True Betrayal | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Love Bookmark and Share

True Betrayal

TRUE BETRAYAL By: Dallas Releford My husband loved me until ovarian cancer drove a cold, deadly wedge between us. My husband Jack Nichols stood proudly at the window looking out at the tarmac where a military transport plane waited to take him and his company to a faraway place called Iraq. His broad shoulders, masculine body and tall physique reminded me that I had married one of the most handsome men in high school. Two captain’s bars glistened on his shirt-collar in the early morning sunlight that shone through the window where we stood trying to say a million things we had not been able to say to each other before that morning. His deep blue eyes studied me as if he were a hawk preparing to pounce on a helpless mouse. When we made love, that scenario wasn’t far from the truth. I was always helpless in his arms. I always had been that way since we were married after graduating from high school. Jack had that tantalizing affect on me. Gazing into his eyes, thinking of nothing except him and the fact I would not see him for an entire year, I just wanted to strip and make love right there in the airport. Then a shadow came over me and blotted out any ecstasy I might have been feeling at that exact moment. What if he didn’t come back? What if he were killed? Those thoughts had not entered my mind until I realized that this was it, Jack was really leaving me for a place I could not think about without thinking about violence and death. Where had all that optimism gone we had felt up until now? Why did I have such a feeling of emptiness and loneliness before he was even on the plane? My mind reeled with questions and I couldn’t find words to say to him that made any sense. “It won’t be forever, kid,” Jack said and he smiled caressing my temples with two fingers as he always did when he was serious. He always called me kid even though I’ve been over twenty-six years old for a year now. “It’ll all be over before you know it.” My thoughts were disrupted by the sound of a jet taking off outside. When the sound subsided, I leaned forward and put my arms around his neck. Our lips met. His lips were warm and his hot breath on my neck—when he kissed me there—sent chills creeping down my spine. I shuddered and wondered if we would ever see each other again. “I hope,” I muttered forcing tears from my eyes. I couldn’t let him see me cry. There would be enough of that later. “I wish you didn’t have to go into the army at all.” He forced a smile. I saw his watery eyes and knew that men cried too. “Liz, you have to be strong. This isn’t going to be forever. When I get back we’ll spend some time together. Maybe we’ll take a vacation and go to Myrtle Beach for a couple of weeks. You’d really like that, wouldn’t you?” I wiped tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand. I wasn’t ashamed. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop from crying. We had never been away from each other for more than a few weeks when he was in the reserves. Now, a year seemed like forever. I knew he was thinking the same thoughts I was, or something similar. “Of course,” I answered knowing that day was so far away I didn’t even want to think about it. “I’ll always love you no matter what happens. You know that, don’t you, Jack?” He knew it as well as I did. Nothing could ever come between us. Our love for each other was much too strong for that. Before he could answer, they announced that his plane was loading. He kissed me again and I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to go with him except I knew I couldn’t. As I watched him mingle and finally disappear into the dozens of other bodies that got into the plane, I felt pressure on my chest and my heart skipped several beats while I stood there trying to get another look at him. Finally, the enormous jet rolled down the runway and disappeared into gray clouds. I wondered if he would ever come back. On the way home, driving my old 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier, I had plenty of time to reminisce about what our lives had been like, up to now. Jack had gone to college after high school to become a Data Analyst for a local company. I went to school to become a registered nurse. Shortly after we were married, Jack joined the army when the war in Iraq began. I protested. He managed to convince me that he had a duty to do and he was going to do it. He was in the reserves for two years before they finally sent him to Iraq. We had enjoyed that little time together doing the things most couples do. We decided not to have kids until we were financially secure. With him in the service of his country all the time, I didn’t see much chance of that happening. I didn’t see it then and I sure can’t see it now. Safe at home after a grueling drive on the Interstate, I settled down in the kitchen with a cup of hot chocolate clutched between my hands still in shock that he was actually gone. We had bought a small condo in St. Albans, West Virginia so he could be close to the military base in Charleston. Now, alone I sat there thinking about the good times we had enjoyed. Knowing that I couldn’t keep on grieving for the entire year, I got up from the table after a while and attempted to gain control over the miserable feelings that were trying to take over. The next part of my ordeal began while I was stripping sheets from the beds upstairs. It was the beginning of the end for Jack and me even though I didn’t know it back then. It began with a throbbing feeling in the lower part of my stomach. At first, I thought the hot chocolate was the reason for my discomfort, but by the time I made it to the kitchen, I was feeling nauseated. In denial that I was really sick, I took some Alka-Seltzer and hoped the fizzle and bubbles would cure my ills. Later, joyful that the medicine worked, I continued stripping the beds and put the sheets in the washer downstairs by the kitchen. While I waited for the washer to finish the first cycle, I sat in front of the idiot-tube watching a mindless sitcom. Even that distraction failed to take my mind off Jack. I missed him so much. By three o’clock in the afternoon of the first day he was away, I was sound asleep on the couch. The television blared in front of me. When pain in my upper stomach and a high fever finally awakened me, I was quick to realize that something besides a stomachache was wrong with me. Managing to stand even though dizziness made me almost drop back on the couch when I tried to walk, I walked to the telephone and called my doctor. Dr. Raymond Kane instructed me to come in immediately and he would see me. I dreaded his diagnosis as much as I dreaded the traffic. When I got into that car, I knew right away that I just could not drive. I was burning up with fever and I was dizzy. Grabbing my cell phone, I called my sister Cheryl. She only lived a few miles away and since this wasn’t one of the days she went to class at the university, I knew she would be home. After all, where else did one go in St. Albans, West Virginia? While I waited for her to arrive, I listened to the radio trying to keep my mind off Jack and the pain in my stomach. The pain was now just below my left rib. Excruciating, it nearly paralyzed me every time I moved, or breathed too deeply. When Cheryl finally arrived, she looked at me sitting there behind the wheel and said, “Nope, you sure aren’t driving. Get out and get in the passenger seat. I’ll drive.” With a lot of effort on her part, I managed to do as she suggested even though the pain was horrendous. “When did this start?” “Just a little while ago,” I informed her. “It started when I came home. The fever came on while I was sleeping. Doctor Kane insisted I get there as soon as possible.” “I guess so,” she replied. “You look just horrible.” “Thanks,” I said. “I really needed that.” “Are you okay?” “I’m fine. It is probably something as simple as an ulcer.” “Ulcers aren’t simple,” my sister said. “In fact, they can be deadly.” “My, you’re just full of good news, aren’t you?” “It’s a fact,” she said. “They can be fatal, but since you’re getting to the doctor so fast, yours will be just fine.” Sometime during that conversation, I drifted off to sleep. The fever was so hot I didn’t want to do anything except sleep. When I awakened, I was in the doctor’s office and Dr. Kane was shaking my shoulder. “Mrs. Nichols, are you all right?” His dark rimmed spectacles hung low on his nose and his deep gray eyes looked at me with great interest. “Can you talk?” “Sure, what is wrong with me, Dr. Kane?” It was about then I realized that I was dressed in one of those hospital gowns that are open in the back and I was in a bed. Wondering how I got to the hospital, I finally figured out that Cheryl had brought me. The truth was that I was in Dr. Kane’s facility. “We don’t know. We’re going to do an MRI and several other tests. It might be something simple such as indigestion so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.” I went back to sleep then. When I awakened for the second time, I was in a chamber with my feet sticking out. “Don’t be afraid,” a female voice said. “We’re just doing an MRI. You’re in the chamber now. If you feel uncomfortable or afraid just let me know and we’ll take you out for a little while.” I wanted to get out of that thing. It reminded me of being in a tube. Even though I didn’t know it then, the MRI was the least of the horrors yet to come. Because I was so drowsy and feverish, I don’t remember everything else they did to me, except it was around five before I found myself back in the doctor’s office with Dr. Kane and Cheryl sitting there looking at me, waiting for me to awaken. “The nurse gave you a shot to make you feel better. I’m going to give you some medicine to help with the pain. Are you feeling any discomfort in your stomach right now, Mrs. Nichols?” I told him that it felt tight, bloated and I wanted to throw up. He leaned back in his chair and glancing at Cheryl, studied his clipboard on which, I suppose was my medical information. “What’s wrong with me, Dr. Kane. I haven’t felt this bad for a long time.” “Just gallstones, we believe,” he said. “I want you to go into the hospital for a few days for more tests. If it is gallstones, then they may have to be removed. It might require an operation.” Gallstones? For heavens sake, I was twenty-six years old, too young to have such maladies, at least I thought so. I hadn’t been sick in my entire life. I was the figure of good health. “I thought you could dissolve them with medicine or something?” Looking directly at him, I thought my eyes might be as big as dinner plates. They felt that big and my mouth was dry. “It depends,” he said. “If they are the right kind of stones, we can, otherwise, we have to operate. It is usually a procedure that can be done in a couple of hours, there are few scars and you can come home the day of the operation.” Since he didn’t elaborate on that, I didn’t bother asking any other questions. My mind was overwhelmed with the suddenness of Jack being gone, the quick onslaught of the sickness and now the possibility of being in the hospital. Kane turned to Cheryl. We had known him for all of our lives. There wasn’t any reason for introductions. “I’ll have an ambulance take her to the hospital in South Charleston. You can follow if you wish. I guess they want to keep her overnight. They’ll probably do the operation tomorrow.” Those words faded into the distance and I was gone again. Memories of that first night in the hospital are as vague as a blank sheet of paper. I remember bits and pieces of what was going on around me. Nurses woke me frequently to give me a shot or pills that I didn’t know what they were for. Once, I remember them pushing my bed down a long corridor and into a room full of lights. The lights hurt my eyes so I closed them and fell to sleep again. Later, Cheryl told me they did an ultrasound scan to find out what was wrong with me. It was four in the morning when I finally woke again. Cheryl was there with me and I felt much better knowing I wasn’t alone. “Where am I?” “In the hospital where you have been since about six this afternoon,” Cheryl said. “They did several tests and are sure you have gallstones. They are going to remove them tomorrow. Dr. Kane said they probably would remove your gallbladder if it is too bad.” “Great,” I replied. “I’m still a baby and they’re already taking me apart.” “Not so bad,” Cheryl said trying to sound optimistic. “It’s one less part you have to worry about. Besides, the operation isn’t so bad. Get that thing out and you can go home tomorrow.” I liked that part of it. I wanted to go home now. I didn’t want to be in that hospital at all. Somewhere out there, perhaps over the wide expanse of the Atlantic, Jack was flying high above the clouds completely unaware of my dilemma. Was he thinking about me? “I’m hungry,” I informed Cheryl. “Maybe you can find one of the nurses and get them to bring me something.” Cheryl stood above me holding my hand in hers. I felt her hand tighten on mine and knew something was wrong. I looked into her azure blue eyes and noticed that her skin was much lighter than it usually was. Her shoulder length brown hair was a little longer than mine and it looked like mine probably did, uncombed for several hours. “What’s wrong with that?” “You are on a liquid diet,” she finally admitted. “The operation is in the morning. Maybe they’ll let you have something a little more solid tomorrow night. Hang in there, sister. I’ll be here with you for the duration.” “I can appreciate that,” I said. “Nonetheless, I’m still starving.” The operation was scheduled for nine o’clock. They awakened me at seven and gave me a bath, shaved me and fed me through the IV machine. I was allowed to have a glass of juice. My mouth watered for a big, juicy steak. That was about all I could think of. By eight thirty after a council with several doctors who explained in detail what they were going to do to me, they wheeled me down that corridor again to the operating room. Cheryl was with me until they told her it was time for her to go back to the patient-waiting lounge. Cheryl told me later about everything that happened while I was in the operating room and afterward. Alone, Cheryl waited in the patient lounge occasionally drinking black coffee and reading a magazine trying to keep from worrying about me. After two hours and no word from the doctor’s she began to worry. What if something went wrong? What if I died? What if I bled to death? What would she do without me? These questions and more bothered her until she was about ready to go to the nurse’s station and inquire about me. At that exact moment, she heard a voice behind her. “Dr. Kane will see you in his office now,” a tall nurse with short red hair said. “He’s waiting for you.” Cheryl knew something was wrong then. Why did Dr. Kane want to talk to her if the operation had gone as they had planned it? Why did it take so long? These concerns lingered in her mind as she followed the nurse to Dr. Kane’s office. Then Cheryl shrugged her shoulders, steeled herself for whatever was to come and walked into the office. Dr. Kane was sitting at his desk. Cheryl dropped into a nearby chair and Dr. Kane came over and sat down near her in a straight back chair. With a grim look on his face, he seemed to be considering how to approach her with what he had to say. “Has she had any pain like she had last night before now?” By now, Cheryl was convinced that he wasn’t going to give her any good news. The grim expression on his face, the questioning wrinkles on his forehead and his frown were good indications that the news wasn’t good. “Not to my knowledge,” she told him. “What’s this all about, Dr. Kane? Why did it take so long? Is Elizabeth okay?” “When I went in to remove her gall bladder, I looked around with the camera. Her ovaries are as big as eggs. I found cancer in her stomach. She’s in the third of four stages with ovarian cancer. There are four stages and we normally catch it in the third stage.” Putting his hand on her knee, he looked at her and forced a smile. “She’ll be fine. They are taking her back to her room now.” “Cancer.” The word itself was enough to paralyze Cheryl. Our mother had died from cancer twelve years ago. Our father died from colon cancer when we were kids. We had been on our own for a long time. When our mother passed away, we lived with our aunt for a long time until we graduated from high school. I never thought I would get it even though a specter hung in dark corners always taunting me about the prospect of getting the disease. Cheryl stared at Dr. Kane unable to believe what he was saying. “What does all this mean? Will she live?” “Oh, yes. She will have several good years. With the help of Dr. Wilson, one of the best surgeons in the country, I removed as much of the stomach cancer as I could and performed a hysterectomy. I’m sure you understand that procedure without me having to tell you. I’ll set her up with an appointment to see Dr. Feldman over at the Oncology Center in three weeks. She’ll probably have to go through six months of chemotherapy. She should recover very well.” Cheryl, my sister, took the news just as I did hours later when I learned about what had happened. She told me all about what Dr. Kane said. I guess I’m getting ahead of myself because every time I think about that morning, I just want to scream. Sometimes, I do just that. Cheryl also told me how she felt as Dr. Kane sat with his eyes focused on her telling her about the cancer and my future. She said she felt as if all the life drained out of her like water out of a pail with a hole in the bottom of it. She felt weak, helpless and didn’t know what to do except put her hands up to her face and cry. Cheryl was like that, sensitive and prone to cry whenever something was too much for her. I’m like that too, but I learned early in life that you have to fight for what you believe in and when your life is on the line, you fight like Hell. Sleeping most of the afternoon, I awakened about five o’clock feeling groggy, weak and sleepy. The moment I moved my arm—feeling an IV in a vein—I knew where I was. Opening my eyes, I could see harsh fluorescent lights over my head on the ceiling and someone standing beside me. At first, that someone was only a bright light that slowly took human shape. As my eyes adjusted and I realized that the operation was over, I tried to convince myself that I would be going home before the day was over. Cheryl took my hand as Dr. Kane walked into the room with a smile on his face. Right away I knew everything was all right. The operation had been a success. Jack and me would be together again. Stepping up to my bed as if he hadn’t seen me for years, he asked, “How are you feeling, Elizabeth?” That was a question I had difficulty answering. Propped up on two pillows and the head of the bed raised, I could see the room and everyone in it quite well. An IV monitoring machine was to my right next to where Cheryl stood with my hand in hers. An IV tube ran to my right arm where it caused me great pain every time I moved. Two computers beeped to my left and the noise made me nervous. I never liked those things much. They took jobs and made people spend way too much time looking at them. A nurse dressed in green scrubs was fiddling with charts at the end of my bed. As I thought about how I really felt, she finished her task and moved on. My stomach felt like it was filled with gas, bloated and I had a burning fever. Drowsiness and fatigue prompted me to go back to sleep and let the world pass me by. I wondered if I gave him an answer, any answer, they all would go away so I could sleep. I didn’t care about anything, not even myself. “Guess I’m fine,” I whispered. “Sleepy. When can I go home?” Morphine is a fine drug when used properly. Dr. Kane sat down on my bed. I knew the news wasn’t good. His smile faded and his eyes focused on mine. “We need to keep you here for a few days, Elizabeth. There were a few complications. We want to give you some medications and let your