrubs getting into her car. I take a deep breath and open the
car door. I am not sure what to expect but I know that she has been
fighting the cancer for a few months now and Hospice has been visiting her
weekly to make sure she has the medications she needs to be comfortable.
I would have come sooner but I needed to tie up the loose ends in my practice
and make sure that my clients would be taken care of. I grab my bags from
the back of my car and walk up the steps to the front door. I can see her
slender silhouette on the couch through the screen door and I fight to hide the
surprised look on my face.
“Hideous? I know,” she says as I let myself in.
“Well, a few more pounds and I might actually be able to see your spleen
through your skin...then you will be runway ready.”
She laughs her beautiful laugh and tilts her head back causing the shadows to
cast on the hollows of her cheeks. I swallow the lump in my throat the
best I can and try to keep my voice even as I ask, “What now?”
“I am done with chemo and radiation, this cancer is going to kill me and I will
be damned if it takes every last good moment I have left.” She tips her head
towards the door and says, “Candy there is trying to make me comfortable but to
be honest I hurt.”
“Candy? Really? Who names their daughter Candy?” I ask in an effort to lighten
“Don’t ask her, I made that mistake the first day. Something to do with
her mother being young when she had her. She is nice and relatively
gentle compared to the others so don’t go chasing her off with your Freudian questioning.”
“Candy it is then,” I say with a wink, “...how long?” knowing I didn’t want to
know the answer to the question I was asking.
“Then two weeks it is,” I say settling into the couch next to her. Courtney
curls up and rests her head on my lap. I adjust the scarf she has wrapped
around her bald head and then let my hand run from her forehead to her neck
trying to gather the strength to fight the tears I felt burning my eyes and
suffocating my throat. As hard as I try I cannot hide the jump in my
chest as I begin to sob.
“Fuck cancer,” she says as she closes her teary eyes and squeezes my legs in a
“Fuck cancer,” I manage to get out between the sobs.