“What are you going to do when they fire you,” Cheryl cried. “What are we going to do, then?"
“I’ve heard enough,” he growled back at her.
He turned his back on her and stomped out the door. He ignored her pleadings and flung the door closed as hard he could.
Tom stood on the front porch for several minutes, his chest heaving from the emotion that surged through him. He felt like he could tear the siding from around the door. Instead, he stomped down the sidewalk. His immediate intent was to stop at the corner bar. In his turmoil, though, he stomped on by.
The argument was nothing new in their lives. They fought almost everyday, now. And the subject was always one of two things; either his refusal to return to the doctors for treatment or his refusal to tell anyone else what was going on.
What was he supposed to do, he demanded of himself. For three, almost four months those quacks had strung him along with words of hope.
“There is a lot of research going on, they said. “A cure may be along any day.” Finally, they had told him the truth. No cure, and little hope. It had almost destroyed him.
“And she wonders why I’m falling apart,” he muttered, shaking his head sadly.
The blare of a car horn snapped his attention to the street he almost walked into. His breath caught in his chest, and he jumped back onto the sidewalk. He sighed raggedly. Mechanically, he turned left and kept walking.
He was going somewhere, he just didn’t know where.
His thoughts quickly returned to the hospital and the doctors. His anger and frustration rose slowly with each step. The endless routine of bloodtests and x-rays and examinations ran through his head. They were all mixed together with the untold number of hopeless words of encouragement.
It still amazed him that he had managed to keep it a secret for so long, from so many people. His boss never found out, neither had his coworkers. The fact that Cheryl had never discovered the truth really surprised him. He laughed emotionlessly, thinking of the times he had been trying to close a deal between doctors appointments. Thank God for cell phones, he thought. And now, everything he had done to keep his secret was coming undone. He couldn’t keep up with it all anymore.
“Excuse me, sir,” a nice voice interrupted his thoughts. “Could I talk to you a moment about the abuse of laboratory animals?”
Tom whirled to face the young man. He felt his own eyeballs seem to pop from his head as the anger exploded out of his mouth.
“Laboratory animals,” Tom thundered. “Animals? You’re one of those fools that wants to put a stop to medical research by doing away with all animal work!”
Tom’s chest heaved. The young man was visibly terrified. He backed away from Tom’s anger. Tom moved towards him with each step.
“Don’t you care about the dying people in this world,” Tom said, his voice rising. He stuck his finger under the young man’s nose. “Animals? Why don’t you give a damn about the rest of humanity before you go off crusading for little animals!”
Tom stared at the man for another moment, then spun on his heel and stomped off. His chest heaved from the emotion surging within him. He never noticed the young man slump to the pavement.
Everything seemed to happen all at once, he thought furiously. First there was the cancer. That was bad enough. Then there were the now constant battles with Cheryl. His workload was way up, too. He could hardly handle it anymore. And then there was some creep trying to get him save stupid animals.
Didn’t anyone care about the dying anymore?
He froze in his tracks. The question went through his head again, only changed. A shiver went through his body.
“Don’t you care about the dying,” his mind asked him.
It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, his mind told him. Did Tom Banks, terminal cancer patient, care about the dying?
He stood immobile on the sidewalk. His mind tried to wrestle with the question; to find an answer. But, no answer came. His anger slowly dissipated. And, his frustration grew. He looked blankly at the sky. He did not see the spread of color in the sunset. His mind was too occupied with his question.
Did he care? He shook his head trying rid himself of that nagging question.
If he didn’t care, his mind nagged him, why should anyone else? Why should Cheryl, or that man back on the corner, care?
“Stop it,” he ordered himself. “I don’t want to hear it anymore.” He gave his head a violent shake to punctuate the remark.
“Hey, mister,” a small voice asked nervously. “Are you all right?”
Tom looked down to see a little boy staring up at him. The boy's head was slightly cocked to one side.
“It’s all right, son,” tom said, faking a smile, sounding sheepish. “Just thinking too hard, I guess.”
The little boy looked even more confused. Tom waived; feigning good humor, and walked on.
His hopelessness increased a little because of that little boy. He realized that he still had to face his own children with the news. It dawned on him that he was doing the same thing that had caused the horrible nightmares. He didn’t want to hurt them with the news. He didn’t want them to be angry with. He didn’t want…
Tom wanted to cry. His mind whirled around in the endless circle of logic he was in. All he wanted was an answer. No, the truth was he wanted someone to give him the answer. He wanted someone to tell him how to deal with all this. Anything would have been preferable to this circle of anguish he had trapped himself in. He hadn’t wanted to tell Cheryl at all. Now he still had all these other people to tell-his boss, his friends, and his kids.
What he wanted was to be able to tell them one at a time. But that didn’t satisfy his heart. A little bit at a time was the same way he was dying. Each time he told someone it got harder, instead of easier.
Who cares, his thoughts nagged him. Did he care?
That was different, he told himself. Even the doctors had told him it was hopeless. No, he told himself. The doctors had said there was little hope, they had not said there was no hope. The doctors had said they could help him live a couple years longer, too—if he was willing to go through with the treatments. That was some kind of hope.
If you don’t care, his mind asked coldly, why don’t you just give up?
Another shiver went through his body. For weeks, that thought had slipped around the back of his mind. As it broke through his thoughts, it felt like a bucket of ice water had been thrown on him. There was no way he could give up. It was against his nature. He had never given up on anything without a fight.
Tom looked up from the concrete smiling. He had his answer.
He glanced around to see where he was. A sign proclaiming the existence of the First Baptist Church stared back at him.
“I can't do miracles, Tom,” the doctor’s words echoed through his head. “I am not God.”
Deliberately, Tom nodded his head.
“OK, doc,” he said firmly. “Then maybe its time I went out to find God.”
Tom quickly turned and started walking home.
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