I read a lot of books about cancer the summer David was diagnosed. I could really relate to those written by a caregiver. In one of them the author wrote about how often she felt like crying in public, and how pinching the bridge of her nose real hard kept the tears at bay.
I had many opportunities to try it; in the hospital elevator on the way up to ICU when I had to face my husband’s obvious pain after his surgery, in the chemotherapy room when my husband fell asleep in the chair next to me, even in the grocery store when I ran into someone who didn’t know about David but asked how I was doing. I felt like crying a lot, most of the time, in fact, and I was desperate to hide my fears from David. I wanted him to always remain positive and that might have been difficult if he’d known how scared I was. So when I felt like crying, I turned away for a second and pinched the bridge of my nose. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn’t. More than once, I found myself fighting back tears that threatened to embarrass me. Buying soup at the store for a husband who could hardly eat, driving in the car and having a song from our dating days come on the radio, folding David’s tee shirts fresh from the clothesline, taking out the garbage that my husband had always taken out, and once, changing the toilet paper roll.
David always changed the toilet paper roll. I’m not sure why it worked out that way. In the house where we lived then the toilet paper hung off to the side, an awkward angle to get to, and frankly, I preferred the roll loose on the tank or the shelf in front of the toilet, so if it ran out when I was in there, I just got a new one and left it off the hanger. And the kids, well, they didn’t care where it was and never even bothered to get out a new roll if the last one ended with them. David always complained about being the only one who changed the roll, simple chore that it was.
By the middle of his cancer treatment David was no longer taking out garbage, reading to our toddler, or even changing the toilet paper rolls. He was too tired, too weak, and just fighting to survive the punishing treatment that we hoped was killing all the cancer cells that might remain in his body. Watching him, taking care of him, I just hoped it wasn’t killing him too. So one day when I finished a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom and pulled out a new roll from the cupboard, I hit my head against the sharp edge of the cupboard. Hard. It really hurt. I started crying. Really crying, with tears pouring down my face and my shoulders shaking. I held my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t make any noise,and let loose with sloppy hiccups and a dripping nose, the kind of crying I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see, least of all the kids. All those pent-up tears I’d been holding back by pinching my nose in public escaped and pretty soon I wasn’t crying about my sore head anymore, but about all that David had gone through, all that we had gone through. And when I was done, I washed my face with a cool washcloth, brushed my hair, and put that new roll of toilet paper on the holder. For David. And I did that through the rest of his treatment and during his months of recuperation, and then one day, after he’d returned back to work, I stopped doing it. Even when we moved to this new house last April and the toilet paper set-up wasn’t quite so awkward I still left the new roll out on the bathtub edge upstairs or on the sink downstairs.
Recently David asked me, exasperated, “Why am I the only one who ever puts the new roll of toilet paper on the holder?”
And I hugged him, and answered “Because now you can. And you are here to do it.”
Then I pinched my nose, real tight.