“Boy, your phone was sure blowing up last night,” The Boy says sleepily. I nod. I don’t know what to say.

The truth is, I am watching a woman I don’t know die in the spaces between text messages.

I have two close friends, call them A and J. The three of us have a text conversation that’s been going for several years and many phones now. To tell the truth, I feel a little lost when I replace my cell and that string of messages isn’t there to thumb back through, remembering laughter. From pictures of assholes manspreading on the El to wedding planning, sick dogs and cats, and the birth of J’s niece, that darn conversation just keeps going on, marking the little things that we’d share with each other over lunches if we lived closer together.

And then J’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. Not the “good kind” of cancer, either. Not that there is a good kind. For a while, the messages flying back and forth were just news. MRI. Operation. Treatment. Good MRI. Clear MRI. Good progress. She’s a fighter.

June 2014:
Fuck cancer. – what’s it doing now? – It progressed.

Just that. Just “progressed.” That’s the way of texts. Short phrases standing in for longer ones. “It progressed.” It’s back. It’s getting bigger. It’s going to kill her.

It progressed.

The messages still go on.

I just hope she will be here long enough for [my niece] to remember her.

Mom: MRI was excellent. Need anything from Costco?

J’s mom is a fierce woman. She loves hard, works hard, plays hard. I can see the echoes of the mother she is in the child she raised- uncompromising, proud. And neither one of them can do a damn thing about this monster that’s devouring her, between the lines.

The MRI is next week.

I’m worried about my dad.

Fuck you, banana. Fuck you for not being pretzels.

She gave me my grandmother’s wedding ring.

She’s right a good 95% of the time. It’s infuriating.

The niece is getting bigger. Men still don’t know how to sit with their legs together on a goddamn train.

My mom is declining.

I envisioned … Sundays on porch drinking beer when she would be 80 and I would be 50ish. And that won’t happen.

I think my mom would love a beer.

We’ve changed jobs, gotten new haircuts.

My dad is going to have a hard time.

She’s my mom. I want her forever.

I wish it was fiction. A totally fictitious disease that some demented writer came up with.

I have no context of cancer other than terminal cancer.

There are only bad options. The difference is that one might keep her here longer.

A got married. J and I were bridesmaids.
We passed a flask of cake-flavored vodka back and forth.

There is no cure. This just gives us time.

Today she did say “I’ll punch the next doctor who says I’ll look into it”

Dad: you need to eat a little more real food.
Mom: ice cream counts as protein

Fuck Susan Komen’s charity. Cancer is not a fluffy pink bunny.

I don’t know how to mourn her, this woman I’ve never met, who’s dying in front of me. And I don’t want to know how. More than anything else, I don’t want to be fumbling to explain how you can learn to love someone enough to lose your breath in the anticipation of grief, when you’ve never heard her voice and you’ve only seen her face in the space between the lines.

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