Starsky and Hutch confront a different foe. Not a death story and it won't be if I have anything to do with it, by God.
Dedicated to my best girlfriend forever, Janelle, in the battle of her life.
I knew the instant my wife and I pulled up and saw that drawn look on your face. You were sitting on the front step of your place, waiting for our arrival as always has been your custom since we moved interstate. The miles might have put land between me and thee, but never have we felt any distance between our hearts. You have always been my one dear brother, my soul mate.
Despite myself and the fear creeping up inside me, I called out a cheerful "Hello!" as I stepped outside our rented car. I gripped tightly onto the car door while my wife waited inside the car, quietly giving us space.
I went to hug you, but you stepped back.
"I've got the flu," you simply said. "I don't want to contaminate you. I didn't tell you before you got here because I really wanted you to come."
I was silent, taking it all in. You weren't yourself, that's for sure. Then you grimly said the words that chilled me to the bone. "There's something else. I'll tell you inside."
You didn't have to tell me – in that instant, I knew. But still I dared whisper the question that was choking my throat. "What's up?"
I needed to hear the words here, now, beneath the bitterly cold afternoon skies shrouding us where we stood, carving the tiredness in your eyes and the lines in your face. Who, what, was dimming your beautiful light?
"My cancer's come back."
That's when my light dimmed, too, as Christmas Eve's afternoon faded to black.
Inside, we talked, we hugged – flu be damned! You whispered that you needed that hug as you bravely held back your tears. You said you had been calm and hadn't cried since hearing the news, unlike the first time you were diagnosed with the dreaded blight four years ago. I followed your lead – there'd be time for me to indulge my own emotions when I'm not trying to be strong for you. There's plenty more hugs where that came from, Buddy.
"It's not in my neck this time," you explained. "It's in my breast. Yeah, even men get breast cancer, fancy that."
You managed a wry laugh before injecting another note of irony.
"I felt it after I showered the other day. I was using that body lotion you gave me for my birthday. That's when I felt the lump. If it hadn't been for your lotion, I might not have known before-."
Your voice broke as we both perished the thought frozen on your lips.
"It's not metastatic, it's got nothing to do with the other cancer I had," you were keen to reassure me, "And it hasn't gone into my lymph nodes."
"That's good, that's good," I spluttered, holding on to whatever cheerful reassurance we could find in the gloom.
You went on to tell me that doctors already had talked through likely treatment options with you – the usual suspects that'd be confirmed after the operation you'd be having in three weeks' time. You were OK with the prospect of radiation and any radical surgery, but there was no way you'd be having any more chemo – you were done with that once and for all. For the second time that afternoon, I felt my throat choke.
But I didn't argue. I listened. And silently prayed. And loved you in my heart like I never loved you before.
We had come to celebrate Christmas with you and stay with you a spell – and dammit, that was what we were going to do!
You prepared a lovely Christmas spread for us, and we enjoyed a special time with you and your son around a game of Trivial Pursuit with charades thrown in to help one another out with the answers one way and another. We hadn't seen your son for a long time – things hadn't been so easy between him and you for a while. But that was in the past, and this is now. We all belly-laughed as our brains ruptured and our theatrics flourished with every roll of the dice. My mind took me back to another time we'd gathered around a different game board with Terry.
Dear God, why?
The next day, you told me it was the best Christmas you'd ever had. Seeing us all having such a wonderful time with your son meant the world to you.
"I'll always remember it," you whispered fondly as tears filled your eyes before you pulled yourself up and regained your composure.
"So will I," I softly rejoined. "So will I." And again we hugged as we waited for that big dice of life to roll and turn up the answer to the question that lingered heavily in the air.
Now here I sit in my home, two days before you go into hospital. I am frozen, daring not to spill a tear less the dam walls break and overcome me. I look at the photo of you and I that sits beside my sofa, taken when we were young. It suddenly seems you and I have only had a handful of time together, yet our time together stretches back across decades. How can that be?
I'm scared of- I can't say it.
I flail at the injustice of it all. You have suffered so much already – the personal struggles, loss and tragedy, the damage when we were on the streets, the shooting all those years ago that all but took you away from us, the first cancer, and now this.
I tried calling you today but you were out. I left a message. You had insisted I stay put here until you know more. You know I'm at the ready to be back there with you to help see you through whatever treatments they throw at you. I hope you take what they recommend. I want you to do chemo if that's the best chance. But I know you want to enjoy whatever life you have left.
"What's the good of having more days on earth if I'm ill all the time from the chemo?" you'd asked.
I get it, I really do, in my head anyway. In my heart, I want what's best for you, what you think is best for yourself. It's your life, your decision.
But I'm scared of life without you. There, I said it.
Inwardly and very selfishly I'm screaming, "Live, Starsk. For God's sake, live!"