The Alchemy of Victoryby Samantha Evans on 03/25/20
Disclaimer: This is probably one of the best stories I've ever written. This story is also hard to read. If you find profanity in literature offensive, don't read this. If you're not ready to see Clint's raw, fear-fueled anger, don't read this.
I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage so that now as always
Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
The Alchemy of Victory
Light from the hallway bleeds into the bedrooms where exhausted toys lay carelessly strewn about the floor and three bath-fresh, little girls snuggle down with their stuffies.
His wide frame momentarily eclipses the doorway.
“Daddy!” High-pitched delight bursts forth from rosy, cherub cheeks. Small hands grasp the back of his neck as he kisses each daughter’s forehead and sings the “nite-nite” song in a mellow tenor.
“Good night, sweet princesses, it’s time to take your rest.
“Lay your sweet heads upon the Savior’s chest.
“We all love you, yeah, but Jesus loves you best,
“So we say, ‘Good night, good night, good night.’”
“I love you, Daddy!” Their chorus overlaps.
“I love you, pun’kins.”
The youngest, four-years-old, snuggles into her father’s embrace. His cutoff T accents the lion tattoo covering one dealt and the lamb on the other.
“Leave the door open so no monsters come out of the closet.”
“There are no monsters,” he assures them.
“But Daddy, what if there are?”
“Then I’ll fight them for you.”
Bubbly giggles fills the space.
He eases the door closed, leaving a crack wide enough for light to spill through, dispelling fears.
He lugs toward our adjacent bedroom and drops upon the disheveled comforter atop our bed. The façade of strength he entertained for the girls’ sake exhausts him.
“I’m so tired,” he mumbles into the mattress.
“I know baby.” I ease our bedroom door closed. He’ll be asleep within seconds. “I know.” I wish I could fight your monsters for you.
The neighbor arrives prior to any hints of daylight. I’m not used to seeing her with glasses on. She wears baggy sweats and is armed with a book. I glance around her to the street. “Did you drive here?”
“It’s less than a block.” We smile, but mine stops short. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. We’ll take care of everything here. Your girls are fine.”
Minutes later, the Caravan’s headlight beams shine eerily upon empty roads and endless acres of farmland.
No deer, no deer, please no deer.
After several attempts at conversation with my husband, I fade to silence. I try the radio. Shallow lyrics glorifying materialism and lust annoy me. Peppy songs portraying life as sunshine and unicorns provoke actual groans from deep in my throat. I grin. Clint despises country music. Purely to incite reaction of the What-the-hell-is-this-crap variety, I switch to country. Clint’s lack of response disturbs me. Okay, no radio.
I glance to my right where his head lolls against the headrest. Denial outweighs the questions and fears that swell within me. This next step will make his symptoms better.
Fluid accumulation in the cavity beneath his right lung sends us to the doctor every few days. At our last visit, our family doctor withdrew more than two liters of bloody fluid constricting Clint’s ability to breathe. The catheter insertion today will allow us to remove the blood serum from home.
An hour from the house, we park at the cancer center. Clint trudges in. Shadows lift from the sky, but deepen beneath his eyes. I flank him in silence. The elderly man behind the information desk instructs us to walk to a different part of the hospital.
A feral growl of annoyance rumbles in Clint’s chest. I hesitate, knowing the answer before I ask. “Do you want me to get you a wheelchair?”
“No. Let’s just get there.”
Up an elevator, around the corner, over the river and through the woods, we eventually arrive at the proper desk.
“Clint Evans, checking in for a surgical procedure.”
The receptionist clicks through several screens on her computer. “Oh, Mr. Evans. We tried to call you to cancel your appointment.” Even I can’t mistake the derogatory, not-our-problem tone in her voice.
He glares at her. “When?”
“Fifteen minutes ago.”
Oh, Lord. My nervous fingers scrape through my hair. He’ll be angry.
I jolt at the vehemence of his words.
“What the FUCK do you mean, you tried to cancel 15 minutes ago? I live an hour from here!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Evans…”
“You’re sorry, you’re sorry? I’m fucking dying and you’re sorry?!”
“Clint!” I whisper. I reach for his arm. He shoves my hand and rational thought aside. “No, I will not be quiet. This is the third time I’ve driven all the way here and these assholes have told me I have a cancelled appointment and ‘oops, they forgot to tell me.’ I don’t have time for this fucking shit!”
Clint’s hobbies, even during chemotherapy, were football and weightlifting. Even with muscle deterioration and weight loss, his appearance intimidates. His size added to thunderous profanities clears a room.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice patients skittering past.
I lean over the counter and say softly, “We drove an hour to get here. We had to find a babysitter for our kids. Is there any chance he can be seen?”
“Okay, let me see what I can do.” The receptionist takes her time asking the registration questions. Clint’s punctuated replies reveal his crescendoing impatience.
He exhales hard through his nose, struggling to rein his anger. He reminds me of a peeved stallion huffing and prancing against a stall gate.
Clint’s palpable anxiety presses against me. I cover my mouth with my fingertips. Lady, you need to speed this up.
Her fingers slow and she stares at her magic screen—the one that grants her the authority to dole out shitty answers. “I’m sorry, but we have no openings.”
Clint’s fists pound the counter in front of him.
The woman stares aghast at Clint.
“Do you have any idea what it took for us to get here! Where’s the doctor? I want to talk to the fucking doctor!”
She reaches for the phone. I silently pray she’s phoning the doctor and not security.
A surgeon emerges from behind the secured doors. “What seems to be the problem?”
Clint shouts through his explanation.
“Should we call security?” the receptionist whispers, as if Clint cannot hear her. Possibly, in his anger, he doesn’t.
The doctor stays her with his hand. “Not yet. Just give us a second.” He gently speaks to Clint. “Let me talk to my colleague and I’ll see what I can do.” He disappears behind secured doors.
The receptionist continues her torturously slow interrogation. A mercenary ripping off my fingernails with pliers would be less painful. “And how many doses of that antibiotic have you taken?”
“Two days’ worth.”
Her eyes dart up to my husband. She doesn’t need a computer for this one. “Doctors won’t do the procedure unless you’ve taken six doses. You’ve only taken four.”
I cringe. Then remember and tilt my head, technically he’s only taken three.
When I glance up, Clint is waiting to catch my eye in a warning. I widen my eyes in collaboration. I won’t say anything.
Does he think I have a death wish?
Briefly, I envision this receptionist as a detective/ negotiator talking to dozens of suicidal men and women lined along the ledge of a 10-story building. Her stoicism amplified through a megaphone sends them over the ledge like the wave at a baseball game.
Clint’s booming voice yanks me out of my morbid daydream. “The prescription just came through two days ago!”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“Fuck youuuuuuu!” He stretches flexed arms to the sides—the motion of rending a garment, sans only the tear of fabric—expands his chest, cranes his face toward the ceiling and growls at the top of his lungs. Fury visibly surges through him. Like the Hulk.
I blink. Surely … but no. Not imagining. This nightmare is happening in my real life. Mary Shelley couldn’t have dramatized the scene better.
“Clint, please!” I cry. “Please! Let’s just talk to the doc—”
“Mr. Evans, I’m going to call security.”
Please no, please no, please no.
He storms toward the elevator and slams his thumb into the button. The elevator’s lack of urgency gives the negotiator receptionist a run for her money.
With fisted hands, Clint growls again.
I’m married to King Kong.
He punches the door. When he recoils his hand, I spot the dented metal. The doors part and he disappears behind them. Everyone sighs with relief.
“Here.” Another receptionist joins the shaken woman. “Let me take over.”
Negotiator gladly steps back, but remains close.
The new receptionist glances at me and lowers her eyes back to the computer. “My husband went out of his mind when he had cancer. I didn’t even recognize him.”
I hesitate, then ask, “Is he still alive?”
“He died three years ago.”
The doctor emerges. “I’ll do the procedure,” he tells me. “As long as your husband signs a waiver.”
“Thanks. I’ll let him know.”
When Clint returns, calm…ish, I tell him the good news: the doctor will insert the pleura catheter.
All of the tension deflates from his body, expelling the monster within.
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
“I know. It’s okay. You’re the one facing cancer. I know you’re scared.”
He repeats his truth. “I’m so scared.” He drops his head in his hands and shatters into sobs. “I don’t want to die,” he begs. “I want to see my kids grow up.”
“I know. I’m so sorry, Clint.” I step forward and press my mouth into his bloodied knuckles with a soft kiss. I want to weep with him. Instead I tap into a reservoir of strength—strength that he has freely given me for so many years. He drops his head to my shoulder, weeping like a child. I wrap my arms around his back. There is so much less of him than there used to be. I want to tell him that everything will be okay, but I refuse to lie. “I love you so much.”
Jesus, why is this happening to us? To him? He’s so tired; we’re so tired.
As I hold his shaking body, I am grateful for Clint’s vulnerability. I know these last 18 months he’s shielded me from the brunt of his fears. I am in denial about the severity of his prognosis and he graciously allows me to remain there.
Instead, his most precious gift to me in this fire, is the endurance of his steadfast, Shadrach faith.
"Sam, I know that God can heal me, but even if He doesn’t, I know that God is good….I want a tattoo of claws and scratches,” he motioned across his ribs near the cancer. “This asshole Satan trying to stop me—he ain’t gonna win. And I want a phoenix rising from the ashes stretched from one shoulder blade to another…God is killing all of the garbage within me and resurrecting something new.”
I tuck these snippets of
conversations securely within my heart.
Doors open and close, separating me from him. I cannot follow.
I return to the prep room, slink into a chair and disintegrate. I cry so violently my stomach convulses. The sound resembles a suffocating person gasping for breath, an accurate interpretation of how I feel.
In the waiting room I recognize the elderly woman a few chairs over. She scuttled out of the room at the beginning of Bruce Banner’s transformation. Her husband is undergoing the same procedure as mine.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “That my husband scared you.”
“It’s not your fault.” The truth is as plain as the wrinkles sagging her mouth into a frown. She feels sorry for me because I’m married to him. Her piteous look causes my own inner gamma ray reaction.
“He’s 38-years-old,” I say to the 83-year-old woman. The generation difference between us intrudes as a stark reminder: this life should not belong to Clint and me. We should leave this place and return fifty years and ten grandchildren from now. Instead, I reveal the hand I’ve been dealt. “We’ve been married 15 years. He has stage IV cancer living in his body and three little girls living in his home.”
Her expression softens, but I pound the last nail in the coffin—God, I despise colloquialisms about death—intentionally lobbing a cliffhanger. “He’ll be mortified with how he acted—especially with what he does for a living.”
“What is he?” she asks.
Bump, set, spike.
“He’s a pastor.”
I brace myself for the fight of my choosing, excited to pounce on her judgment with the anger humming between my ears.
I study her expression in eager anticipation of the impact, but the expected indignation that will justify my brilliant outburst never reaches her eyes.
“Oh,” she whispers. Her gracious acceptance lathers salve on my fear-singed heart. She opens her mouth to say more and I incline forward, unwilling to miss even one drop. “That poor man. I’d likely respond the same way in his place.” Done talking to me, she angles her face upward to the light streaming in through the windows. “Three little girls,” she mutters. Nods in agreement with herself. “At least we’ve seen ours grown, met our grandchildren.”
My story grants her a rearview perspective of her beautiful life.
Her acknowledgment justifies my pain.
We wait, in silence, together.
Today is Tuesday, April 30, 2019. I do not know. How could I know? Fifty-five days later, I will hear his final breath as he boldly faces death. I will kiss his grayed lips in farewell. I will slide his wedding ring off of his finger and onto mine. Only 55 days remain. Fifty-five days. Truth thrums within me like a fading heart.
The alchemy of cancer—born amidst his ligaments and dead without his generosity—feeds on all the brawn packed within my husband’s 6 ft. frame, as if Clint, himself willingly offers such a sacrifice. And all the while, the hubris demon ignorantly establishes his own demise.
Victory is uniquely embodied in death.
In Loving Memory of Reverend Clinton M. Evans
(Thursday, April 2, 1981-Monday, June 24, 2019)
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
Written by Samantha Evans
Friday, February 14, 2020