Gifts from Above

Dad and I had a lot of time to chat the other day. Normally, chatting with my father is an exercise in restraint, confusion, irritation, and not a little head-shaking. This mostly stems from our differences of opinion on the Internet…and Aprilaires. Oh, and that I don’t consume a side of beef at dinner. Well, and that I call it “dinner” instead of “supper”. Hmm…and that I prefer my vegetables completely unsullied by salt or butter. Oh, oh! And that, despite the 50% Norwegianism that I possess, I prefer coffee to crude oil in the morning.

Obviously, we have things we need to work through. Obviously

But, we had a sort of kinship together in the waiting room…mainly because neither one of us made the coffee and he didn’t have to pay for it…but also because we shared a love and a worry for the same woman. He was talking about his father, who passed away almost two years ago. He recounted a day, about a week after the funeral, when he took his mother to church. She left the building after service, and ran into an old friend. She stopped in the middle of the current of churchgoers making their exodus, and completely ignored my father as he sat in the van. It is an irritating personality quirk, but I wouldn’t take her any other way.

So, Dad’s waiting in the van for his mother. He’s frustrated. He’s mouthing epithets and waving hand gestures (one can only assume). All at once, a large cloud covered the sun and rain poured down out of nowhere. Grandma grabbed her head and rushed toward Dad in desperation. My father began laughing, looked at the sky, and replied, “Thanks, Dad.”

Think. Then speak. (I’ll remember next time.)

Ok, the long and the short of it: my hair is darker than it was 5 days ago. It’s telling of my natural color, now that the summer bleach has been attended to. A few people who are used to seeing me out and about have commented on my eyes. Not the hair, but the eyes. Weirdos. I didn’t pay for the eyes, I paid for the hair. NOTICE THE HAIR IF YOU’RE GOING TO NOTICE.

Let’s see…there’s the lady at the coffeeshop, the man at the coffeeshop, the other man at the coffeeshop, and my friend who works at the gym. (Oooh! A   twofer! You get an anecdote and a glimpse into my social agenda BOTH!) It was with the last of these that I managed to shove my foot into my mouth and hold it there for a good 10 seconds complete. I replied to her comment, “Darker hair accentuates my coloring differently. Funny how a person’s natural hair color compliments their face.” I was going for “wry”, you see…

But in arduous effort to be humorously self-derisive, I forgot my audience…I tucked tail and blushed. I couldn’t make eye contact with my magenta-headed friend until she admitted, “Yes, I agree. That’s totally why I stopped dyeing mine.”

Scan Results

She drank the contrast with a grimace. “This isn’t going to stay down,” she predicted. I returned to Gathering Blue, and tried to appear nonchalant. She talks to me more, confides in me more, when I appear nonchalant. I like the talking, the confiding. I knew the moment I saw her yesterday morning that Mom felt unwell. It created a vacuum of niceties; Dad and I set our jaws and kept our gaze forward. She doesn’t like the attention. She’s been in pain. She doesn’t like the noticing.

After the scan, we sat in the oncology waiting room, the three of us. Dad and I sipped coffee. He people-watched, I read. Mom stretched across three waiting room chairs situated in a row…the sitting being too much to bear. We had a long time to wait. Every now and then, one of us would make a benign comment. “The construction is really coming along.” “It isn’t as busy as it normally is here.” Little nudges to remind us of the humanity amidst the antiseptic air. Then, in a quiet voice, mom asked us to follow her when she was called back.

This was a big deal. There is only one other time that Mom has allowed people back to the oncologist’s exam room…I was not home then. It was that fateful day last June—Mom still has the appointment notification slip in her wallet—when time became endangered. She said she knew when he came in the room that day that it hadn’t been a good scan…and indeed, it had not. Asked if she’d like him to break the news to Dad and Charlie, she nodded gratefully, and they were brought back to the room—to hear the ugliness, receive grief counseling, and think of infinity against a ruler of months. I was to receive the news via phone, from 1200 miles away. A return to Wisconsin was in the works within 24 hours.

She typically likes getting the news herself, coping with it on her terms, then telling us. We afford her this right, imagine away the gnawing hunger to know everything as soon as it is there to know. We can’t give her much…but we can give her her dignity. Yesterday, her preference for private counsel was negligible. She knew what was coming. We all knew what was coming. She was saving a nurse a trip back to the waiting room to call my father and me back. We were all on the same page, though reading to ourselves. “Weeks….” We were expecting them to give us mere weeks. The suffering has been evident.

But such tidings did not come. We sat in that small exam room…dad sipped coffee, looked around…I sipped cappuccino, read…Mom fidgeted on the table, gave in, and reclined to seek a release from the pain. It hurts her to be awake…and she’s too uncomfortable to sleep. Constant fatigue and discomfort: this has been her reality. Dr. Holen came through the door on jaunty step and said, “It was a good scan!” Huh? How is this possible? The tumors still grew…but by tenths of a centimeter…much reduced rate of growth. The pain though, what is the pain? They don’t know.

We left the hospital after nine hours. We were weary with the waiting. (accidental alliteration) Mom held a prescription for morphine in one hand, and the overnight pack of chemo over the other shoulder. I’m about ready to write off this whole concept of logic. I don’t understand how a perfectly strong, in-shape, prime-of-her-life woman of 46 can go in for a routine physical to find that she has end-stage cancer—and at 48, she suffers constantly, knows ever-present exhaustion, and her cancer is slowing in growth. I don’t think any of us really know what to think. She caught me sixish weeks ago crying quietly at her bedside. I was jobless, husbandless, and—I was sure in no time at all—I would be motherless as well—the next day’s scan would prove it, of this I was certain. I, myself, was feeling like a cancer. My powers of prediction proved wrong with that scan, too…I suppose it is a lesson. We’re not meant to grasp the live wire of a timeline.

(knock, knock) It’s the Piper. Your bill is due.

Back in November, I promised myself that I would spend the weeks in between scans in a state of joy, appreciation…and push thoughts of the future aside. I succeeded in all but the past few days…but then, today is the next scan.

I don’t know what to think going into this, what to hope. She’s had some rough days as of late…

Okay, well, my head is very full right now, and filing the thoughts in order to express myself clearly is a paper cut waiting to happen. I’m off to try to psych myself up for free waiting room cappuccino….

The Single Life

Friend-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous: “So she’s single once more…”


Friend-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous: “I sincerely hope you’re taking advantage of it.”

Me: “Oh yes, definitely.”

Friend-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous: “Oh, really?” She chuckled and communicated her disbelief. “And how are you living it up?”

Me: “Eating a lot of onions, mainly.”