I was leaning on the cushion by the door of the tube, contemplating the cigarette I’d needlessly just inhaled and wondered what my insides felt about it. It was half past seven and I was nearly home. The word cancer kept repeating itself inside my inner self. I call it my inner self because I’m not sure where the words that appear in it come from. They flash up and burst out like neon signs. They shout and interrupt me. I don’t choose them; the just come, like an idea, I imagine. I thought about the probable damage I was inflicting upon myself and how much weight this would bear on my future. I wondered, if this word kept repeating in my mind, whether I could in fact create it physically within me. I thought about the probabilities over and over. I thought about how it felt, what it meant and how much I considered I might be invincible. And then I thought about my dad.
He’d kept it under the radar for a while. I’m not sure how many symptoms he had, if any, and what exactly it was that prompted him to get an ‘i\m nearly 60’ check up. All I knew is that he had cancer, and to me, this meant the end.
I was standing at the sink. Dad was needlessly moving items around the kitchen and shuffling around behind me. His girlfriend had swiftly left the kitchen and was now sitting with her back turned outside. Dad was still awkwardly shuffling and occasionally pausing. He began talking. It’s all a bit of a blur now but at the time, with every word my heart got bigger and bigger until I thought it would explode out of my chest, or my rising stomach acids might push it up and out into a beating bloody mess on the kitchen floor. He took a deep breath in order to utter his closing words, “They’ve found a lump in my bowel and it’s cancerous.” And with this, I said the only thing I knew honestly to say: “I knew you were going to say that.”
It was the same year I’d closed a chapter. I’d celebrated the strength it took to complete something which at first broke me into pieces so small I thought I couldn’t possibly return from. The lightness and the darkness of the end of that year came at once. I’d finished university on the road to the rest of my life as my dad battled the growing disease within him. It was August and everything had changed.
I’d just got back home from a two hour drive to break up with my boyfriend of two years who I felt nothing for anymore. Feeling nothing was long gone now. I felt everything. I felt hot water on my hands as I washed the dishes. I felt the whistle of the kettle boil from ear to ear, and I felt the tears roll down my cheeks and drop down as he told me.
Let me not forget, this is about cigarettes. This is about the very last cigarette I smoked and wondered about as I put it out. Why was I doing it? It’s something I enjoyed, or at least I told myself I did. Not enough to keep at it – I’ve had breaks – but here I was. I thought that was it the last time. I smoked enough to make me sick in the hope that I could never put another to my mouth again, and it worked. Oh, it worked. But it took some doing over many months and throughout a tough dead end job and only the hope of the future to propel me. I did it, and I thought that was it. That was January.
After a tearful hug, I tore away up the stairs and text my newly-ex-boyfriend. his mum had unfortunately had breast cancer twice. I’d just let go of him and already I was reaching back out for help. He obliged and stayed in contact for that period only. Shortly after that he was out of my life, and I have not heard from him since. My mind wandered to the night I lay with him in his bed when he received the call from his brother, “mum’s cancer is back.” Thinking about it now, those words should have meant more to me back then, and I wish I could have told him it was all going to be okay, but with conviction. The conviction of someone who knew that pain. Thinking about calling anyone else was impossible, so I called my mum. Her and dad had been separated for years, but I knew she still cared. She cried. I cried. And I could hear through her sobs that she really loved him now that it had all crumbled. Since then she’s been able to forgive him for everything. I was never sure she loved him until now. I got off the phone and sat alone, thinking about the future and where it would leave us.