As a V-Day nod to Bobo, I’m sharing a peek into our story of finding love after living through adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer three times between us.
“Hi!” I said, stepping up kind of awkwardly close. I didn’t realize that I had closed in on his personal space until I was in it. His wheelchair messed with my depth perception.
He ordered an almond milk cappuccino. Swoon. (This guy could probably handle the annoying food restrictions that come with my post-cancer difficult ass.) I got a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free peppermint tea.
Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer research was ostensibly the point of our get together, but we didn’t talk about research. Instead, we spent three hours sharing our own cancer stories and the things that we were surviving cancer to do. He had Acute Mylogenous Leukemia as a teen, and I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma twice as a younger adult. He was an independent filmmaker, traveling cross-country to interview teen cancer patients in all 50 states, and I was a rebuilding-my-career-again-after-cancer-took-me-out PhD student at UCLA, trying to research the devastation of cancer among socially and culturally isolated young people.
There was an ease with which we spoke deftly and listened thoroughly to each other’s cancerness. We both knew the rearing pull of heparin, the toxic agony of chemotherapy and radiation that killed parts of us in order to save the rest of us, the unwanted loneliness of medical and non-medical isolation, and the frustration of succumbing to disability and new problems as we aged in an experimental world of oncology in which we were canaries in a coal mine. But we also knew and benefitted from the cancer-induced goodness of humanity and practical help from those who leaned into the vulgarity of our personal despair unafraid. We didn’t feel like survivors, but we weren’t victims either, and we definitely both laughed at our own jokes. We got each other.
After our first half-caff meet-up, months passed during which he went back on the road to film more of his cancer uprising, and I got back on the doctoral research grind. When he returned to Los Angeles, we hung out again, at which point, his disarming handsomeness began to invade my thoughts. But there was more. Something was different and special about “Bobo” with the way-long Facebook handle.
I knew I had to get in his face about how much I liked him.
So, parked in my driveway at the end of an evening together I blurted out, “I think of you that way,” in reference to our earlier chat about dating. “I like you … I really like you.”
“I feel like I’m 12-years-old,” he blushed.
Like the A in AYA, we hugged after exchanging I like yous, and agreeing that we should do more stuff together. I shut the car door behind me with a seemingly replete, “OK. Bye.”
Since then, the crushed-out rush of catching feelings for a cutie did its thing of amplifying similarities between us, but took enough timeouts to expose big differences too. We even unwittingly hurt each other, questioned our togetherness, and then came back around to re-strengthen our commitments to not give up on ourselves nor each other. In all of this, it became obvious that you can’t hurt someone who doesn’t give a damn about you, and we both give at least two damns.
Bell Hooks wrote that genuine love is not a steady state of bliss that keeps us in a wishful fantasy, but that the real power of love is to transform us.
I’ve relentlessly wanted to find a partner who loves me enough to want us to grow with authenticity as individuals and together, who’s willing to make space for whatever I’m experiencing – hear it and meet it with compassion, and wants to join me in owning our own shit from the past so that we can truly be each other’s present and future. Most important, I want someone with whom to hold the reality of whatever life brings (cancer and its sequelae or whatever), while simultaneously going after happiness, fun, and meaning, whenever we can.
I’m lucky we didn’t die before we met, and I really hope that neither one of us dies soon.
UPDATE: Since this writing, The Bobobel Story has ended. Thank you to all for your love and support.