Happy Face by Cathy de la Cruz
Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, February 28th, 2017
"I never asked to see it, I never wanted to see it."
When I was in high school, my father’s cancer came back. He woke up one morning screaming in pain. He thought he was passing a kidney stone. My mother rushed him to the hospital. I remember when they came back, she explained it was not a kidney stone, but that the cancer was back and attacking his kidney. Apparently, the tumor had become so big that it was pressing on something, which was causing my father the pain he felt. If the tumor had not grown so large, who knows if they would have discovered it.
Everyone acted like my father’s kidney cancer was the most devastating thing in the world, but I never once thought my father was going to die. It didn’t even seem like a possibility. My father had lived though so many different types of cancer since the 70s and always survived. I never even saw him look particularly thin when going through chemo and his hair always remained thick.
I remember my mother describing the scar on my dad’s side as looking like the mouth of a happy face. I remember her drawing the curve of the scar with her finger in the air. It was like she was trying to make light of the matter, but I knew it was jarring for her. You don’t turn an open wound into something beautiful like that unless you’re in shock and she practically did the movement in slow motion like she was a conductor leading an orchestra that didn’t exist. I must have been about fifteen when this was happening and I never saw the scar, the open wound actually. I never asked to see it, I never wanted to see it.
My mother had to learn how to clean my father’s open wound. A nurse from the hospital came to our house and went upstairs with my mother to my parents’ bedroom. They closed the door and my mother learned how to clean her lover’s wound. Never in a million years could I imagine doing that for someone, not even someone I loved.
In my head, I can reason that if given the option to take care of someone I loved while having to see their internal organs every day for a few weeks, or not seeing their internal organs and losing them instead, I am sure that I would be able to muster the courage.
The way that the door was always closed when my mother did this for my father is sort of how I imagine love to really be—something so simultaneously intimate and disgusting, that it must be kept secret. I recently tried to tell a lover that if he ever got shot, I would clean his wound. It didn’t help that I was drunk when I was trying to tell him this and he thought I was trying to say that I was safer to go to than the police. I was trying to tell him that I loved his body so much that I wouldn’t be disgusted by it if I had to really see what it looked like on the inside; had to keep it from falling apart.