Yassooo! I’m back from my first bout with the new chemo, and so far I am not puking, which information you were undoubtedly waiting with bated breath to receive. I know I was!
Chemo patients often bring backup to sit and amuse them through the interminable infusion sessions. I bring my sister, but the young woman in the barcalounger next to me had taken the unusual step of bringing her farrier. I knew he was her farrier because I had been eavesdropping on their conversation for twenty minutes, during which interim I had also ascertained that she runs a boarding stable outside of Austin and is a writer currently at work on a “romantic comedy.” I liked the look of her. She sorta had that English rose/ Texan tomboy thing goin’ on.
The farrier was was a handsome blonde marlboro man who, because he was carrying one of those 47-gallon insulated plastic truck stop soda steins, I at first mistook for a redneck. But one cannot judge a marlboro man by his soda stein. In fact he turned out to be a decent chap, making supportive conversation that was surprisingly erudite and sensitive for a guy who makes a living banging on an anvil. Farriers, I reflected, possibly because of the long, solitary hours spent pondering the great truths in horses’ hooves, often possess an unexpected philosophical bent. I was disappointed when he left, because they seemed to be having the kind of deep, animated discussion about her personal life that would have made excellent entertainment for the next 3 hours.
The Texas tomboy was getting a species of ultra-sadistic chemo where they make you immerse your feet and hands in tubs of ice-water for the duration of the drip. It looks like it sucks.
“That looks like it sucks,” I addressed her brightly. This gambit was not without risk in the infusion room. A lot of the patients, mostly the breast cancer ones, have been brainwashed to manifest a pink teddy-bear attitude, the one where they’re bravely “battling” their disease and can’t resist putting a positive spin on their godawful torture. OK, whatever bangs your box, but I can’t say shit to those Stepford girls who think Jesus never gives’em anything they can’t handle.
I was relieved that my new barca-buddy turned out to be the other kind of cancer patient, the kind who is only too happy to complain that the treatments blow chunks. These people are surprisingly rare, given the enormity (as a public service, I link to a definition of this grossly abused word) of the chunks that cancer treatment actually does blow.
“Oh, it does suck. Shit!” She had slumped a bit following the departure of the marlboro man, but now she perked up like a watered flower. She sloshed her feet in the ice-water expressively and launched without further delay into the gripping tale of the bad breakup and broken heart through the murky depths of which she was currently navigating without a compass. Her boyfriend of a year had apparently taken one look at her once her hair had fallen out and stopped calling her, cold turkey. He didn’t call after chemo. He didn’t call on Christmas. He didn’t call on New Years. He was totally on the lam.
This unexpected display of aversion had wounded her sorely, and the scales had begun to fall from her eyes.
“Of course it wasn’t just the hair,” she admitted. “There was something not right about him all along.” She was, she said, trying to figure out some way to tell him off and take the high road at the same time.
Because I am the world’s foremost authority on other people’s dysfunctional hetero relationships, this struck me as baloney. But one must tread lightly around women who love assholes, for their tormentors have taught them to recoil from truth. Here’s the speech I reluctantly choked back: “You’ve got fucking cancer! You’re automatically on the high road! The fucker ditched you in the middle of a life-threatening trauma! Overnight him a dead rat! And date the hot farrier!”
But she wasn’t ready for patriarchy-blaming, so I put a sock in it. She really just wanted to decant her anguished soul onto a bald and total stranger. Since I was the only other patient in there under 80, that bald stranger was me.
Wrenchingly, she confessed that her recent cancer diagnosis seemed to her like chicken-feed compared to the angst inflicted by the absentee boyfriend. She kept looking at her cell phone to see if he’d sent her a message. The heart bled for her. I’ve seen it a million times. Her future would unfold like an episode of the soap opera playing on our communal TV, with deep delusions and maybe some light stalking. Her yearning, melancholy tone was entirely too bereft of the icy resolve I knew she’d need to fully extricate herself from this bum.
“He never once told me I looked nice, even when I had hair,” she mused. And then, “But maybe he had an accident and has been in the hospital for the past 3 weeks.”
I am a spinster aunt. I could take no more.
“Dump him!” I blurted. “Dump him! For the lovagod, DUMP HIM!”
She regarded me with a wild surmise, then asked, “are you here every Tuesday?”