Running Into Love
I was bald and sweating and panicked the day that I ran into love. Her name was, aptly, Angela, and she worked as the ground floor receptionist to the Radiology department at the Cancer Center. I would come to know Angela very, very well, later, as I checked in for 33 consecutive days of radiation treatment, but that’s getting WAY ahead of myself.
At this moment, I was a month into chemo, two months out of mastectomy surgery, and late for my first physical therapy appointment to see about the arm on the surgery side. My fingers were swollen like breakfast sausages, taut piano cords pulled painfully from my armpit to my fingertips. It looked like I had a fist buried in my armpit, each finger a cord as hard as bone, radiating down to my wrist. Maybe it was my secret hand, trying to protect my lymph nodes from the surgeon’s fingers. I imagined that I could remember her feeling around, scooping them out of my armpit like papaya seeds.
I’d parked in the underground lot and hustled to street level of the wrong building. Somehow I’d forgotten to write down the building number or even the name of the office where I was expected. Actually, I think my phone, with the over 400 scheduled doctor appointments (not exaggerating) had died, and I hadn’t had time (between doctor visits) to get a new phone or program those appointments into it. I wasn’t far enough into treatment, yet, to know that the world revolved around ME, and that they could just wait. If my cancerous body were late to one of the fifty or so appointments that month, they could just wait. As I said, I still thought they were the Powerful Ones and that it was my job to show up. On time. So I was panicked. Hurrying. I came to absolutely hate hurry.
I was, I thought, at the end of my rope (I was to find that my rope was much, much longer and stronger than I had imagined). December, it’s frigid, and I still hadn’t adjusted my morning schedule to allow time for winding turbans. It doesn’t take any more time than blow drying the hair I used to have, but I hadn’t learned how to do it. I was still plugging the laptop in to the bathroom outlet and watching YouTube where perky African-American teenagers (with beautiful breasts) showed me how to wrap my head in colorful scarves. I just couldn’t handle wigs. So fake. Like anyone who knew me didn’t know what I was in the middle of. Why pretend everything is normal, when nothing was normal? And I hadn’t found the fabulous blue and green and purple cosplay wigs – those I could wear, they were clearly wigs, and not pretend normal.
But back to Angela. She had one of the clearly least ideal office spaces of any reception area anywhere. The radiation equipment, by it’s nature, has to be on the ground floor or below decks – so heavy. Lead lined rooms etc. So there she was, her waiting room the lobby of a major hospital in a cancer-center city. Every kind of flotsam washes in the softly swooshing automatic doors: tangled filthy veterans in wheelchairs, muttering jiving homeless dudes, freaked out bald middle aged cancer patients. The hospital couldn’t have hired a better person to staff that desk.
Sweating, stammering with exhaustion, I asked, “Can you help me find my appointment?” I could hardly articulate where I was going, who I was looking for. All I knew was I had cancer and I was Late. Late Stage, late to my appointment, late. For anyone who is perpetually on time, being Late is like Death.
Angela took a look at me, put her arm around my shoulder, held my hand with her other arm across my body, and led me out the doors, to the street, walked me to the corner, pointed me toward the building where I needed to go, and, when I burst into tears of gratitude and relief, gave me a big hug; then she sent me back into the rapids.
Gratitudes to Inky Path Writing Community and the weekly writing prompts!