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Quality of Life

first published in MEN SEEKING WOMEN,
an anthology from Random House


I’ve known her for three days. The plane to Montreal leaves in six hours. What do I do?

In three days it is already so close to love. By tomorrow it would be love. If I don’t say the words I will burst. But tomorrow I will be in Montreal, beginning the rest of my life.

"Jennifer Jennifer Jenny," I say, each word with a slightly different intonation, the string a cryptic sentence of philosophy.

"What?" she smiles. I’ve teased her.

"Six hours."

"I know," she whispers empathically, feeling as hopeless as me.

If it was love, really love, we would know what to do.

Coming this close in just three days is damn good. Makes a man wonder.

Six hours.

"Make time stand still again," she begs, and I can tell that when I do she will start to cry.


You wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like your mouth is sewn closed. You panic. You cannot open your mouth to scream for help. It feels like if you force your jaws open you will tear the roof of your mouth off. The involuntary reaction of the muscles in the neck and cheek is to squeeze the salivary glands and swallow, but the glands are dead and it feels like you just swallowed a 2 by 4. The application of topical artificial saliva takes 30 minutes just to get the mouth open in the morning. Talking is brutally painful. Telling those who’ve come to see you die that you love them is impossible.

I’ve been there in the room. A hundred times.

"He wants to tell you he loves you," I want to say.

It’s like watching the worst stutter imaginable. Come on, you can say it.

His eyes plead, I want to say it one more time.

I know, I know.

"Don’t talk Daddy," they say. "It’s okay."

He needs to say it, has to say it.

"He wants to tell you he loves you," I want to say.

"His mouth is just too dry right now," I say. "Come back in an hour."

His eyes look to me. He’s begging me. Those eyes are screaming. Fix it so I can say it one last time.

None of this is in the data.

You wake up in the middle of the night with your mouth sewn closed.

The condition is called Xerostomia.

I cannot save them, but I can grant them a dying wish.

This is what I must get across.

4 out of 5 will die anyway.

That’s the catch.

I have looked into too many eyes.


I come to Washington D.C. to present my data. Four times a year, the Food and Drug Administration convenes a panel of 12 eminent oncologists to advise the FDA on which new cancer drugs to approve for sale. 99 times out of 100, the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation. If Ethyol is approved, first year sales are anticipated to be over $200 million, and I will move to Montreal to continue research into other uses of Ethyol. There are significant tax advantages to doing research in Canada. I already have the plane ticket. I already have the lab space leased. I already have an old girlfriend there waiting for me. She’s expecting me to move in. It won’t be a conscious choice; I’ll simply stay with her "until I get my own place", which I never will. We’re going to try again and this time get it right.

The panel convenes for three days in the grand ballroom of the Town Center Hotel in Silver Springs Maryland. Swank it is not. Think travelling salesmen anonymity. Think thread-worn carpets, hollow walls, maids vacuuming at odd hours, art bolted to the walls so it can’t be stolen. I show up two days before my time slot, book a conference room down the hall from the panel hearings, and begin rehearsing with my staff and various $2,500-a-day consultants. The double doors are open to the hall.

"It’s no use," I say, dropping flat, holding my weary head in my hands.

Why not, everyone demands to know.

"Only the data matters." Nothing I can say will make a difference.

"Of course it will."

"4 out of 5 die anyway."

"But you help them."

"There’s nothing about helping them in the data." Quality of Life cannot be measured.

One notion, seven years of development, one hour in front of the panel.

$60 million and four clinical trials.

This has been a huge waste.

I’m going to fail.

Then Jennifer walks by. I fall backwards into a huge down pillow.

"Who was that?" Linda says.

I don’t have any idea.

"She looked at you like she knew you."

I would have remembered meeting a woman like her. That’s not a connection a man can forget.

I am going with my instinct here.

"Excuse me guys. Can we break for fifteen?"

I pace down the hall, dart into the ballroom where the committee was hearing an Upjohn presentation. She is sitting in the back row. Alone. We whisper.



I am rolling in that big down pillow in the morning light.



"We haven’t met before?"


Little things add up fast: skin, smile, size, warmth, softness, confidence, keenness in the eyes. Body language, mostly. She doesn’t feel like a stranger. Already I want to have babies with her.

"Will you touch my hand?"

I put my palm out, resting on my thigh.


"I don’t know. I just feel compelled that we should touch."


I am going on instinct here.

