Life, in its own peculiar fashion, has a way of throwing us the unexpected. When we least expect it our lives can be shattered, leaving us with pieces that cannot be put back together no matter how hard we try. Blind to our fate and ultimate destiny, we continue to try to make sense of a world that can be heartless and filled with misery. As I contemplate the future, I am haunted with memories that are so cruel. They say that time has a way of healing old wounds. For some, this may be true. I wish I could be so fortunate. In reality, I truly believe that the passage of time allows us to mend, not heal.
When life got hectic, I enjoyed leaving the confusion behind, finding serenity on the East End. My sister-in law Marilyn, who was also my best friend, was the first person I would ask to accompany me on the seventy mile journey to the tip of the south fork. Although there were times she could not join me, they were few and far between. With each passing mile, the distraction of daily life lessened as we drew closer to the magical tranquility and calmness that our nervous systems craved. Passing through the historic hamlets of the East End was nearly therapeutic as we left the white noise further and further behind us. It has been nearly seven years since the pieces shattered. We were turning into the overlook just west of Montauk Point when she asked if we could head back home. She said that she wasn’t feeling well and that the intensity of the sun was overwhelming. The following morning allowed little comfort. Although she was convinced that the heat was the culprit for her ill health, she made a visit to her family doctor. It was a routine physical, which included some blood samples.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon the following day when the phone rang. It was my brother. Barely able to understand him, I asked him to speak up. His sobs were uncontrollable. Despite his trembling voice, there was one word I could make out that drained me of emotion: cancer. My best friend and sister-in-law had breast cancer. I was numb, emotionless, and surprised my heart was still beating.
This was not supposed to happen. All I kept thinking was why? Maybe there was a mistake. Maybe the blood samples got switched. Maybe this was all a dream. It was all real.
Like a wounded soldier retreating from enemy lines, my sister-in-law returned home from the hospital. Silently, and with little warning, she became a faceless statistic. Her diagnosis – metastatic breast cancer. The same disease that took my mother’s life nearly three decades ago. Left with limited options, which included chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she once again engaged in a fierce battle that began in 2005 when her breast cancer was first detected. This time, two years later, the enemy had proliferated to other parts of the body.
Living on Long Island, she was greatly aware that the odds were stacked against her. She knew that breast cancer was not a remote threat but, rather, a distinct enemy that could attack with little warning. Like most women living here, she hoped for the best. She hoped that this life-threatening disease would spare her. Her wishes were ignored. Instead, it came back with a vengeance. She did all that she could possibly do to hold this disease at bay. She never smoked, consumed nutritional foods and made the effort to exercise every day. She knew this insidious disease could easily take her life. She never gave up hope. She beat it the first time and she was determined to do just that again. As I visited her in the hospital, we would always talk about the good old days and our trips to the East End. She wanted me to promise, just in case anything happened to her, to help my brother raise the two girls. As I tell this story, I am saddened by all the fragments that still remain. I still take rides to the East End, but they are not the same. There is a huge void that probably will never be filled. The overlook near Montauk is now off limits to me. Its beauty goes unnoticed.