strength build up before we release you.” “What happened? I was supposed to go home today. This was supposed to be a simple operation.” I protested knowing it would do little good. Studying his face hoping to see a sign that things indeed would be okay, I saw little to give me any hope. “Tell me the truth, Dr. Kane. I have to know.” He patted my leg. “You’ll be fine. We’ll talk about it when you awaken. The nurse will give you something in your IV to make you sleep. You need rest and plenty of it. You’ve been through a lot.” Before he finished talking, I was sleeping. Obviously, the nurse—who had her instructions before she slithered into the room—inserted a needle with morphine in it, into the IV port before Dr. Kane stopped speaking. He was pacifying me so she could send me off to dreamland. My sleep was disturbed several times that night when the nurse woke me to give me meds. During one of these awareness sessions I remember seeing Cheryl sitting in a chair in the corner of the room reading a book. Wanting to call out to her, to ask her what was the matter with me, I fell back to sleep before I could do anything. My body was on fire and my bed was wet from perspiration. I was chilly and unable to ask for more blankets. Jack was on my mind when I awakened next morning. Wanting him here to make me feel better and to tell me that he loved me, I called out his name before I was fully awake. The nurse patted my shoulder and asked me how I felt. Telling her that I was hungry, I asked her if I could have a big steak. She laughed and told me that breakfast would be brought up at eight. According to a clock on the wall near where Cheryl sat, it was only seven. I doubted I could wait for a steak that long. “The doctor will be in a little later to see you. He’ll explain everything to you.” I didn’t like her tone of voice or her hasty retreat from the room. As a skilled RN in a retirement home, I knew about patient care, bedside manner and passing the buck. She obviously was passing the buck. “Cheryl, what is going on here?” Cheryl stood by my bed. Her face was grim, her eyes were red and I knew she hadn’t slept all night. “Nothing,” Cheryl lied. “The doctor will explain things to you later.” I don’t know what I expected her to say, except I could have used a few words of encouragement. My stomach felt as if it was going to explode and I was nauseous. “Why does everyone keep saying that? Didn’t he tell you anything?” “I don’t know, Liz. I suppose he will tell you when you’re going home.” “You didn’t sleep here all night, did you? Of course you didn’t. Why don’t you go home and get some rest. I’ll call you when you can bring me home.” “I’m not leaving your side,” she told me forever loyal to me not only because she was my sister but because she loved me as much as I loved her. We were sisters and sisters usually look out for each other. We had been dependent on each other since our parents died. “They will bring your breakfast soon and then the doctor will be in to see you.” I couldn’t wait for breakfast. I could wait for the doctor because I was getting a feeling of mistrust of him in my head. My heart told me the same thing. He was holding out on me and I knew it even then. Perception, or intuition if you wish, was always one of my stronger points and I knew deception when I saw it. Now, I saw it in my sister’s eyes. It was as clear as the day outside where the sun was coming up and casting long beams of yellow light into my room. October was my favorite month, when it didn’t slam me into a hospital bed. “Come on, Cheryl. You aren’t foolin’ me, you know. He told you everything and you’re not telling me. What can be so bad about all this that you can’t even tell your own sister?” Cheryl sat on my bed. My body rolled slightly toward the depression of her body. My stomach was sore, too sore and I could feel numerous incisions or pain where those cuts had been made. “Uh, he told me not to tell you. He wants to explain everything?” She kept repeating herself as if she forgot what she had told me. I attributed that to lack of sleep. “What did that bastard do to me, leave a pair of scissors in my belly?” “Nothing like that, sis,” she promised. “It’s more than that. He wouldn’t let me tell you last night because he was afraid you weren’t strong enough or awake enough to understand what he was saying.” “What is worse than a pair of scissors in my stomach?” She grimaced and remained silent for a few moments thinking about what I said. I could see she was struggling with something, something that she didn’t want me to know. Since we were kids, we could read each other’s thoughts, or at least we could interpret facial expressions and Cheryl never was one to hide hers very well. “Cancer,” she finally muttered knowing I would keep aggravating her until she told me what I needed to know. “Cancer? How can that be? It was supposed to be a simple operation.” That word scared the crap out of me and had done so since I learned about it during the grueling ordeal of my mother and father’s deaths. When we were kids, we thought cancer was a demon that invaded human bodies and ate them from inside. When I grew up and became an RN so I could help people who had the disease, I realized that I wasn’t far from wrong. Working for an oncologist for a couple of years after graduation from med school, I soon found out that I couldn’t face the monster anymore and got a job in a nursing home. “Don’t tell him I told you, okay? He’ll be pissed at me.” “Spill it all,” I said knowing that I had to know what I faced if I was going to fight it. Jack told me that soldiers never went into battle without knowing everything they could about the enemy. My life now was nothing more than a battle against a horrible monster that was determined to kill me. I had to win. I had to have Jack or my life would be useless. “I won’t tell him.” Reaching for her arm, I pulled her closer to me and forced a smile. “How bad is it?” “Treatable, but not curable,” she said. Sometimes she wasn’t much for words even though she had a degree in literature. Treatable. Not curable. Those words stung like bees. It was several seconds before my mind cleared enough for me to say anything. My mind was already clouded by the morphine and other meds they were giving me. Now, it was numbed even more by those words that I struggled to try to understand. My medical knowledge allowed me to understand that I could survive if it was treatable, at least for a while. “What does that mean? What did they do?” Cheryl knew I was almost frantic. This was the state of mind they didn’t want me to fall into. “Calm down,” she said placing her hand on my shoulder and bending down, she kissed me on my forehead. “Everything is going to be