My friend B called me last night. One of his typical late-night phone calls. He knows me well. B is a palliative care physician in New York who came into my life several years ago after I was introduced to him by a friend who had read a book he’d written on end-of-life care. Our friendship began as a simple email correspondence and flourished over time into great philosophical debates about euthanasia, suicide, living and dying well, and, of course, the Red Sox. In some attempt to inspire me back to life, B suggested several months ago that we collaborate on an article for Atlantic Monthly on “dying hard in America.” I agreed, partly because I was interested in the project and partly because it did, in fact, give me something to hold on tight to. We struggled with the format in the beginning. He wanted me to write straight prose about living and dying with AIDS. But who wants to listen to a woman with AIDS bitch and moan about life and death, I argued, if it isn’t tempered with the wit and wisdom of a God-fearing, Springsteen-loving, Sox-bashing, Jewish (mother-of-a) doctor who, for reasons that defy logic, became her friend.
Thus began our journey. We decided that our email correspondence would serve as the bulk of the thing and we’d worry about editing it later. There are no truer words than those written by the pair of us at obscene hours of the night when life and death and all that weighs heavily upon our shoulders leaves us to the mercy of the Words. It has become our opus. Only, I can’t write anymore, and B called to find out why.
My silence always scares him, he says. He fears it’ll become too much of a burden and I will lose the battle to the Silence. I told him I wanted to stop writing the article. I couldn’t tell him why. It’s all just become too much. The raw emotion of the words I was trying to share left me far more vulnerable than I was comfortable with.
He let me get away with that for now, but vows to re-engage me soon. He asked a final question before he lightened the mood with baseball banter: Was I thinking of going to the cabin? I assured him I wasn’t. We made a deal and I gave my word that I’d tell him if it ever came to that. We have to trust each other.