Finding the Strength


dolor ex fides
Part 1

She reminded herself that it wasn’t as though she hadn’t had warning. She told herself not to panic. It was going to be okay. Then Delilah looked back down at the clump of black hair in the sink that had just fallen from her head. And against her will a couple of tears squeezed out. Looking in the mirror again, she thought maybe her reflection would be different this time. When the doctors warned her that chemotherapy would make her hair fall out, she thought it would take a while. The first bottle of drugs was still on the shelf in the bathroom. She hadn’t needed a refill yet. Radiation therapy had started two weeks ago. She looked in the mirror again. Shouldn’t I look sick? Delilah looked just as healthy as when she’d gotten her diagnosis a little over six weeks ago. Uterine cancer. Wow, she thought, I don’t even feel sick yet. Except for the big bald spot, I don’t look any different. She looked at her watch, which told her it was 7:43. If she didn’t hurry, she’d never make it to class on time.

“Rick,” she called out. “Where’s your beard trimmer?” She heard him puttering about in the kitchen, and looked back in the mirror. Aggressive treatment my ass, she decided, I should have waited until after graduation to start this shit.

Obtaining Rick’s beard trimmer also meant finding out where he’d put the damn thing. So she’d gone to him and endured while he cried over her lost hair. Honestly, she loved Rick. He’d been her boyfriend for the last 5 years, through undergrad and grad. He’d made the follow-up appointment when her yearly exam came back with “anomalies.” He’d held her hand in the doctor’s office when she was told the diagnosis. He’d been driving her to radiation therapy. But he was a crier. Just a little bit of her still thought there was something wrong with men that cried.

Shoving those thoughts aside, she put herself into the task at hand. The trimmer made a buzzing noise as she turned it on. She surprised herself into a short laugh. Amusing, she thought, it sounds just like my vibrator. Delilah giggled just a little at the thought of vibrating her hair off, then took a deep breath, set it to the shortest setting and went to it. The trimmer made huge inroads on her hair. Trails formed on her scalp as masses of hair drifted down lazily to the sink below. Hair was everywhere. I should have cut it shorter first, she thought. Oh well, in for a lamb... It was going quicker now. Finally there was only one lock left. Briefly she considered leaving it there, on the side of her head. She could braid it. It would be like a prince’s lock, like the ancient Egyptians used to do. She could wear it for a while, and then, when she did shave it off, it would be a statement. A declaration. She would become a man. Ready to be Pharaoh. Delilah turned the trimmer off, and heard Rick in the living room. He was crying again. Or still.

She turned the trimmer back on and shaved it off. Who wanted to be a man? They were all weak anyway. One last look. Well, at least my ears don’t stick out. Then I’d look silly.

Walking across campus, it seemed like everyone was looking at her. Her head felt cold. I need to go shopping, Delilah decided. Buy some hats. Walking into her morning class, only one or two students looked up. But that started a chain reaction of gasps, until all 27 of their heads were up and 54 eyes were glued to her, trying to discover her possible reasons for becoming bald. She cleared her throat.

“Okay, separate into groups and get started on your peer evaluations.”
Reluctantly they complied. Delilah sank into her chair with a sigh. On the whole, she agreed with the English Department’s practice of letting graduate students teach freshman composition. It was a good way to pay the bills, and get some teaching experience on her resume. But sometimes being around freshman college students, especially first thing in the morning, could really wear on her nerves. Especially now. When she’d been diagnosed, Delilah had decided that she didn’t want to tell anyone what was wrong. Well, Rick had to know, and her parents obviously, but she just didn’t want to deal with all those reactions at school. Running her hand over her new haircut, she thought that maybe now she wouldn’t have to tell them. Most of them would probably figure it out for themselves. Certainly as time wore on, and other symptoms began to manifest. Her doctor had told her to withdraw from school.

“You need to save your strength for what’s important,” he’d said. She’d snorted at him and told him that an already paid for semester of school, above all her last semester, was the most important thing in her life, and she wouldn’t be persuaded. He’d itemized the many things that could happen. The stresses on her body that chemo and radiation could bring. That this was serious; she could actually die. She’d largely ignored him. Maybe that wasn’t my finest moment, Delilah reflected. Maybe I should... a student was approaching her. It was David, one of the student’s whose work she’d actually enjoyed reading. She glanced over at his group. They appeared to be done while the other groups were still at it.

David looked at the ground, then back up.

“Ms. Vernon, we were... uh, I couldn’t help but notice... and...”
He looked so uncomfortable she couldn’t help but laugh. And then immediately felt pity for him. And looked around at the rest of the class and saw the same look on 26 other faces.
What would I have needed to hear from a teacher about cancer? Delilah had a moment of sympathy for her poor students; then irritation took over. Can’t I have a moment’s peace? Don’t these damn kids understand that if I wanted to tell them I would have?

“Please sit down, David. Everyone get back to work.” A girl, Cora, raised her hand.