fine. The doctor will explain everything about what they found and what they can do about it.” We all know we are mortal and that we are going to die someday, except when you are young that day seems too far away to worry about. That wasn’t entirely true for me anymore. Sure, I was still young, except I wasn’t so sure about how long I was going to live. If whatever I had was treatable I might live for a long time, however if it was in an advanced state, I might not live very long. Knowing operating procedures, I was sure that they had done more to my stomach than just remove a gall bladder. Usually, the surgeon makes several small cuts in the abdomen. A special camera is inserted into one incision while a laser or cutting device is inserted into the other one. A suction tube is inserted into another incision. When all cuts have been made, you end up with three small incisions that should heal in a few weeks. I was feeling pain from a larger cut on the left side of my stomach. I knew they had operated on me. The pain was too great for it to be otherwise. Morphine had been fed to me intravenously since they put me in the hospital. I could control how much of the drug I received so I didn’t get addicted to the stuff. Now seemed like a good time to become addicted except I didn’t like needles. Sighing, I asked, “Why don’t you tell me what he said? I won’t tell him you told me anything.” Cheryl knew she couldn’t argue with me. Sitting on my bed that early morning, she told me about my cancer. Her words changed my life forever. Fear turned to horror and horror transformed itself into an ugly case of anger. Anger swept through me because the doctor had taken everything that was dear from me. “So, they took out my gall bladder and found cancer in my ovaries and in my stomach. How bad is the stomach cancer?” “It’s spread a little in your stomach,” she replied. “Dr. Kane said it was treatable so I guess that means the chemo will take care of it. You have the best surgeons possible and your oncologist is a specialist in these types of cancers. You’ve got a good chance, Liz so don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on getting your strength back. He wants you up and walking before the day is over.” “Are you kidding? I can’t even turn over because I am so sore.” “Walking helps to get your digestive system working again. It’s important.” “I’m nauseated,” I said. “I’ll get the nurse,” Cheryl said heading for the door. Before I could protest, I threw up all over the bed. Nothing came out of my stomach except liquids. Dark and green liquid, bile from my stomach was all over the bed, my face and on my hands. Before I had time to curse my bad luck an army of nurses and nursing assistants descended on me cleaning my face with wet cloths and removing the soiled linen. Soon I was clean again and they placed a large container on the table next to me. “If you feel like doing that again, try to get it into the pan.” “Can’t you give her something for the nausea?” Cheryl stood next to the bed trying to keep out of their way. The woman who seemed to be in charge—I think her name was Mary or maybe Marie—turned to her and spoke in a quiet voice. “Sure. I have to get approval from her doctor. That shouldn’t take long. If she does it again just come to the nurse’s station and let me know. I’ll be back as soon as I can talk to him.” Mary didn’t return for thirty minutes. Between bouts of vomiting Cheryl managed to tell me about my ordeal. “They performed a hysterectomy on you,” she said knowing those words would cut deep. Hanging her head, she wiped tears from her eyes and tried not to look at my shocked face. “You still have your womb. Everything else is gone.” “Damned good that will do me,” I replied realizing the implications of such a thing. “No kids and no husband. What more could a woman want?” My mind was racing as fast as my heart. The machine sitting next to me was making all kinds of weird noises. “You can always adopt kids,” Cheryl noted. “And you can figure something out with your husband.” “What? No man wants a woman that can’t give him sex.” “Fake it,” Cheryl said. “He loves you. You still have your sexual organ. It’s just that … well … you won’t be able to feel anything, not much anyway.” Jack and me had always prided ourselves in having great sex. Every time we got the chance, we were naked in the bedroom, in the kitchen and sometimes in the basement. He devised all sorts of schemes to get me excited and I encouraged him to use his imagination at every opportunity. Now, even his imagination wouldn’t do us much good. Jack was good at foreplay. He prolonged it as long as he could and I loved him for his ability to get me high and keep me there for long extended periods of time. When we made love, it was as if we were soaring high in the clouds. I’m not so sure that wasn’t true. Now, my entire life had been brought to an end by a disease that we knew so little about. “What about the chemo? How long?” “Six months to a year,” she said glumly. “It’s not like it used to be.” I knew all about chemo and radiation treatments. I was a registered nurse. It was the chemo that killed my father before the cancer could do its job. The long nights he suffered from nausea, diarrhea and fever still haunted me as much as it had him. Knowing that chemotherapy treatments had improved since then made me feel a little better although I knew that going through the procedure still wouldn’t be easy. Different people responded to the chemo in different ways. Some got sicker than others. I hoped I was one of the others that didn’t get seriously ill. Sensing my anxiety, Cheryl asked, “Are you all right?” “Sure, I’m as good as I can be, I guess. What choice do I have now? I have to tell Jack about this. It’s only fair. I’m sure if the situation were reversed, he would tell me all about it. We love each other and that love is strong enough to keep us together, no matter what happens.” Cheryl shook her head in agreement and then studied her hands resting on her lap. The noise of the hospital seemed distant. My future with Jack seemed farther away. She remained silent. “I guess I should call him just as soon as he gets to Iraq and inform him that I’m in the hospital.” “I don’t know,” Cheryl whispered. “You should give him time to get settled in before you tell him anything. The stress of going to war one minute and then facing something like this might force him off the deep end.” I almost didn’t hear her speak because I was busy thinking about what I was going to tell him. He was somewhere over the Atlantic in a troop transport. He was thinking about me and looking forward to returning to— What? Coming home to a woman who couldn’t give him sex or kids? A woman who probably would