She puts her hand down flat on mine.

"Take it away if you feel at all uncomfortable," I offer.

"No, it’s okay."

The current runs between us.

That’s not a connection a man can forget.

A man waits his whole life for that kind of clarity.


I’ve known her for three days. The plane to Montreal leaves in five hours.

Okay, I get on the plane. When I get off the plane, Jo is waiting for me with flowers. Waiting for me I can take, but the flowers are too much. She can tell by my reaction I’m uncomfortable with the flowers. I’ve been in Canada two minutes and already off to a bad start. Flowers mean nothing to me but dressing up death. I take the flowers and get on the long people movers and feel like I’m being carted to my death, all dressed up.

At her apartment, there’s hot water for tea on simmer. The corners of the bedding are turned back. The oval mirror where we can watch ourselves make love is aimed at the bed. A deep bowl of bowtie pasta salad chills in the refrigerator. There’s beer, too. And in the bathroom, a second toothbrush. Jo was so ready for me. So ready for me that now she’s embarrassed, and in the car on the way to her apartment she’s afraid her apartment will be like the flowers, too much too soon.

"You want to just drive around for awhile?" she says.

She drives up to Regent’s Park. The students have just been let out of school and are running wild. They barely wear anything. We walk around. Jo is so nice to me. I feel so guilty. I feel ruined. I’ll spend years trying to forget a woman I only knew for 3 days.


I’ve known her for three days. The plane to Montreal leaves in five hours.

I go to the airport. I get my boarding pass. But I never get on the plane. I tell my investors I’m sorry. Seven years has been enough. Time for something new. I tell them I’m going to North Carolina.

"What will you do there?"

I don’t know. Find something. An old door closes, a new door opens. Start fresh.

"But why?"

I refuse to explain it to them.

"You’re too impulsive," they tell me. "You always were."

I call Jo. I tell her I’m not coming to Montreal. I’m afraid she’ll cry but instead she’s furious. If I was doing this in person, this is about the time she’d start throwing things. She hangs up on me.

It takes me only a week to unwind seven years of momentum. I find that sad. It shouldn’t be that easy. Maybe this is God making it easy for me. I abandon all my fears.

I’m on the plane to Raleigh now.

The idea of starting fresh takes root. This’ll be great. I am a healed man. I am free of baggage. I can truly love a woman now. I have let go of my pain. I want a little house and a little dog and when I wake up on weekend mornings I will not be restless. I will be so at peace I can stay in bed for hours. I’ll get a job at the Duke hospital and see patients. This will be my true place in life.

On the plane, three times I go into the bathroom to fool with my hair or change my shirt.

I walk off the plane into the boarding area, and …

Well, maybe she’s waiting for me in the baggage claim area.

I go down to baggage claim, and …

Maybe she’s stuck in traffic. I wait twenty minutes, until the last bag on the carousel is retrieved.

It starts to sink in. I’m in a strange town, I don’t know a single person. I’m in a state in which the #1 industry is pig farming and Jesse Helms is senator.

What the hell am I doing?

I have an address. Just get a cab, I’m sure everything’s fine, there’s just been a mix-up.

I get the cab. It all comes to me on the way. I’m freaking her out. I’m a strange man suddenly invading her turf, taking over her life. I’ll be asking her to love me. I’ll be asking her for directions to the supermarket. I’ll be asking her to borrow her car. Who can love a man who needs them too much?

The cab lets me off in front of the address. It’s a little single story brick house. Jennifer answers the door. She’s silent, torn, kisses me softly and wonderfully but not quite passionately.

Yup, I’m freaking her out.

"I thought you would pick me up at the airport," I let slip.

I shouldn’t have said that.

She tours me through the house.

It is a little house. There are two bedrooms, and when she gets to the second bedroom she says, "This is your bedroom."

I just let that disappointment hang there.

"So you’ll have your own space," she adds.

This isn’t what it was supposed to be like.


You get Xerostomia from dead salivary glands. You get dead salivary glands from radiation therapy. You get radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. 39,000 people each year get head and neck cancer. All get radiation. 58% get Xerostomia. 4 out of 5 will die anyway. They all have a dying wish.

