We Have Stared into the Eye of Eleanor and We Are Not Afraid

I have this nickel-sized hole on my back and her name is Eleanor Pribst. If you don’t know who Eleanor Pribst is, I don’t even know why we’re friends. She is this girl from Airplane! who, if you have any taste whatsoever in movies, you’ll remember is famous for taking her coffee a certain way:

“I like my coffee black, like my men.”

How Eleanor reached nickel-sized proportions is a story for another time, mainly because I don’t come out looking very smart or sensible, and it’s a story wherein my wife gets to say “I told you so!” a lot. And how we named my creepy back sore after a preternaturally mature little girl from a brilliant ’70s slapstick movie is an even weirder tale that is probably interesting only to a select few.

Anyway, I finally went and got her looked at this week, and the little cunt has turned out to be skin cancer. Fucking Eleanor, I knew she was up to no good back there. (Okay, okay, so my wife knew she was up to no good back there, shutup.) Fret not, Buddhafaces, for it turns out to be the most common, most easily lop-offable kind of skin cancer, with a 98 percent cure rate. Not that that has stopped me in the least from parading around the house and saying dramatic things to my wife like “Now that I have The Cancer, I’ll expect you to remarry when I’m gone.”

The doctor lopped a big chunk of flesh out of my back to biopsy, put a band-aid on it, gave The Wife and me instructions for the wound to be cleaned twice a day, and sent us on our merry way. And because we have the attention spans of four-year-olds in a bouncy house, we forgot that middle part and left the band-aid on for a couple of days.

Which is why when The Wife pulled the band-aid off this morning, she let out a “whoa!” in a tone usually only reserved for when we’re walking down the street and she’s seen, say, a homeless man having explosive diarrhea in the middle of the sidewalk and wants to alert me that something extremely alarming is occurring in our near vicinity. It is a whoa! reserved only for certain occasions. Oh, I knew what that whoa! meant, all right. It meant:

Let me just pause for a minute in this charming tale of open sores to tell you that 2013 and 2014 were pretty much the shittiest years ever for the two of us, personally and as a couple. She was going through a depression in 2013; I was going through one in 2014. We’d finally bought the house we’d always dreamed of buying, but the depression, chronic pain, anger, and generic marital bullshit turned our honeymoon chateau into a ramshackle lesbian Grey Gardens—the two of us stomping about our (albeit adorably decorated) bungalow full of resentment and gloom, throwing blame and hatred at one another like poop-flinging monkeys. Then, in the middle of all that House of Sad, we opened a business because apparently we were also gluttons for punishment and—Jesus!—why not heap financial distress atop all this dark, shuttered-house anger!?

Ugh, y’all, it was not cute. Every request of “Will you clean the cat’s shitbox today?” came with the unsaid Since you’ve ruined my life, it’s the least you can do hanging in the air behind it. Everything was about built-up resentments and blame.

But then, a miracle! We found the cutest little pudgy, Jewish, cardigan-wearing (and also possibly those yoga pants that look like dress pants too because it is Berkeley, after all and all shrinks here are pretty much clichés) couples’ counselor, and we started screaming at each other in front of him, and something crazy happened. Within, like, two months we started liking each other again. We starting communicating with each other again. We started acting like a team again and started working with each other instead of against each other. We managed to work ourselves out of our shitty rut we’d worn ourselves into. (Though, instead of a rut, he kept calling it “our cycle,” which totally made me think of periods, which then made me think of the opening scene of Carrie, and I then just kept imagining us throwing tampons at each other and screaming “plug it up! plug it up!” every time we got into one of our epic fights. Which, come to think of it, TOTALLY helped.)

And, oddly, all of this—this mess of 2013 and 2014—is what I was thinking about as my wife was using a Q-tip to scrape pus and goo out of the entrance to the Seventh Circle of Hell that had formed on my back. I thought about how we all go into our first marriages so goddamned blind. (This is the first marriage for both of us; I would imagine one would be less naïve the second or third time around.)

I mean shit, it’s not that we were naïve enough to think that every single day of our marriage was gonna be as blissful as our matrimonial day—at least I hope we weren’t that idiotic. It ain’t all smiles and blowjobs, after all. But it was just that for so long we were that couple—you know the one—the couple that in their goddamned eighties are still fucking adorable, and you just know that their life is and always has been a laugh-riot. Everything is an inside joke, every meal is like a backyard BBQ, and every night is like a constant slumber party. You just envy them because life is fun and effortless. And you just know they never fight about tedious shit like in-laws and property taxes and the hate you have in your heart for the throw pillows they picked out for the guest bedroom. We were thatgross couple.

So we were utterly unprepared for how those two years nearly kicked our asses, and lord how we floundered. We had no coping skills for being deep in the shit and the muck. But deep down, we knew there were still good times to be had, so we buckled down and did the fucking work because there was something salvageable there. We laid bare our ugly secrets to a stranger and let him pick us apart. And it was hard and it was ugly, and it was emotionally scab-picky, but goddammit, we did it.

And now here we are—me, The Wife, and Eleanor—all huddled together in the bathroom of our lived-in, fought-in, loved-in little house. The cancer has been exposed, examined, discussed, and laughed over. It is what it is. We know now that it must be dealt with, and then we can and will move on the next thing. But the bottom line is that we know we will face it together, however disgusting and open-holey, and gross.

And we will persevere in the face of its exposed nastiness, no longer afraid, for we have named it, and in doing so, made it a little less terrifying.