Leukemia: A Love Story


October 2010
“Should we walk through the creek to that spot over there?”
“Doesn’t that water look . . .”
I was already sitting on the bank on a cushion of gold leaves, taking off my shoes, and rolling up my pants. It was one of those moments when my adult self feels like it has walked into a book I wanted to read when I was a kid. Above me was Minnesota October pure blue sky dappled with sun-bright yellow bobbing and sighing at the ends of nut brown branches.
When I stood up, Liddy was already standing in the water, backpack slung over her shoulder, socks and shoes in her hands.
“Wow, I like her,” I thought. “A lot. I would go anywhere with her.”
November 2010
I had a sinus infection accompanied by terrible headaches. “I almost never get sick,” I said. I went to the doctor for an antibiotic. It seemed to help.
August 2010
The National Poetry Slam was hosted in Saint Paul and Liddy invited me to join her. We became slam poetry groupies, and smitten. Neither of us was ready to admit it. We didn’t admit it when we went three nights in a row. We didn’t admit it when we sat on a patio talking until 2am on a work night. We didn’t admit it the next night when we sat in one of our cars until four. We didn’t admit it when a friend caught me smiling at a text or when Liddy’s mom asked her why someone was texting her so much. Liddy said ‘love’ first. Love took me longer. At least three days . . . maybe four.
December 2010
I got a second round of antibiotics and left for Chicago to facilitate a sex-ed facilitator training and youth weekend. We talked every night for hours. I drove back in that huge snowstorm that closed down 94. I had to pull off the road a few times feeling dizzy thinking it was the white out. At some point I received a text from Liddy, “I’m ready to hear from you now.” She was sure I was okay. She just wanted to check-in.
October 2010
I co-led our 11th grade Mount Zion Confirmation trip to Jewish New York. Waiting for the kids to change for dinner after a day of Ellis Island, the Tenement Museum, Eldridge Street Synagogue, and more, I sat on the fire escape just to hear her voice. Later that night I noticed a bruise on my hip where I carried my bag. I didn’t think much of it, but the next day I did tell one of my co-leaders that it seemed strange that I had such a big bruise from something so ordinary.
June 2010
I wanted to talk with people who had been really intentional about how they created families, so I called some people I knew about getting together to talk. Liddy and I went for a walk. We talked about family, and we talked about me feeling ready to start the process of adopting or something. I was in my mid-thirties. I’d had two serious relationships with wonderful men, but they had not stuck. I had career aspirations, but more than anything I wanted to mother my own children. Our conversation wandered, and from talking about family we talked about books and travel and poetry and Judaism and ideas and music and teaching. I called a close friend soon after. “I think I have a crush.”
December 2010
[text] They are admitting me to the hospital. I’m scared.
[text] I’m coming.
March 2011
The nurses helped. They brought in some chairs and a table. They found me an extra white sheet to use as a table cloth. They helped me get showered and changed. Friends helped. They brought a home cooked meal. One of the aides put a sign on my door to give us an hour uninterrupted. Date night in the hospital.
December 2010
I don’t actually remember exactly what was in those texts.
I remember waking up to bleeding gums the morning of my doctor’s appointment to figure out how to get rid of my sinus infection. I remember the nurse taking me directly to a room and bringing the blood test equipment to me. I remember my doctor coming in and telling me they were getting a room ready for me on the oncology floor at Southdale. “Oncology? But I have a sinus infection.” I remember asking the nurse to go get the friend who drove me and ask her to come back to my room. I remember texting Liddy and telling her I was on my way to the hospital. I remember being scared. I remember thinking I would completely understand that this is not what she had signed on for. I remember thinking that actually, she hadn’t really signed on for anything yet. We were still getting to know each other. We were still finding out if this was what it felt like it was. I remember thinking I would understand if she bailed. I remember her responding that she was coming. And I remember her wrapping her arms around me when she got there and telling me to “stick around.” She didn’t tell me it would be okay. She told me she’d be right there with me, whatever it was.
December 31, 2010
It was quiet on the floor and cozy in Room 825. Snuggled up in my hospital bed with Katharine and Spencer, Liddy and I rang in the New Year dozing to Desk Set.
October 2010
The parsha was Noah. Once across the creek, we sat – me, Liddy, and my dog, Ro’i – in the sunshine with our Mishkan T’fillah. I’m not kidding. I have never had a more intimate date. There I was in the woods, davening and reading Torah with this woman who liked creek walking. I wasn’t ready to say so, but my Jewish self was geeking out and totally in love. I didn’t fall; I jumped.
January 2011
“You can go home for a few weeks until the next round of chemo,” announced the doctor. But I couldn’t go home alone – too dangerous. And I couldn’t live with anyone with small children – too many germs. And I couldn’t . . .
“You can come home with me,” she said.
Relationship on hyper-drive.
November 2010
“Where do you think this is going?”
“No idea, but I like it. Where do you think this is going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Anyway, we don’t have to make any decisions for months. Lots of things in my life will change in June, so let’s just keep doing what we’re doing until then. No reason to rush.”
October 2011
“We have a ridiculous number of anniversaries in our life. June . . .August . . . October . . . January.”
“That’s true. What do you count as our anniversary – anniversary?”
“Well, kind of nowish. Parshat Noah. I know I have a strange sense of time since there was technically stuff before that, but it works for me, and I like that it’s a moving target. It seems appropriate that our anniversary be a moving target.”
Liddy laughed and nodded.
June 2013
I like that Noah and his family just kept doing their thing in that ark no matter how much it rained. They couldn’t control the weather. They just moved life into the ark. Leukemia was the storm brewing around me and Liddy, but inside our ark we composed a love story anyway. Don’t get me wrong, there are no silver linings in cancer, but life . . . life can be golden. It’s been three years since we started talking. I am cancer-free, there has been a lot of rain, and here we are, just doing our thing. I would still go anywhere with her.