We hold hands as we walk silently to the doctor’s office on the second floor and sit in the empty waiting room. Her parents have been calling every 5 minutes to check-in since she called them with the news. I never really understood the cliché of hating your in-laws. I hang up as a nurse interrupts and leads us into an examination room. I’ve never been more thankful to have parents who fulfilled the Indian stereotype of studying medicine. With our newfound flexible schedules and free time we were going to do novel things like eat dinner together. I feel like we’ve been cheated out of a unique window of time we carved out to enjoy life to the fullest before Seema begins her law career.I’m oblivious to their conversation as I look around the beige, asymmetrical waiting room. My wife’s parents have always been generous and loving to me. “Everything is going to be alright, beta.” I don’t understand their positivity. A stunned silence continues to reverberate between the walls as we wait for the doctor. The more we speak with our new doctors, Seema and I are thrilled to learn this group actually has bedside manner. We would finally have time to enjoy New York City with each other and the friends we love. Instead, we are on the phone with NYU trying to figure out the exact date Seema’s student health insurance will expire.
But the more I stare at the photo the more it doesn’t look like us. Two kids oblivious they are sitting on some tracks with a freight train a few years in the distance hurtling directly towards them. Seema looks like an Indian queen in her crimson sari with her gold jewelry sparkling.
A shorter version of my beard surrounds my happy grin. I see Seema and me on a raised mandap on the banks of the Ashley River in front of our closest friends and family on an idyllic Fall day.
“Don’t ever say anything like that ever again.” We sit on our couch and alternate roles of crier and comforter. Seema decides to take some Zzzquil and crawls into bed. He picks up the phone, positive and beaming, always excited to hear from me. ” How do you tell your father that your wife has cancer? I realize I’m about to deliver him a sucker punch directly to his emotional solar plexus. I begin walking Dad through the worst day of my life. In the silence I can hear him taking a step back and understanding the full panorama of sadness that has encircled our lives. I wonder if he’s thinking about losing his mother to breast cancer when he was seven.
It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Dad speechless.
I see a pin board filled with photographs of other patients. I suppose it would be ill-advised to have a board filled with emotionally shell shocked patients like ourselves. I think about the last time I spoke with them on the phone. Maybe it’s the only thing they can hang on to in this moment. They are nothing like the doctor who gave us the original diagnosis. They become our Dream Team, a multi-headed beast with an expertise in Oncology, Radiology, and Chemotherapy. Seema would explore fashion and intern with a designer. In addition to uncertainties about Seema’s health, uncertainties about our future, family, and careers constantly drift in and out of my everyday thoughts.