Ashes In The Chemport IIEating for Two
Once I found out that Rachel and I had the same blood type, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. She could have my blood for transfusions. My blood is like friggin’ high-test. She needs iron and I’m like a red-meat ***** so it just made perfect sense. Plus I did all this research on how to elevate your iron levels naturally (Mung beans and pumpkin seeds, F.Y.I.) and I’d just front load on them and donate my blood to her.
Everyone just kept telling me no. They discouraged me from be tested for it unless I wanted to generically donate, which I don’t. What’s up with that? Her husband and her oncologist and even the transfusion nurses told me to just donate to the general blood pool. I’m not that magnanimous. I wish I were, but I’m not. I wanted to help Rachel’s blood and I thought it would be so cool to think that my red blood cells were delivering the tumor shrinking chemicals to their destination.
This wasn’t the first great idea I’ve had that was shot down. Once when I was about eight and my brother was six, I thought it would be brilliant for us to rake all the leaves from the entire block into our driveway. I got all the neighborhood kids to help me, the ob
But I don’t understand why no one would let me give my specific blood to my specific friend. I also don’t understand that when you walk into the chemotherapy infusion center, they have to walk past a gauntlet of candy and donuts. And all over the place are signs encouraging appointments with the on-site nutritionist and sugar-avoidance. And right there in the infusion rooms are candy dishes. Candy dishes! Full of normal, not-even-sugar-free candy. Who thinks that’s a good idea? And someone must because the dishes are always being refilled as quickly as they’re emptied.
I think people with cancer have enough going on. They have to fight for life, fight against fear, fight people vetoing your good ideas and on top of it all, fight temptation. Those candy dishes are about as smart as me burning leaves in the driveway.
Rachel didn’t clean her house before the cancer and as she puts its “I’m sure as ****’s sake not gonna clean it now. Fucken-A”. But they have a quasi-live in maid, Mary about whom I can write whatever I please since she doesn’t speak or read or understand English.
The only person I know with more love spilling out of every pore than Rachel is Mary which is a good thing she brings at least that to the table since as far as housekeepers go she’s pitiful. It’s not that she’s lazy, far from it, she’s just clueless and lacking is that English vocabulary. So telling her to clean out the refrigerator can easily result in her reupholstering the couch.
Rachel pretends that the house is being maintained even though it’s not and when I point out cobwebs on the chandelier or soap scum on the tub she’ll say, what the hell do you want from me, I have a maid, which is like saying my husband is Pelé when he’s coaches our five-year-old’s soccer team.
For the most part the arrangement works out until Mary does undertake to actually clean at which point all hell breaks loose.
Rachel’s house is full of drugs, pills, elixirs and pharmaceuticals, a state I attribute in part to the fact that one or more of them is always sick and her husband is a doctor but for the most part I attribute the opium den they call home to the fact that Howie gets to bring home free drug sample, which are, you know free.
This is in vast contrast to my house. We just got our first first aid kit when my son was selling them as a fund-raiser with the boy scouts. Until then my stock remedy for whatever ailed you was to run some water on it and eat a blueberry.
So years back when my toddler toddled around Rachel’s house, he would have been safer in a crack den for the gauntlet of lozenges, medicines, tablets and pills he waddled through. Rachel who in addition to the cancer has a rat lab worth of other conditions that need medication has them all set out like M & M’s in holiday dishes along with her stash of $150.00 an ounce pot sitting there like a naked potpourri sash.
But damned if Mary doesn’t decide she was gonna bust that cleaning lady cherry of hers on the medicine chest that passes for Rachel’s nightstand. This is the same woman that strained sour, clumpy milk through Rachel’s kitchen towels in a sorry attempt to make cheese and who also was caught pulling and ailing tooth out of her own head with craft pliers. She declined Howie’s offer of antibiotics although they were right there for the taking. I’ve seen these things myself and truth is a full defense to a slander lawsuit and besides Mary can’t read English and she loves me and wouldn’t sue-but ****, would it kill you to see a dentist?
Rachel came home from chemo one Thursday and had no clue, not even a hint of the fact that Mary rearranged all the medications from their already incomprehensible willy-nilly situation to a new and utterly indecipherable state.
The first and most tragic casualty Rachel discovered was that the pot is gone. Mary thought it was schmutz which is her fist English word which is really Yiddish for dirt, leaving her illiteracy streak unbroken, though she managed somehow to ‘fess up to throwing it out. Then she tried to explain the new order she put the pills in, either by color or size, who can tell with her Ponglish, which was really just an academic exercise by this point since Howie had, I think, an emotional outburst, or maybe he just sneezed and just went to his office to reinvent the whole pain management system he had taken three months to perfect.
So we scored new pot for Rachel and another unforeseen circumstance of the cancer is hiding the pot not from her kids like everyone else one her block does but from her non-cleaning housekeeper. Live and learn. Or just live.
“Lemme’ reread that,” Rachel demanded, when I was first writing this.
“Wow, I though it was ok, but you want to read it again? Already?” I asked, with flatter fanned pride.
“Jesus Christ, I think I let Brooke read this last night. I smoked some **** and was laughing over it. She came in and asked to read it; gimme that, Jesus Christ,” Rachel cackled and then bust out with a laugh that cracked the stagnant air in her bedroom like a whip. “’Lubing my vagina, blow jobs, pulled his penis out of her’, holy **** my kid’s gonna’ be warped from this.”
How perfectly Rachel. Like watching her mother survive the double radical mastectomy and lymphnodectomey was just going to be glossed over by Brooke’s fourteen-year-old psyche and her parents’ screwing was going to cause some Freudian psychosis. Pu-lease.
Rachel is a truly loving mother albeit one who on occasion has displayed maternal priorities just a tad eschew, from mine anyway. For me motherhood is all about nutrition, rest and hygiene. For her it’s all about cuddling and **** like that. But we confer occasionally.
“Hi, it’s Rachel. I was thinking, do you think I should take Brooke for a massage. I think she really needs to relax more.”
“A massage. Really? How about you just pack her lunch for school. One in a while, even.”
And with Laurel. Rachel is always shushing me. It’s like five minutes before dinner and Laurel is reaching for her third ice pop. I’m inclined to encourage Laurel to put it away at least until after dinner. But Rachel won’t hear of it. Like the hot air whooshing out of a balloon Rachel swoops in on me with a massive Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, so powerful and neutering that I bite my own tongue rather than offend the little glutton.
But then Rachel got the cancer and she begs God for just two more years. Two more years. She wants that much time because she thinks she can play catch up and teach her children how to knock on doors before entering and to chew with their mouths closed and such. She wants to leave the planet knowing that she has fully equipped her children with all the skills they need to survive and thrive and fulfill their dreams. Don’t we all want that, cancer or no?
All in all I think Rachel and Howie lucked out. They have really good kids. Thank God they didn’t draw from the shallow end of the gene pool because between the two of them they couldn’t house break a puppy.
As far as I know my outing Rachel and Howie as horn-dogs hasn’t traumatized Brooke. Though only time will tell. And all I can do is pray Rachel gets more than two years to undue my damage.
Rachel says it’s a Jewish thing having all that plastic surgery. I won’t even wear mascara unless someone’s getting married, so the whole beauty by scalpel culture is foreign to me. But I had to defer to Rachel’s assessment after I met a few or her cousins, their daughters and in-laws and whoever’s. She called me as shrilly as a middle aged librarian catching a bridal bouquet, demanding I drop what I’m doing and meet this giddy passel of relatives of whom I’ve heard so much.
I threw together a fruit plate and dashed over to Rachel’s with my husband, Tommy. All these people were congregating in her master bedroom the way most ingratiate themselves in someone’s kitchen. After introductions were made they apparently picked up the conversation where they had left it before I interrupted with my watermelon slices.
“Sandy had her father’s nose-remember that one. And maybe even part of her mother’s, haw haw haw,” some uncle posited.
“Some of her mother’s old nose or the new one,” a male cousin chimed in.
“You go on with the joke-making Mr. Smarty,” barked an aunt. “I know noses; your Sarah’s gonna sprout a beak like a toucan on a cereal box. Start saving now.”
“I remember mine. I heard them cracking the bones,” another cousin continued. I was the last one from Dr. Goldberg.”
“Ahhhh, Doctor Goldberg, he had the hands of a surgeon.”
“Wait. Wasn’t he a surgeon?”
“It’s an ex
“He’s dead Uncle Morry. His partner is the best now.”
“Yeah, but he’s no Goldberg. This family’s girls go to Goldberg.”
“The man’s dead. No more Goldberg, stop with the Goldberg already,” Rachel added.
My husband couldn’t take any more of the rhinoplasty family tree and excused himself. He would later tell me that in light of Rachel’s medical woes which have been utterly exasperated by scalpel vanity, he had to leave before he said something stupid, or worse, maybe true. Like how a fourteen-year old should like herself for who she is and beauty is skin deep, and jeez didn’t these people have enough with hospitals for a while.
Me, I couldn’t be pried away with a shoehorn. This was like watching some public television special about an indigenous people whose girls come of age with nose jobs.
“So Brooke, what do you think of this mother of yours, cancer-schmancer, our little bubella’s gonna get gorgeous!” said the aunt.
“She’s already gorgeous!” said the uncle.
“So she’ll get more gorgeous!” said the aunt.
“Your damn right,” added Rachel from her bed. “I spent the last thirteen years telling Brooke that all that matters is beauty and that skin deep crap is something you tell the ugly girls, the miskites.”
There was something comforting watching this unfold, like crisp cool sheets. They were all living as usual, whatever their usual was and even if it was not my usual I saw Brooke embracing the two cents thrown in by all her tribal members. They were all in this because it was their way and Rachel’s cancer was not going to slow them down.
The days leading up to Rachel’s cancer surgery were, in a word, oppressive. I have obsessive compulsive disorder and Rachel has attention deficient disorder. Think: are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet versus did anyone see my keys laying around? But opposites attract and damn if we haven’t attracted. So when Rachel got the diagnosis, July 11, 2005, our personal 9/11, I was as eager as a virgin boy in a ********** to have the tumor cut out so we could move on with our lives.
Needless to say I was a little disturbed when Rachel decided not to have her cancerous breasts removed until Brooke was at a two-week study program in Australia which wouldn’t happen for like a month.
“Rachel, are you ******* kidding? Why are you sitting on a bomb like that? Have the surgery, start the chemo, stop ******* around,” I sensitively counseled.
“I don’t want Brooke having to deal with this. Everything will fall on her if I’m out of it. Better she’s gone and when she comes back it’ll all be behind us,” Rachel countered.
“Yeah but that’s like a month away. The tumor is gonna be like the size of Chicago,” I lamented.
“A month can’t make that big a difference. I’ll sit real still and it won’t grow so much,” Rachel promised.
Brooke got involved and what with her being more of a grownup than her mother the date for surgery was moved up.
“Mom, seriously, you’ve got to be kidding if you think you’re doing this for me. Remember your hysterectomy? The one you had while I was at Hebrew camp?” Brooke questioned.
“’The one’? Where there more than the one?” Rachel asked.
“Don’t be fresh,” Brooke admonished. “You know what I mean. I spent the whole time between archery and Shabbat writing you: ‘is it out yet, it is out?’”
So with Brooke backing me up like the Pips backed up Diana Ross, we moved Rachel’s surgery up to a mere ten days away. And the countdown began.
We had to do something, anything really, to move these dreadful days along. The cancer surgery loomed over us like storm clouds full of toxic rain and I knew if they could just burst we could begin to mop up the mess.
My Cub Scout troop had given me a gift certificate for a day spa in gratitude, I suppose, for four years of orchestrating community cleanups, noodle necklaces and such and I thought a free back massage would be the perfect way to strike one day off the countdown. But Rachel was afraid a massage might stimulate her lymphnodes to let cancer cells break off the tumor and travel to other organs so she settled on a facial and a moustache waxing.
