My One Nightstand: A Story of Cancer, Addiction, and Furniture

My nightstand served as a holding tank for the turquoise kidney shaped throw-up trays I'd need over five years of chemo. It converted to a trashcan for all of the Kleenex used to wipe the vomit off my face. It displayed fish tanks, terrariums and cool lamps. It housed the first love letter I ever received. When I moved away from home, my nightstand naturally came with me.
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This story was written and performed by Hillary Link for Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas on March 13, 2012. The theme of the show was "One Night Stand."

Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart says, "This story epitomizes what Oral Fixation is all about. Hillary took the idiomatic theme 'One Night Stand' and turned it on its head. Rather than telling a wild sex story, she shares the fascinating trajectory of her life through the lens of an inherited nightstand."

When I was little, I inherited a piece of antique furniture from my dad's side of the family. Why I would be excited about it when I was 6-years-old, I have no idea. But my dad made a big deal about it about it so I feigned interest. It was a nightstand. The one nightstand that my great great aunt somebody once removed wanted me to have. Round and made of rich mahogany, its legs were carved and shaped into elaborate claws. The surface was smooth and cool to the touch. Elegant and sturdy, the table looked like it had decades of stories, each one rich and intriguing.

"You know what this means, don't you? This is now your responsibility," my dad said with a heavy sigh, as if saddened by the doomed existence the nightstand would surely have under my watch. "Do you know what that means? It's not just going to take care of itself, you know. Can you take care of it? Can you?" More sighs. "Of course," I said, caring far more about lint I saw on my shirt than what he was saying.

A few years later, it was Christmastime in Tulsa and my mom hinted that she wanted "Santa" to bring her an address book. By hinting, I mean she wrote down exactly where to get it, what it looked liked and how much it cost and handed me the piece of paper, as if it were my to-do list. My dad drove my brother and I to a small little store named The Etcetera Shop, which sold pointless knick-knacks to clutter the finest of homes. I found the tacky patent leather address immediately. Taking it to the cash register, we found we were exactly 23 cents short.

"Well, don't look at me," my dad said. "This is your gift. You should have thought of that before," he said, throwing his hands up in the air as though we'd just killed the storeowner and he was confused as to what to do with the body. "It's no big deal," the shop owner said warmly. "Oh no you don't," my dad said, almost like a threat. "These kids will be back with your money before you close today." That knocked the holiday spirit right off her face. I noticed that happened a lot to people when my dad was around.

Bennett, my dad and I drove home in silence. I ran to my room and surveyed the scene, hoping to scrape up something. My piggy bank, well, I hoped it wouldn't come to that. I glanced across the room at my nightstand. 'Please have some change. Please have some change,' I thought to myself. I opened the drawer. Ahhhh. My half of 23 cents. I felt a little relief pee run down my leg. My mom would get her tennis book. My dad would make his point -- that he was an ass. My nightstand would save me. And, after that, it became my little secret where I would put everything.

I got cancer three times when I was a teenager. I was playing all the big tennis tournaments around the state. My left knee had a constant dull ache and my mom said it was time to go to the doctor. Within two days, I was at MD Anderson in Houston with 20 doctors staring at me. I had a rare form of bone cancer with a 5 percent chance for survival. Two days later, my left leg was amputated above the knee.

Now, groggy after surgery, I reached down where my leg had been and touched the cast, which covered what was left of it. 'How would I explain this to my popular looks-based 7th grade crowd?' I wondered. My first prosthesis was made of wood. To be more precise, it was basically two pieces of wood and a hinge, which was cruelly called a knee.

My nightstand held the things I needed to put on my prosthesis. I told people that my leg was held on with super glue. I also said Velcro. Putty. Scotch tape. A hammer and nails. Magic. People bought it too. They still do. And, by the way, it's suction.

