*This isn’t funny
“I’ll take you,” he said, as I stood in their living room. I didn’t want to impose, but it was clear that my father wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He and my mother can be very persuasive when they want to be. I was relieved, my foot was double it’s normal size and throbbing. I couldn’t really walk, but I didn’t want them to know that. The pain was making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the fact that my foot really fucking hurt.
He was worried. I could tell by his expression. I hate it when he worries about me, but I was glad to give him something else to worry about. As we drove to Urgent Care, I remembered all the time I spent with my father as a child. I found myself wishing I could go back to those days, when my universe consisted of a half-acre lot on a hill in North Miami. Set far back off the busy street, the house was protected by the giant U-shaped, asphalt driveway. It was a great place to roller skate, or fall…and scrape your knees to shit.
I was six-years-old when that busy street and a grey Datsun almost took the life of my favorite dog. I vividly remember my older brother Todd, cradling him and running towards the house, shirtless, and wearing shorts that today…only Richard Simmons would approve of. It was 1980 something.
“Sweetums got hit by a car,” he yelled to my mother as he ran through the door. They were both terrified, I could hear it in Todd’s voice and see it in the dog’s chattering underbite. Time stood still that day. Sweetums and I never ventured very close to the street after that.
My dad quietly sat with me in the examination room. As the doctor examined my foot, he watched intently. “You didn’t see what bit you?” The doctor looked at me quizzically. “It looks like you were bitten by some fire ants, I would think you would have noticed that.” Yes, I had to agree with her. One would think I would have noticed a swarm of angry insects turning my foot into a blistering, oozing, lump of flesh…but I didn’t. I hadn’t noticed very much in the last few days. I wasn’t going to explain. It wouldn’t help identify my symptoms. “I’m going to give you an antibiotic and I want you to keep your foot elevated and on ice”.
My dad and I drove home in relative silence. I was still ruminating on my old house and the memories that were made in between the dark brown carpet and white tile roof. I thought of the time I spent with my brothers. Like flipping through an album of old polaroid pictures, the memories ran through my brain…stopping at the ones that made me smile. The three of us were all very mischievous in our own right. Todd, being the oldest…was our ringleader.
“Say… I want a banana,” he giggled, I was screaming and in the throes of a late-night tantrum. I was still in my crib, sharing a room with my brothers. Wailing, with tears, sweat, and snot rolling down my face, he’d come to my bedside to comfort me. It was an exercise in futility. He couldn’t figure out what I wanted…I’m not sure I knew either. I was demanding to see my parents. By the time my mom and dad arrived to the bedroom, I was screaming “I WANT A BANANA,” at the top of my little lungs. I don’t know what happened after that, my memory fails me. I can only imagine that my fruit induced meltdown must have puzzled them, as my brothers laughed under their sheets.
I thought of the day my parents went out to run errands and Todd convinced me it was a good idea to help him ambush our brother Mike with bottle rockets as he lay napping in their bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to light the bottle rockets…because that would have been dangerous. I was allowed to laugh and provide moral support.
Then I remembered the day we all sat on my parent’s bed, my brothers on either side of me, recording our own book on tape. I wasn’t old enough to read, so they took turns reading “Leo the Lop” aloud while I made the “beep” sound to signal that the page should be turned. I was an excellent beeper. These memories brought me the levity I so desperately needed. Uncovering them surprised me, my adult brain rarely reflects on my childhood in such great detail.
Later that night as I followed the doctors orders, I laid in my bed and tried to sleep. I was joined by my boy, who has just turned six. With a lisp that can only be created by a loose front tooth he whispered, “Momma? I had a bad dream.” This is our new bedtime ritual. “That’s impossible buddy, I just put you to bed for the 18th time tonight. You have to be asleep to dream.” I recited, as I do almost every night.
He ignored me, and went on to tell me that a sasquatch had crashed his birthday party, demolished his cake, and ran into the woods with his presents. I looked at him, impressed with his creativity. “But that didn’t happen, right? You had a wonderful party, right?” “Yep,” he chirped.
A few minutes went by and he spoke again. This time he whispered, “Momma? I’m worried about your foot…and I’m worried that my Uncle Todd is going to die of cancer.” My heart sank as my eyes welled-up with tears, I fumbled for the right words to say. “Baby, it’s not your job to worry,” I said, my voice cracking with every word. “My foot will be fine. Uncle Todd isn’t going to die, his doctors are going to fix him.”
He snuggled closer to me, putting his little head on my chest, and thought for a few seconds. “Momma? What’s cancer?” Again, I fumbled. I could feel my tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and hear them land on the pillowcase, close to my ears. “Cancer is something that can make people very sick. It’s also a very good reason to let people know you love them, even when you think they know”.
“Do you think he wants to borrow Elmo? Elmo always makes me feel better when I’m really sick.” I bit my lip, inhaling deeply. “No, baby. Uncle Todd would want you to keep him, just in case you need him,” I managed to squeak out.
In the days since I learned my older brother has Stage 4 Colon Cancer, time has again stood still. My text messages to him now contain the words “treatment” and “Oncologist” instead of “beer” and “barbeque”. I never in a million years thought this would be my…his…our…reality. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.
He’s very optimistic. His doctors assure him that this is treatable, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared, too. As he has done with everything in his life, he’s determined to beat this. Judging by his track record, my money is on Todd. He starts his treatment tomorrow. I wish I could be there to stand by his side in the darkness, comfort him, or at very least…suggest he demand a banana, if all other words fail him.
Although I won’t be with him physically, I will be with him in spirit…as will the rest of my family. I believe once this very scary chapter is over, when Todd is on the road to recovery, we will all “beep” joyfully as we turn the page.