CASSIE VAN DOMELEN
CASSIE VAN DOMELEN
Today I am liquid. Yesterday: stone. Of the two, liquid suits me better. What I’d prefer: air.
My dear friend, barely forty, is suddenly dying of cancer. Not knowing what else to do, I flew to New Mexico to sit with her. I don’t know who to be, or how to behave, with a heart this broken.
She lies inside her body inside the hospital bed inside the hospital. Her body is eating her. Her brain is bending into new shapes. Her soul is being burnished without her permission.
When I look at her I see, inside everything, behind the tubes and the morphine, my same dear one. I freeze then shatter, melt into liquid then spill. Her children. Her wife. Her mother. Me. We don’t know how to lose her. She doesn’t know how to let us go. There is no sense, no logic, no peace no acceptance no grace. The how and why of it hides behind an impenetrable fortress and casts projections up on the ceiling of the sky. Smoke and mirrors. We don’t even know where to aim our anger.
She wants ice cream. She wants African food, sushi, figs. Ice cream, especially ice cream. She’ll take two bites before her body refuses to indulge her longing.
She wants to sit outside and stare at the massive pillars in front of the hospital, architecture imitating masts and sails, us on a ship with no harbor. She wants juice to drink that’s not too viscous, not too sweet, but she doesn’t remember what it’s called. She wants to go down to the second floor of the hospital on a mission—she’s been smelling some fabulous wafts of food, something Asian. She wants to go find the source of that aroma, grab the food and run. (She’d be in the chair. I would do the running.) She surprises me by being right, about the smell of Asian food on floor two.
We polish our memories. Some things she knows exactly, and some things drift, clouds, wind.
She’s seeing a man in doctor’s scrubs stuck in the corner by the closet, a wilted grandmother, not her own, next to her bed. She’s fascinated by the rubberized red of her call button, and wants to know if it seems peculiar and wondrous to me as well, which somehow makes it so.
Sometimes she wakes impish and wild. Call the chaplain, she says. There's a chaplain named A.O. who is smitten by her. Everyone is smitten—she’s that kind of person. Make him bring us ice cream. I clarify: Do you want to talk to a chaplain? She doesn’t. She wants ice cream.
She’s sorry we can’t go do things. She’s frustrated by the uselessness of it all.
It’s enough to be here, I say, and it’s true. I watch her breathe, and I lie for a time against her softness inside the cage of her hospital bed.
She always said she would die young, says her wife. Did she ever tell you that? I stretch my mind and I don’t remember.
This morning I woke in her bed without her, in a desert not my own, and watched the horizon change from slate to fire.
She always knew she would die young. Now I am in her home, haunting the halls of her life, and she is missing. Her cats and I are haunting the empty halls and rooms and kitchen of her life in her desert forty minutes away from the hospital bed that holds her captive, the body that eats her slowly, the she becoming somehow both less and more at the same time.
Tired. Pain. This is the universe she inhabits now.
I drink the Stumptown coffee I brought for her. She always used to ask for it, but she can’t drink it anymore. I use her French press wrapped in the knitted buttoned-up sweater cozy she’s always had. I fix the bottom button and tuck the sweater tightly around the coffee. I try to grow my heart into a new shape, bigger, more generous. I don’t feel capable of that particular feat of art and engineering.
Bravery seems required now, but I don’t know how to be brave.
The cats yeowl. The halls echo. And I am liquid.
A chef, musician, painter, backpacker, and goat farmer, Cassie Van Domelen studies writing at The Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. This is Cassie's first publication, and Eastern Iowa Review is glad to have provided her this forum.