Her Hospital Buddy Sounded Weaker Than Usual.
I was in a lot of pain and ended up going to the ER. While I was there, I saw “Charleston Chew”. He was my chemo buddy, as we were close in age and had pretty similar schedules. In his very crude and sarcastic way, he softly yelled “Hello my delicious Korean BBQ”, his nickname for me. I smiled, as he tried to chuck an ice chip at me. I could tell something was wrong because he looked and sounded weaker than usual. I asked the nurse why he was there and she couldn’t disclose anything but said in short, things weren’t looking good. After I got looked at and discharged, I went over to him. I asked him what was up and he told me that he went to spend Christmas with his family and he wasn’t feeling well but wanted to give them that. He flew back and straight to the ER. He looked at me and asked if I’d stay with him but to go if I had plans cause “a girl who looks as hot as you with cancer, should have plans and be getting laid”. Our humor is (was) similar. I stayed and I told him about my holidays and he struggled to tell me about his… I think I knew what was happening because it took everything in me to not start breaking down and cry in front of him.
He told me about the first time we met. I had already been a regular and he was a fish out of water. He had Stage 4 lung cancer and was given 6-12 months to live. He didn’t understand why he was doing chemo, as he felt his quality of life was going to be shittier. But he saw a “delicious Korean BBQ” girl with a sassy attitude who he could make friends with and it made going back, a little easier every day. I didn’t know that… We are (were) both in our 30’s and talked about our life being on hold, while everyone else was busy getting married, popping babies, buying houses — as we impeded doom, death, and debt. Haha. The reason I called him Charleston Chew at the beginning was because he had an affinity for that damn candy. When he couldn’t eat anything else, you could count on him sucking on those damn things at any hour. I’m pretty sure that was his only nutrition for the past 8 months. One time he smiled and it was just melted chocolate and nougat, I nearly peed myself from laughter. When things got hard, we leaned on each other. When we got fed up with this whole process, we understood it. We could confide in one another. When we got stupid depressed and suicidal, we could go to one another without judgement. We also binge watched all of The Wire, Gilmore Girls, and Marvelous Mrs Maisel together. (Gilmore Girls was his pick) We became real friends. His support system was flying in from out of town and there would be times when he was alone, so I’d FaceTime him. He would try and convince me he had friends but I knew he had a hard time asking for help—- as I knew that feeling all too well. He’d joke that if he wasn’t dying, that some would consider what we were doing as “dating”. Haha.
The doctors were able to find him a bed upstairs to make him more comfortable. He asked me if it was selfish to not give his family the “last moments” as he could have stayed home with them and I honestly didn’t know what to say. They were called and on their way. And everyone knew there was a good chance he’d be gone by the time they arrived. He told me he didn’t want to be by himself and for the first time, I think I really saw him. He asked me to stay and to not let him die alone. He said he was scared and that’s when I lost it and was in tears.
I knew he was being honest in asking me to stay. So I did. I held his hand and told him about all the plans I had for 2020, after I get the all-okay from my doctors. All the traveling I want to do, the places I want to see, the food I want to eat, and air I want to feel. And he said “You deserve it. Where ever you go, take me with you.” At some point he kind of stopped responding. The machines didn’t make a huge fuss but the nurses came over and I knew. Luckily the staff didn’t kick me out because I wasn’t family, they allowed me to sit with him till his family got there. I didn’t know I’d be so emotional… this person, someone that was a stranger less than a year ago, had become a dear friend because we connected over this sick disease and I just watched him die. His death wasn’t about me but I couldn’t help but think “cancer you b*tch, you could take me too….” and I was both heartbroken and grateful for his death and my life.
As his family arrived, I gave them their space. His mom knew who I was and just gave me a big hug. She said “All he did was talk about how his new friend, he made his last few months, were some of the greatest months. And more importantly, thank you not letting him go alone. For staying by his side. Thank you for giving that gift to my son.” I had no idea I had any impact on one’s life like that… his whole family kept thanking me for staying with him till the end.
I literally went to the ER because I was in pain but call it fate, destiny, kismet, the stars aligning or whatever… but I was meant to be there for more and something bigger than myself. To show up for my friend Charleston Chew.
May you RIP dear friend. Thanks for everything. Rest easy.