I regain consciousness in what I figure is a hospital bed, but I am too sedated to open my eyes. I can hear Dili’s prayers as he sits beside my bed, and the doctors and nurses as they hover around intermittently. I am aware when one of the doctors informs Dili that their tests have shown I am undergoing chemotherapy, and I hear Dili’s anguished cry as he repeats the dreaded word.
“Cancer?!” he exclaims, his voice heavy with pain.
“She’s had a few cycles of chemotherapy, from what we see.” the doctor answers. “We’re checking all the Oncology Clinics around to see if we can find where she’s being treated.”
I am aware as Dili returns to my side, this time tearful. I am aware as he holds my hand, drenching it with his tears. I am aware when they finally identify my clinic and when Dr. Chambers walks into my room. I am aware of all of it. But my eyes remain closed, even when the sedatives have worn off.
I am aware as Dili engages Dr. Chambers in conversation, asking him questions about my treatment.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t discuss a patient’s confidential treatment with you.” Dr. Chambers answers him warily.
“I’m her husband.” is Dili’s response. “I had no idea she was all the way across the country, let alone fighting…” his voice breaks, and I know he is probably crying again. “Let alone fighting cancer.”
“Her husband?!” Dr. Chambers exclaims, clearly surprised. “She had a husband and she’s been going through all this by herself? I actually came so I could make arrangements to move her straight to a hospice from here. She needs care and can’t be going through this kind of treatment on her own.”
“Well, there’s no need to move her to any hospice.” Dili answers, his voice firm. “I’m here now…and I’ll take care of her.”
At this point, I am actually tempted to open my eyes. Dili wants to take care of me? Dili wants to leave his life in New York to take care of me all the way in Washington State?
Later that evening, I do open my eyes. He sits up the moment he notices and grabs my hand again. “Ezi. Thank God you’re awake!”
“I heard you telling my doctor you’ll take care of me.” I struggle to say, even though my mouth feels parched and my throat aches. “You didn’t have to lie to him.”
“I didn’t lie to him, Ezi.” he answers, leaning closer to me. “I’m your husband and I’m not leaving your side.”
“What about your life in New York? You’re going to just leave your job and everything else just to baby sit me here?” I ask incredulously.
“None of those things matter, Ezioma.” he says firmly. “You are more important than anything!”
And that is when I recognize it for what it is. Guilt. It isn’t love that has moved Dili to give up everything to take care of me. It is guilt over the way he treated me. I am wise enough to see that Dili’s sacrifice is merely his way of repaying me for what he believes I did for him.
But rather than confront him about it, I merely close my eyes again. If he feels the need to put himself through this kind of penance, let him. I won’t be hanging around too long anyway.
The next day, I am discharged from the hospital and Dr. Chambers’ clinic sends Dili a long laundry list of instructions for my care. I am wheeled from the hospital straight to a waiting taxi, and when we get to my house, Dili insists on carrying me in his arms out of the car. I make no argument and instead nestle my head in his chest, enjoying every moment of the pampering. He carries me like a baby to my bedroom, and settles me into bed like a delicate cargo.
As I drift in and out of sleep, I hear him take what is probably his first shower since he arrived Friday Harbor, and from the slightest of opening of my eyes, I see him take position on the sofa in my bedroom.
“I have a spare room.” I can’t help but mutter. “You don’t have to inconvenience myself by sleeping on the couch.”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight, Ezioma.” he answers. “Not again. Look what happened the last time I did. I shouldn’t have let you go so easily after seeing you in Chicago.”
“Oh, you think I wouldn’t have gotten cancer if you hadn’t ‘let me go’?!” I ask sarcastically.
“At least I would have been there with you from the beginning.” he answers.
He kills the lights, and we lie silently in the dark for a while.
“Why did you come all the way here without telling anyone?” he asks, breaking the silence. “Do Ebere and Enyinna know?”
“No, they don’t know. And I want it to stay that way.” I answer tersely. “And as for why I came here…I want to die in the place I love the most in the world.”
“Don’t you dare talk like that, Ezi.” he says, sitting up. “I spoke at length with your Oncologist, and he seems confident that your treatment will be successful.”
I smile to myself in the darkness. Of course he would. Uchechi’s doctors also sang us the same tune; how she was responding so well to treatment and how they were confident she would pull through.
But she’d died. Just the same way I too am going to die. I decide to save my energy and not argue with Dili on the subject matter. If he chooses to delude himself, let him.
“I think you should call your siblings at the very least. They don’t deserve to be in the dark.” he says, after a few more moments of silence.
“You are in no position to tell me that!” I snap. “You weren’t there when I had to piece them back together after we lost, not only Mom, but Uchechi as well. Hearing about me will break them! I know how many years it took for us to get Enyinna’s alcohol problem under control. This is the very last thing either of them needs!”
I know he doesn’t agree with me, but thankfully he says nothing more on the topic.
“And I’ve decided to discontinue my treatment.” I say. “The chemotherapy is killing me…and I can no longer put my body through it. Let me just die in peace.”
“But you’re already halfway through your chemo!” Dili exclaims. “Your doctor says you have only three sessions more to go!”
“And what about the radiotherapy that comes after that?!” I snap. “And the mastectomy? Did he tell you that I’m going to lose both my breasts? Did he?”
That is when Dili rises from the couch and comes to lie beside me on the bed. As he pulls me closer to himself, I have no strength to fight him. I am comforted by the familiar feel of his presence. My eyes close as I savour him once again. My Okwudili. The very love of my life.
“We’ll get through this, Ezi.” he says. “No matter how long and difficult the journey ahead may be, we’ll get through it together. I’m not going anywhere.”
And he actually makes good on his promise.
In the days leading to my next chemo session, Dili treats me like a queen. He awakens me to breakfast in bed, sees to it that I take my medication, carries me to the bathroom where he bathes me himself, and carries me back to bed where he brings me the rest of my meals. During the course of the day, he sometimes carries me to the porch, where we watch the sailboats and occasionally have our meals. Other times, he makes me watch mundane, light-hearted programs on Netflix.
“When did you start watching foolish programs like this, Okwudili?!” I tease him, as we binge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Are you sure you don’t have gay tendencies, you this boy?!”
And I am happy for this addiction, as the lighthearted show makes me forget my own problems…if only for a little while.
On another occasion, as we are sitting on the front porch, I am moved to ask him about his job. “Did you quit it to be here with me?”
“I’d already quit it before coming here.” he answers. “I got a great offer from Bain & Co.”
I raise my brow. “How great?”
“Treble my former salary great.” he answers. “I’ve called to let them know I have a personal emergency to take care of. They’ve promised that if the job is still open when we return to New York, it’s still mine.”
“But what if it’s not?”
He shrugs. “Then another one will come. That’s secondary. You are my primary concern.”
“What about your folks back home?” I ask. “Don’t you send money to your Mom monthly?”
He smiles. “I have enough in reserve to continue doing that, Ezi. I wasn’t spending everything I was earning. Don’t forget the lecture you gave me about saving my money. I reckon it’s why you’ve been able to sequester yourself here in Washington, without a job. Decent savings.”
I can’t help the smile that forms on my lips. “I’m glad I taught you well.”
“When we get back to New York, you’re going to move into my house with me.” he says, as we lie in bed on another occasion. “I bought this nice terrace house in Brooklyn. It’s much bigger and more appropriate for us to raise a family.”
I tense upon hearing this…for a number of reasons. I am tempted to ask if he bought that house with Onyeka in mind, but now that she has left him, he wants me to settle for sloppy seconds. But even more so, I am tempted to ask him why he is so confident that he will not return to New York with my ashes in an urn. But instead, I remain silent, and listen to all his daydreams about what we will do when we are back in New York, and how he’ll make sure I don’t miss Manhattan at all.
All too soon, the day of my next chemo session arrives. I reluctantly agree to go and Dili ensures I wear comfortable, loose clothing. He also applies a numbing cream to the area of my port, and packs a bag full of popsicles and minty sweets.
“I read that it’s good to keep your mouth cool, to prevent mouth sores. And the mints are to get rid of the aftertaste of the meds.” he explains.
I can’t help but smile. “Someone has been doing their research.”
