I wanted to hide. With my bald head and saliva-caked cheeks, I hadn’t had enough time to gauge my tolerance for being seen by someone I once wanted to find me pretty.
“Dad,” I said, “this is my friend Kevin.”
I didn’t try to explain our history to my father. The only clear memory I had of our romance was asking him, “Can you say even one nice thing about me?” And the silence that followed.
Kevin came to the hospital every day after that, sometimes both before and after work, bearing treats and blue Gatorade, which I drank diluted with a full cup of hospital chip ice. He learned to prepare this cocktail without me asking, monitoring the blue liquid in my cup and jumping into action when it became less than half full. We talked about his work, my new book, my pain levels, his dating life, my pain levels, my nausea, my cancer, my pain levels, my pain levels.
When the nurse said that I would be discharged — a terrifying prospect given I always had to rush back days later — he took off work to help get me home. In the Uber, it hurt to sit upright, so I lay my head on his lap, a position that became common in subsequent trips. His thigh was hard, almost tense. He put his arm around me, and we softened.
Back at my apartment, he told me not to go back to the hospital alone, that I should call him first, even in the middle of the night. Being single in a society that’s pathologically oriented toward romantic love, and with my family out of state, I didn’t feel like I had one person I could call at 4:17 a.m. to take me to the emergency room if things got dicey, one person whose job it was to take care of me, even though I had many wonderful friends who support and love me.
Did I have a friend who would pass my apartment on his midnight runs to make sure my lights were off and that I was not awake in excruciating pain? No, but Kevin did that for me. Did I have a friend who picked up prescriptions, laundry, bottomless Twizzlers and embarrassing butt-related ointments without being asked? No, but Kevin did that too.