September 11, 2017: Two Versions of the Day

By 8 a.m. Chicago time on September 11, 2017, Matt was at a breakfast meeting, G and H were off to school, and I began the difficult work of telling myself that the events of yesterday—the headache and incoherent texting—were the result of blips.

I heard from Matt and his dad after the breakfast meeting. Matt’s dad told me that Matt struggled through the meeting, confusing topics and using silverware improperly. Matt told me that his dad was overreacting and the breakfast (whatever it was) called for that particular improper silverware use. (My memory here is too fuzzy to recall more than that vague description.)

After the meeting, Matt went to day three of the trade show. As far as I remember and based on evidence from the text messages Matt and I exchanged, Matt did great at the show. He took a few breaks—and his texts to me weren’t without error—, but he didn’t feel that crushing need to leave as he had the day before.

We talked about whether he should come home early, but he felt as though he could finish out the trade show as long as he took breaks and stayed hydrated. I supported the idea. If Matt thought he could finish the show, I believed him. I’d seen him pull off greater feats before. We’d made miracles in the past. And also, I was too afraid to face what it would mean if Matt was forced home early by the brain tumor. What would it mean to his recovery if he was getting worse after Gamma Knife, rather than better? I didn’t want to ask that question. I didn’t want to see the truth in front of me—the trouble texting, the head and neck pain, the confusion and increasing number of processing issues.

When I sat to write today’s post, I found I didn’t know what to say. The story of September 11 presents three unique challenges. First, and most obviously, Matt was in Chicago and I was in New Jersey. The story I can tell is necessarily not an eye witness account, and only hearsay. Second, as far as I can remember, two versions exist of the story of one year ago today, Matt’s and his father’s. In Matt’s version, everything was fine and his dad was overprotective and overreactive (traits Matt never failed to acknowledge came from a place of deep love, and he was always grateful for that love and concern). In Matt’s dad’s version, Matt’s mental state was concerning. More than concerning. Alarming.

The third challenge in today’s post is arguably the reason this post took longer to write than some others. The story of today is hard to tell because every time I started to write about the events of September 11, 2017, I was drawn to the events of September 12th and 13th and 14th. Days that I’ve written a thousand times in my mind since I started this blog. Days that feel like a lifetime ago and like yesterday all at once. Days that I look back on and know I can’t soften.

The longer I thought about it the more I realized that the story of today is the story of the last day Matt’s Glioblastoma followed any kind of traditional brain tumor path. After today, I couldn’t find a story similar to ours. Even the doctors often found themselves guessing.

As I sat with a half-written post, trying to think of the story of the day, I realized, the story of the day is not mine or Matt’s. The story of today is one of bravery and it belongs to Matt’s dad, who had the courage to believe the truth in front of him, even when (I’m sure) his heart didn’t want to see the facts. During our year of hope and in this Post Hope year, I’ve learned that it takes an unspeakable amount of courage to stare directly at a terrifying truth when every piece of your heart is telling you to hide.

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