The Open Road

Entry by: Be-Bop-A-Lula

6th October 2017
We'd sit in traffic every morning on our way to work so we'd take turns choosing CD's to play or inventing silly games: spot the goon, car billiards, the late for work limerick challenge... Then after our eight and a half hours Adam would pick me up near 'John Lewis' and we'd get home in time for a microwave meal in front of 'Eastenders'. I don't watch it now. There's enough misery in the world.

When Adam first got diagnosed, I stopped being a passenger. He had so much on his mind and a day at work was more than enough stress so he was in charge of CD's, pointing out daft dogs, old duffers in insufficient rainwear and the swearing at cyclists running red lights... He tried not to swear at me and I tried to understand when he did. We still laughed sometimes. The laughter was different though. Subdued. I suppose you'd call it hollow.

I'd pick him up from the lay-by near the bus station and I'd nip into 'Sainsbury's' and stock up on fresh meat and fish, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I'd get home and cook. Something proper. I ditched the microwave and bought a juicer. I found ways to economize on the time it took. Bought a slow cooker and took to getting up an hour earlier to prepare our evening meal before we even left for work.

The early days were the worst. When it hadn't sunk in yet. When everything and everyone else seemed just out of our grasp in a kind of haze and we'd slip in and out of reality like slipping in and out of consciousness. We'd almost forget and then get slapped in the face by remembering: it wasn't just some awful dream. Things really had changed...

Slowly, the world caught up with our bad news. Bosses were informed, colleagues given the heads up. When friends found out they'd beg us to tell them if there was anything - anything at all - they could do and then, disappointingly quickly, most of them went 'awol'. I suppose they had enough drama in their own lives and I was too busy trying to stick ours back together. I was in charge of the sticky stuff: mostly just cheap parcel tape - just enough to keep everything from splitting and spilling but when I needed to I could still pull out the super glue...

22nd November 2009. Rush hour. I remember sitting in traffic, heading for the hospital. Cars, lorries, vans pressed in at every window and I had to remind myself to breathe. Neither of us spoke much. It was all I could do to stay in the right gear. Even the smaller roads were choked. School kids, cyclists, mums with prams and I didn't want to end up sending anyone else to hospital that day. I clawed at my cheeks and chin, pinched hard, bit my mouth to shreds trying to keep myself alert. Everything else - thoughts, feelings, fears - had to take a back seat while I concentrated on that long drive to the Oncology department...

We must have got there. I must have parked. I don't remember that bit at all, or the waiting room, or the magazine I probably flicked through. I just remember that office, the cream coloured blinds moving slightly in a draught, the strips of pale buttermilk sunlight slicing the floor, the desk, our hands locked together... I remember the too long short time it took for Dr Ahmed to close the door and take his seat, find the sheet of paper and the amazing, heart stopping wave of joy as I judged his face before the words even left his mouth: Cancer Free.

You'd think we'd have been immediately ecstatic. You'd think we'd have danced back to the car, doing the congo with the nurses and auxillaries on their lunch breaks, the porters pushing beds to theatre. We got to the car park in silence. We got into the car and put on our seat belts. I pushed the key into the ignition and broke down... floods of tears. A tsunami of built up unspoken thoughts and fears, a torrent of dread. And when it stopped we drove off in silence, still trembling with pent up emotion.

I drove to the big roundabout and took the turning that would take us further away from work, from home. I took the dual carriageway, the sun warming my hands on the wheel. I kept driving until the silence was broken and the smiles returned and I didn't stop until I reached the sea.

We climbed down onto the beach and breathed in the salt spray. We hugged, we ran, we laughed and finally we felt alive again.