Author's Note: I'm posting my other works to FF that never quite made it here. This was posted at B4A and on my website, way back when it was written. That was... December '06.
I have a list of five things I want to do before I die. I've added items and taken items off over the years as my wants, needs and priorities changed. But I've had the list a long time – since I was about fifteen I guess. The list has always been in the back of my mind. It's never been all that real to me, I guess. It was an abstract sort of thing, there because I always thought that sort of list would be helpful when the time came for me to think about things like that. Now, when I started making the list I figured I'd have about fifty years or so before I needed to worry about it.
One morning I saw my doctor after a routine CT scan led to a PET scan and MRI. Some of you perked up when you saw PET scan. That's because you know that's something they do for a person who is suspected to have cancer. Yes, I do have cancer. Cervical cancer led to ovarian cancer and it spread to my lymph nodes before I could have a radical hysterectomy. It's inoperable now. Radiation isn't an option. Chemotherapy is likely to do nothing more than decrease my quality of life while I wait to die.
I asked my oncologist exactly how long he thought I had.
"Three to four months."
Okay. So, the first thing I did when I got home was find a piece of paper and a pencil and I put the list in writing. The second thing I did was cry until it was dark outside. I fell asleep on my couch that night. The next morning I got up, dusted myself off and got ready to go in to work.
1. Tell Josh what he really meant to me.
When I got to work that morning it was business as usual. The world did not stop spinning for everyone else – just for me. Josh wasn't in yet; that was not unusual. I did everything I normally did, but I left him the code for "something important is about to happen" - a cup of coffee on his desk next to his daily schedule. Just to be sure, I wrote, "I need an hour with you at the end of your day. Personal," on a pastel green post-it and stuck it to the white porcelain mug.
I'd left him similar notes a few other times over the years. After the first time he learned that he wasn't supposed to ask me anything about it until the time specified. Then, all would be revealed. He shot me worried glances throughout the day. I'm sure the note ending in "personal" and the cup of coffee freaked him out pretty bad.
The end of his day turned out to be ten o'clock. But the tacit agreement he made by accepting my note dictated that we would still have our hour.
"Personal?" He asked me. I only nodded. I almost started to cry then and he could see that. "Want to do this at my place." I nodded again. Somewhere between the office and the parking lot he suggested that he drive. I imagine that I was shaking like a leaf. I hadn't told anyone else yet, and I was very nervous.
When we got to his townhouse he fixed us both cups of coffee. We sat on his couch facing one another and I started at the beginning. I told him about the visit to the GYN a year before that showed abnormal cells on my cervix. I told him about a second pap and then the three month wait for the conical. Then I told him about the next visit when they discovered that the conical had not stopped the cancer from spreading to my ovaries. I told him about being scheduled for the hysterectomy twice and canceling twice; once when my father died and then seven weeks later when the MS scandal broke. Then I told him about trying to reschedule again and being sent for another PET scan. I told him how long all of this stuff really took so it wouldn't be such a shock when I told him that the second PET showed that the cancer had spread to my lymph system. Then I told him that there weren't any treatment options.
He started shaking his head in protest.
Then I told him that I had 16 weeks to live.
I'm not entirely sure who cried harder. I think maybe me because I was crying for us both. He'll tell you that he was too.
All of that alone took the hour I had requested. But he wasn't kicking me out. I told him then about the list. I pulled the only copy out of my purse, the folds were already well worn and it had been barely over 24 hours. I forked it over and waited for him to read it. I watched him re-read the first line several times before moving on. Then he re-read the entire list several times. Finally, he handed it back to me.
I reached for his hand. I thought that it might be easier if I was touching him – if I had his physical support. I told him how I felt he had rescued me from myself. I told him how much I appreciated him. I told him how he made me want to be more. I told him how I admired him. I told him how he made me want to get up in the morning and come to work. I told him how he inspired me. I told him how he made me just want to get up in the morning at all. I told him how much I loved him. I told him I was sorry that I never told him before.
He told me he loved me too. Then, he made love to me that night and we both cried the whole time because it was goodbye and not hello.
The next evening he called Sam in California and told him he was booked on the red-eye out to DC. He told him that he needed to come right now. Without any further explanation, Sam hopped the flight and landed in DC the next morning at seven am. That day Josh told Sam. And Sam set about the business of getting my meager affairs in order.
2. Dance with the President of the United States.
I'll admit that the second item was added to my list before the first item. I met Governor Josiah Bartlet the same way all the other volunteers did. But somewhere along the way I formed a bond with him. No one can really explain it, certainly not me, but this lowly assistant became some sort of friend with the most powerful man in the world. Josh will tell you that I was destined for great things and that brushing up against Jed Bartlet was merely the tip of the iceberg. But, I think he's biased.
Josh found me a half hour with both the President and the First Lady. Before that meeting he talked to both of them and Leo. To them he handed over my frayed copy of my list. He says that the President smiled when he read it and I can believe that.
Five weeks later at a state dinner the President held me regally and guided me around the floor in a beautiful Venetian waltz. By then I had lost fifteen pounds that I didn't have to lose. But he managed to make me feel beautiful and regal. I tried not to cry in the arms of the President, but I was a lost cause. Halfway through our dance he reached up and wiped a tear from my cheek, smiled and told me that I was blessed. He told me that he thought I was still destined for great things and that he'd expect me to greet him at the pearly gates. He told me how he fully expected me to take over the place and give St. Peter a well deserved century off.
3. See the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon was always on my list. During week eight Josh took an extended leave of absence intending to see me through the end. He joined me on my pilgrimage there. Together we stood and looked out over the canyon and watched the sun set on the other side.
Four days later he married me there. He says that it was important to him that we got to do that. I cried for him that night. In two months time I was going to make him a widower.
We didn't make love that night, we couldn't because by then the pain was unbearable. But he held me, kissed me and soothed me. And neither of us slept.
4. Go sailing.
When I was a little girl I watched a regatta on television. From that moment on I was enamored with sailing. To help me achieve this item on my list, Josh and I flew to California after a week and a half at the Grand Canyon.
There we boarded a vessel owned by Sam Seaborn. He took us sailing for half a day. I loved it so much I cried when we docked, sad that I wasted so many years. Sam took me sailing the next three days. We even spent a night on the water. I swam in the Pacific Ocean.
5. Make peace with my mother.
The final item on my list was added when I was twenty two. My mother was an abusive woman who died when I was sixteen. By then she had done all the damage she could do. She never really loved me. And I was twenty two when I figured that out. When I realized that I added her to my list. It became important to me then to forgive her for all the things she did to me. I knew at that tender age that I didn't want to spend eternity beneath the weight of hate.
Josh took me to her grave. There, in the rain, I railed against her for all of her transgressions. I yelled, I swore and I cried. I cried for my mother, I cried for the little girl I was and the woman I became.
Then I cried because I was struck by how much I loved her despite everything. I thought I was probably a better person than she was. And then I cried because I thought such a thing.
In the end I cried because I would never have a daughter to love me or hate me. Josh cried for that too, telling me that I would have been a wonderful mother and that no child of ours could ever hate her mother.
In the end…
Now, in week eighteen, I count my blessings for every day I have. My friends are all around me. There isn't a single day that I don't see every one of them. Josh is with me nearly every minute of every day.
Leo came yesterday. He brought me white lilies because he knows they are my favorite. He thanked me for making Josh happy and for making him a home for far longer than either of us realized.
When he left I felt as if I had permission to let go. I woke up this morning and told Josh that today was the day. He refuses to believe me, but I can feel myself slipping away. I went so far as to have him check me into the hospital today so that there would be certain things he didn't have to take care of.
I'm happy because all of my friends are here – they are my real family. I'm happy because my husband is here – the absolute love of my life that I'm grateful was willing to sacrifice himself for me. I'm happy because I got to complete the items on my list and now I have no regrets.
I always hoped it would be this way in the end – in the company of all the things that meant the most to me. My friends, my family and a completed list.