Friday, August 12, 2011

Cancer Man: Last one standing 2

I could never seem to be on time for Rebecca. Living on the other side of the county, just getting her to her appointment only a little late was a real challenge. Every day, we had road construction, traffic delays and an endless string of red lights that gathered up, you could loop around and around a Christmas tree.

She was good about it. I apologized, explained and Rebecca just shrugged.

"It doesn't matter to me if I'm late," she said. "I've got nothing else to do today."

Of course, I did. I have two jobs, children, a new home, additional responsibilities and a crumbling personal life.

"You do too much," she told. "It's too much."

I nodded, but what of it? What was I supposed to not do?

There is no answer to that.

Every trip, whatever else we talked about (her daughter's drug use, that time the daughter got married out west for six months or that other time the same daughter was tricked into becoming a hooker out in Las Vegas), it always gravitated back toward religion. She took comfort in God. She had a personal relationship with Jesus.

I wouldn't say it was an entirely healthy relationship. Rebecca struggled. She'd raised a couple of kids and a couple of grandkids. Her first husband beat her. Her second husband tossed her out when she gave up her wild ways. She was lonesome. She prayed a lot. She turned to her Bible, to church and to the song and dance of television preachers.

Jesus, by the way, didn't write, didn't call and didn't send money.

This didn't upset her. It used to bug me, until I quit.

I did not mention my lack of faith and took a little bit of solace in her unflappable cheeriness. I looked forward to collecting her for her treatments and enjoyed our time together. It was good to listen to her tell me about growing up in a house with 14 children raised by one mother.

"We had biscuits and gravy every morning," she said. "We drank powdered milk and ate pinto beans every night."

The food was cheap. Anything else they got from their garden or from neighbors. Meat was a rare occurrence. A treat was a bologna sandwich with a dill pickle on the side and a glass of kool-aid.

Comparatively speaking, she had it made, living in a rented double-wide trailer. Beans and cornbread were comfort food, a touchstone to old memories of family, not a daily staple.

She told me about surviving, about getting over the loss of quitting one marriage and being discarded from another. She told me she'd managed to maintain a friendship with her second husband. They were good friends and spoke about every week on the phone. He was a good man, she said. He just wasn't who she needed to be with any more. They'd changed. He drank. She didn't. He wouldn't give it up and she wouldn't pick it back up.

She told me she really hadn't needed the marriage. She'd found purpose in her faith and as the mother to her daughter's children.

"You know, if I'd have thought about it," she said. "I guess I could have asked the lord to send me another man, but I don't guess I needed one. I've been all right without having a man around."

She wasn't bitter about it or resentful. There wasn't even a sense of regret.

I don't think it was always that way for her. I think it took time, but at the end of it, even facing cancer, she hadn't really needed a man around. She hadn't needed someone to be there to hold her, to listen to her or to love her. She'd found most of those things through her grandchildren and through her God.

Really, the only thing she'd needed that she might have gotten from a husband was someone to drive her to the hospital and sit with her for a little while. As that turned out, she hadn't even really needed that.

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