She was the only one sitting on the bench when I arrived at the bus stop. She didn't look up even as I sat down, which is not unusual. 'Mind your own business' her posture said. I began reading my morning emails on my cell phone. I didn't realize she was talking to me for several seconds. I lifted and turned my head toward her, but she didn't lift or turn hers, as if she was talking to herself.
"...I sat there, watching his lips moving, but no sound was coming out," she went on. "It was like the pressurized cabin of a plane, you know, like all the sound had been sucked out? It was weird. And I just sat there and stared at him. The words seemed to float like bubbles out of his mouth and pop in my ears.. 'terminal... inoperable... aggressive treatment....three months, maybe six.'. I don't even remember leaving his office." Her voice trailed off.
What do you say to a stranger who has just told you they are going to die before the year was out? I had an unexpected surge of empathy. I wanted to comfort this young woman in some way, but I've never been that person, you know, the one who intuitively knows how to. Should I tell her to keep her head up, everything is going to be all right? I wasn't in the mood for an early morning lie.
I just sat there and listened.
"I'm not afraid to die," she continued, "It's just, I have so much to do, so many responsibilities. Who will take care of them when I'm gone?" Her deep brown eyes welled with tears, formed a stream down her chin and splashed onto her teal shirt. I sat there listening helplessly as she began to sob quietly.
"I made up my mind. I'm not going to do treatment," she continued, shaking her brunette head for emphasis. "It's stage 4. I'm not going to spend my last days like that. Everyone wants to be the exception. They fight and hope and suffer."
They don't tell you the truth, you know. Did you know that? If there's a fighting chance, they don't tell you the truth so you'll keep a positive attitude. They say a positive attitude is almost everything in cancer treatment. So they lie to you, give you hope, so you'll fight to survive. When they get the results of the treatment. That's when they tell you the truth," her voice trailed off, "Unless the truth is all they really have to offer in the first place."
"What are you going to do?" I whispered, not knowing if this was a question that should be asked.
"I don't know," she answered. "I'm only 24, you know. I'm not going to off myself, if that's what you were thinking. No, I think I'll wrap some stuff up as much as I can, then go on a cruise, or see the whales in Alaska, . I guess now would be a good time for a bucket list, huh?" She managed to laugh. I managed to smile.
"This is my bus," I said.
Thanks, Mister, for listening. You are really nice." She looked at me for the first time. She was young, with wide round eyes, smooth unstressed skin and lips that looked great smiling. I stared at her as she walked along the sidewalk brushing her hands against flowering bushes and green trees until the bus driver began to close the door.