Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Intruder

Imagine this.

You live in a house. The house is modest, sometimes messy, but mostly clean. It’s nothing special to strangers, but it’s special to you and to those who love you.

Your family lives in the house. They eat in a kitchen full of snacks and memories. They sleep in bright bedrooms with blankets and plenty of pillows. They watch movies and play games in the living room. They fill the house with laughter.

Imagine this.

Your house has a basement. You go there sometimes—to do laundry and play knee hockey. To exercise and to store the holiday decorations.

One night, hours after your family is fast asleep, you hear a strange noise in the basement. You assume it's probably a mouse, because there's no way anything bigger than a mouse could get in. (The bulkhead is always locked and an intruder couldn't fit in through the one small window.)

You’re too scared to check and too thoughtful to wake your spouse. You lie awake, and listen, and pray the noise stops. 

It doesn't. Hours later, you are still shaking. You know someone is down there.

You call the police. They are the ones trained to face intruders. The police arrive in relatively good time. They inspect the basement; go straight to the origin of the strange noise. 

The police have bad news.

An Intruder has been living in your basement, likely, for years. The Intruder slept right beside where your kids played hockey. He ate breakfast near the boxes of Christmas ornaments. He bathed where you washed your family’s clothes. The Intruder lived in a dark space beneath those bright rooms where your family snacked and dreamed and laughed and played. 

You had no idea.

Worst of all, the police inform you that the Intruder is trained to kill. Despite that you've never seen him, he has been stockpiling an arsenal of weapons. Big and dangerous ones. You don't understand how this could happen. You still don't even know how he got in. 

The police explain that they can’t extract the Intruder just yet. Even as you speak with them, the Intruder listens on from beneath the floor planks. You’ll have to continue living here with him for a while, they explain. When the time is right, you will help us wage the battle against the Intruder. If all goes well, he will be gone forever.

When the time is right, you do as you are told. 

There is damage after the battle—some broken picture frames, some holes in the walls. But you know that the Intruder has retreated. 

Unfortunately, you’re not the only one. Intruders have lurked in a few of your neighbors’ houses, too. You watch those neighbors battle and you help each other whenever possible. 

Finally, the Intruders are gone. The police warn you that the Intruder could return, but odds are that he won’t. If he does return, the police warn, he’s likely back for good. He will make his home, once again, in any room he likes, and, once again, he’ll start to build up his arsenal. The police tell you that they can help slow down his deadly stockpile, perhaps even to a pace so slow that it's barely dangerous for quite a while. But he will be there. Lurking beneath your every footstep. While you try to live your life in the house you love. 

Nevertheless, you celebrate. The Intruder is gone, at least, for now. Thank goodness you heard the noises.

For a while, you are safe. Scared, because it happened; betrayed, because you still don't know the Intruder's route in; thankful, because so many good people helped you fight him off.

Time passes. Your house is full of laugher during the days, just like it was before. But at night, you lie awake. Listening for noises.

One night, you hear them; the sounds of an arsenal being assembled (not that you know what that sounds like). Or maybe you hear nothing. It could be mice. Or it could be the Intruder building a bomb. 

You want to call the police to check, and one time, you do. They come and tell you that they checked one corner of the basement. The Intruder wasn't there, they say. 

You want to feel relief. But did you check everywhere else? you ask. 

No. Did you want us to? 

I don't know, you reply. Because you really don't know. 

*  *  *

I have no other way to explain why I still want to delay a CT scan of my chest. This is my best attempt. Cancer really is a vicious and relentless Intruder. Even if he's gone. 

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