“I just want to try to make this less unpleasant for you.” he answers.
It is a quiet ride to the clinic, and as we walk inside, I am enveloped with the dread that is now familiar to me anytime I am there. Because I know that I will not leave in the same condition I have entered.
Penny is pleased to see me with company this time, and the smile on her face when Dili introduces himself as my husband almost splits her face in half. But as we get down to business, my hands quiver as she hooks me up to the line through which the meds will pass, knowing fully well the devastating effect they will have on me afterwards.
“So…what do you want to listen to? I read that listening to music during chemo helps, and knowing you, I’m sure you come with a full playlist every time.” Dili teases.
“She refuses to!” Penny remarks. “She just listens to whatever garbage that’s already playing.”
Dili looks momentarily surprised, before he pulls out his phone and small speakers. Obviously he came prepared.
“Okay, I’m your personal DJ today.” he says, obviously trying to make light of things. “Just name the song, and it’s yours.”
I shut my eyes, unwilling to be drawn into the foolery of pretending my chemo session is some sort of fun activity…and not the incredibly unpleasant experience it is. “I don’t want to listen to anything, Okwudili.”
“Just name a year. Any year. And I’ll pull up something you like.” he persists.
I peer at him from my half-closed eyes. “1989.”
He scrolls through his phone, and I can’t help the smile on my face when De La Soul’s Me, Myself and I starts playing. I have a very vivid picture in my head of a 12 year old Okwudili rapping along to the song at his birthday party.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, tell me, mirror, what is wrong? Can it be my de la clothes or is it just my de la song? What I do ain’t make-believe. People say I sit and try. But when it comes to being de la, it’s just me myself and I!” he raps along, and I can’t help but giggle along. From the side of my eye, I can see Penny beaming like a proud Mom.
“What next?” Dili asks. “Name another year.”
“1998!” I answer, wanting to push the envelope further, considering we weren’t in each other’s lives at this point.
“Easy!” he says, as Busta Rhymes Dangerous comes on.
I squeal in delight, remembering some of the fun times myself and the other Nigerian undergrads had with this song at some of our parties.
“Even if you were living in Timbuktu, I don’t think there’s any Nigerian on the planet who didn’t rock this song then!” Dili beams.
As I bob my head to the music, I realize that I am actually less aware of the fluids being passed into my body. The next few hours roll by the same way, with Dili serenading me to Patra’s version of Pull Up To The Bumper from 1995, D’Banj’s Oliver Twist from 2012, Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody from 1983, Drake’s Hold On We’re Going Home from 2013, and Beyonce’s entire Lemonade album from 2016. For the first time since I started treatment, the session goes by rocket fast and soon it is over. Yes, there are times it feels uncomfortable, but it is nothing as bad as what I experienced the last two times.
I leave the clinic in high spirits, and Dili and I still banter about music all through the ride home. But almost as soon as we get home, the nausea shows that it is no respecter of a little bit of musical relief. Without any warning, I heave and throw up violently the very minute he lays me on the bed. I throw up not only all over myself and my sheets but his body as well. Without even flinching, he lifts me and carries me to the bathroom to clean me up. He is midway through it when the diarrhoea starts. I don’t know if it is the intensity of both the vomiting and diarrhea, or just the shame of it all, but I soon find myself barely conscious. All I do know is that the vomiting and diarrhoea do not abate until later the following day, and that Dili not only cleans me up each time but ensures that I stay hydrated. And when the nausea gives way to the worst and most painful pains in my fingers and toes, he sometimes spends all night massaging them, wiping my tears as I cry from the intense pain.
Dili is truly everything I could have ever hoped for and more, and there are a few times I am tempted to hope against hope that this is all for real. That he is here with me because he loves me. But all it takes is for me to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror to realize I am only fooling myself. I am now about 90 lbs, and look like one of those pictures of malnourished children from war torn countries. My bald head sits atop my skinny frame like a drum balanced on a stick, and I know that attraction is the last thing he must feel towards me.
No…what he feels is pity…nothing but pity.
But at this stage of my life, I am ready to take it that way. I know that if I’d been alone for this 4th chemo session, I probably would not have survived the aftermath.