Seven years ago a professor suggested I study the chemical Ethyol, simply because little was known about it. I put Ethyol in petri dishes with every kind of cell or body tissue imaginable. Then I mixed Ethyol with other drugs and recorded what happened. It was merely trial and error. Six years ago I noticed Ethyol didn’t degrade under radiation. I theorized that this chemical could, perhaps, block radiation if injected into the salivary glands. Five years ago I formed a company and raised money. The body is a mystery; what works in a test tube won’t necessarily work in humans. I’d never seen Xerostomia, only read about it, yet I became convinced I could prevent it. According to my peers, I made the leap of faith too soon. Doing so is my weakness. Ignoring warning signs, going on faith.

Four years ago we settled on a safe dose. Three years we began tests in humans. Two years ago we began receiving reports of adverse events – Ethyol was a neurotoxin, directly causing nausea, vomiting, and dizzyness. We considered abandoning the study or restarting it with a smaller dose. A year ago we unblinded the data and found Ethyol worked. Xerostomia was prevented. We saved no lives, but dying wishes were being granted.

The panel would not be impressed.

The FDA emphasizes the saving of lives, not the quality of life.

Quality of life only counts if you’re going to live. According to the FDA, there is no such thing as quality of death. Hippocratic oath, et cetera.

4 out of 5 die anyway.

There was nothing in the data about dying wishes.

We had run one study in France and Germany. Something was lost in the translation. Doctors there had recorded many cases of "moderate" Xerostomia as "mild" Xerostomia. What was mild and what was moderate, anyway?

The FDA doesn’t let you toss a study out simply because you don’t like its data.

We tested Ethyol on 800 patients over four years on two continents. 619 of them died within six months, same as the control group.

I get one hour in front of the panel.

"I’ve got to find a way to get this across," I say in anguish as the hour approached.

"We’re fine," Linda assures me.

"We’re not fine."

"Why not?"

"Because it sounds like we’re asking them to approve a poison for sale so that some people who are going to die anyway won’t get cotton mouth."

"You’re being cynical."

"It’s a band-aid. It fixes nothing."

"The proper term is Palliative Care."

"We have to convince the panel we’re not talking about a little cotton mouth."

"We have an overhead slide on milliliters of saliva production."

"No! No slides! I need someone to bear witness."

"Bear witness?"

"Yes. Bear witness."

"Cry their eyes out?"


"This isn’t some Disney movie. The panel won’t appreciate being manipulated."

"It’s my only chance."

What was the value of a dying wish?

What was the value of being able to say "I love you" one more time?


I’ve known Jennifer for two hours. We’re having dinner. Dinner is hamburgers and thick french fries that we dip into steak sauce and beer in frosted mugs. It’s nothing like a date. We’re helplessly drawn to each other. I hang on every word she says. She’s wearing brown stretch capri pants and sandals and a short sleeved cashmere sweater under my corduroy coat. Her toenails are painted white. Her lipstick’s umber. She has freckles. She’s real and stunning at the same time. Her eyes hint at an incredible innate curiosity. We tell each other stories, get the nuance of each other’s jokes, listen attentively without interrupting. We feel safe, so safe that we begin to confess everything we have to confess, trying to scare each other off, but what doesn’t scare us off only makes us stronger. I tell her about Jo in Montreal and the three years of on-again, off-again attempts to find the sweet spot in that relationship. I tell her about my tendency to want to take care of women who don’t need any taking care of. I tell her I will lie under pressure, the most ruinous habit of all. I tell her I drive women away by neglecting them because I’m afraid to confront the moment of truth.

"I can’t hurt people." People? Why’d I say people? There’s a little lie right there. Women. I can’t hurt women. To the point I destroy them with mazes of yesses and maybes.

None of it scares her. She tells me she’s always had long-distance relationships. Her friends tell her she’s the most independent woman they’ve ever met. She loses sexual attraction to men after sleeping with them for a month. Her dead father was a giant in her psyche. Her mother was jealous of her, still is. Et cetera. None of it scares me off. It’s too soon to judge. I just listen, rapt.

We just keep doing this, trying to find reasons not to like each other.

It doesn’t work.

Then she says, "Okay, I have a confession."

Here it comes.

"We’ve never met, but … we almost met."

Not once, but twice.

The first time, three years ago, Jennifer came to my lab as a journalist. I refused to meet with her, shunning the publicity. She sat outside my lab door for three hours. She figured me for a typical doctor-type megalomaniac. She hated me.

The second time, a year ago, the FDA convened a panel to discuss standardizing the measurement of Quality of Life. She came to report on it. I was going to speak. Two hours before the panel, she got a phone call from her stepmother that her father was in the hospital. Jennifer jumped on a plane to North Carolina.

