Like a freight train it is coming. Hump day. Middle of the week. January 10. Last chemo treatment. It’s coming.
I have two people inside me. One is so excited about Wednesday. It is my last treatment. After Wednesday it is all downhill (or is it uphill? … there’s a hill in there somewhere). After Wednesday I’ll go back to puking only when I drink too many martinis or when I catch the flu. After Wednesday I’ll, hopefully, forget the awful taste of saline and the strange feeling of my body being poured out into a chemo chair. After Wednesday I’ll officially be a cancer survivor.
Then there is the other person inside me. You know her; she’s been hanging around for about 7 months. She’s the one who knows how bad Wednesday is and no matter how hard you try, she cannot be convinced that Wednesday is a good thing, a good event, a good day. She knows too much, has seen too much, has tasted too much … too many times, if you know what I’m saying.
As Wednesday approaches I find myself dreading it in a whole new way. Yes, I dread the usual – the sickness, the fatigue, the sore mouth, the body aches, the turning-bubbling-clutching stomach – but in some ways, it is easy to see past those things – that’s what the first person, the excited one, is doing. Because it is the last treatment the excited woman inside me is able to pshaw away the bad stuff. She’s able to see beyond the yucky. She’s able to focus on the day after Wednesday and the day after that and the day after that. Good for her. She rocks.
But, in these last days, a new dread has popped up and has replaced the old dread I’m used to feeling. This new dread is keeping the other person in me –the one who knows too much—busy. This new dread is different. I can’t really explain it.
Actually, I can explain it but I worry about how it will sound. I don’t know. I feel strange, guilty for not being all party hats and parades about Wednesday. And truthfully, I think if I were you and I was watching me I would be a little disgusted with me. Jeepers, what do I want anyway? I have so much. I’m nearly finished with chemo. Why can’t I be happy?
I am happy. Really. I’m glad to be finishing. It’s just …
Years ago I owned a Honda Civic. I loved that car. It was my first new car and I got it when I was a senior in college. I kept that car for 9 years. I drove it all over the country. Indiana to Pennsylvania, Indiana to Florida, Michigan to West Virginia, Michigan to Indiana, Michigan to Missouri, Missouri to Indiana, Missouri to Oklahoma, Tennessee, Western Kansas, Ohio… multiple trips to multiple locations and back. I took it everywhere. I drove the shizzle out of it. It was a great car.
One rainy day, somewhere along the way, I left the house and jumped in my little red hatchback and turned the key and heard … nothing. Bupkus. The car wouldn’t start … or even pretend like it was going to start. I tried again. I checked to make sure I was using the right key. I got nothing.
This was a bummer.
I went inside and promptly called my mom. Probably. I don’t really remember. But that’s usually my pattern when things go wrong. What I do remember is out of disgust and poutiness and a severe lack of funds in my checkbook, I waited until the next day – payday – to call the tow truck. The following day, while I was standing in my driveway looking for the giant truck with the pulley, I decided to try to to start my car again. It roared to life. No muss. No fuss. When Willard and his big truck got to my driveway I explained what happened. He was nice enough not to charge me anything, check the battery to make sure it was charged and spit tobacco juice in my lawn. I was relieved.
I chalked it up to a fluke. Maybe I was using the wrong key the day before. Maybe the universe was conspiring on my behalf to keep me from the office. Who knows … all I knew was I was glad to be back in my car and zipping up and down the highway.
Fast forward to another day a few weeks later. I left the house running. I jumped in the car. I turned the key. Second verse same as the first. Nothing. No thing. Not even a ruah ruah ruah. I wailed. Why was this happening? This time I called Willard right away. He and his chew came and took my little red car. He wouldn’t be able to look at it that day, he said, but he’d get to it as soon as he could. He got to it early the next day. He called me.
Ms. Beecher? This is Willard. I got some infermashun about yer car here. Ya ready?
I liked Willard. I trusted Willard. Willard was obviously preparing me for some bad news. I braced myself and told him to go ahead.
Weul, ain’t nuttin wrong with it far as I can tell. Started rught up fer me. Purrin' like a kittun.
I was both relieved and annoyed. What was going on? How could it not be running one day and then be fine the next. Twice. I asked Willard if he was sure it was running. Are you sure? I said. Willard paused.
Now, Ms. Beecher, I’ve been doin’ this for ‘bout 20 years. I ‘spect I know when a car is runnin’.
Touché, Willard. I ‘spect you do. I walked to the service station, paid for the towing, picked up my purrin’ car and drove it home. Three days later it failed to start again. Annoying under any circumstances. Doubly so as it was raining. Again. And just as I was picking up the phone to call my mom, it hit me. It’d been raining EVERY time my car wouldn’t start. Every. Time. That couldn’t be coincidence – not even I have luck that bad. I thought about it and realized when it DID start, it was after the rain had stopped. Something was up. Because my bank account was lean, I contemplated my options. There weren’t many. How could I own a car that didn’t work in the rain? My mom once owned a raincoat that smelled like fish when it got wet. Impractical to say the least. And really sort of ruined the whole joy of having a rain coat. She kept it for awhile vowing to only wear it when the sun was shining. But who wears a raincoat when the sun is shining? Eventually she threw it away. Like her coat, I couldn’t just have a fair-weather car. That wouldn’t work. I needed to use my car in all kinds of weather … maybe even needed it MORE SO when it rained. My car didn’t smell like scrod but not being able to use it when it rained was just as stinky. And not an option. Since my car wouldn’t fit in a hefty bag, I called Willard. I told him my car wasn’t working. I shared my theory. His response?
And then a lot of “well”s and “I spect”s … eventually Willard figured out the watchamagigger needed replaced. Something about something with the hoodo was busted, and apparently, the thingy was off. At least I think that’s what he said. So I had Willard order a new watchamagigger and install it. I got a new watchamagigger. The car ran great again. All was well.
But here’s the thing. Every single rainy day after that I worried my car wouldn’t start. Every one. When spring came, I would fret daily. When I scheduled an important meeting, I would check the weather the night before and mentally work out a back-up plan just in case. On rainy mornings, I would run out to my car first thing to make sure it started … before I showered, ate breakfast or dressed. I never again felt fully confident in my little red Honda. Regardless of how many times it started or how much I trusted Willard, the broken watchamagigger never left my mind.
Wednesday is my last chemo treatment. After that, I’ll be considered cancer free. But I will never again feel a lump under my skin, a sore in my mouth, an ache, a pain, a cough without wondering if my watchamagigger is broken and I’m going to be stranded out here again. In the rain. Smelling like fish.