In a season of butchery and wreckage and defeat, she had triumphed. He had driven from New Orleans—we were living in a small town called Fairhope, Alabama—to stand guard for hours in the hallway outside Nicole's room so that she could sleep. There is no force under heaven as mighty as a band of middle-aged Baptist ladies, and from inside the room we could hear Dane wage a battle of kind intentions. "I'm so sorry." "Well, we came by to pray for them," one of the ladies said. "But I feel pretty sure God can hear you out here in the hall." We spent that Christmas season in the hospital.
Friends came and decorated the room, and our two little girls curled up against Nicole in her hospital bed while she read " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." We all tried to ignore the clear tube pumping feces up from her bowels and out her nose.
I remember the tile, close to my face, and then watching it retreat as my best friend picked me up from the floor. I think I've hung on to the sensation of the hospital floor and being lifted away from it because it captures everything that followed in the next two years. I do have a few recollections from that year, and Dane appears in each.
His name is Dane Faucheux, and I remember noting, even in the midst of a mental fugue: I was in shock and stayed there a long time. When it happened to my beloved, I lost my footing in more than one way. For instance, when Nicole started finding hair on her pillow, I braced for her agony, because she was so young and so beautiful.
His expressions of affection were, for her, tiny victories.
So when she held up the photo of him with a Mohawk and laughed—"Look! "—I knew she meant it in the most competitive, gloating way possible. "It was more fun than me just shaving my head bald," he said. Later that year, I remember him standing sentry at the hospital."I think maybe I should just move in with you guys," he said."Just to help out for a couple of months." That meant leaving his job, his city, his friends, his apartment, his life. *** We readied ourselves for the physical horrors of death. She told us, "Just don't let me stink." She shed weight, but we expected that.We don't tell each other the truth about dying, as a people. Real dying, regular and mundane dying, is so hard and so ugly that it becomes the worst thing of all: It's grotesque. The tiled floor of life—morals, ethics, even laws—became a shifting and relative thing. But she asked me to meet her in the living room with a towel, scissors, and my beard trimmer. "Give me a Mohawk." Afterward, we stepped into a bathroom so that she could look in a mirror.She dragged a chair into the middle of the room and pulled her hair—long and dark and cascading—into a ponytail. I sawed at it with the scissors until it came free in my hand. She was Creek Indian, and I had never seen her cheekbones so proud, her eyes so defiant. We had met Dane fifteen years earlier, when we all lived in New Orleans and they were in college together.I remember white tile and a hope: Nicole was thirty-four, and the doctor had been direct: "It's everywhere," he said. *** Dane decided to move in around Christmas 2013, on the night our dog died. Nicole had ovarian cancer, which had metastasized to her stomach, and she endured a series of physical insults that, taken individually, would have been shattering; a single trip to the chemo ward, watching what looked like antifreeze flow into her veins while the nurses offered me cheese crackers, would have changed my life forever."Like somebody dipped a paintbrush in cancer and flicked it around her abdomen." I staggered down a hallway and then collapsed. Taken together, though, the surgeries and chemicals all form a smear that can't be taken apart and examined.The night after Christmas, our pug, Gracie, threw up something black and putrid on the floor at his feet.He put her in a basket with a blanket in his car and searched for an open animal clinic.Her body no longer recognized food as useful and was now expelling it directly out the front of her abdomen, like a foreign substance. "Before this is over," she said, "you will long for it to end." I said.Nicole tried to lift her head and look at her belly. *** For months after Dane moved in, Nicole couldn't eat much, so I fed her intravenously.