Editor’s note: Elizabeth Churchill began writing her blog in 2006 after a grapefruit-sized tumor wedged between her lungs was diagnosed as a malignant highly aggressive stage IV lymphoma. Before her cancer diagnosis, she was the author of a horticultural column, an avid weightlifter, and a homeowner with a beautiful garden north-east of New Orleans. Once she started treatment, she couldn’t work, her relationship with her fiancé ended, and she became so in debt she had to sell her home to pay the bills. Unemployed and with no health insurance, Churchill started writing to keep family and friends informed and herself sane. Here, we excerpt a few of her entries.
Insomnia! What a pleasant surprise. Insomnia is an old friend I don’t see too much of these days, thanks to Better Living Through Chemistry. But whaddaya know? Look who’s back. It’s happy hour again at the House of Despair! Come on in, I’ll buy you a drink.
It’s 2:00 a.m. and the inside of my skull has turned into a dark and gloomy saloon, a seedy establishment I like to think of as The House of Despair Bar & Grill. Except there is no grill. Nobody actually eats at the House of Despair.
It’s sort of like, oh, remember the Losers Bar in Naked Gun 2.5: The Smell of Fear? Where the walls were covered with pictures of the Titanic, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Ford Edsel, and Michael Dukakis? It’s like that.
My friend Don and I once had this brilliant idea of putting together a club act called Unhappy Hour. We were going to sing all the most tragic and depressing honky-tonk hits circa 1945-1965: Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Harlan Howard, George Jones. Lots and lots of vintage George Jones. And instead of two drinks for the price of one, it would be one drink for the price of two. Like that.
So that’s the scene inside my head at 2:00 a.m. And I am the bartender. I unlock the doors, turn on the neon ‘open’ sign, and wait for my first customer to arrive.
As I lie in the dark waiting, the ancient floor furnace kicks on, knocking, creaking, and clanging like an old jalopy trying to sputter its way up Old Priest’s Grade. This means the temperature in my bedroom has dropped down below 50 degrees. And right on cue, the door swings open and in walksWorry!
Actually, it’s the Worry Brothers, all three of them: Astronomical Heating Bills Worry, Exploding Toxic Floor Furnaces Worry, and Frozen Corpse Discovered Next March Worry. The Worry boys sit down and order a round of really bad cheap Scotch.
As I stand behind the bar polishing shot glasses, I hear a barred owl carrying on in the backyard. I’ve seen this guy before, and he’s big. Big enough to feed on full-grown rabbits. Certainly big enough to swoop down and snatch a helpless little four-pound dog in his talons. Lo and behold, the door swings open and hey now! In strolls my old buddy, Fear of Large Predatory Birds Carrying Tiny Dogs Away.
Pretty soon the place is packed. I look around and see lots of familiar faces: There’s IRS Audit Consternation and Termite Trepidation; I see Impending Relationship Doom flirting with Dental Disaster Anxiety, while Debtors’ Prison Panic picks out her favorite suicide tunes on the jukebox. That old devil Flat Tire on a Dark Deserted Road Phobia huddles down at the end of the bar, sipping his Virgin Mary, teetering on the verge of falling off the wagon as usual. Yep, it’s 2:00 a.m. at the House of Despair and the gang’s all here.
Except…somebody important is missing. There’s a vacant stool, a prominent one right in the middle of the bar, the traditional seat of honor. I have to scratch my cold, bare scalp and think for a moment before I realize who didn’t show up tonight.
And then I remember: It’s my lifelong soul mate, Terror of Getting Cancer. Irony of ironies, now that I actually have cancer, he has abandoned me. Apparently I have one less thing to fear.
But don’t worry, that bar stool won’t be empty for long. I suspect in a few more months his big burly Stalky-Stalkerson cousin, Paralyzing Dread of Recurrence, will saunter in, plop himself down, and refuse to budge for the rest of my natural life. And I’ll never be alone again.
Bottoms up, boys! The next round’s on me.