Thursday, October 13, 2011

ring cycle: cancer man blues

I picked Lisa up at the doctor's office. It was the first time we met. Because of the length of time she needed to be under treatment and the distance in travel, another driver and me had divided the job.

From the sight of her, I knew Lisa wasn't doing very well. Her hair was gone and her skin was the color of sour milk left too long on the counter. Her belly was swollen yet her clothes hung loosely from her dwindled limbs. She'd overdressed for the weather, was in a loose sweat shirt and a coat, which was probably as much to hide the colostomy bag as keep her warm.

Lisa had a frantic, fearful cast to her eyes and she moved like she was perpetually crossing a frozen pond in late winter. She could hear the ice cracking under her feet with every step, getting louder. Lisa was dying and she knew it.

In the car, she thanked me too much for coming to get her and the ride back to her friend's home. She didn't actually live in the city or the county, but was a county or two over. She owned a small house there, something she'd bought just a few years ago.

"I rented my whole life," she said. "I hated it. Something would go wrong and the landlord wouldn't do nothing about it."

This went on for years until she finally had enough money for a down payment.

She'd bought the place with a little money inherited from her parents. Both had died in car accident and left her and what was left of her family with a couple of thousand dollars each.

The house was small, but it was hers. She hated that she couldn't get to treatments from home, but counted herself lucky that she'd landed a spare room among friends long enough to get through this round. Sadly, this was not her first time at this particular rodeo.

"The doctor got me through it eight years ago," she said wistfully. "Maybe he can do it again."

She changed the subject and asked about me, if I was married, if I had children. I explained that I'd been married and had children. She told me she was sorry for my loss.

"I never married," she said and sighed. "No kids."

Lisa said she'd dated a little in high school and through her 20s, but nothing had really took. She'd lived at home until she was in her mid-30s. Being alone didn't seem to bother her much. She had other family around and she had a cat, but no children, no husband.

Instead, Lisa was proud of her education and thought she'd had a good job.

"I worked for the welfare office," she said. "I helped a lot of people who needed it."

She also took a little bit of satisfaction in the screws being put to people who lied to her.

"Most of the time I knew while they were filling out the forms," she said. "I'd tell them to be sure about what they were putting down. Sooner or later, somebody would catch them."

She didn't have a lot of regrets. After decades of living under another's roof, she had her own home. That was a comfort to her, which I have come to understand. A shelter you own can be a different kind of refuge.

Lisa was fine with her house. She only wished she'd get to stay a little longer.

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