Monday, October 4, 2010

Cancer Man Returns Again

The apartment was a little slice of hell, not the kind of place where you'd want grow up, not the kind of place you'd ever want to go to die. As it happens, we seldom get those kind of choices. You're born where you're born. You die wherever. Most of the time, you're greeted by a crowd coming in. Most of the time, you leave when there's no one looking.

The door was at the end of a long stretch of stairs. A swollen and prematurely carved jack-o-lantern guarded the last step. It was already beginning to rot and the rain coming down wouldn't help.

The window next to the door had been patched over. In it's place was a restaurant sign advertising loaded nachos. The job wasn't a quick fix. It was permanent.

What kind of asshole landlord would do that?

Gina shuffled outside, all smiles and frenetic politeness. She didn't mean to call, didn't want to be a bother, but she didn't want to miss her appointment.

I apologized. I wasn't late. She was in no way behind schedule, but I'd been answering an e-mail. I wanted to make sure a friend was OK.

She got in the car and we drove. She told me about her daughter again, clarifying some of the things she'd said before. Last time, she'd been groggy. She'd taken a pain pill before we left and the drugs had knocked her on her ass. I'd thought it was just the chemo, but Gina told me she's taking quite a bit of medication.

"Me and the other daughter clashed," she said. "She was moving in with the boyfriend and I went along. He had a big house."

What the daughter had failed to mention was that she and the boyfriend expected her to watch her daughter's two kids all summer long.

"I told her not to take them out of daycare, but she did." She frowned. "I don't mind helping out, but not all the time."

On a fixed income, a disability check, and with cancer, they'd brought her in as an indentured servant.

"We clashed. Boy, we clashed. " And she left and moved in with another daughter with equally complicated, but less troublesome issues.

"She can't drive," she told me, shook her head and laughed. "Boy, she can't drive."

At the office, the nurse told us it would be two to three hours for her treatment. Gina gave me the card for her doctor and told me to call him after while. She didn't see any point to have me wait around.

I went back to work, checked in with the doctor and they called me when she was finished.

I ushered her carefully back into the car. Most of the spunk and spark Gina had going for her before the treatment was gone. She was tired and fearsome of the traffic.

"I don't want to tell you how to drive," she told me. "I'm just making suggestions."

On the way, she offered me a small can of Pepsi.

"I grabbed this," she said. "I thought you might like it."

I told her I couldn't. I'd just started another diet.

She put it away.

"I don't drink soda too much on account I had a colostomy." She laughed miserably. "I'm all eaten up." She wasn't the only one. "A girl in there, burst a bag." She looked out the window. "She should have said something. I had some spares."

In the car, I noticed the smell: the chemical smell of a funeral home, the smell of death. It was all over her and everywhere in my car. Quite suddenly, I wanted to get her home and get as far away as I could.

I kept my hands on the wheel, drove and just listened. You don't get cancer by riding in a car with a cancer patient.

"They wouldn't tell me how many treatments I had left," she said. "I asked the man and he said he was going to check, but then I took my pill and I forgot and he forgot."

"You could probably call them tomorrow," I told her.

Gina nodded. She could do that. Sure, she could.

"I saved that article," she told me and I didn't know what she was talking about. "That one you did with Judy Garland's daughter. I cut it out and kept it."

"You saved that?" I smiled. "That's..." I didn't know what to say. "It wasn't a very good article," I told her. "Not my best." I looked at her. "Thank-you. You didn't have to do that."

She didn't say anything.

We navigated backstreets and side roads to finally bring her back to her daughter's apartment.

"You can let me out right here. I appreciate you doing this. Thank-you." She skittered off toward those long steps with the sagging Jack-o-lantern at the top. She didn't want me to follow, but I waited at the curb and watched her find the door before I drove away.

I wish I could have brought her some place else.

No comments: