October 15, 2017
Kansas City, MO
He ate, and that was good. Wedged into the corner of the booth, I pulled my three-year-old in close next to me. She was uncomfortable because just recently, he’s started staring. He never looks away, so I asked him a question, something about his food. I told him a joke, and he laughed.
Making him laugh is the best part of our time together.
I’ve recently begun to feel a lot of feelings of superiority about chain restaurants, like this Noodles & Co. I can be obnoxious about it, feeling the need to point out the generic menu items or the missed chance to support locally-owned businesses. Now I brushed that away, I just wanted to be with my family. I felt at ease with the plastic chairs, the green, vinyl booth cushions, and disposable cups; the casual atmosphere provided the slightest relief from the pressure on my chest, which has become so familiar over the last three years, it is no longer noteworthy.
We were all there, except my other brother, and my husband. I wished we were all together. Michael moved on from staring at my daughter to staring at a family one table over. I tried to distract him—not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m worried. Six months ago, my brother was the type of person whom you could imagine getting in an argument in a public place. He’s not that person anymore, but the tattoos and leather and facial hair are all still a part of him. I wondered how I’d respond if the dad at this other table were suddenly to become aware of his staring. Would we leave? Would we explain why?
“Michael, you still have more noodles,” I tapped his bowl with my chopsticks and smiled.
We put him in my van, in the passenger seat, and my daughters climbed into the back seat with my niece. My mom and my son sat in the captain’s chairs. His wife went home; she needed a break.
The kids all played at the park. My son Nolan is delightful. He was round and flushed and recently started walking, and my brother was delighted in him. I thought about how strange this change is, how the tumor slowly taking his life has freed up parts of him he once kept so guarded.
Nolan fell. Michael laughed until he cried.
We were all sticky and sweaty when we left the park. The kids were covered in dirt. It’s a gross park, really. Trash was collecting under one of the slides. Dust always settles on the plastic tiles under the climbing ropes. I rolled down all the windows in the minivan, opened every door. I climbed around inside, securing the kids, who’d been kept out too late, into the car seats. I took wet wipes to their faces and hands. They hated that, they pulled their faces away. My oldest didn’t want to leave, she began crying. My three-year-old was talking to herself. Nolan wanted to nurse. I’m too hot, I gave him a sippy cup, asked him to wait.
Michael found the push locks in my van. He was straight up giggling, pressing the button over and over again. I wanted to join him. I wanted to throw my head back and laugh about the ridiculousness of it all while we locked and unlocked the van doors over and over again.
His daughter was embarrassed and asked him to stop. I didn’t laugh. My mom handed my brother his drink, moving his hand from the lock and wrapping it around the water bottle.
I drove them home. Every minute I was racking my brain, searching for something to say that would make Michael laugh. I recalled something one of my kids did that week. I fabricated a few details for comedic effect. In bed that night I wept, and my husband was silent. This is what we do, we’ve already said everything there is to say about cancer. I felt jealous, which is too hard to explain out loud, anyway. I know I’m running out of time to make Michael laugh and we have only, just now, relearned to love each other in this way.