be bitchy all the time and wouldn’t be able to give him everything he wanted. How long would our marriage last once Jack found out I wasn’t the woman I once was. Friends had once told me that men had to have sex and when they couldn’t get it from the woman they loved, they would get it wherever they could. I supposed it was the same way with women. Where did that leave true love? Did such a thing exist? Could a man and a woman function as husband and wife, as friends and as a team if one or both of them were unable to perform? It happened to men all the time, especially to older men who became that way because of diabetes or old age. I saw it in the nursing home where I worked. Some of the men were married. How did their wives deal with it? Or did they? “I have to tell him something,” I complained unsure of what I was supposed to do next. “He deserves to know that I’m in the hospital.” “Then he will want to know the reason.” “I’ll make up something at first and then I’ll gently tell him the truth later.” “Won’t work.” “Why not?” “You’ll be in chemo for a year at least. What if he comes home on leave? He’ll want to know what you are doing rushing off to a doctor all of a sudden. Believe me, Elizabeth, it is very difficult to hide something like this.” “Then what do you suggest? You’re the one who told me not to tell him anything. He has to be told something.” I was getting more confused by the moment. Either I told him, or I didn’t. The way I had it figured, that choice was mine and mine alone. “If he comes home and I don’t tell him anything, then he will find out the truth. Then, it won’t be easy to tell him anything.” “You know how Jack is, Liz. He has a temper like a bull. Remember that time he thought you were going out with that insurance man over in South Charleston? You were just dating then, not truly serious about getting married and all that. He waited for him to come out of the office, followed him to his car in the parking lot and confronted him. It ended up with John Lawson getting a black eye, two broken teeth and Jack spent a couple of days in jail for assault. If Lawson hadn’t liked you and dropped the charges against Jack, he would still be in jail. That little melee caused you and Jack to break up for almost six months. Jack hasn’t changed much since then. He still has that mean streak in him when he gets mad.” “I guess you’re right,” I said willing to admit that everything she said was the absolute truth, and I knew it all too well. Jack could be loving, caring and at times, downright mean. He was mean because he was jealous of me. He couldn’t stand the thought of another man looking at me, touching me or even talking to me when he wasn’t around. A long time ago, I had considered leaving him and it ended up in an argument that lasted days. Finally, we reached a compromise admitting that we truly loved each other. Jack promised that he would control his temper, bury his jealously and treat me with respect. He hadn’t been angry for a long time and I had almost forgotten that he could be that way. I suppose that as I lay there in my hospital bed trying to deal with the fact I had cancer, that I was alone—except for my sister and all my doctors—and that I had lost my sexuality, I knew that revealing my secret to him too quickly would bring back the old Jack, the one I didn’t love so much. “He can be hard to deal with. Maybe I’ll just send him a letter and let him know I was in the hospital for a gall bladder operation. I’ll break the rest of it to him, gently.” “For now, I guess that will have to do,” Cheryl said just as Dr. Kane walked into the room with a clipboard in his hand. It seemed as if everyone in a white lab coat carried a clipboard. “Heard you had a little nausea,” Kane said. “Are you feeling better now?” “A little,” I said. “Marie gave me pills.” I didn’t want to elaborate any more than that and start a discussion about how great the pills were. Dr. Kane was like that, efficient and willing to volunteer information whether you wanted it or not. He was a rarity in the medical community. Most doctors only answered your questions with a yes or no. “What is wrong with me? How soon can I get out of here?” I wanted to make him earn his money. I knew he was charging me three hundred and seventy five dollars every time he walked into the room with that damned clipboard in his hand. I knew I would get a bill from every doctor that came into the room and I wasn’t looking forward to that. With Cheryl retreating to the chair in the corner, he sat down on the bed where she had been sitting only moments ago. “I can’t lie to you and I apologize for not telling you sooner. We wanted to make sure you were awake enough to understand what we have to tell you. When we removed your gall bladder, we found both stomach and ovarian cancer. With the help of Dr. Bishop, we performed a hysterectomy.” I acted like I was startled. “You mean you took everything out without consulting me?” “There was little choice,” he said somewhat alarmed because I was angry. “We didn’t want to put you through two separate operations in one week so we did both of them at one time.” “Thank you,” I said with a sarcastic look on my face. I don’t know what a sarcastic expression is like except that was the way I felt. “Now, what happens? I’m a married woman, you know.” I wanted his opinion about how I should handle my marital problems. His wife, Sherry had a hysterectomy several years ago. It was a common thing. Dr. Kane sighed and forced a smile. Patting my arm, he answered, “Live on the love that is in your heart and you will do all right. Jack loves you and that is enough. Everything will be all right.” “Should I tell him?” “I’d wait a little while until you are taking the chemo treatments. Give him time to adjust to his new environment. Things will work out.” “When do I begin the treatments?” “In two weeks. Dr. Sloan will be seeing you every three weeks. Here is his card.” Reaching into a pocket in his lab coat, he pulled out a business card and gave it to me. I put it on the table near the bed. “Don’t worry, Elizabeth. The chemo treatments aren’t as bad as they used to be. We have medicine to counteract any side effects.” “I am sure you do,” I said. “When do I get out of here?” “In about five days,” he replied standing above my bed ready to leave me once again. He had earned his money. “We’ll keep you here to make sure you are well. I want you on your feet, walking, before the day is over. You need the exercise to bring back your strength.” After Kane walked away, Cheryl got up and approached my bed. “Right now, you need your sleep. I’ll be back in the morning to talk some more. Just keep your mind on getting well and we’ll see how things develop. Concentrate