Ironic, because I know I won’t survive the experience, period. Dili or no Dili.
After a while, I start to feel better and we have a few uneventful days before it is time for my next chemo cycle. Instead of playing music, Dili surprises me by having us watch one of the favourite movies from our childhood, The Last Dragon.
“It was my favourite movie, especially as I looked so much like Leroy!” he says, with a wiggle of his brow.
“You wish!” I giggle, thinking how much better than the lead actor he still looks.
As we watch it, we recite some of the movie’s iconic lines, bringing back so many wonderful memories.
“Who’s the Master?!” “Sho’Nuff!” “Kiss my converse!” “I AM the Shogun of Harlem!” “Don’t hurt that face, baby! Don’t hurt that face!”
By the end of the movie, we are laughing so hard and I don’t even notice when my session finally ends. Upon getting home, this time we are both prepared for the usual aftermath, and he tackles my vomiting and diarrhea like a champ, making sure I have bowls and bed pans handy.
About a week later, when the aftermath has subsided, as we lie in bed I am surprised when he says to me. “I read all your old articles in the Manhattan Buzz. Everyone of them…from your very first to…to the ones when we were still together.”
I am not sure how I feel about that. “I hope you weren’t too scandalized by all the salacious stuff!” I say, trying to make light of it.
“Not at all. As a matter of fact, I was humbled. I never knew how much you loved me, Ezi. Reading those articles opened my eyes.” He says. “I truly hope that there is still a little bit of that love left, and that I haven’t sabotaged it all with the horrible mistake I made by leaving you for Onyeka.”
I tense and grit my teeth. I want so badly to tell him that I feel absolutely nothing for him. That it all died the moment I left Manhattan for Durham. But deep in my heart…I know I love him just as much as I ever did then…maybe if not even more.
So I say nothing.
“I also follow your blog. But you don’t update it as frequently as you did your column.” he continues.
“Gee…I wonder why!” I mutter sarcastically.
“To be honest, it was one of your last posts that gave me the confidence to come looking for you. The one where you wrote about being happy…but sad. I figured you were having issues with Seth, so I got on the very next plane. It also helped that it coincided with your 40th birthday, so I had more of an excuse.”
I remain silent, not knowing what to say in response.
“I love you, Ezioma. You are the love of my life, and I will spend the rest of my days proving that to you.” are his last words before he falls asleep.
I remain wide awake as he sleeps and after about an hour, I pull myself out of his embrace and get out of the bed. Sitting on my porch, I think about how strong my feelings for him still are, no matter how much I know that killing them would be the best for me…for both of us.
Love Is Stronger Than Pride (Sade) – August 18, 2017
I won’t pretend that I intend to stop living
I won’t pretend I’m good at forgiving
But I can’t hate you
Although I have tried
I still really really love you
Love is stronger than pride
I still really really love you
I don’t have the strength to write anymore. Instead, I close my eyes, wondering how I am going to insulate my heart from Okwudili Dike. I know that, contrary to what he thinks, he is not in love with me. He only feels indebted. And that can only last for so long.
But then I realize I don’t have to worry myself about it. In a matter of months, or even weeks, I will be dead. The cancer will kill me. And it will put an end to all of this.
In the meantime, I am going to continue enjoying him…his presence, his attention, his ‘love’. If these will form my last memories on earth, then it’s not such a bad deal.
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:
- A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
- A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
- A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come
- A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song
- A Love of Convenience! 5: Moonlighting Strangers
- A Love of Convenience! 6: Knocks me off my feet
- A Love of Convenience! 7: A simple kind of life
- A Love of Convenience! 8: I can’t help it
- A Love of Convenience! 9: Edge of desire
- A Love of Convenience! 10: The Fear
- A Love of Convenience! 11: Ordinary People
- A Love of Convenience! 12: Me and Mrs. Jones
- A Love of Convenience! 13: You could be happy
- A Love of Convenience! 14: Linger
- A Love of Convenience! 15: Sunday Morning
- A Love of Convenience! 16: Drive
- A Love of Convenience! 17: Bohemian Rhapsody
- A Love of Convenience! 18: Sailing
- A Love of Convenience! 19: One Last Breath