Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Return Of Cancer Man-2

Gina hobbled down a narrow set of washed out wooden steps from her daughter's second floor apartment to a grubby side yard behind a rusted chain link fence. She was nearly to the bottom by the time I got out of my car. She was tiny, short-haired and in a hurry. She didn't even ask me who I was until we'd both settled into the car and I'd turned the ignition.

As we drove, everything came out in a spill, like we were on a speed date.

"This is my second round of chemo," she said. "I'm 61." She put her hand through her hair. It was thin and a flat, mousy brown. "The first time I did treatment. I lost all my hair. It nearly broke my heart." She smiled. "But I got a wig. It was a pretty good wig. I still have it."

We drove along. She pointed out where I should turn and she gripped the side of the door as if any second I might crash us into a tree, another car, a building. It seemed a little funny, but then I remembered she was probably on all kinds of medication. Moving faster than 20 miles an hour might be a little disconcerting, plus she didn't know who the hell I was.

Gina told me she didn't know the streets so well. She wasn't from Charleston, but had grown up in Spring Hill before moving away. She lost her husband in a car accident when he was 37.

"He was in the hospital for a month," Gina explained. "Paralyzed and then he just went."

She's never stopped missing him. Lately, she's missed him more.

"I'm staying with my daughter right now."

Gina has two, plus a couple of grandchildren. The boyfriends of her daughters are also in the picture, though one of them might have been fading out, she told me. Things hadn't been going too well.

The boyfriend of the daughter she was living with couldn't drive. He was fighting a DUI arrest, she explained, and they got around using the bus.

"I'd use the bus to do this," Gina said. "But I wouldn't want to do it alone."

"You don't have to," I told her. "I'll get you there."

"This might take a while."

I shrugged. I'd worked the holiday, mostly out of necessity due to deadlines, and had a full day to burn off. I suck at leisure time.

"I got all the time in the world," I told her, which wasn't precisely true. I was supposed to talk to a jazz piano legend in a couple of hours and he was calling from Italy.

"Well," she said. "You could go back to work, if you wanted..."

I took her inside the cancer treatment office. Inside, a receptionist and nurse monitored a half-dozen women sitting in recliners, parked next to IV stands with tubes snaking into their hands. Some of them looked pale. Two wore very bad wigs and one was half-covered up by a blanket and scratching her way through a word search puzzle book. They were all single ladies, at least today, which seemed sort of sad.

Greta's chair was waiting for her. The nurse ushered her to her seat then asked me who I was.

"Are you family?"

"I'm just a driver," I told her. "Just here to help."

She nodded and said I could take a seat in the other room. They had a nice selection of magazines, including several dealing with old age, cancer and celebrities. The National Geographic looked promising and God, who doesn't get enough of about the life and times of Reba McEntire?

She offered to bring me a cup of coffee or some water if I wanted.

"It's going to be about an hour and a half." She looked at the clock on the wall. "Maybe a little longer."

I told her I'd check back.

(To Be Continued)

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