Tuesday, August 10, 2010

D Day Minus 180 (September 10, 2009): Oz (Part 1): Follow the Yellow Brick Road

This morning everything was in black and white: our Believe in Zebra bands, my purse, the zebra shopping bag stuffed with my zebra skinned electronics, my layered tank tops with my black sweater for the cold waiting rooms, your list of appointments all folded and creased, and so was our day:

• 7:30 Blood/Specimen Collection
• 7:40 Check-in/Prep for CT Exam 
• 9:40 CT Scan, Chest/Abdomen/Pelvis
• 10:40 Chest XRay – at time of CT
• 2:30 Preparation/Check in for MRI
• 3:00 Brain MRI with and without contrast 

Even the van idling, but not loading passengers yet, was white with black letters and interior. You were texting Katie back and forth and I didn’t want to bother you with my black and white epiphany so I just kept quiet. Besides, I was talking to other passengers where we all shared the Reader’s Digest Version of why we were waiting for the van. One lady in her fifties, with red hair that didn’t look quite right, just found out she had breast cancer and heard that MD Anderson was the best. Her husband held her hand so tight his knuckles were white. I told them your story and you added a few bits and pieces, and said, “MD Anderson saved my life last February.”

Two other groups of three and four people huddled twenty or so feet away, kept a close eye on the van, but far enough away not to catch our cancers. “Denial,” I whispered not meaning for you to hear. “What?” You asked. “Oh nothing.” I slapped your arm, but not too hard, I finally learned my lesson from you, Dad, and Morgan that my play slaps hurt.

“We’re old timers at this.” I smiled because I understood almost every emotion (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in the cancer lifecycle. You nodded and kept texting Katie. I put on my sunglasses, the ones that you said that were for old people, because I wanted something to put over my prescription glasses to drive. You called them the “professional grade sunglasses” and made little quotes with your fingers almost every time I wore them. At least I didn’t have on my prescription glasses, so my “professional grade sunglasses” were somewhat passable for funk fashion today. I needed something because I didn’t want bigger crows feet and the sun was just giving everything more contrast than I wanted to deal with. But now, thanks to my “professional grade sunglasses” everything was gray and white and muddled.

“Remember.” I touched your arm so you knew I was talking to you. “When we on our way back from Martinsburg, West Virginia where they had the big gigantic toy store -- the biggest toy store ever is actually how you put it. You were six or seven. You asked me if things were gray and white, like the television shows on Nickelodeon, in the olden days when I grew up. Dad thought it was really funny. I’m sure I flipped him off, but made sure you couldn’t see it. I saved my potty mouth and gestures for your adulthood. You and Morgan were stuffed in the back in the little fold out seats of the old Blue Mazda Truck. The one we called the White Trash Truck that Dad drove by people with expensive cars just to see them give him a lot of room on the road.” We both laughed, which seemed a bit out of place, almost irreverent, as the van pulled up so we could finally get inside.

You slid next to me so there was enough room in the van for our group and the passengers we had to pick up at other Marriot Hotels. When you bumped my leg, along with the smell of fear that permeated the van, you shook a memory loose. I asked, “Does this van remind you of anything?” I didn’t wait for an answer before I said, “All we need Jetho Tull blaring, Sitting on the Park Bench, full blast and the markings stripped off this van, and this driver to go like a bat out of hell.”

“And to be in Hawaii at midnight not knowing if you’ll live to see the sunrise.” You said and added. “And the guy that was an even saltier and rougher version of the Captain on Jaws, driving us to our death in shark infested waters.” We both looked around to make sure we weren’t being too obnoxious. No one noticed. They were too absorbed in their reality to notice that we were escaping ours. We went on about our shark adventure until we hit the Courtyard Marriot.

Then we just sat there absorbing and reabsorbing all the medical centers that lined our path to MD Anderson: the scanning centers, research centers, medical supply buildings, nursing schools, hospitals of all types, Shriners, Church, Schools, Children, Womens. I couldn’t think of a disease or denomination that wasn’t called out. All the buildings were gray and muddled. So were the streets and alleys that didn’t have any sunlight because the buildings were so tall. I wondered if maybe you were really on to something about everything being in gray and white like the olden days, because everything was. It wasn’t black and white anymore. Or in color.

The van dropped us off at the front door of the Main Building of MD Anderson. As soon as, the automatic doors opened, I was transported back in time. To the Cinemas at Valley Fair Mall in West Valley City, Utah when I was 8 and Aunt Janiene was 7. We were eating licorice and chocolate we stole from Walgreens in the mall, just when Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” And the movie went from black and white to Technicolor. I had just been baptized as a Mormon at 8 and had all my sins washed away. And here I was eating candy, thinking about how to repent, and get rid of those black marks. And wanting a second chance to get it right. I shook my head, to make the thought go away, as I put on my sweater.

You asked if I was okay. It took me a second to decide. Then all colors that had been missing all morning were back. In Technicolor. The blue carpet and textures were there. The fish aquarium was there with the pretty blue water with the bright yellow, orange, and blue tropical fishes swimming passed me like they knew something I didn’t. The brown paneling was there and really shiny. The pictures of flowers and nature were more vibrant than I remembered. Even the red piping on the University of Texas Security guards was brighter.

I finally nodded so you knew I was fine and asked, “What would Katie and Morgan think of Oz?” You really didn’t hear the question. You were too busy pointing to the carpets, that were like the yellow brick road, that led us to the lab on the second floor for your first appointment of the day.


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