Today is the 20th anniversary of my diagnosis of leukemia. As on that day, this morning dawned sunny with clouds. And as on that day, I woke from sleep today with a woolen head and dragging feet, reluctant to face the day. The reason for this morning’s lack of enthusiasm is not because I feel ill, but on account of a late going to bed last night after a stimulating evening of tea and discussion with friends late into the night. As I dragged my half-awake self to the first cup of coffee, prepared this morning by Rumpole, it occurred to me that this date had some importance in my life. It was while pouring that first black cup that this significance popped into my brain.
I took a sip, observed Rumpole, looking disheveled and poring earnestly over a section of the weekend paper and interrupted his concentration.
“Dear. Do you remember what we were doing at this time exactly twenty years ago?”
He looked up with a question in his faded forget-me-not blue eyes. “No. But I do know we were up north at the time. Why is the date significant?”
“On that day, I woke up from a sweaty sleep on the couch in the living room to the sound of the telephone ringing, you answering and asking many questions at your end, then finally saying ‘yes, I understand, I will bring her in right away.’ ”
“Quit being mysterious.” he grumbled. “How can you remember what that particular phone call was about? Please get to the point.”
I took a long swig of my coffee and added some milk to it. “That was the day you took me to the hospital for that awful diagnosis and only allowed me a few minutes to get my stuff together. I had my client reports to still finish, so I took those. There was the unfinished crocheted ugly pillow-cover I was making for Jacquie. That went into the overnight bag with the beautiful turqoise housecoat you had given me the previous Christmas.”
“I wonder why I can’t remember you getting ready to go.” Rumpole scratched his ear, and folded his newspaper closed.
“You were occupied by consulting the thick medical diagnostic tome in the kitchen. You had it hidden behind the toaster so I wouldn’t know what you were up to. Renaissance Man was hopping about bringing me toothbrush, hairbrush, journals, files and pens.” I beaded him with a direct look. “Neither of you are good at hiding your anxiety. When you led me to the truck as if I was made of spun glass, ready to break apart at any moment, I knew something not so good was up.”
I remember Rumpole guiding me into the bucket seat of the LandCruiser, strapping me in most gently and covering me with a lap robe. We drove down the snowy country roads, admiring the light and texture of the landscape. I insisted that he stop at the edge of town at the shopping centre and buy me a nightgown appropriate for a hospital stay. He was so impatient while I pored through the racks of nightgowns like a somnambulist and mumbled dutiful disinterested husband comments about my selections.
As we drove down the big hill into town I moaned to him. ” What a perfectly beautiful day to be having to go to the hospital. I’d rather stay home and go for a walk with you guys.”
“The woman from the hospital said you had to come in for further blood-work and for a procedure for a bone marrow biopsy,” he told me, then went on to reassure me. “You know we will be with you throughout the day. I’ll bring Renaissance Man in this afternoon to see you. And I’ll call Marlene, Jane and Linda and Al to come and keep you amused.”
“Please call, Maureen and let her know she has to reschedule my next week’s clients. Tell her I will send this week’s reports in with you on Monday.”
“How do you remember what happened on that day?” he asked.
“Heck, how can one forget such a day, or what happened on such a day? It’s not every day one is told one has a life-threatening disease. It kind of ranks up there with some other life milestones – like when you first proposed to me, or when you brought you pajamas and alarm clock to our first sleep-over ever”, I said through smirking lips. “Hell, I even remember how nervous George was as he was giving me the diagnosis in the nurses’ lounge. He bummed a cigarette from me and we smoked together as he apologized and said it was far too beautiful a day for him to give me such unfortunate news. Imagine, George apologizing, when it was all too clear to me he had to give up a day with his daughter tending their trap-line.”
“I was too much a basket case that day. Can’t say I remember a third of the stuff that happened. But I remember crying in my office as I phoned all our friends to come to you in the hospital. I remember crying with Renaissance Man as we drove to the hospital to see you.”
We fell into silence, drank our coffee, and read the papers. I mused about how strange memory is, what details are remembered. I remember Rumpole’s devastated expression, and Renaissance Man’s bereft face as they sat by my bed side while I struggled with the crocheting, to finish the pillow-cover for Jacquie, one of my clients. She had patiently instructed me in my inept first attempt at crocheting and I wanted to do her proud.