The invisible hand of history kept pushing us together. Sooner or later we would meet. A blind date set up by God.

"What do you think this means?" I ask.

"I don’t believe in these kinds of things."

"What kinds of things?"

"Soulmates. For every woman there is one right man, yada yada yada."

"Me neither," I lied.

"I don’t try to find meaning in coincidence," she said, but it occurred to me she might be lying too.

The attraction between us is not an everyday attraction.

"You and I are just two people who met," she tries, but the characterization doesn’t fit.

What if she is the one? I only have three days to find out.

Now I need to know everything about her. "Tell me more," I beg. "More."

36, never married but engaged twice, a middle child between two brothers, her mother a little scizophrenic, her father a polite boozer who sold commercial insurance. Grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans, moved to Minnesota halfway through high school, teased for her accent but learned to speak softly and showcase her blond hair to fit in. A year into college her father couldn’t handle her mother’s scizophrenia anymore, freaked out, met another woman and cut his family off. Unable to afford tuition, Jenny dropped out. She refused to let resentment destroy her. She loved music, couldn’t play a lick, so sent dispatches about concerts to the local weekly, which published them. Bands let her in. Music in the Twin Cities was exploding. She covered the scene for the Chicago Tribune. At 30, she gave it up while she was still young enough to find something new. She did the bravest thing she could think of: she tracked down her father in North Carolina.

She survived a life of hurt and the only scratch to show for it is she’s still alone.

I’ve known her for half a day and already I’m thinking "Shit! Shit! I have to go to Montreal in 2 days."

She wants to know what it’s like to be around so many people dying all the time.

"I’m a research doctor, not a clinician."

"No fair."


"Answer the question."

All right. It is a dark master, perversely supple in its slaveries, adept in its addictions. It makes the heart a knot that only gets tighter when I try to unwind it.

"Don’t be cryptic," she insists.

"I keep people at a distance," I say.

But I can’t seem to keep her at a distance. The knot is loosening.

We make love holding hands, looking into each other’s open eyes, chest to chest. Sensation comes from everywhere, from my thighs on her thighs, my feet wrapped in her feet.

"I don’t do this on first dates," she feels the need to tell me.

"It’s only because we have so little time," I say.

She rolls on top and asks me to lie still so she can kiss on me. I can’t do it. I have to be reciprocating. She kisses on my chest. I try to massage her foot, but she slaps my hand away.

"Just lie still, honey."

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

She drapes the ends of her hair over my belly.

Now I really can’t. Oh god.

"Just lie still, baby."

Now I’m starting to cry. She’s being too nice to me. I can’t take it. I’m groaning and moaning and practically hyperventilating. She’s being too soft, too nice.

She just keeps her tongue on my belly, right under my ribs, just this side of tickling me, just that side of taking a bite out of me. Oh god.

"Do you do this to every man?"

"I’ve never done this before in my life."

I’m a horse being broken. Five, ten minutes, until I finally can just lie there and let her touch me. She puts my arms over my head and runs her fingers through my armpits until I stop jerking. I’m a new man. I’m ruined for other women.

"Now let’s do it right," she says, and I find out what she means.

I look at the clock. Three hours just went by. Time stands still. We’re laying there, she’s stroking down my damp sweaty hair, kissing my shoulder. We’re going to lay here all night.

She says, "My father was in your trial."


The next morning I tell Linda I’m thinking of not going to Montreal.

"But your work –"

"Seven years is enough."

"Take a vacation."

"I met a woman."

"Bring her to Montreal."

"Jo is there."


"We were going to move in together."

"So don’t."

"I can’t even imagine telling Jo."

"You’ll have to tell her."

No. It’s unimaginable. I will never, ever be able to let her down like that.

"Who is this woman?"

I mention Jennifer walking down the hall yesterday.

"Her! Her! You just met her yesterday! – You don’t give up your life’s work for a woman you met yesterday!"

"I think she’s wonderful."

"Are you crazy!?"

"I’ve never felt like this."

Linda rips into me. I’m a stupid jackass with blinders on. Can’t I see that I’m just vulnerable right now because seven years of work is coming to a head? Can’t I see that I’m afraid of failing and just looking for something else to hope for? Can’t I see that I’m entertaining thoughts of throwing my life away to prepare for the possibility the panel will reject my application? No woman has cracked me open. My work has cracked me open, and the first woman to just walk down the hall fell into the crevasse.

