Updated: Nov 2, 2018
My friend Charles has cancer. He’s sixty one years old. He has been sick for five months.
Charles would describe himself as a “very successful entrepreneur.” He had started two businesses, both doing very well.
In speaking to him about risk, he said “taking a risk in business was never that big of a deal. You never were quite sure whether or not the venture would take off, but there are always a variety of things to keep from losing your money. You might not make any money, but you can retrieve what you lose or just not lose any.” He shook off the idea of losing money in business ventures by saying that he was “always conservative, and I never invested my time or money in something I didn’t diligently study and consult on. And even then, I made sure I had an exit plan if my investment was compromised.
“No,” he said, “I’ll tell you about risk. You pay attention, OK? Sometimes this treatment makes my thoughts a little foggy.”
I sat at the edge of his recliner. Getting up was hard for Charles. His IV treatment had begun. A bag hung from a metal hook on a makeshift hat rack in his home. His wife Kathy excused herself.
“I was nineteen,” He said. “Kathy was a girl I met in college. We were really close friends. We’d known each other since the first year we were in the dorms. And I’m not sure how we met or spent time together, but being with her was easy.
“I didn’t know anything about romance or sex. I didn’t really ever have a girlfriend. I tried to catch up with a couple of girls, but I wanted to find one that not only liked me, but that I liked, too. And it never seemed to work that way.
“So, I thought, maybe if I could be somebody’s friend, I could be with them long enough for romance to be introduced, even broached a little. I mean, I heard that a romance built on a friendship first was a great way to build a solid relationship. And, if it didn’t work, I’d still have that friendship.
“Well, Kathy was my friend. And, she and I had been pretty close. One day, she said she was moving. She was leaving for another state, I’m not sure where. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever see her again. I’d moved back home from college for the summer, but we’d been friends for a while. I’d always loved her company. We’d sit and drink tea and talk. I loved listening to her, too. Her voice would always make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I remember I made her laugh. And I know she made me feel relaxed, that it was OK to be myself.
“I’d thought to myself, ‘this is what I want from partner for life. If I could feel this good with somebody, I’d be able to be a good person, and a good and solid partner.’ So, we set a time to hang out, and have that one last cup of tea and talk for awhile. I was pretty sure that, at the time, I figured we’d stay in touch, that we’d see one another again.
“Well, I went to her apartment. I really loved Kathy, but I didn’t know how she felt about me, I mean in the way that I wanted to be loved. And, I thought, if I told her, maybe she’d reconsider her feelings, or at least think about it for a while.
“So, I got there and we had tea, and talked literally all night. The hours passed so quickly. We talked about where she was heading, who she would be with, and what her plans were. She asked me about where I thought my life was heading, and what I felt would be the next move I’d make.
“My feelings grew stronger. I knew she was going to be the one. I could trust that the person I really wanted to be–the confident, easygoing, contented person I knew was inside of me–would come out throughout my whole life with her. We went to a diner, I can’t remember where, and ate something. I think it was about four in the morning. We went back to her place, and talked some more.
“But, you know,” he said, adjusting in his chair, “I couldn’t. I just couldn’t tell her how I really felt. And the feelings were right there, I mean right in my throat. And they just didn’t come out.
“Then I left. I hugged her, and I left. I never told her how I felt.
“I threw myself into business, got pretty lucky, made a good living, and never looked back. But,” he said, “you want to talk about risk? Try this one on for size, my friend.”
Charles took a deep breath, “I have cancer, and I’m going to die."
“And the cancer is nothing compared to the regret I have for not telling that woman I loved her and wanted to try our hands at romance. I can never get that moment back. Yes, I was young. But I wish I’d had taken that risk.
“Risk in business? Nothing. Risk in love? Everything. And now it’s too late.”
Charles started to cry, and we were interrupted. Kathy, his wife, came in and adjusted his IV, kissed Charles, on the forehead, and left us alone.
I said, “Wait. Kathy . . . ?”
“Different Kathy.”’ he said, interrupting my question. “She doesn’t know. It would hurt her too much.”
Charles took a deep breath and said, “Your biggest risk in this life will be to share your feelings with someone. Teach this to your kids when they're young so that they don’t feel this regret when they’re my age. Teach them to be fearless with expressing their feelings."
“And, my friend,” he said, looking over at me, “tell everybody you know. Risk in expressing your feelings, no matter where you are or whom you’re with. Your life will change in ways you can only dream of.”
Charles died three weeks later. Kathy, whomever she is, will never know about his feelings for her.