A place to discuss hard stuff that happens to humans

Blue Draped Cube

The blue, the bed, the depth of it all, thick hospital drapes wrapped about us letting light under and over, fathoms deep, all breathless trepidation. A rising tide is at my throat, the blankets pinched beneath my twitching calves, pinched in. Who can I cling to? I cast around the blue space; the surgeon, the nurse, my Dad and Stace are tucked up in the shadows, my mother has absented herself, too raw and brittle from the past two weeks and believing herself bad luck. I’ve forgotten where my brother is.

The surgeon: ‘There’s nothing to be done, I’m sorry’, and I do think he’s sorry but also embarrassed; his eyes are as dead as Mars and the cadence of his words flat-calm, but he radiates a twitchy discomfort, avoiding eye contact, probably longing for the familiarity of the operating theatre; the nurse is obviously here to provide some humanity which just pours from her enormous, unanimous blue eyes that, even in this fabric-dusk, shine like a lake in summer.

I’m grateful when she shifts her attention to Stace, who sits just down to my right, poised, face frozen in what I’ve termed in the past ‘dust-bowl-farmer-wife-face’ on account of it’s open, wounded countenance, only now it is laced with horror, something new that I don’t recognise and which sickens my stomach. Tears are threatening her lower eyelids.

I’ve heard the surgeons words but have retreated before truly comprehending them; so aware and present yet so, so far away, telescoped back through my selves and into a new room that feels yellow and strung with tinnitus; and from all the way back there I see my Dad at the foot of the bed – angry, ‘For fucks sake!’, helpless, rubbing his forehead with uncontained anguish, his eyes absent and confused – and I can’t begin to imagine what he is feeling and that sadness is the most real and compounds Stacey’s horror and the nurses piercing eyes with their practiced empathy and the surgeon’s awkwardness and the words themselves, and all this choking, welling reality forces me out of the yellow room like a mollusk from a shell and I find myself uttering the single bravest thing I’ve ever said:

‘How long have I got?’

And even as the words limp from my mouth, I know they will exacerbate the pain, more for Stace and my Dad than for myself, but I have to ask it because to not would mean carrying that unknown and I don’t think I can bear even a second more of it, so I ask, selfishly, to relieve my own weight and feel Stace buckle but feel myself engage with this new reality for the first time, feel it shift like a train on rails and watch my other, previous life drift over there out of sight, the question setting me on a new path, making this new, dreadful story almost a real thing, as if by some magic, as if by not engaging it could’ve remained unformed, abstract, “other” even – although the words felt strangely rehearsed and heavy – and even as the surgeon shifts uncomfortably, face still kabuki, answering my own worn out question with another – ‘How long is a piece of string? Difficult to tell…’ – I feel the before-and-after-ness of this moment, a knot at the centre of my life from which all things stagger, past and future gathered and dispersed; the knot in my stomach that has drawn me like the rack and sent its caustic spores to my lungs as pollen, and all of this is phasing in and out in snatches that stutter the surgeons response still further and I find myself listening to the ward outside, so jealous of the continuum of the other patients -beeping wheezing, coughing, pained flirting with nurses – and I become aware of Stan in the bed to my left outside the blue cube who is throwing another of his fits, mean old bastard, railing at the nurses throughout the orange nights, not giving a fuck about the other sleepers, the fuckless, unabashed mien of the aged, something else to envy; I hear him bellowing ‘Don’t touch my testicles!’ (presumably the nurses are making another futile attempt at giving Stan a bed-bath) and for a brief moment I picture Stan’s distended, pendulous, thigh worn scrotum and right now, at the bottom of all of this, it seems wonderfully absurd, just for a second, and for the same second I expect to see smirks on the gathered shady faces, spectral blues, everything in danger of collapse. But the shock holds sway.

And throughout all of this my mother’s absence grows heavier; no doubt she is pacing and fretting somewhere along the corridor, going through all kinds of scenarios – I inherited her anxiety, we are twinned by it so I know…the routine she’s going through, a little dance, a little ritual to keep the bad at bay, I know all of this, how it spirals and encircles – and yet the reality is so much worse than she is imagining and the fact we know and someone has to tell her, God, this spectre is hanging over us. I probably feel how the surgeon felt coming here bearing life-shattering news, knowing it will drown expectant faces, my mother’s face pulled and pale, but I know I won’t have to deliver this news, my Dad will; these are her last moments of not knowing when she can entertain any outcome.

At some point when there is nothing left to ask when the empathy has been exhausted, the surgeon and nurse leave us and I thank him because he seemed so out of place and awkward. I was ready for them to leave as soon as the surgeon had uttered “sorry”.

Not long after, Dad leaves to find Mum and the window with Stace feels strikingly calm; seminal and irrevocable, something has happened, carved up the world and moved on leaving us suspended, a peace like smoke lingering after the last firework has dissolved upon itself, its retort still pressed upon our ears.

‘Life is wild’ she says, our first words in this new reality.

We talk in quotes with hard edges, not really a conversation but an attempt to share truths quickly. Panic truths.

‘I am so pleased you’re here with me’, I mean this, adding ‘wherever I’m going, we’re all going, we’ll be together like space-ghosts’.

‘I will make sure our girls grow up unafraid’ –“I” singular causes a lurching, temporal vertigo that sends me chasing my tail again: please don’t plan ahead, don’t past tense me, don’t be used to this, I’m not ready to be used to this, to be as was, don’t believe it because if you believe it I have to believe it and I can’t believe it, don’t make me other and expel me from us, step back, come back, I’ll talk you back into the sanctuary of disbelief; all this hurtles across my head but the girls, Christ, through some primal cognitive dance I’ve managed to keep them out just to try to survive this moment, but now they suddenly loom, super–vivid and laughing – Dali of the clouds and Bay all muddy and of the earth – and I’m nauseous to my bones.

‘What have I done?’

The cube is lighter, the quotidian rhythms of the ward exacerbating the apprehension of facing my mother, which is taking far longer than anticipated – truly a waiting room – but she is coming with all the thunder of sleepless childhood nights, the school gates, the mud of football mornings, licking cake mix from the whisks, I’ve remembered where my brother is, here it comes, closing in, she enters the cube, I dissolve into her arms, her words “My boy, my boy,” my words, “My girls, my girls.”



32 thoughts on “Blue Draped Cube”

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  • First of all touching story my husband stumbled across this story while he was looking up images of himself he is an entertainer here in the strip in Las Vegas he clicked On the story to find a pic of himself that pic used above is my husbands David shandor aka David decosta it’s most def my husband and what’s so weird is that this story is the same exact thing he went through with his mother!! It describes everything she went though and how she died she also had cancer died 3 years ago can the author at least please tell me where this pic came from please

    • Hi Dana, thank you for your thoughts. The above pic is of myself. I took the photo in the reflection of my computer screen, many thanks Greg

  • I danced with your mum (and aunt I think) at a Delays festival slot in Ireland about a hundred years ago. One of those glorious, vibrant memories that sticks with you. Love and hugs to you all.

  • Sean, October 13th, you are wrong, there are people that can relate, I had the same news, stage 4, I asked the same question, How long have I got! Answer: 18 -24 months, that was 2011, and I am ‘clear’at present. We didn’t know that at the time though, and it was a distressing time for my family and friends. My message, to anyone getting this news, ‘Never give up’!

  • It’s strange I feel so incredibly sad, a sadness that has hit me harder than i’d have thought. Delays, my sunshine band. Greg the lyricist that so beautifully puts in words and song a smile for us a melody that brings us so much joy it’s seems unfathomable that that will come to an end. I hope that somewhere in the depths you can still live and have some semblance of the life before Cancer and smile and laugh with your family don’t let that train take you too far away while your here. Be in the moment and stay well and strong. Lean on people, family, strangers. It’s amazing isn’t it how “this” truly shows how loved you are Greg how the human spirit comes to fruition when the chips are down. There isn’t any faded seaside glamour in your light x

  • First heard Delays through a recommendation of a friend back in 2005 and went on to love your songs and saw Delays live a number of times 2006-2010.Your lyrics Greg, have inspired me massively and will stay with me always and forever.You are a truly gifted and talented soul who has the ability, unlike most of us, to gift great songs, great lyrics that give energy , inspiration and hope to many , many people.Llove and energy to all.

  • Nobody can truly comprehend what you are going through Greg. I can only send you love and respect to you and your cherished ones. We all love different aspects of art and music, and the expression and pushing the limits of the voice has always taken me to another place for I am truly thankful for. Elizabeth Fraser, Kate Bush, Anohni, Roy Orbison, so many others and you Greg – I know art is created initially for personal exploration but crossing the threshold to share it with others can be such a joyous experience and whilst I’m sure it seldom matters at present, thank you for your voice – it is a f*cking beacon.

  • It took me a long while to read this, through the years. How you have managed, as always, to turn something horrendous into something beautiful with your words- never fails to amaze me. Your music and art has the same effect.Stacey said on a previous post that this is primarily a love story, not a cancer story and this is ever more clear from your wonderful words here. Ypur live for all of your family, your “cancer team” and precious girls shines through and is so moving .Thank you for sharing such a private and heart breaking story. X

  • Please keep writing, your words are beautiful, reminds me of The butterfly and the diving bell, but most of all keep living. Strength and hope to you all.

  • Absolutely heartbreaking, brought me to tears. I admire how strong you and your family are, my thoughts are with you.

  • Beautiful piece Greg. So honest. I can’t begin to imagine the journey you and your family have been on. Moved me to tears, but you’re positivity and motivation to keep your art going and show your experiences for the brutal reality they are is truly an inspiration. I wish you all the luck for your future journeys. Much love x

  • As a nurse I’ve witnessed this moment many times . It never gets easier , it’s impossible to convey how genuinely sorry I feel for those like yourself hearing the words that are life changing . I see their world’s shattering and the dreadful struggle to reorient to this new reality . You have captured that moment here and I was captivated by it and still wanted to know more . Thankyou for sharing this. Love and best wishes to you and yours

  • Greg, you and your family have been through so much but it is your inner strength and heart and soul that makes this such an emotional beautiful read. Totally amazing for you to be able to write it and bring yourself to be poetic and thought provoking. You and the band took a hold of my musical journey so early on at the leadmill and seeing your raw emotions on stage. The love and support you have now will grow stronger and you have so much love and respect over the world. When I saw the response to the donations it was incredibly moving and showed everyone that you didn’t have to be a fan to reach out. Keep fighting and holding on. Love respect ✊ rob X

  • Like your lyrics, this is beautifully elegant in the way it’s written.
    I feel so terribly sad that it’s you who has written it & feel deep sympathy for all of you.
    But your ability to stay creative astounds me & is truly inspiring.

  • With tears in my eyes I have to say how brave you all are. You have certainly portrayed how scary it is when you don’t get the news you are hoping for. I know your family is full of love and laughs, I hope this get you through x

  • This was heartbreaking to read but I’m so glad that you wrote it. You are not past tense, you will never be past tense to your loved ones. My mother died nearly 8 years ago and I invoke her daily – her love and wisdom never left me.

  • Empathy is an amazing thing, for those blessed with it. It unleashes boundless amounts of love and respect and awe. It deepens connections to where people feel safe to share their innermost feelings. It also allows for galloping fear and emotional pain and frustration and sadness.
    The most intense human emotions, as hard as they can be to live through, are so what it’s all for.
    I am crying now, on a gyroscope of strong emotions and so glad to feel. So grateful to have shared in this. Your writing is so beautiful, Greg. And so are you. xxx

  • Those words cannot have been easy to write, as a nurse I see patients going through this every single day. These words are so personal so powerful and so humbling. You and those dear to you have a difficult journey in frount of you …one that we all must tread one day. From the bottom of my heart I wish you(collectively) all that I can. Love and respect Matt/Nurse/Fan

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