on getting well and I’ll walk you in the morning. The aides will get you out of bed later.” “You need your rest,” I told her. “You probably look worse than I do, although I can hardly imagine that.” I don’t remember a lot about the next few days. It was like being in any hospital when you are sick. That afternoon the aides did as Cheryl expected, they got me out of bed and helped me walk down the corridor and back. I could not stand without help. I was weak and nearly exhausted. The next day Cheryl came and helped me walk. Having her near me made me feel better, except I missed Jack and wondered if I would ever have him again. That worry bothered me for weeks and months until I finally learned how it all turned out. After being in the hospital for five days I came home on a Saturday. The house I had shared with Jack was empty and I missed him the moment I walked into the living room. Cheryl had picked me up at the hospital and now stood beside me. “I’m staying with you until you get better,” she informed me even though we hadn’t discussed it before. “I have my clothes, books and everything I need right here.” That announcement caught me off guard. I hadn’t predicted she would offer to stay. Another thing I hadn’t predicted was a flashing red light on the answering machine. Cheryl played back the messages. Most of them were from Jack. The sound of his voice told me he was worried. He had arrived safely in Iraq and would be moving out on patrol by Sunday. This was Saturday. He left his phone number—a strange and very alien one—and his email address. I couldn’t wait to talk to him except I was scared about what I had to tell him. “Are you going to call him back?” Cheryl gently nudged me toward the couch. “I’ll let you sit here for a while before I put you to bed.” “I’ll be okay here,” I said. “I’ll call him back tonight. It’s night over there and I might not get to him if he’s sleeping.” When I called him that night, someone, a Sergeant Michaels—I think—told me he was out on patrol and wouldn’t be back for a week. I spent much of that week walking with Cheryl in the yard, down the sidewalk and eventually to the store on the corner. I was weak and dizzy from the liquid diet they had me on. My stomach was sore and even the pain pills failed to dull all of the pain. I learned to live with it. One thing I could not live with was the fact that Jack was out there somewhere in a sweltering desert not knowing what had happened to me or where I was. He must be worried to death, I whispered to myself more than once. On Monday of the next week, I managed to talk to him. He was anxious to know where I had been. I could detect a little of the old jealousy and anger in his voice when he asked me the question. I told him to calm down and that everything would be all right. I suppose the tension of the war and the heat were getting to him. When I told him I had been in the hospital he immediately wanted to know what was wrong. At that moment, I really didn’t know what to say so I blurted out the first words that came to mind. “I had an operation. They removed my gall bladder,” I said. I felt that I wasn’t lying. I was just omitting some of the details. I would tell him the truth later. I was sure of it. He was relieved to learn that I was doing well and on my way to recovery. I didn’t tell him that I felt like crap and the worst was yet to come. When I put the receiver down, Cheryl came over and sat down near me on the couch. “Well?” “He’s fine. They’re going out again in a few days. He said they were patrolling Baghdad. Jack said it was really bad over there. A lot of guys are getting killed. I guess he won’t be home until Christmas.” “You have until then to tell him the truth,” Cheryl said. “Three months until you have to face him.” The next few weeks consisted of walking and getting myself acclimated to my new world. A week after I came out of the hospital my doctor allowed me to eat anything I wanted. Cheryl took me to a local restaurant where I got the biggest steak I could get, a baked potato and some green beans. I ate like a hog shoving my food into my mouth as fast as I could. I talked to Jack two other times and never mentioned the truth about my ordeal. He had enough to worry about and the distraction of knowing I was sexless might cause him to get killed. I wanted him home with me. I needed him now more than I ever did. The chemo treatments made me feel fatigued all the time. I experienced four of them in the next two months. Each one left me a little weaker than the last. I was constantly eating—nothing wrong with my appetite—and walking from one end of the block to the other. People stopped me and talked. I told them about my ordeal, my operation and omitted the part about the hysterectomy. Before long, the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I had been through. Why wasn’t Jack here with me when I needed him? I almost screamed when I realized how lonely I really was. The treatments continued and Cheryl was my main source of encouragement and assistance. Without her, I never would have made it. In November the rains came. It was dark and gloomy most of the time. The weather matched my outlook on life even though I was feeling better. I wasn’t as tired as I used to be and my wound in my stomach was almost healed. It was purple, like the sky. The oncologist told me that we could end the treatments early. He was certain that the cancer was in remission. I wondered if stopping the treatments early was such a good idea. In November—the fifteenth, I think—Jack came home. Rolling up to the curb in a cab he got out and I knew instantly something was wrong. The driver assisted him up the sidewalk toward the house. I opened the door and rushed down the sidewalk thinking he was on furlough and wanted to surprise me. I was surprised. He could barely walk. “What’s wrong, Jack?” I was in his arms. We hugged. We kissed. We stood looking at each other for a long time before he said anything. “Got wounded,” he murmured. “They sent me home to recuperate. I’ve been in the hospital in Norfolk for a few weeks. Underwent major surgery except it wasn’t totally successful.” “What surgery? What are you talking about, Jack? Where were you wounded?” “We’ll talk later,” he said. “Right now, I want to rest and get to know you again. It’s been centuries since I’ve seen you. How are you doing?” “Better,” I said. “I’ve been taking treatments and things like that.” As he brushed by me, ignoring me, I turned and followed them up the sidewalk. This was going to be more difficult than I thought and I knew it. I could not see a wound. His head wasn’t bandaged and I thought by the way he walked that he had taken a bullet in his hip or his leg. In war, anything was possible. In love, everything is probable. I didn’t know then that our love was to be tested even more than I ever thought. Jack sat around the house most of that day ignoring me except when I asked him a direct question and even then, he didn’t answer all my questions. “Jack where were you wounded? Is there anything I can do for you, honey?” “Nah. The wound is healing nicely, it’s just where the wound is that is embarrassing.” I knew then that he had been shot in his ass. I had heard about that. “Jack, I’m your wife. You can tell me all about it. Please Jack. You have to tell me. This is driving me crazy. I don’t need any more pain. I’ve been through more than you can ever know.” “Well, getting my balls blown off wasn’t any picnic,” he yelled. Then I knew. He had been shot in his private parts. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, I might have laughed out loud right there except I really couldn’t see anything funny even though something in my mind told me it was humorous, in an eerie way. Dropping the towel I had in my hand on the arm of a nearby chair, I walked to the couch and sat down beside him wrapping my arms around his neck as I sat down. Pulling him to me, I kissed him fully on his lips only to be met by resistance, as I had never known before. “What’s wrong?” I stared at him wondering if I had hurt him. “Nothing,” he replied. “The wound is painful in more ways than one. They did a good job on me.” “How did this happen? Did you get shot?” I thought showing interest in his condition would let him know I still loved him. “Ambush,” he said and I could feel the tension in his arms and hear it in his voice. I removed my arms from around his neck and sat back on the couch. “A car bomb exploded. Shrapnel cut my leg and took off all my privates. There’s nothing left, Elizabeth, nothing.” “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “I still love you no matter what happened. I’ll always be here for you, Jack.” He reached over and kissed me. I thought it was going to be okay, at least for a little while, except when I looked into his watery eyes I could see it wasn’t. He was hurting and I knew it. “We can’t have kids,” he informed me. “No family and no sex. Do you understand what I’m saying?” “Yes, I understand clearly,” I told him. “We can adopt if we have to, or want to and sex isn’t everything. We can do other things to make each other happy.” “I’m not sure I can live with that,” he confessed. “Elizabeth, I know I married you for better or for worse, except I never thought it could be like this. I don’t expect you to stay with me. I mean, it isn’t fair to you. I’ll sign the divorce papers whenever you want me to.” Taken by surprise, I waited for the longest time before I could speak. “Jack, you’re not getting away from me that easy. You remember the words, but you don’t understand them. For better or for worse means that we stay together and love each other no matter what happens.” “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “It’s just that it seems so unfair.” I knew it was time to even the score no matter how hard it was. “Jack, honey, I have a confession to make too. I hope you won’t take it too hard.” “What? Did you get a tattoo?” I tried to force a smile. It faded into my face like a tank disappearing into quicksand. “No, Jack. I … uh … have about the same condition you do. I know it’s hard to believe. Nonetheless, I had to have a hysterectomy. They found ovarian and stomach cancer when they removed my gall bladder. I’ve been taking radiation and chemo treatments since you left.” He was shocked. I could see it on his face. “What? When were you going to tell me, Elizabeth? Don’t you think I had a right to know about something like that?” Okay, so he did have a right to know. I had a right to know about his problem too, except he never told me, not even when he came home. I had to probe to find out anything. I thought that fact balanced everything between us. Apparently, it didn’t. Jack got up from the couch and walked to the bathroom. “Jack, I’m sorry. I was going to tell you when you came home at Christmas. I wanted to tell you face-to-face. It’s not something you put in a letter or an email.” I thought he would understand, except he didn’t. He was the same old Jack again, angry, confused and withdrawn. Things deteriorated quickly for the next two weeks. November was a rainy gloomy month, quite adequate for the kind of life I was having. Jack slept on the couch and ignored me most of the time. I slept in our bedroom upstairs crying myself to sleep every night and wakening in the morning reaching out for someone who wasn’t there in bed with me. Jack never washed dishes, cooked or did anything else around the house. I went for my radiation treatments five times a week and chemo every two weeks. I was getting better quickly. My strength was coming back strong. My situation with Jack left me feeling drained, depressed and wondering what I should do. Cheryl visited often and took me to the doctor or to my chemo treatment when I didn’t feel like driving myself. It was on a Saturday morning when the inevitable happened. It was something I was unprepared for. When we returned, Jack was gone. I rushed to the guest room downstairs only to find that his suitcase and duffel bag were gone along with all his clothes in the closet. We found a short note in the kitchen saying that I was better off without him. Holding onto Cheryl for support in the kitchen, I screamed as tears burst from my eyes. What was I going to do? I had lost my husband because of cancer. For the next several months, I slowly managed to recover from the cancer and from the shock of losing Jack. Struggling to provide for myself over the next two years, I finally met a nice man who didn’t care if I were sexless or not. He owned the nursing home where I worked. During my recovery period, he had been by my side constantly, offering advice and helping every way he could. Daniel Purdue had diabetes and it left him inadequate, except I found that we were great friends and gradually we fell in love. Jack faded into the dim memories of my past as my love for Dan grew. A few days ago we were married. I regret that I lost Jack and that he didn’t stay around to find out that sometimes you don’t need sex to love someone. Jack was the instrument of true betrayal because he gave up something he had promised to support no matter what happened. Walking out on me when I needed him hurt me more than I could ever know. Maybe he did it because he thought it would make things better for me except he didn’t realize, or care that leaving me hurt me more than anything. I never saw or heard from Jack again. The End
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