Brooklyn skyline with subway train

She said she had something to tell me but that she was afraid. I reached for her trembling hand, telling her sweetly, naïvely, that it would be okay, whatever it was, that we would be okay. She said she’d had leukemia and had thought it was in remission, but it was back. A bone marrow transplant was the only option if she was to be cured. Both of her parents were dead. And here we were, new lovers, and she was facing death again, alone. Except, now, she had me, and though I had planned to give my heart to her piece by piece, I would instead open myself as wide as I could. It was simple; I had already decided to love her. I squeezed her hands and told her, “We will get through it.”

Ten days later, she entered the hospital to begin months of chemotherapy, radiation, and high doses of steroids. My feelings for her grew as her hair fell out on my pillow. I was utterly smitten and she was a doting partner, even as the treatments twisted her body into that of a stranger. She brought me homemade granola, took me to her favorite restaurants, some nestled so deep in Brooklyn that I wondered if she was the only outsider in the world who had found them. She sent me love letters, even as the prednisone she was taking sent her into fits of rage. Bit by bit, my naïveté about her illness was replaced by my will to master what we were up against. I memorized the 20-plus pills she had to take every day. I accompanied her to her appointments with the transplant team. We made out in the consulting room, stopping when the knock on the door signaled a physician’s entrance.

Despite ongoing issues over the more than four years posttransplant, we kept on. We got a first, second, and third apartment together, finally landing in an elevator building when she became a wheelchair user. She made it through multiple major issues, including a colon resection when a tumor was found, ongoing GVHD, cardiac events, and psychotic episodes from the effects of all that prednisone.

And though our relationship had hallmarks typical of a romance — getting an apartment together, making sweets for the holidays, and eating our way through New York — over the years it became increasingly punctuated by harrowing visits to the ER, IV drips, falls, incapacitating pain, and endless piles of pills. Without knowing it and without really ever having consented, I was demoted over time from lover to life-support system.

Read more in the LA Review of Books.

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