When my sister-in-law offered for us to spend a Saturday night in Amagannset with her we jumped on it like a diabetic on a Hershey bar. We headed directly there except for the stop at the liquor store for two bottles of champagne and a large Sambucca.
To which Brooke remarked, “What the hell mom? It’s not enough my mother has breast cancer; she’s gonna be an alcoholic too.”
Shortly though, Brooke settled into a comfortable acceptance of the fact that maybe her mother was just drowning a few sorrows and she let it go. Either that or she accepted that her mother was too drunk to be reasoned with and let it go. Tomâto, Tomãto.
We were three women and our combined five daughters in a compact two bedroom poolside apartment situated a minutes’ walk from the beach. Except for the breast cancer, it was pretty nice.
I found myself drowning my own sorrows in the Möet and trying to made idle chat above the crunching of guacamole and chips.
Rachel and Fran were strangers up until then, but when my sister-in-law invited me to come for a weekend and I told her I couldn’t leave Rachel in her pre-operative countdown. And as we sat around drinking and crunching, our girls making decorations out of paper plates for our impromptu celebration of the sisterhood, I actually relaxed a little, knowing I had people to lean on like Rachel had me to lean on and none of us were going to fall over yet. Though with that much champagne in my gut, the falling over was just around the corner.
Before we left for Amagannset, Rachel had to get a PET scan. My limited understanding of this technology is that you must purge yourself of sugar for twenty-four hours so they can inject you with their own sugar and slide you in a glucose-seeking tunnel like a small penis in a too large vagina. Then the nuclear radiation or toxic rays or whatever are circulating in that thing will make an image of where the sugar shows metabolic activity and the resulting computer pictures, like Hiroshima’s thermal heat images, will show the site of where something bad might be going on.
We made the appointment for 8 a.m. so we could head to Amagansett as early as possible. We went to the office and were sent by yet another non-pulsed “care-giver” to the back of the building, actually, to the trailer.
And damned if it wasn’t a real trailer. A big, hulking piece of **** white trash trailer with a window air-conditioner precariously hanging off the side of it rattling loud enough to drown out our conversation and dripping enough water to take a shower under.
“This place is a ****-hole,” I observed.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” Rachel defended. “Howie’s friend runs this thing. Only the best for me!”
“I’m not judging a book. I’m judging the whole library and it should be condemned,” I said.
I climbed the stairs which, good-Christ, could not pass a building inspection in an Afghanistan refugee tent camp and as I was about to knock on the dented aluminum slab that I supposed was the door, it opened.
“Oh, God, get off the stairs! Hurry. They’re only held up by bungee cords! I’ll lower the wheelchair ramp for you,” the technician (?) promised.
Cautiously, as if retreating from a mine field, we backed down the bleacher-like metal slabs that, upon a closer look, were in fact truly fastened to the trailer by bungee cords.
The side of the ****-box opened and a wheelchair ramp slowly descended to the parking lot. Rachel and I boarded it and were whisked a whole eight feet upward where we stepped inside. It reminded me of the shot of one of those movies where the FBI is on surveillance from a flower or laundry truck; computers, bl
Brian looked about fifteen years old though through my masterful questioning I learned he was thirty-five.
“How ******* old are you? I can still see your placenta for chrissakes!” I hissed.
Rachel cackled and so did the technician we came to know as Brian and I knew it would be as ok as such a circumstance can be ok.
“Ok, Rachel, we have to inject you with a little glucose and you have to sit perfectly still. The solution is attracted to metabolic activity so if you talk it’ll go to your throat and like that,” he sweetly explained.
I in the meanwhile, I had undertaken to check out the nuclear reactor we had just entered. I had to step over about sixteen lead lined boxes with that atomic logo stamped on them, cartoon electrons swirling and mocking me, just to grab a seat. As I watched Brian peruse Rachel’s arm for a willing vein, I noticed he had a radiation monitor clipped to his collar. I recognized it as a radiation monitor right away because it said radiation monitor on it.
“Excuse me, uh, Brian? Listen, just because she has cancer doesn’t mean I have to get it. What’s with all the radiation? It this safe?” I queried.
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it. That’s why I wear the badge. It’ll go off if we have too much exposure,” he comforted. “Oh shoot, I’d better turn it on!”
Brian was funny and almost as important he was kind. And malleable. I offered to make-out with him if he’d tell us what was on the scan.
“I’m really not qualified to do that. I could get in a lot of trouble,” he half-heartedly protested.
“Yeah, but I’ll grab your crotch, too,” I countered.
But then he looked at Rachel’s face, still tense and contorted from the excruciating claustrophobia she endured for an hour of being in the machine, whimpering and begging me not to leave her side, which I never will.
“Ok have a seat,” Brian started. “This here is your bladder. It’s full so it shows up dark.”
“I do have to pee,” Rachel confirmed.
“I told you to go before we left the house,” I admonished.
“You want to hear this or not?” Brian continued. “By the way, where’s my hand-job?”
“This looks like some activity,” he euphemizes as he pointed to her left breast. “And there’s something going on in the armpit. I’m really not supposed to tell you this.”
“We know about the breast cancer, Brian. It’s ok. We want to know what else . . . if it’s anywhere else, you know?” I explained.
“You sure? Ok, well then there’s something in your L-5 vertebra, and a faint cloud in your right lung,” he continued.
“What about my stomach, check my stomach,” Rachel yipped, like a puppy whose tail was stepped on.
“Alls I see is, yeah there’s something there but it doesn’t look like um . . . you know activity,” he cautiously projected.
“Can’t that be the by-pass?” I asked gently for a change. Oh God, Rachel and her stomach.
“I can’t take cancer there, not in my stomach,” Rachel belched out, the words fueled by emotion.
“I can’t say, really what it is, I’m just a tech, but um . . . I’d have to say no to it being stomach cancer,” he concluded.
“OOOOh you sweet talker you. If I wasn’t married what I wouldn’t do to you,” I purred at Brian.
A Yiddish Pep-talk
Four months after the cancer surgery and half way through the chemotherapy protocol, it’s nice to see Rachel’s pendulum of emotions has finally found a mid-point, dangling somewhere between being weeping daily, convinced she had mere days to live and manically cramming fifteen years of parenting down her children’s throats every three days.
I sort of ride along on Rachel’s emotions like one of those symbiotic, mutuality parasitic birds that perch on an infested hippopotamuses’ back, pecking at maggots and such. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how it is, but I’m clinging on there somehow.
I am always surprised at how oblivious people can be, though, in the midst of such tumult. Rachel’s mother-in-law, who I swear could have stepped out of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl if the characters wore blue eye shadow up to their eye brows and more lipstick than a drag-queen, is utterly unfazed by her daughter-in-laws cancer, surgery. Really, not at all!
“No body’s die-ink, do you hear me, no body,” she’ll blurt between puffs of her cigarette. “I’m a survivor myself you know. I had breast cancer nine years ago. It happens and you move on.”
Once, while I was there waiting to take Rachel to chemo, Mrs. Birmbaum was just arriving, overnight bag in hand.
“How you doing, Mrs. Birmbaum?” I asked.
“Don’t ask. Ach, such a thing. A pot, I dropped a pot on my foot. You think I should get an x-ray?” she asked me. (Remember, her son is the doctor)
I might have advised and octogenarian to go do that, get checked out by a doctor, but since her feet were clammed in rhinestone encrusted two inch high heels I surmised the damage must be minimal and suggested ice.
Just then Rachel came down.
“Hi Rachel. How you feeling today?” Mrs. Birmbaum asked.
“Not so good, Mom. I barely slept and my incisions are infected . . .” Rachel started.
“What?! Listen, you tink you have problems? I droppt a pot on my foot. I tink it’s broken in two, maybe three places. Look at the time. You two better go now,” she admonished.
As we drove to chemo I had to ask Rachel how she could just listen to Mrs. Birmbaum’s trivial complaint about an obviously not broken foot under the circumstances and why she lets her mother-in-law dismiss her so readily.
“She’s like a sergeant or a general or something. When they visit their men in the military hospital, they yell at the soldiers for being lazy and ****. That way the guys figure they’re not really wounded that badly. Who yells at a dying man, you know?”
So I understood that Mrs. Birmbaum’s foot was beside the point. Her complaining about a not broken foot to a post-op cancer girl on her way to chemo was like a Yiddish pep talk. ‘Cause after all, who vood yell at a dyink girl?
Onward & Upward
Rachel is really not one to complain, unless it’s in a restaurant or about her daughter’s nose job or her maid’s cleaning or her son’s attitude. . . hell, who am I kidding? She ******* and moans on a daily basis about some damn thing or another which is why it never ceases to amaze me that she often drives to chemo alone. It seems so independent and inconsistent. I have told her and told her I will gladly drive-no one should have to drive themselves to chemo, but she often does. So I try to finish up what I’m doing and meet her there for at least a little bit since it’s lonely and boring to sit there for five or six hours alone surrounded by other cancer people hooked up to tubes and being pumped full of whatnot weekly.
This one time I get there and Rachel is sleeping so I sit down anyway. She is wearing tapestry boots with little rabbit fur Hitler moustaches and they are so garish that ****** would sooner go barefoot.
So immediately when Rachel stirs, I mock the ****-me boots and we giggle and a minute later Howie walks in which pretty much dehydrates all the fun out of chemo. He chats about tiles for his office which is like a black hole of redecorating and construction which never ends and then the conversation turns to other construction-the reconstruction of Rachel’s breasts.
“This time go a little subtler. You lost all the weight. You don’t need those pontoons arriving in the room five minutes ahead of you. Get a nice perky “A”,” I counsel.
“I don’t even know if I want to go through all that again,” Rachel sighed.
“**** that. I’m not paying for an A! Are you kidding?! You need at least a C”, Howie chimed in.
“I’m thinking about it, Howie. I have to finish chemo first, so we’re a long ways off,” said Rachel.
“Well, if you do it, are you gonna get the nipples tattooed on?” I asked.
“They might use her toes,” Howie said.
“Toes?” I repeated.
“Yeah, either that or they gather up a little wad of skin and pinch it together to make a nip,” he explained.
“We’re a bit away from that, but I’m checking out the options,” Rachel ratified Howie’s horney enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, I was still stuck on amputating toes to form nipples.
“Yeah, it’s not like it’s that big a deal. We had the plastic surgeon consult as to where the incisions should be made for the mastectomy,” Howie detailed. “We finish chemo and we’re good to go.
“Yeah, that’s why I have these flaps over here,” Rachel indicated.
So there you have it. With Rachel’s new *******’ foundation already in place, there’s only the size to agree on where the nipples will come from.
If they take them from her toes, I wonder if she’ll walk with a limp.
Rachel the Stoner
It’s a morbid and sobering anniversary, Thanksgiving 2005, as it was only four years ago practically to the day that Rachel’s love-hate relationship began its Titanic like voyage. The gastric bypass which now complicates the nutritional needs imposed by chemotherapy, but which seemed like such a great idea when she was 350 pounds was upon us. To have your appetite forever surgically altered just before what is arguably the quintessential food holiday pretty much underscores Rachel’s approach to everything in life.
But anyway, fast forward four years and she is a cancer patient in the fight of her life and my best pal is undeniably a pot head. I’ve been in denial about that though the signs are everywhere. Even though I score her the pot. Like the fact that she keeps “misplacing” the quantities of pot which are supposed to last a month and needs a new order like every two weeks. She hung the rap on Mary a few times, but after today, I think I need to at least admit she’s smoking the **** for more than just the cancer pain relief.
Like when I picked her up to run a few Thanksgiving errands with me and she lit up the pipe in the car and toked it in like she was playing the harmonica-two handed.
“Your back still hurts?” I naively inquired.
“No way, man, I’m feeling great!” she blurted in puffs of smoke.
Rachel needs another PET scan so that we can see how much the tumor shrunk. We get there and Rachel is stoned a little but not enough that third year medical students can practice their injection technique on her like she was an orange. But Ray, who is not Brian who was the greatest PET scan technician in all the land, is there. We know this because he tells us so. He is a light skinned black man who shaves his head and wears Gianfranco Ferre eyeglasses. So I’m thinking he’s cool and he’ll make an ugly injection painless and will help us through the whole claustrophobia thing and maybe even read the scan off the record, unofficial, on the QT. ****. Don’t judge a book by its cover works the other way too. He was so not cool that black and bald on him was a waste.
He kept intimating that I should leave, which wasn’t happening, so when he got that through his bald head he began to poke my friend. I told him she was a really hard stick. He was all in my face with this let me do my job attitude. When she started crying he stepped off a bit and it looked like he was willing to let me offer a tip or two. My first one was for him to get a blow-job as soon as possible, even if he had to pay for it, as he was the most uptight, by the book working-for-the-man black guy I had ever met. He had to fight hard from laughing, though, which made me think we had something to work with.
Rachel and I went to my car where she promptly begged me to take her home. I ordered her to smoke a bowl and we went in to try again. By now the sad, all alone old woman who was before us left. I offered her the coffee we had brought for Brian which Ray declined as if he were a cop and we were bribing him to make Rachel’s tumor be gone. She didn’t want coffee; maybe just someone to drink it with, though.
So we went back in and Ray poked her again. And again. His cocky veneer faded and he was happy to have me there to hold Rachel’s head and to pep talk her through the poking and to pimp her out to blow Ray if he didn’t hurt her anymore. On that one he let himself laugh.
She marinated in the toxic chemicals for a while as I tried to butter Ray up. Then she got shoved into the tunnel of claustrophobia. Once she was in there, I read to her from 1984. Thought police and Ministry of Hate and such and I asked her if she was bored and she said she loved it which was a good thing because it kept me from thinking what the hell I was going to do, say, think if the pictures showed bad stuff.
She did it, all forty-five minutes of it and I got Ray to show us the pictures on the computer screen because I told him he’d be an Oreo cookie of he didn’t and **** the man by showing some compassion toward a nice north shore Jewish lady in this Yule time. Curiously he didn’t ***** slap me and said he would let me look, but he wouldn’t comment. But when I commented he nodded that shiny black bald headed of his and we agreed, us two non-qualified medical personnel that there was no evidence of a tumor in Rachel’s spine. So I kissed that black son-of-a-***** and Rachel laughed and we wished him a Happy Kwanza and he thanked us for giving him a good story about the two wacky white broads in his medical trailer to tell his family over the holiday.
But I had a better story. Rachel is going to live.
Among the many fun things to do with Rachel is to learn Yiddish. I speak German so it’s not that big a streach. I love incorporating her phlegmy idioms in my conversations every chance I get. I feel like I’m passing as a Jew. After a particularly great PET scan I qvelled. It was all beschert! Rachel has been declared cancer-free, such chutzpa! I demand we celebrate. I foolishly ask her what she wanted. I expected the answer to be “another seventy-five dollar lunch . . .on you” or “a pedicure”. Chemo was quite unkind on Rachel’s already gnarly toes.
“I want a Westie. Let’s get a ******* Westie.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I was hoping it didn’t involve me having sex with her, but if push came to shove . . . I mean she was cancer-free. Mazel tov!
“It’s a dog, you retard, you know like the one Phyllis just got. All high-class Jews and Hollywood teen stars have them.”
Where the **** was I going to get a Westie? Every pet I have was thrown away by someone else. Stray cat after stay cat. They just show up. We did buy a dog, a suppose it’s Lab, but one look at her and you know her papers are crap. We spent three hundred dollars for her and she was already a year old. They day after we took her home the pet store was shut down by animal protection.
