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No Fucking Guardrail

September 27, 2017

 

 

 

 

When you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, they tell you to “make memories.” The memories aren’t for you—as far as I know, dead people don’t need memories—but for your kids, so they’ll remember you after you’re gone.

 

So one friend offers air-miles; another offers a timeshare; and before I know it, I’m in Maui, driving along the craziest, windiest road I’ve ever seen up to the top of Haleakala, the dormant volcano that dominates the island. 5,000 feet; 8,000 feet; 10,000 feet. As we careen around hairpin turns and hidden curves, Matthew’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel, but Leo is SHRIEKING with glee: “There’s no fucking guardrail! Oh my god mom, there’s no fucking guardrail!”  The two boys are cackling in the back, imagining what would happen if we drove off into the abyss. For a second I imagine it too—maybe it would be better if we all flew away together in a perfect Thelma-and-Louise frozen moment—but mostly I’m telling Leo to shut up and pressing against the side window as if that will keep us from falling.

 

A thick layer of clouds obscures the summit, but suddenly we drive through a misty veil and penetrate the clouds, a cheap-rental-car-whale breaching a grey sea. The sky is a shocking shade of blue, much more solid than the clouds. When we finally reach the top of the volcano we get out of the car and stare down at the crater below, which looks like I imagine the moon to look, and at its bottom is apparently the quietest place in the world—the guidebook says that it “exceeds the technical capabilities of the microphones.” The guidebook also tells us that the next thing to do is to hike down into the crater, but of course that’s not something I can do. Chemo has zapped my energy; radiation has put ground glass in my lungs; and my spine is held together with tumors that are like the volcano: dormant but deadly. But Matthew and the kids long to descend. So I stand at the edge, with no fucking guardrail, and watch them scamper down into the volcano, growing smaller and smaller until they finally disappear.

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