“Actually, class time is over.” Delilah looked at her watch. 9:52. Now she was really irritated. She’d spaced out for the entire class time.

“Okay then. I expect to have your essays in my box by five tomorrow. Late papers will not be accepted.” The students filed out of the classroom. Delilah put her head down on the desk for a moment.

The secret’s out. Everyone’s gonna figure it out. By tomorrow morning everyone will know. There’s gonna be cards and phone calls at all hours. I’ll be lucky to escape a damned bake sale. She got herself together. She had a meeting with her faculty advisor, and then Rick would be outside to get her to that 11:30 doctor appointment. She pulled out her compact and looked into it. That shiny bald-headed person looked back at her.

I guess there’s no way to get old Whitson to believe this is a fashion statement. Maybe I can just tell him that it’s none of his damn business.

A short time later Delilah was sitting in a paper dress, putting her feet up into stirrups.

“Now you’re going to feel some pressure...” the doctor said calmly.

Translation. This is going to hurt like a son of a bitch. Delilah took a deep breath and tried to think of something else. The meeting with her advisor hadn’t gone well. Whitson had looked sidelong at her the whole time, wanting to ask but not feeling courageous enough. Ow, damn it, ow. She smiled a little at the thought that her new look might have intimidated him, at least just a little. I hope that works on the thesis committee. Ow. And what would it take to get a hand warmer in here, anyway? That seems very, ow, inconsiderate of them. And I hate, ow, hate paper dresses.

Later, when Delilah was dressed and sitting in the doctor’s office, letting Rick hold her hand, Rick had started telling her how stupid she was. Okay, she reminded herself, he hadn’t actually said stupid. That was just the tone in his voice as he told her that she needed to tell people what was going on in her life. That she could really use that support, to know there were people that she could depend on. And the doctor’d had the audacity to agree with him. He’d even tried to recommend a support group. Delilah sat there, silent for as long as possible. She felt tired and violated. Then she’d stood up.

“Look you assholes. This is my uterus. It’s my cancer. Don’t you dare tell me how to deal with it, as if either of you actually knew what I was going through.” She spun on the doctor and put her index finger in his face just as he was opening his mouth. “And don’t you tell me about all the people you’ve treated. Until you’ve actually had something that wants to kill you growing inside your own body, you can shut the hell up. I’ll deal with it any damned way I please. And if I have to sit through one more lecture like this, I’ll be finding myself a new boyfriend and a new doctor.” And she’d walked out the door.


dolor ex fides
Finding the Strength - Part 2

Now, standing on a curb a few blocks away, she reconsidered that decision. It’s getting fucking cold out here, and I don’t see a cab anywhere. Why couldn’t I just stay quiet? Ignore both of them? Looking around, Delilah spotted, not a cab, but a place to get warm. Okay, it’s a Starbucks. And Lord do I hate Starbucks. But coffee and warmth sound good right now. She walked up to the counter and ordered a cup of plain coffee, thank you very much, much to the consternation of the barrista. Then she found a quiet corner to sit down in. This place gets anymore crowded and they’ll have to start suspending people from the ceiling. I bet that would just make the stupid place more popular. They’d come up with some imbecilic slogan for it like ‘come in and hang around.’ Yuck. I hate that it’s true. And the coffee is really good. Dammit all.

“If you frown any harder that coffee’s going to run away from you.”
Delilah looked up at quite a handsome young man. She could guess him to be in his late-twenties, so about her age. And he was smiling at her. He invited himself to sit.

“I like your head.” She was momentarily tricked into laughing, then recovered herself.

“You seem awfully confident that I don’t mind you sitting here.” Maybe my new intimidating look will work on him.

“I suppose that’s because I am awfully confident.” Damn. Not working. Well, I could use a little eye candy. He can stay a little longer.

“I’m guessing you don’t get turned down very often.”

“Nope.” He grinned at her. “Plus, there are no more free tables here. And I meant it, I do like your head.”

“Thanks, it’s new.”

“New? Did you just pick it up or something?” At least he’s not stupid.

“Well, I never saw it this way before today. I don’t have such a good recollection of my bald baby years.” He laughed at her.

“Was it an impulse shave?” She sipped her coffee, considering that.

“You could say that.”

“You know what else you could say?”

“Piss off?”

“Not quite. I was thinking more of your name.”

“Young sir, how could you be thinking of it when you don’t know it?”

“I’m psychic.” Dammit. He made me laugh again. This isn’t going well.

“Then what’s my name?”

“Oh, that’s not how being psychic works.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “It’s not?”

“No. I predict that if I tell you my name, you’ll tell me yours.”

“Uh huh. That’s your claim to fame? Does that work for you often?”

“Well, let’s test it. I predict that when I tell you my name, you will feel a strange compulsion to tell me yours, along with why you made an impulsive decision to shave your head this morning.”

“Why do you think it was this morning?”

