The story that Claire told to a group of cancer patients was as follows (after the customary introductions):
“My mom was diagnosed with liver cancer when I was five. She was young, like…god, I guess she would’ve been 26?….I didn’t really understand what was going on – I knew she was spending some time at the hospital, but nobody really explained it to me. My dad took it hard. They’d been childhood sweethearts – each other’s first everything, you know? – and he just…couldn’t take the idea of being without her.
“It was more aggressive than anyone expected. She uh…she was already at the end of stage 3 when they found it, and between her paycheck at K-Mart and Dad’s teacher’s salary it just didn’t cover treatments. If we’d had more money, maybe…maybe they would’ve caught it earlier, or maybe they could’ve given her more options. But uh…no. She…she died eight months later.
“My dad tried his best. He was…he missed her so much, but he just…he wasn’t about to let me down. He raised me on his own and he did really well. I think Mom would’ve been really proud of him.
“I uh…I wasn’t the greatest kid. I guess I acted out a lot because I was so…so scared and confused and just…I wanted my mom back so much. I slept around and I…well, I got pregnant two years ago. My dad was mad, but we…-he- didn’t believe in abortion, so he said he’d help me through it. Mike, the uh…the father wasn’t around. I thought I’d give it up but…I kinda wanted the kid too? Like, I’d get to be a mom and maybe I wouldn’t have such a big hole in my life anymore?
“So we went for tests and all that. I couldn’t afford to go pre-pregnancy as often as I…probably should’ve. But Dad said this kid was coming into the world right, so he was ready to like…sell the house if it meant this kid was going to be born. And they…I was three months pregnant when they told me I…had cervical cancer. Like just…bullshit fluke stuff, right? It was far enough along that I…they asked us to make a choice. I get treatment, or…the baby lives. And my dad chose me.
Pause for long, deep breath and to close eyes. Hold a fist to the forehead. Be strong.
“We –thought- the cancer was gone. I settled down and I was going to go to college in the fall and I was going to do everything right if God would just let me have this other chance. But…sometimes you just…I guess it wasn’t a bargain he wanted to strike with me. I’m stage 3 now. It…it hasn’t spread, but we’re dealing with everything as we can. Dad sold the house last time to pay for treatment and…we’re scraping by with what we can. But I’m just…I don’t know if we can do this again. I feel so guilty that I’m the reason we….”
Fade out here. Choke back a sob, put face in hands. Shake head when addressed. Story is done.