My partner—my work partner, my cop partner—has cancer.
Big cancer. In-your-face cancer. “You’re a young guy, we’re gonna give this our best shot” cancer. Fucked with a capital “F” cancer.
He’s forty-seven with a wife and two young kids. Up until a year ago, when I retired, we did everything together—worked cases, executed warrants, processed evidence. Sat surveillance, interviewed witnesses. Chased after the bad guys. Drove together, went to meetings together, ate lunch together—almost every weekday for twenty years.
After I retired he took to calling me every day, mostly yelling—his standard form of communication. How cute, I thought, he misses me. But after I was away for a while it started to wear me down, so I told him to knock it off. The yelling, not the calling. It’s weird how quickly a tolerance level can drop. I worked with men my entire career, but once I retired I rarely saw one. My post-work life was so different. True to form, though, he didn’t take offense. He just switched to texting. That way, I couldn’t get annoyed with his tone. Better.
“Where’d you put the memo on the Smith case?” he texted. His case, not mine. He had to ask because I did the paperwork for both of us; I was the writer in our dysfunctional little family. Once I was gone he had no clue where to find anything. I jerked his chain, then told him where to look. Poof! Gone into the ether. Business as usual, exactly as we communicated face-to-face. Efficient, practical. Few niceties, no preamble, no epilogue. There were days we’d work side-by-side and not say twenty words to each other. For us it was normal.
When I was around him, I was my boy-self.
Piss me off? Get the hell away, I’d tell him. Annoy me? Get out of my face. Act like a child? Grow up; I’m not here to listen to you whine. And he reciprocated in kind. We were not gentle with each other. Fifteen minutes later whatever it was was over and done. No grudge, no apology. Straightforward. Things I had a hard time with, he handled. His pathological fear of paper? I picked up the slack. It was a symbiotic relationship. For twenty years it worked.
His wife asked once how I did it—when they got mad at each other they stayed mad. I said, perspective. She cared how he acted; to her it made a difference. Hers were a wife’s expectations. To me? His antics didn’t ping my radar. When he acted out I closed my door. It was just him being an ass. Tomorrow it would be my turn. It wasn’t personal. Wasn’t emotional. I was just our way.
But now, he’s sick. Very sick. Yesterday we went and had his port-a-cath placed, this morning we went for his last PET scan before he starts chemo on Monday. I take him, I think, because he trusts me to keep things on the surface. I think, but I don’t know. I don’t ask. He calls, I pick him up. That’s how it is with us.
The long drive back, we talk about girls. And sports. His two favorite topics. He’s more relaxed than he’s been for weeks, acting more like his old self. All the preparations are finally in place, he’s ready to kick some ass. We drive through Sonic. It’s comfortable. Almost normal. Fun.
As I write this, he and his wife are sitting down to explain things to their children. And when I dropped him off, he snuck around the back of my truck to give me a fast hug, definitely not our thing. Cracks are beginning to show, and the part of me that isn’t one of the guys is terrified. My inner girl is shaking like a leaf. I wish things could be as superficial as I make them out to be, but somewhere along the line I’ve lost my ticket to the tough-guy club. Next to my real partner, my wife, I’ve discovered that he’s my oldest and dearest friend. Who knew? Fuck cancer. Just fuck it!