“Because you don’t have a hat. If you’d done it yesterday, you’d have already gotten one.”

Damn, he’s brighter than I thought.

“My name is Vincent.”

“Delilah. Well, you were half right.”

“The day is young.” And he’s cocky. I never could resist that combination.

“What is it, Delilah? What did I say?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” At that moment, her cellular phone went off. She looked at the display. It was Rick. Of course it was Rick. She answered it.


“Where are you?”

“Out. I’ll be home later.” A long pause.

“Is that all you’re going to say to me?”

Dammit. “Rick, I can’t do this right now. I’ll be home later. I promise.”

“Fine. We’ll talk then.”

“Goodbye.” Rick hung up without saying goodbye. Delilah looked over at Vincent. He had a troubled half-smile on his lips.

“I believe I understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“Why you were frowning at your coffee earlier. You have had a fight with your boyfriend. And here I come, blundering into the mess. Did he not approve of your new style? Because I think you have a beautiful... um, scalp.”

Delilah smiled.

“No. The fight wasn’t about my new look. He understood that.”

Vincent got a very strange look on his face.

“Do you love him?”

“My boyfriend?”

“No, the Easter bunny. Of course, your boyfriend.”

“Yes, I do.”

Vincent pulled his chair in closer.

“Then I shall dispense with the flirting. Because you are unhappy, and I want that not to be. So you will tell me all your problems, I will make you less unhappy, you will go home to your boyfriend and have passionate make-up sex, and think of me just a little. And that will make me happy.”

Delilah could only stare at him for a long moment. She hadn’t spoken to anyone about the cancer yet. Rick had told her parents for her, and she’d avoided it as a topic of discussion several times since. But something about Vincent’s spontaneity, his smile, the way he genuinely seemed to care, and that he kept saying he liked her head, all added up to make her trust him. She smiled to herself. He probably thinks I’ve got some simple problem he can just reassure me about. Something that a big strong man would have no problem dealing with. Fine. Let’s see how he handles this.

“Over a month ago I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.” A small gasp escaped him. A petty part of Delilah enjoyed the horrified look on his face. “Yeah, that was my reaction, too. I’m on chemo drugs and having radiation therapy twice a week. This morning a big chunk of my hair fell out, and I decided to just get rid of all of it, like ripping off a band-aid really fast. That’s really it. I’m not gonna die. I just came from the doctor’s office, where I was prodded and scraped, and then told by my boyfriend and my doctor that I’m doing myself a disservice by not telling everyone and their grandmother that I’ve got cancer. This morning I played off the hair as a fashion choice.”

He sat there for a moment, considering what she’d said.

“Do you know yet if they’ll have to remove it?”

She shuddered a little.

“It’s a possibility.”

“I had a friend whose mother had uterine cancer. They had to remove it. She was much older than you are. You have no children; I’m guessing?”

Delilah shook her head, no.

“I’m very sorry for you. I know that’s exactly what you don’t want to hear from everyone, but I am.” Damn skippy that’s what I don’t want to hear. “But that’s human nature. You’re a human, a shitty thing happened to you and I, a fellow human, feel bad because you don’t deserve it. I’m also sorry to tell you that I agree with your boyfriend.”


“I think that bottling this up inside and keeping it to yourself is hurting you.
Maybe in a masochistic sort of way, you’re enjoying it right now. You’re telling yourself that you can’t depend on anyone else; they’ll all just fall to pieces. But you, you can handle it all yourself. And that’s a lie. Eventually you’ll break, and that won’t be pretty.”

I gotta get out of here. Delilah began to pull away.

“No, wait. Please just listen to me a little. Please look inside yourself, and ask if you don’t feel better, just a little tiny bit better, because you told me what was happening with you. Because you don’t have to hide it from me.”

Fuck this. But she did look inside. And Delilah realized that she did, in fact, feel better. A lot better actually. Oh, damn him to the fiery pits of hell. That’s not fair.

“You don’t even know me.”

“But I know people. And I have seen reactions to cancer before.”

Delilah swallowed hard.

“Your friend’s mother. Did she die?”

“Not of the cancer. She died years and years later, in her late sixties.”

I want Rick. I want to see Rick, right now.

“I have to go.”

“Please, Delilah. Take this.” And he handed her a matchbook with his name and number inside. Oh really? She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Just look at it this way... I expect you to live long enough to call me. If you want to.”

She laughed. And leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you. And, well, I’m not promising anything. I do love Rick. But if the situation changes...”

He spread his hands magnanimously.
“That’s all I ask.”

Delilah dialed a cab company as she left the Starbucks. When she arrived home, the first thing she did was collapse with laughter. The second thing was to kiss Rick, right on the top of his freshly shaven bald head.


Angel of Death
IT was a very well written story.


I read all of it. Sorry you missed a good story there Fuck You


Highly Excitable
I read every word of it and I thought that it was very good too. You've got talent switch_scribe :thumbsup: