Wendy Thornton is a writer in Gainesville, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida, she has published fiction, poetry and
memoir in such journals as The Literary Review, The MacGuffin, Riverteeth, Main Street Rag and many others. She was nominated for a
Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the Glimmer Train and Boston Review short fiction prizes. She is the President of the Writers
Alliance of Gainesville. She is currently marketing her completed memoir on music and a novel about identical twins.
Bereft but With Options
You have learned from Dr. Barber, the world famous psychoneuroimmunologist, that you should not say not. The human mind
does not process not. Your mind only processes positive statements. So how do you put a positive spin on reading the
obituaries? You’re not reading the obituaries to sympathize with the living and emphasize with the dead. You’re not doing it to
see how many people your age are dying — a lot, there are a lot! You are making comparisons. You are seeing whether you
beat the deceased in accomplishments. Do they list more children, siblings, lovers, parents, awards and rewards than you would
have in your obituary? How do you say, do not read the fucking obituaries anymore, if you cannot say not?
You start avoiding your young therapist. He looks 17, like someone you would have dated in the early seventies. You call him
The Boy Wonder because he has so many scholarships and research grants on his resume. Although you tell him you can’t talk
anymore, he keeps calling. “Tell me what’s bothering you.” He is very persuasive. “It’s important that we have closure.” He wears
dashikis and Birkenstocks and ties his hair in a ponytail at his neck. You call him a neo-hippy.
“Closure will kill me,” you answer. “I am so very bored with me.” You stop taking his calls.
You went to see him last year because you wanted him to hypnotize you into weight loss. When he found out about your
cancer, he convinced you to talk about the illness instead of your weight gain. He has decided to rewrite his dissertation —
“Ancilliary anxiety and metastic fears in single-onset colon cancer survivors,” or some such nonsense. You have talked to him
about how far away God is, but God has come no closer since you began your sessions.
In fact, your priest was recently fired, so now you just plain feel like Jesus has left the building. You didn’t even know priests
could be fired. You are furious at the man, who had a wife, two children and an affair. If only he knew how hard it was for you to
enter into the Episcopal Church, how badly you needed that ceremony, that peace which passes all understanding. And what
does he do? Have an affair, get fired by the Bishop.
You’re mad at the Bishop, too. Couldn’t he just have said your priest had to resign for personal reasons? Did he have to send a
letter to the entire congregation saying this sinner had an affair? For God’s sake, the man had teenage sons. You are
incapacitated with grief at the thought of what the priest’s sin has done to his sons. Wives can handle the indignity, but children
should be immune from public shame. What was the Bishop thinking?
Then you go on vacation and lose the cross your mother gave you. It belonged to your great aunt, Mattie Louise, who died of
cancer when she was six years old. Your mother said you were the replacement child for Mattie Louise, that your grandmother
went to visit her grave every day until the day you were born. Your mother did not give you the cross until you were diagnosed
with cancer. She does not believe in God. And now God has left your neck as well as your heart.
You also lost your yellow plastic Lance Armstrong band. It fell off your wrist somewhere in South Dakota. You are sick of Lance
Armstrong. Every oncologist’s office you’ve been in for the past two years has had smiling pictures of Lance: Lance celebrating
his Tour de France wins, Lance straddling his bike proudly, Lance holding his hands over his head in the universal sign of victory.
And yet, when you realize that your Livestrong band has fallen by the wayside somewhere in the west, you are as bereft as
And of course, you are fired. This does not come as a surprise. Since your diagnosis, you have been damn difficult. You resent
fools, have no time for idiots. You have made your condition, or should we say your position, all too clear. You are the
rattlesnake of freedom: “don’t tread on me.” For some reason, no one wants to work with a snake.
So here you are, adrift in the world. No neuro assistance, no psychic resistance, no religious help, no corporate ally. What to
do? You could go to bed, but people expect you to function. Your husband expects you to go out with him, to bars, to movies,
to restaurants. To make up for all that lost time. To cheer you up. Your children expect you to call. Your mother expects you to
write. Your friends expect you to e-mail. You must continue to function. You cannot not be. You must not. Because you still are.
You repeat the mantra Dr. Barbar taught you on her videotape: I am blessed. I have so many things to be thankful for. Every
day is a good day. Gradually, your breathing returns to normal. Your neck no longer feels as if it were floating in the air separate
from your body. Your wrist no longer feels bare. You take your severance pay and copy your resume. You pick up the telephone
in the middle of the Boy Wonder’s message. “It’s like mental masturbation,” you protest, before he can talk about closure again.
“And what’s wrong with that?” he asks.
“I’m just not used to it.”
“Tuesday at six?”
“I’ll be there.” You hang up the phone with your bare wrist. You think perhaps a nice copper bracelet would be a good