Aaron moved from desk to desk through the office he had spent the last nineteen years in. Oh, he had not had the same job for that length of time but he had worked at the same address. He had risen from a claims adjuster to Assistant Manager during that time. Today was to be the last time he was in the office—at least as an employee—and it was not a full day. It was just short of ten a.m. and he was making the final rounds telling his employees goodbye before he went off to an early retirement. His company was downsizing and had offered early retirement to those who had a total score of years of service with the company and age that equaled at least 80. Aaron had just made the cut. He was just past age 51 and had 29 years with his current employer.
Thankfully savings and the sweetened retirement package had made it financially possible for him to retire. He had become so tired of the pressure he had been looking for other work when the early retirement opportunity was announced. He had been one of the first persons to apply. The thought of retiring early was frightening because it would be so long until he could collect his social security but he and his wife had decided he should make the move and retire for the sake of his mental and physical health as well as for the sake of their marriage.
The day of his retirement Aaron and his wife Bonnie left for a six week retirement trip. They had always wanted to travel and so they immediately began doing so. The first few years of Aaron's retirement they planned to drive all over North America. They intended to have an ultimate destination in mind for each trip but they would take their time getting there and getting back home. If they saw someplace they wanted to see they would stop and see or do whatever caught their interest. The first three trips were wonderful. During winter they were on the beach in south Florida, in the Keys. As the weather warmed they moved north. During the hot part of the year they were in Canada, Alaska and the northern part of the United States. Most of their trips were six to eight weeks long then they would return home to do necessary upkeep, touch base with family and friends and pick up clothes appropriate for the weather they would face on their next trip.
Aaron and Bonnie were not hypochondriacs by any stretch of the imagination but they were careful of their health. They had the recommended checkups for persons their age. They went to the dentist every six months for exams and cleanings as recommended. They took vitamins and exercised. They ate balanced meals and tried to eat healthy foods. In short they tried to live life right yet still eat and drink well. They intended to fully enjoy the time they had remaining.
When Aaron was 50 he had his first colonoscopy as is recommended. Polyps were found and removed. Then he was informed he needed to have another colonoscopy every two years because polyps had a history of turning malignant. With a history of polyps more care should be taken.
Aaron had his second colonoscopy at age 52 as recommended. He and Bonnie were upbeat and looking forward to another winter in Florida. They were scheduled to depart from Wilsons Mill a week after the procedure. The gastroenterologist came into the room shortly after Aaron was returned from recovery.
Dr. Johnson said, "Mr. Talkington we found two more polyps this time. I only removed one of them. The other polyp was very large. It has to come out but we need to know more about it. Before we remove it I want to see the biopsy as it looks suspicious. I need to know how deep it goes before we attempt removal."
Bonnie looked shocked and Aaron felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was already thinking of the "C" word and felt like the bottom fell out of his life. Bonnie said, "Doctor we're supposed to go to Florida for six weeks beginning next Thursday. Am I going to know about this before we leave?"
"I should have the biopsy back next Monday. I will be out of the office most of the day Tuesday. If I have not called you by Wednesday afternoon you can check with my office for the results."
Bonnie set her lips then asked, "What about our trip? When will he have to do something about this?"
"If the trip was for a week or so there would be no problem but if the growth is malignant we will want to move to remove it as soon as possible. Even if it is not malignant it should come out very soon to be safe. I recommend surgery immediately in either case but obviously if it is cancer the surgery should be sooner rather than later."
Aaron lay on his bed and listened to his wife and Doctor discuss his problem. He understood what the doctor was saying but what bothered him was his wife. She seemed more worried about her winter in Florida than she did about his health. He was still not thinking clearly because of the anesthetic in his system but he had a strange feeling about the conversation. Bonnie's attitude worried him.
Six days later just after noon on Tuesday the phone rang. Aaron was sitting at his desk researching stocks and repositioning himself in his self directed Individual Retirement Account. He picked up the phone. Doctor Johnson said, "Mr. Talkington?" When Aaron acknowledged the doctor continued, "I got the results of your biopsy back yesterday as I said we would. It was a cancer sir. My office will be setting up further tests for you as soon as possible. Our first test will be a CT scan to determine the size and depth of the growth. After I receive that we will get back in touch to make further treatment arrangements."
Aaron sat somewhat in shock. He had been expecting this outcome but it is still a shock when you hear the words you have been dreading. He tried to ask questions but many of the things he wanted, needed desperately to know could not be determined this early in his treatment. Finally, still in shock, he said, "Thank you doctor," and hung up.
It was normal in the Talkington home for Aaron and his wife to put the phone on speaker when they answered. They were a couple and had been for 28 years. They neither one had secrets from the other. In fact, many of their friends would not call to visit because they did not like the fact each was privy to every phone call.
When Aaron hung up the phone Bonnie came into the office from the kitchen where she had been working. She stood in the door for a moment then walked to one of the chairs they used to read. "Well, that sure puts a crimp in our travel plans. Did he say when everything would go down?"
"No. You heard it. They'll call with the next appointment."
Later that afternoon Dr. Johnson's office nurse called with the next two appointment times for further tests. There was a blood work up scheduled for the next day then in four days the CT scan. It would be three days for the results to be read and the doctor to call back at the outside. As soon as he hung up Aaron began canceling reservations for their trip. He cancelled three weeks ahead and decided to wait before cancelling more. Depending on how the tests came out and how soon he had his surgery he had hopes of going to Florida for at least part of the time they had scheduled.
Bonnie walked into the office and saw the computer screen had a cancellation verification e-mail visible. "What are you doing," she asked. "You aren't cancelling all of our reservations are you?"
"NO, I only cancelled the first three weeks. I thought we might still be able to go for part of the winter. From here out I will only cancel as we get closer to the reservation beginning date. I plan to cancel each reservation just before it is no longer open to cancellation without penalty. That way if things work out for the better we can still go south part of the season."
Bonnie sighed and said, "Well I suppose that's the best you can do right now." She turned and walked from the room with no further conversation. For the next three days she was quiet, pensive. When she said anything to Aaron her voice was sharp. She seemed upset but when Aaron asked her what was wrong she always said "Nothing". Aaron chalked her attitude up to worry over his health problem. After all, he wasn't the most chipper person in the world either and he had to watch himself to keep from snapping at Bonnie. Aaron knew how he would feel if it was Bonnie with this hanging over her head.
A few days later Aaron and Bonnie went to the pre surgery check up. Bonnie seemed surly once again and just sat staring into space while they waited their turn to see the surgeon. Aaron was not much better. He looked around the room and saw all the sick people, people with hope shattered because their cancer came back, people like him that had not had surgery before and still hoped for the best, that they would beat the "big C".
During the consultation Aaron had trouble concentrating on the discussion. He remembered listening to and approving the plan but when the surgeon asked if he had any questions his mind came up blank. All he could do was shake his head no. Bonnie on the other hand had many questions and they all seemed to dwell on recovery times and what Aaron would be able to do after the surgery, if he could travel and if so how soon. Aaron thought many of the answers were positive but Bonnie seemed worried. Finally the exam ended and Bonnie and Aaron left for their home. The trip home was quiet, tense.
Neither Aaron nor Bonnie slept well the last few days before his surgery was scheduled. Finally the day of his surgery arrived. The doctor had recommended and Aaron agreed that a portion of his large colon be removed. The day of his surgery Aaron was frightened and somewhat angry at the same time. Bonnie took him to the hospital as a worried spouse would do but she seemed withdrawn, almost surly. Her attitude radiated resentment rather than concern. She seemed angry she had to make the trip and care for Aaron.
Like most people when they come out from under anesthetic Aaron was confused and had trouble focusing on what the doctor said. To his surprise, unlike most people with families he became aware Bonnie was not in his room when he was returned. She had not even arrived by the time the doctor came into the room to discuss what he found during the surgery.
The doctor was almost finished telling Aaron the results when Bonnie came wandering into the room carrying a starbucks coffee and sweet roll. She sat in the chair and had her snack as she listened to the remainder of the doctor's conversation. The part she heard was, "There is a good chance we got the entire tumor. It had not grown past the intestinal wall as far as we could determine. With a history of colon cancer however, you will need more frequent tests and will need to be more careful about identifying possible symptoms of recurrence. Unless there are complications I expect you will be able to resume normal activities in six to eight weeks. We will know more when we get the pathology report. That usually takes about three days."
Bonnie asked, "How soon can he travel. We are supposed to be in Florida right now. When can we leave?"
"He should not drive for at least two weeks, preferably four. I would not recommend he ride in a car for more than an hour at a time until that period has elapsed. After he returns home he can do most things as tolerable."
Bonnie scowled and glared at Aaron as the doctor said, "Unless there are other questions I have to go to my next procedure. I'll stop by later this evening."
Before the evening meal was served Bonnie rose from her chair and walked up beside Aaron's bed. She said, "I am leaving now. I have a lot of things at home that need doing. I'll be back tomorrow." Bonnie turned and left while Aaron lay there in surprise. Of course, with the residuals from the anesthetic he had been drifting in and out of sleep all afternoon but he felt he had missed something in the conversation. Bonnie did not kiss him good bye, she did not touch him or even tell him she loved him when she left. Had he just zoned out and missed that?
It was after noon the next day before Bonnie arrived. She just walked into the room and sat in the chair. Aaron looked over at her and said, "Hi. I was beginning to worry about you. Is everything OK?"
"Of course. I just had a lot to do this morning. Has the doctor been here yet?"
"Yeah. He seemed happy. He said if everything goes well I can go home Thursday or Friday."
Bonnie came to the hospital daily but she did not spend much time with Aaron. She seemed withdrawn and surly when she was there. It was late Friday before Bonnie showed up at the hospital to take Aaron home. She didn't have much to say during the trip. After they arrived home she helped him into the house and to his chair in the office. She said, "Sit here while I finish dinner. I've made up the guest room for you so you don't have to climb the stairs to our bedroom until you can walk better."
"Honey it's only four steps to the upper level. I know I can make that OK and I really want to sleep in my own bed."
Bonnie's face tightened and she scowled before she said, "I don't care Aaron. The doctor said not to overdo things and only do limited walking to be increased daily. He said no strenuous exercise and that's what I intend to see you do. You'll sleep on the lower level until the doctor says you can do more."
Bonnie cared for Aaron the entire weekend and until Wednesday of the following week. She helped him to the bathroom and brought his meals to the chair for him to eat. She seemed surly to him. Aaron decided she was not sleeping any better than he was. Her eyes were bloodshot and had deep circles under them. Her face was puffy as if she had been crying. He felt good and at the same time sad because she seemed to be worrying so much about him.
Thursday morning Bonnie took Aaron back to the Doctor's office for his one week check up. Once again her attitude was poor. When she spoke to Aaron her voice was sharp and she had no patience with him. Aaron still walked slowly because of the pain from his incision. Bonnie would walk at a normal fast pace then stop several feet ahead of him, turn and huff because he could not keep up. She was apparently angry he was so slow and Aaron was becoming angry because Bonnie was so impatient with him. Once again sharp words were exchanged.
When they left the doctor's office they had shopping to do. They were nearly out of groceries. Aaron slowly got out of the car and followed Bonnie half way to the store. Finally he gave out and said, "Honey I just can't make it. I have to go back to the car. Sorry."
Bonnie looked back at him and scowled then turned and stomped into the store. Almost 45 minutes later she came back with the groceries. The cart was almost half full of bags. She stood behind the car glaring at Aaron while she rummaged for her keys in her purse. Finally she opened the trunk and unloaded the groceries. Bonnie didn't even return the cart to the proper location. She just pushed it out of the way and got into the car. She never even looked at Aaron before she started and drove out of the lot. Neither spoke during the nearly 45 minute drive back to their home.
When they arrived home Aaron picked up one light bag and Bonnie's purse then walked slowly into the house. Bonnie followed him carrying four large bags. When she entered the kitchen she glared at Aaron who was sitting in a kitchen chair resting. He said, "I'm sorry Honey. I'm bushed. I just can't help carry even the light bags. Just your purse and the one bag I brought in hurt my incision. I think I'm going to my chair for a short nap while you prepare supper."
Aaron never even woke up to eat his supper. The next thing he knew was at one a.m. when he had to get up to use the bathroom. After he finished he staggered into his bedroom and collapsed once more. The next morning just after 0630 he heard Bonnie clanging around in the kitchen. Shortly thereafter he smelled bacon cooking and coffee perking. He dressed and slowly made his way into the kitchen.
Aaron looked at Bonnie, pulled out his chair and sat. He smiled and said, "Good morning Honey. I was really bushed. I only woke up once last night. You doing OK this morning?"
Bonnie grunted "Yeah" and continued cooking. She placed a cup of coffee and his breakfast in front of Aaron. She returned to the stove for her food and coffee then sat at her usual place across from him. When they were nearly finished with their breakfast Bonnie looked over the breakfast table at Aaron and said, "I have to go into town this morning. I need to run some errands and pick up some things we didn't get yesterday. After I finish my errands I am going to stop by and visit Marlene. I'll be late getting home. There is some left over's in the refrigerator for your lunch and supper."
"OK. Would you stop somewhere and get more Pepsi please? I only have six bottles left. We should have bought more yesterday. I've really been enjoying it the last several days."
As the day wore on Aaron became worried. Bonnie had been gone all day and he had not heard a peep from her. Beginning mid afternoon Aaron had made repeated attempts to reach her on her cell phone. Finally at 1830 that evening, his worry intensifying, he called the highway patrol to see if she had an accident. They told him there was no record of his vehicle or wife being involved in an accident.
Aaron sat in his chair and worried more and more. He continued to call her occasionally until he fell asleep in his chair. He woke about five a.m. After he hobbled to the downstairs bathroom he made his way to the garage door that opened off the kitchen. His truck was in the garage but not Bonnie's SUV. Aaron became even more worried and he felt his stomach muscles clench. He slowly, painfully, made his way up the stairs to the master bedroom. The bed had not been slept in.
Aaron stood in shock as he surveyed the room. Bonnie's closet doors were hanging open and most of her clothes were gone. Her dresser drawers were open and mostly empty. He saw a piece of paper taped to the closet door where he could see it from the bedroom door.
Aaron slowly walked to the closet and pulled the paper from the door. Aaron read the note and felt sorrow, loss, then almost immediately a deep surge of anger. Bonnie had written, "Aaron I don't know when you will find this note. For my sake, I really hope it is quite a long time but perhaps it won't be. I know this is a dirty thing to do to you but I just can't face the future with you now. We scrimped and saved so we would have a pleasant retirement, so we could travel and enjoy life after you retired. Now, almost before the good times begin you become ill and they are ended.
"Aaron I am so sorry but I just can't face caring for you, waiting on you hand and foot as your illness turns you into a helpless invalid before you die. If you haven't been served yet you soon will be. Aaron I am divorcing you so I can enjoy the rest of my life. Over the last several days while you have been sleeping I have taken all I want from our house. I have taken everything from the brokerage accounts and most of the amount in our bank accounts. That is all I want. I know I could get some of your retirement but that would mean I should give you some of the money and investments. I feel it is fair I get the investments since I am not asking for any of your monthly retirement. Our little house is not worth much so I have signed a quit claim deed on my half for you.
"Good bye Aaron."
Aaron walked slowly to the bed and sank down to sit on it. He had no idea how long he sat there before he slowly, carefully made his way down to the office. Just to check he logged onto the computer and accessed their brokerage and bank accounts. There was at most two month's normal living expenses left in the bank. None of the stocks and bonds remained in the brokerage. Aaron knew his share of his medical expenses would be in the neighborhood of $25000.00 to $40000. He had no idea how he would pay for them.