Our Nights Before Christmas

December 21, 2016 § 7 Comments


William and Emily

Essayist William Bradley updates an earlier holiday blog post, with more lasagna, continuing challenges, and enduring prayer, hope, and love:

Two years ago, in a short essay published here on the Brevity blog, I acknowledged that I wasn’t always a perfect husband but promised “my New Year’s resolution is to make you smile at least once a day.” I wonder sometimes if I was successful? Now more than ever, I worry that you married an utterly selfish man. That my love for you isn’t quite enough to make me the husband you deserve. And you do deserve an amazing and thoughtful husband, because you are so amazing and thoughtful yourself.

I will make us a lasagna again this year, though not on Christmas Eve, the way I usually do. My first chemotherapy treatment to attack the cancer that has caused all of the recent drama is on December 22, and I’m told I won’t have much of an appetite in the days that follow. So we’ll do Christmas on the 20th instead. I won’t be able to drink wine, the way I usually do, but I won’t judge you if you decide to have some. I’ll even help put you to bed, if you get a little drunk. Because you deserve a relaxing evening just as you deserve a husband who is better than I sometimes am.

A month and a half ago, as we sat on the front porch and discussed our days at work, I had a seizure that I don’t really remember, but that terrified you as I began speaking gibberish and started referring to myself in the third person. You called the ambulance and followed me to the local hospital, then followed me to the bigger hospital in the city 45 minutes away when they realized my problems were more serious than they could treat here in town. You spent the night before my brain surgery in the hospital room so that I could see you before they wheeled me to the operating room the next morning.

In the days that followed, you corrected my vocabulary, reminded me of my friends’ names, and washed my hair for me. And in the weeks since, you have reminded me of what doctors have told me, insisted that I needed to be optimistic even at times that I have somehow convinced myself—erroneously—that I will die soon. You know so much more than me about what has happened and is happening, which empowers you to soothe my damaged, frantic mind when it gets out of control.

All this during the last weeks of the literature classes you teach, as you covered the last act of King Lear, even. “Pray you, undo my confusion,” I might as well be asking of you. I’m not the intellectual and thoughtful man you married. Not right now. But even though that must be frustrating—how could it not be frustrating?—you never criticize me or express exasperation. You just take my hand, or rub my arm and say, “Remember, Dr. Alkalili said the plan is to have all of the growths in complete remission within 18 weeks.” Never uttering to yourself, “Break, heart; I prithee, break,” though you have every right to do so.

My brain slowly heals. If things go according to plan—the way I pray every night, after you go to sleep, that they will—the tiny glowing growths in my chest will be destroyed soon as well. I very much want this to happen, not just because I fear death—sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, to be honest—but because I want to spend more years with you. I want to recommit myself to my promise to make you smile at least once a day. I want to make you as happy as you make me. I want you to know how wonderful it is, how lucky one can feel, with a spouse as unbelievably amazing as you.

As David Bowie sang 39 years ago this Christmas, I pray my wish will come true.


William Bradley is the author of the essay collection Fractals, published earlier this year by Lavender Ink. He became aware of his health problems at the beginning of November, but honestly believes he has a lot to be thankful for nevertheless.


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