As I went through chemo, my body was racked with paralysis, nausea, seizures, hair loss, jaundice, kidney failure, heart murmurs, blood transfusions and so much more. After two years of hell, I had a recurrence, at 15, in the form of lung cancer and we started the process all over again. And then, at 17, the lung cancer came back again.

My nightstand served as a holding tank for the turquoise kidney shaped throw-up trays I'd need over five years of chemo. It converted to a trashcan for all of the Kleenex used to wipe the vomit off my face. I threw my hair on it as it came out in clumps. I threw my wig on it when it got too hot. I threw a fit when I got out of bed quickly and tried to take a step, forgetting my leg was gone. I grabbed my nightstand as I fell, breaking off a piece of the beautiful wood as we both hit the floor. Over the years, it displayed fish tanks, terrariums and cool lamps from Spencer Gifts. It housed the first love letter I ever received. When I moved away from home, my nightstand naturally came with me.

Most of my friends spent their 20s trying to excel at their job or finding that perfect someone they could trick into marrying them. I was far too lazy for that. I knew more about happy hours and hot wings than who was who on the company roster. One typical Saturday night, my friends and I were out when I boldly announced that I would pick up the hottest guy in the bar. And I'd settle for nothing less. Who said I never set goals? Ninety-five drinks later, I did just that. The next morning, what's-his-face asked if he could call me later. I just looked at him. "Um... this was a one nighter. So... no. But I do know where your keys are..." I said, nodding vaguely to my left. Ironically, my one nightstand held the keys for my one night stand.

I moved a bunch during those next few years. I tried living uptown, downtown, all over town trying to glean some internal happiness out of external excess. I went out all the time. If I was feeling insecure, a shot could cure that. If I was sad, a pill could fix that. Car wrecks, lost jobs, blackouts weren't a big deal. They were a Wednesday.

Soon, happy hours started in the morning hours alone and I decided against formalities like... a glass. I lied to friends, family, boyfriends and employers. I used my nightstand to store flasks and pills. As desperation took over, I wouldn't set my alarm clock to get up for the day. I'd set it to get up and drink.

"What was wrong?" people asked. Nothing. Everything. I didn't know. Two liters of
vodka and 60 pills a day. Suddenly a decade had passed. I had the same day over and over. Until, one day, I didn't. I had an intervention. I went to rehab. I got sober.

Six months later, a guy who had been stalking me for months finally broke into my house. He knew the layout, my habits, and the fact that -- with one leg -- I couldn't run away. He entered my bedroom and smothered my head with pillow, holding a cocked gun while the alarm blared. The alarm company called. My intruder told me to answer it. He shared the earpiece with me to make sure I wouldn't tip them off.

"Are you okay?" they asked. "Yes," I said in a small faraway voice that surely didn't belong to me. The rapist hung up the phone and ran his hand along the nightstand. Help would not be coming.

I moved again. My best friend, Carol Anne, found my next apartment. I was in shock after my rape and I could barely go to the grocery store much less find a new place to live. The place was light and sunny -- a stark contrast to my dark heavy heart. As I began to recover, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, with a year and a half to live. Laughing too loud, driving too fast, cussing too much, we crammed as much as we could into in a life that was on a deadline.

At her funeral, her family gave me a letter she wrote for me, articulating how special our friendship had been for her. I carefully placed that letter in my nightstand, taking it out several times a day to read, flattening the paper against my leg, letting my tears freely fall. Soon the text was incomprehensible and smeared, but I knew the words by heart. A few years later, never one to let sentiment get in the way of an easy buck, I sold my nightstand in a garage sale for something like the price of McNuggets.

I had fallen in love and was purging myself of my stuff. Eventually, wouldn't you know it, I purged myself of him. There's a time and a place when we all move on. So, in the end, I did take care of my nightstand. For more than 30 years. Or perhaps the last laugh was at my dad's expense and it was my nightstand that took care of me.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

Need help with sexual assault or abuse issues? In the U.S., call 800-656-HOPE (4673) for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

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