There are darknesses in life, and there are lights… And I’m Stupid.

by Brandon

I had an important realization today, and that realization was a pretty big hit to my ego, but it also put many things into perspective.

I’ll get to that in a bit, but first, I want to tell you a story…

Many years ago, I worked in fast food with a young lady named Laura Hampton. We really didn’t know each other very well, but -


That’s actually not true. She didn’t know me very well, but I knew her. She’d had my attention for a while. See, I was the night guy. I came in near closing and I cleaned the restaurant until the openers arrived the next morning. Laura worked drive-thru at night, so we only crossed paths for about an hour a day. To this day, I have no idea how much she had noticed me, but she had my full attention from day one.

And, as unbelievable as it sounds, I wasn’t interested in her romantically. At the time, she had a boyfriend (someone as beautiful as Laura was rarely single, I’m sure), so I wasn’t interested in dating her.

But there was something about her. Something special. And I wanted to experience that something special. I wanted to know her. I wanted to know what made her tick. I wanted to know what it was about her that made everybody around her feel so… hell, I don’t know… happy?

I wanted to be her friend.

I know that sounds like total bullshit, but if you knew me personally, you’d understand. You see, I’m a very passionate guy, and I’ve always considered friendship the most intimate and passionate relationship two people could have. A person might hide things from someone they’re dating, but not from their friends. A friend knows you. The real you. I believe that today, and I believed it back when I was a long-haired, all-black-wearing, Doors obsessed 23 year old.

So I didn’t want to be her boyfriend. I wanted to be her friend. I didn’t want to kiss her. I wanted to know her.

So, one day, I walked up to her as she was closing drive-thru. In my mind, I thought of the things I could say to her that would initiate a friendship without making her feel like I was hitting on her.

Hey, there. You wanna hang out after work?

No, that sounds like I’m asking her out on a date.

Hey, I heard you talking about Nine Inch Nails…

Nah, I don’t listen to modern music, so I wouldn’t be able to hang in a conversation about NIN.

Do you like The Doors?

Dammit, Bran, get off of music. You’ll come off like a goth.

This was the 90′s, when the “goth” movement was in full swing, and I hated goths because they stole the look I’d sported since the 80′s.

Ultimately, I decided to wing it. I knew I’d come up with something good by the time I got to her. After all, I wasn’t asking her out on a date.

I walked up to her as she was restocking cups and said, “There are darknesses in life, and there are lights. And you are one of the lights.”

My heart sank. Out of nowhere, I had walked up to this potential friend and quoted a damn line from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (it was a line Van Helsing had said to Mina).

What. The. Hell.

I wanted to rip out my own tongue, throw it in the floor, then stomp on it until it was just a red spot on the tiles. Of course, Laura would’ve had to clean it up, so that idea was out.

But here’s the thing… those words had shot into my head and out of my mouth because that’s exactly how I felt about her. When she was around, the world seemed just a little bit brighter.

Should I walk away? Should I stand here looking like a complete psycho?

Ultimately, I decided to stay and face the consequences. I stood there silently (probably looking like a complete psycho), waiting for the inevitable awkwardness that was about to follow my ridiculous statement.

Then, something happened that made my heart soar. Instead of looking horrified, Laura smiled, and in a soft, humble voice, she said, “Wow.”

And it wasn’t a “You’re a freakin’ psycho” wow. It was an “I honestly don’t know what to say to that” wow.

And that was good enough for me.

To this day, I don’t know what she really thought. I don’t even know if she remembers that day. For some odd reason, I don’t recall that we’ve ever really talked about it.  And the truth is, I don’t think I want to know. I don’t want to know how close I came to running her off forever.

Anyway, a conversation followed that ended with us making plans to hang out and drink a few beers. Well, the beers were for me. I discovered Laura was a wine person.

About two months later, we sobered up and were best friends. We have talked about that. Neither of us remembers exactly how we became best friends. All we know is our friendship happened in 3 easy steps:

1. We were coworkers who barely knew each other.

2. We drank together after work for about two months straight (hey, we were young and invulnerable back then).

3. We were best friends.

And that friendship lasted for a complete decade without any romance. We didn’t kiss. We never had accidental make-out sessions. Neither of us developed a secret crush. Matter of fact, I was the best man at Laura’s wedding. And to this day, her ex-husband (Gary) is one of my dearest friends. It was a few years after their break-up that Laura and I finally started developing romantic feelings for each other, and Gary gave us full permission to pursue it (yes, I asked him because I thought he deserved a say; you don’t just start dating your best friend’s ex without telling him first).

See, it was a low point in my life that caused us to become romantic. Life had beaten me down pretty badly, and there was a brief period where I was homeless (just a few days; I wasn’t a hobo). As soon as Laura found out I was homeless, she insisted I stay with her until I got back on my feet… and it was after living with each other for a while that we realized we wanted to continue living with each other for the rest of our lives.

Ultimately, we got married and our happiness was immeasurable for almost a decade. Eventually, my writing supported us financially, we had a happy home, and we had each other. Life had reached the peak of Mount Awesome.

And that’s when things went to shit. That’s when I was diagnosed with cancer.

Death came for me, and I faced him down.

Well, I’d like to say I faced him down. I’d like to say I looked Death right in the eyes and proclaimed, “You can f*** right off, Big D. I’m not going with you today. I’m not done here.”

But I didn’t say that.

Instead, I fell to my knees and begged for my life. I begged for one more day. One more week. One more year. Anything. I begged Death to just leave me alone because I had finally found true happiness. If there had been an old man nearby, I’d have thrown that old man at Death and cried, “Take him instead! He’s probably had a long life!”

And I’m pretty sure Death would have ignored my pleas, just out of disgust for my weakness…

But Laura wasn’t ready for Death to take me.

She stepped between Death and me, and said, “You can f*** right off, Big D. He’s not going with you today. I’m not done with him yet.”

And for the next two years, Laura protected me from Death. I was in a persistent state of terror. I cowered in the metaphorical corner, jumping at every sound, thinking it was Death, coming back for me…

But not Laura. She never cowered. She never ran. Instead, she made me fight Death. If I was Rocky, she was Mickey. Every time I was on knocked down, Laura would be there, screaming, “Get up, Rock! You can beat this guy!”

She drove me to every doctor’s appointment. She held my hand when I needed a hand to hold. She made sure I had my meds and she made sure I took them. She changed the bags attached to my stomach when I was too weak to change them myself. She gave me a shoulder to cry on when I needed it, and she gave me a swift kick in the ass when that was what I needed.

Over the last two years, I’ve cried thousands of times, but not Laura. Sure, she cried occasionally, but not as much as I did. And she usually tried to hide it from me. The only times she was open with her tears was when they were tears of joy (like when I woke from my coma).

In short, I tried to run from death, but Laura grabbed me by the collar and said, “You don’t have to run, Bran. We can beat that bastard. I promise, we can do it.”

And we did.

Since then, we’ve had complications of course, but Laura’s determination got us through it every single time.

And that brings me to the realization I had today. See, I had another complication today that landed us in the ER. It was just a small setback, really. I’m already back home and I’m fine (besides a little pain). I had just injured myself and re-opened an old wound. The doctor took care of it and sent us on our way.

But before we went to the ER, I was right back to my old ways. I cried in frustration. I was snapping at her every other second. I was angry at the world because I couldn’t just enjoy life without worrying about injuring this or hurting that. And I was constantly trying to talk myself into skipping going to the ER.

In short, I was having a bad case of the Why Me‘s.

But Laura stepped right back into her Mickey role. She told me it would be fine. She told me I’d be back home in a few hours (and she was right). She told me to calm down, this wasn’t a big deal. She drove me to the ER (because my bottom side was hurting too badly for me to drive) and she drove me back home.

I don’t know why, but when we got home, I thought of that first, stupid line I had said to her a lifetime ago.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights. And you are one of the lights.”

And, I thought, she’s still one of the lights, all these years later.

That’s when it hit me. It was a moment of complete and total clarity.

For the past two years, I thought this fight with cancer was my story. I thought it was about my brush with death and my ultimate return to life. I thought it was a story about perseverance and optimism. I’ve always wanted my story to inspire others. It would be my way of giving back.

But today, I realized I’ve had it all wrong. This isn’t my story at all.

It’s Laura’s.

Laura is the hero of this tale. I’m just part of the supporting cast. I’m the sick spouse who gave the protagonist something to fight… and something to fight for.

This story is indeed about perseverance and optimism, but it’s Laura’s perseverance and optimism, not mine. I only persevered because she made me, and through most of this, my optimism was inspired by Laura’s devotion to keeping me alive.

Laura is the one who really faced down death. Laura is the one who showed strength through this whole thing. Laura is the one who took care of me, then slipped off to another room to cry in silence.

Yeah, this is definitely Laura’s story. She’s the inspiration. She’s the star. She’s the hero.

And like a true hero, she just sat back and let me have all the glory. She let me get all the accolades about my inspirational “strength.”

So yeah… I’m still telling this story, and I still hope it serves as an inspiration to others… but Laura is the real inspiration. I’m just some guy who got very sick.

Laura is the light, not me. I recognized the light, sure, but Laura is the light.

Her light is her art and I’ll be forever grateful that she chose to allow me to bask in that light for the rest of my life.

I wish a word existed that was a step above love, because, in all honesty, love isn’t a powerful enough word to describe how I feel about that woman.

She’s my hero. She’s my muse. She’s my Mickey.

She has always been and forever shall be my light.

I love you, Laura. Thank you for…

Thank you.



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