I bring up my intuition. This is a big mistake. Intuition = wish fulfillment, in Linda’s book. I’m just scared of what’ll happen with Jo.

Linda brings me to my senses.

"We’ve got a presentation to make tomorrow," she says. "Let’s get focussed."

We spend several hours on spinning the results of the European trial, where what is mild and what is moderate was lost in the translation. Too many patients from this column ended up in that column.

On that alone, I’ll lose the vote of Dr. Victor Santana, who’s a stickler for statistics.

I’ve already lost the vote of Robert Ozols, who could care less about Quality of Death.

And Krook and Nerenstone usually vote with Ozols.

That’s four votes. I lose two more and my application will be denied.

What is mild and what is moderate? That’s all I’m thinking about.

But that’s not a connection a man can forget.

I start thinking about Jennifer. I haven’t slept and I’m a little hallucinatory.

"Do we have those big red patient binders?" I ask Linda.

"In the boxes," she says.

"Will you look up a patient?"

"Which trial?"


She goes to the box. We’re eating little turkey sandwiches brought in by the hotel caterer and drinking Ginger Ale we snuck in from the drugstore. The room smells like dry-erase marker.

"Which patient?"

"Last name Boudreaux. That’s E-A-U-X."


"That’s the one."

"Died 8/6/99, age 64. Test site was Duke."

"Did he get Ethyol?"

"He was in the control group."




I’ve been in Montreal a week now.

I keep seeing Jennifer in crowds. Jo takes me to Trudi, an incredible restaurant in the gay part of town. The meal’s incredible. There’s truffle oil in everything. On a warm night like this Montreal is Europe in the best of ways. I haven’t heard English for hours. Everyone’s clothing is skin tight. We hail a taxi back to her flat.

It’s been a week, and she’s earned the right to ask if I’m making a commitment here.

Everything I can say is the wrong answer.

When she looks in my eyes she can see the wrong answer, right there, plain as day.

I ask for some time. I’m new to town, a little culture shock, et cetera.

She tells me in the real world you don’t get to make things wait. If your kid gets sick, you can’t say "this isn’t a good time right now." If you get in a car accident, you can’t say "hold on, I have to deal with some issues."

She’s right. She’s right. But I just need a little time.

"Whatever you’re dealing with, you have to deal with it and love me at the same time," she says. "Whatever it is, I don’t care. Just don’t stop loving me."

She needs me to make love to her. She’s thinking, if we just make love he’ll remember or he’ll wake up from this and it’ll all be fine.

We lie in bed with the window open, listening to the car alarms.

"You’re going to be fine, sweetie," she says.

"I’m going to get better. It’s just going to take me awhile."

"I know."


I’ve been in North Carolina for six weeks.

I took the first job offered to me in order to look strong and independent to Jennifer. I’m a Vice President of Clinical for Bristol Myers Squibb – there are six more layers of bureaucracy above me, and five below. I am thrown on a team overseeing the development of a protein that we hope will regrow cartilage in worn-out knees. The trial is a mess; the MRI cross sectionals are inconclusive. I’m in meetings all day long. I work from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm to stay out of Jennifer’s hair.

When we make love everything is great again.

The rest of the time it’s almost love. Still.

I do her grocery shopping and she makes me Cajun meals from her childhood. She has me buy things I can’t spell. "Melatons." It’s some sort of green squash. She asks for chives and I bring home chives and she asks "what’s this?," and laughs at me. Those are chives. It turns out she means green onions, but she refuses to call them anything but chives. I adore her.

I never want the lovemaking to stop. Every other night, she needs to sleep alone. So after lovemaking I go in the second bedroom and sleep in the bed her Daddy died in. She’s not over it yet. Clearly.

I’ll wait. I have to. I made my choice.


I’ve known her for three days. The plane to Montreal is in five hours. What do I do?

I wake up. Time has started again. I want to tell her I love her. Tell her you fool. My mouth is sewn closed.

"What are we going to do?" she asks.

"I can see loving you," I say.

"I can see loving you too."

It’s not the same and we both know it. Now we cemented it.

"You really want me to bear witness?" she says.

"It could make a big difference."

"And if the drug is approved, you’re going to Montreal?"

"My flight’s in five hours."

"I’m going to give a speech that sends my lover to another woman."

"If it’s a good speech."

She healed me. She taught me to love again. We shower, dress, go downstairs, share a bear claw.

"Tell me why Quality of Life can’t be measured again?"

"It can be measured. But only in milliliters."

"How much time will I have?"

"Fifteen minutes."

I advise her the two swing votes will be Kathy Albain, from Loyola University in Illinois, and Richard Simon, from the National Cancer Institute. Do not talk to them. Doctors don’t like to be confronted. Pretend you’re talking to the audience.

Seven years, fifteen minutes, two hundred million dollars.

At 9:30 we are called to order. Linda presents data on how quickly Ethyol is purged from the system. In other words, it poisons you, but not for too long. The incidence of hypotension trends towards control in 72 hours … I present data on why a dose of this dangerous magnitude is nevertheless necessary to prevent long-term Xerostomia. Half the patient population received radiation dose in excess of 6500 cycles … None of it matters. The panel’s faces are blank.

We’re talking Quality of Death.

You wake up. Your mouth has been sewn closed. You swallowed a 2 by 4. You can’t talk.

What we mean when we say hypotension is, you pass out.

When I inject Ethyol into the salivary glands, radiotherapy kills the tumors but not the glands. You’ll pass out off and on for three days and vomit for a week. But you’ll be able to talk until you die anyway.

There are all these other cancers to study its use in: ovarian, rectal, colon.

Jennifer is up on the stand, sending me to another woman.

"My father was Richard Boudreaux, identified in the case files of trial 30-49 as patient #005-513 –

"He did not receive Ethyol –

"For the last two months of his life, my Daddy could not talk –

"Every morning I’d come into his room and his eyes would plead with me –

"One time he tried to talk and he ripped the roof of his mouth off and had to receive 22 stitches –

"He spent the last two months of his life on the computer, writing me letters –

"He felt like there were all these things he never got to explain –

"Such as why he had to leave Mom –

"Or why my stepmother wanted him to cut us off –

"All he wanted was to be able to explain himself –

"He wrote these gorgeous letters –

"He signed them all, ‘I’ll carry my love for you to the other side, and it’ll be waiting for you when you get there.’ –

"I thought it was a lyric from a song, but I don’t know which song. He died before he could tell me."

Richard Simon is unimpressed. Kathy Albain votes yes. 7 votes to approve, 5 against. 99 times out of 100, the FDA will accept the panel’s recommendation.


I’ve been in Montreal a month now. I started working again. I’m injecting Ethyol into the lymph glands of ovarian cancer patients for safety profile. Jo is a nurse in an organ transplant center. I’m getting better. I found out how to love again. For a long time I couldn’t find the romance in my relationship with Jo. It was too raw, always fighting, the long distance, the disappointments. When you fall in love, you’re supposed to get a halcyon period. You’re supposed to save up goodwill for the battles to come later. Even Jennifer and I got that for three days. With Jo, it’s been a battle since day one.

And then one day Linda emailed me and asked me to tell her the story of my relationship with Jo. How did we end up together anyway?

I started writing it all down.

How I broke up her marriage. How I lost friends. How she was across the country. How we got in the car accident. How we broke up, got back together, broke up. There were other women in there, like Jennifer, and other men for her.

And Linda emailed back, "that’s the most romantic story."

"It is?"

Until then, I didn’t see it. We made it, despite all that.

Linda wrote, "If you two can make it through all that, I can definitely get over my boyfriend’s snoring."

Sometimes I thank Jennifer for teaching me to let people get close again. I think there’s a person inside all of us who’s capable of great love. We’re not as broken as we think.


I’ve known Jenny for three days and the plane to Montreal leaves in an hour.

We’re on the way to Dulles.

At check-in I declare the drugs I’m carrying. Amifostine, Doxyrubicin, Paclitaxel. I get a long look from the agents.

"What you did was brave," I tell Jennifer.

"Are you going to get on that plane?"

"I think it’s the right thing to do."

"You can come with me."

If it was love, I would.

"We just didn’t have enough time," I say.

"Make time. Come with me."

"My work is too important. And I don’t think you’re ready for me. I’m kinda high maintenance."

I get my boarding pass and we sit down at the Burger King for a last supper. We can’t eat our cheeseburgers. We feed each other the French Fries. She starts to cry, and I start to cry.

I give her my corduroy coat.

She says, "I can take you being with someone else. But just please, please, don’t forget about me. That’s all I want now. I just don’t want to be forgotten."

You will never be forgotten.

I get on that plane.