Chemo is two pills, taken at home every day. Radiation is a machine, five days a week at the hospital. I have written this information down (along with her contact information, her doctors, her medications) in a little notebook for my mother to keep in her purse for when she forgets. She looks through it gravely, noting the main points, and tucks it away. We get in the car and I hook her up to my ipod so she can listen to The Cowboy Junkies on the way to the hospital.
We’re so sorry, says the technician when we’ve valet parked (free with validation, the receptionist tells me) and sat down in the freezing cold waiting room. For a moment I hope the tech is apologizing for the appalling selection of magazines on the coffee tables—not a brightly colored overly-Photoshopped intelligence-insulting rag amongst them—but it turns out that the treatment, the treatment that is a machine, five days a week, the treatment that was supposed to start today, is not actually going to start today. We tried to call you, she says. Mom looks worriedly at me, at the technician, at me again. I see, I say, and begin gathering up my hospital bag. They’ve heard about me by now, at this department. We called both your numbers, the technician says, smiling nervously, looking at Mom, looking at me, looking back at the receptionist who is avoiding eye contact. But they didn’t even go to voicemail. I charted it, I looked at the chart. Both your numbers. Treatment will start tomorrow. Just go ahead with the chemo as usual. We’ll see you tomorrow. Okay? I’m so sorry. Tomorrow. See you tomorrow, okay? I make a mental note to call later to confirm; it turns out the car is still out front because we were not inside long enough to have it parked.
I guess we’ll just go home and have a normal day, Mom says as she buckles her seatbelt. Oh well.
Orrrrr…we could do something crazy and go to South Beach, I tell her, off the top of my head. For lunch or something. Would you like that? Walk around Lincoln Road Mall?
Her face brightens. Yeah! she says. Let’s walk around and go shopping!
Convention centre home show traffic notwithstanding, we make it down the beach and even find parking, although I guess it’s not so hard at 11 on a Tuesday. It’s bright and sunny but not too hot if we walk in the shade; I think about all the Facebook status updates bemoaning the latest southerly as my sandaled feet walk by the aspiring models hurrying their day jobs in the outdoor restaurants. Mom has enough energy to shop, slightly to my surprise, and as we leave a store with her new shoes on her feet, she tells me that even though she feels disoriented (“I don’t recognize any of this”) she feels glad to be there.
When did I quit school? she asks, sipping on strawberry lemonade at her favorite café, one she’s taken me to many times before.
About six weeks ago, I tell her, sipping on my own strawberry lemonade. You called me to tell me what was going on on Valentine’s Day, your time, and you had quit earlier that week.
Six weeks, she says. It’s gone fast.
Yeah, it’s gone fast, I say. I think about the meeting I was in, for work, and how I left early to call her on my way to the bus stop. You’ve gone from no diagnosis to starting treatment in six weeks, I tell her as the server brings our food. It’s a lot.
It’s just been so long since I got out, she says, looking at the beautiful long-aproned servers, the tanned people in shorts and baseball caps and high heels and dog purses walking by, the feral parrots screeching overhead. It’s nice to get out and about.
I eat my lunch in about fifteen minutes, rolling my eyes with delight and forking up the strawberry salad like strawberry salad is being outlawed tomorrow, but she puts her fork down and focuses on a spot just to the side my head while I’m still only halfway through my first crab cake. I think I’ll just take this home for later, she murmurs as I mop up the rest of my meal. I had been going to put more money in the meter, thinking that we somehow had an extra day together before she really started treatment, that maybe we should go to the Gap after lunch, but we quickly pay and she takes my arm on the way back to the car. She’s sick in the plastic bag I packed in the nausea kit before we even get to the bridge to take us home to the island.
I’m okay, honey, she keeps saying. It’s not that bad. I’m okay. She’s sick six more times in the next three hours, telling me she’s okay the whole time. She finally comes downstairs, face washed and hair combed, and says she wants to go for a walk, so we thread through the bougainvillea and the grapetrees around the complex, followed by her two suddenly very protective cats. It’s nice to be outside, she says, smiling at me and taking my hand. I feel much better now. Thank you for a nice day.
Yesterday was my thirty-seventh birthday. Her sixty-sixth was Friday. She steps along the garden path in her new shoes and tells me again that she’s okay, that she thinks the worst has passed for the day, that she’d like to water the back porch plants and eat some dinner now. We talk about the cats and the lizard halves they bring home and why they insist on rolling around in the dirt when there is so clearly an embarrassment of non-dirt alternatives to be had for rolling purposes. I follow her over the grown-out grass and tree roots, watching to see she doesn’t fall, wondering what would I do–what would I really, really do–if she did.