For reasons that only God knows, we went to one of those save a stray places. In search of the Westie. The stench of cat urine would have sent a lesser woman running out. After all, I can get that at home. But we pressed on. Despite the fact that there was not a dog in sight. The lack of barking and the cacophony of cat wailing did not deter Rachel in the least. Rachel persists. At some point you just give in-she wears you down just like an overly tired nagging toddler-just give him the damn Hershey bar-shut that brat up.
“You want the dog, fine. But we have to name it Mitzva.”
We approached the desk and Rachel had the temerity to ask the hippy behind the fur covered counter for a Westie. I stood there mutely. To me, in this venue it was like asking a newborn to fly a plane. No ******* way.
“Funny you should ask,” the hippy answered. “We had one come in yesterday but it didn’t get along with the cats so we shipped it to the Town shelter.”
In a past life I was a municipally employed attorney. Coincidentally one of the few municipal employees I still knew was, let’s just call him Frank. Frank was the commissioner of the Town animal shelter. I had the beatnik get him on the phone.
“Frank, it’s Babz the lawyer. (My mafia name) You got a Westie?” I asked incredulously.
“You don’t want that mess,” he answered.
Turning to Rachel, “He says we don’t want it, it’s a mess.”
“Who are we to judge, drive me there,” She demanded.
This was now becoming too much work for me. Frankly I wanted to just buy her a lobster and a Cosmo and have done with the celebrating. Genug. Rachel was having none of that. We were on a quest. A hairy, long, boring, quest for a dog I never heard of.
We got to the shelter and (what am I calling him, oh yeah) Frank greeted us warmly. A little too warmly. He dropped everything including a cat mid-labor when he saw us. I stealthfully averted his tongue from going in my mouth and said whip it out-the dog Frank-keep the stallion in the coral.
I have long suspected that Frank has a crush on me. Not the normal kind. I think he had a German Oma somewhere who hit him with her sauerbraten ladle and told him what a naughty little boy he was and I deeply suspect he’d like me to recreate those adolescent Teutonic memories.
He escorted us into the “Meet & Greet” room and a young woman appeared holding a thing that a long time before may have been white. It was about the size of a shoe box and she held it as far away from her body as humanly possible by its armpits. Stuff dripped from its nose, ears and eyes, each liquid source drip bearing its own distinct color and I suspect odor. I was about to thank Frank for his time and grab Rachel for that lobster when the disgusted summer intern put the creature on the pee stained linoleum. Rachel was meshuga for wanting such a thing. Forget Mitzva, Schlemazel such a dog should be called.
It looked directly at Rachel with its good eye, hobbled across the floor and jumped in her lap. The creature recognized one of its own, someone who was in pretty bad shape but willing to fight. It also apparently had enough sense of smell left despite the crusty lesions to recognize a sap when it saw one.
As always, Rachel carried neither money nor identification with her so it was up to me to adopt this
. . . dog? Frank wanted only the two dollar licensing fee, which I thought was a rip-off and Rachel took the dog into my car where it sat on her lap and has rarely left even since. Between the adoption and as of this writing, Hailey, it’s given name from one of the 40 people that had to good sense to own if for no longer than it took to squeeze one of its pimples, has cost Rachel upwards of five thousand dollars. It is prone to ear infections, is allergic to everything but rabbit meat and has suffered a broken leg. But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is this dog thinks it’s a worthy contestant for Westminster. It scares the crap out of my Lab. It demands I drop what I’m doing when it shows up. It makes me watch it poop on my lawn.
Hailey never took to the name Mitzva. In fact, she’ll answered to whatever she damn well pleases whenever she feels like it. Hailey is a Mitzva, though. She gives Rachel something to worry about more than herself. And she reminds Rachel that life finds a way. You just need someone to believe with you.
August 2011, Rhonda woke up, walked downstairs, ate a donut and sat on a chair. The dog jumped in her lap and howled; the family gathered and Rhonda died. Please get your mammogram. She was 56. Every professional told her it would have saved her