We Were Killed by Cancer - OZY | A Modern Media Company

We Were Killed by Cancer

We Were Killed by Cancer

By Jimi Izrael


Because bad luck still sucks.

By Jimi Izrael

I was the Cleveland-based contributor to a hot national public radio show, writing hot shit for a Black website (before it got all groupthink-y and obvious). She was the public radio producer newly appointed to the hot radio show and the most objective critic of my work. I mean, heat knows hotness, right? I called for weeks to get a phoner before she finally called me back. How am I doing? I asked.

“Well, I don’t know, because I don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t either.”

There were a few beats, and then:

“Um … this is Jimi. Jimi Izrael. That dude.”

“Yeah, I know who you are. But can you find me someone who can tell me what you’re talking about?”

“Um. Hmm.” OK, so she wasn’t a fan. But she brought me along. I got good.

You know how nothing else tastes like chocolate? Imagine you wake up and can’t taste chocolate anymore, ever again.

A year later, I went to D.C. for an industry function and met her for the first time. At the function, I beelined across the room, kissed her on the hand and asked her to dinner. She declined at first but then relented, only to chat about her family, her fiancé — and maybe she could fix me up with her best friend? Wounded, I picked up the check, brushed my shoulders off and told her I was not taking applications. She looked me over and smiled.

“Well, if you were taking them, and I was filling them out, I would send you mine. FedEx. Overnight express.”


In front of my hotel, I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek — not even a hint of tongue because, well, she was a boss. An hour and 38 minutes earlier, our eyes had locked across the room, but here, my lips to her cheek, fingers to her chin, there was just the heat of our contempt and this tension, this moment in space, in which our love was born. If you hate me now, I thought, wait until you get to know me. 

This would be her first marriage and my third — “Why does a boss marry the help?” her friends whispered. Her parents were also confused. Like many Black women, she had been raised to earn, send money back home and only marry for money — how could she fall in love with a writer? And what could she possibly need a man for anyway? Still, my future father-in-law would find something to like about me.

the kiss

The author and his wife.

Source Jimi Izrael

He liked the idea of my newly published book and the media attention it got — I think he saw dollar signs. He gave copies as random gifts until, while I was in Chicago for a family party, a niece showed him that one passage about how much I like to eff girls in the A. Across the bowling alley, I could not know of this revelation when I watched his face contort into an ebony mask of WTF as I gave him the thumbs-up with one hand while gripping his daughter’s ass firmly with the other: I was proud of that book and Dat Ass. He must have wondered what had happened to his little girl.

I would have taken her family’s enmity personally, except for the fact that she was coupled with a glitch in the coding: Black people have stopped marrying for love since forever. Her parents had run other suitors off, but I could not be shook. They could not understand love and could not understand us, so they tried to destroy us. Like a contagion, their animosity crept into every part of our lives — her mother even tried to dissuade her from sex doggie-style, because that could not be good for the vital organs — and many of her friends took her parents’ side. Few were happy for us — most were suspicious and said so.

After two years in a storm of this, we got married. Six months of bliss and then: cancer.

Her family took her back with them to Chicago for treatment, where they expected her to pay for her room and many of their bills while she lay in hospice. And she did. I slept in my car because her family would not let me stay with her. She and I rode the treatment roller coaster until there were no more tickets left. On Aug. 16, as her family tried to convince her to divorce me, she died, just hours before I had to do my radio shtick.

My family, disgusted by the way I had been treated, did not attend the funeral. It was me on one side of the church, the in-laws filling the other side. The reverend repeatedly mispronounced my wife’s name in the eulogy and all I could do was laugh at it all. We met, we fell in love and we died so quick that I could not be sure which cancer had killed us. I met my soul mate, and now, the guy who wrote a book about adjusting expectations in the name of love, can’t.

You know how nothing else tastes like chocolate? Imagine you wake up and can’t taste chocolate anymore, ever again.

You are alive and there are other flavors, yes. But nothing is chocolate, and once you’ve known chocolate, life without chocolate is a death of its own.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories