So I’m at lunch with my two sisters, celebrating the 40th birthday of one of them. Being girls, we of course must all go to the loo together after the meal. Fate smiled on us, giving us three empty stalls and indeed, an entirely vacant loo. So much the better to keep gossiping and catching up.
While still engaged in my personal business, I hear one of my sisters coughing. It’s a really hacking, smoker’s kind of cough. Since one of them is in between rounds of trying to quit smoking, I naturally call out, “Hey, you gonna live or what?” No response, but the loos are flushing and sinks are running.
I step out of the stall to see both sisters nearly doubled over, hands over mouths. One of them whispers, “That wasn’t us coughing!” And then they bolt.
Greeeaaaaaat. I’ve just insulted a total stranger. And since I can’t get my hands washed and bolt myself before my victim appears from her stall, I decide I have to act like an adult. I’m the oldest, after all.
As she approaches the sink, I turn to her and see a wispy-looking woman in her early 60s, I think. Not a lot of gray, but she definitely looks a bit fragile. Oh, even better, I’ve insulted someone my mom’s age. Super. So I suck it up.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry. I thought you were one of my sisters, and I was just joking with her.”
“Well, that’s OK,” she replies, in a soft, quavery voice. “I had breast cancer a while back, you know. The cancer came back in my lungs.”
“Wow, I’m sorry to hear that.”
At this point, I’m really hoping someone will bust in to rob the restaurant and coincidentally shoot me, as well. Really, can this get any worse?
(Note to self: Remember what they always taught in trial practice about asking one question too many?)
The lady in question continues, “Well, I’ve had chemo, and they say it went pretty well, but it’s not going to get rid of the cancer completely.”
The blood drains from my face, my brain stops working, and I can only manage to stammer, “Well, gosh, best of luck to you,” before finally bolting myself.
The sibs are in the restaurant lobby, and I give them the highlights. Confronted with the horror of what I’ve just said to a poor lady dying of lung cancer, we do the only rational thing: Go to the outside entryway and start laughing so hard we nearly pee ourselves.
And then stagger toward the car, whilst carrying on a bit more.
Then the 37-year old baby hisses, “She’s coming out!! Stop laughing!!”
Ah, to be 10 again.