Jude woke-up for the first time in weeks without complaint that it was morning. I laid down next to him and showed him the two small, wooden ram figurines that my friend had gifted me after relapse.
“These little guys are you and Beau. You are vicious killers,” I knocked the rams horns against each other. “And sometimes you play nicely,” I ran the rams up his arm alongside each other. “But you are always, always…always…. bothers,” I laid one of the rams into his open palm.
“Beau and I are going to the hospital today and I wondered if you to keep this with you. I am going to give the other to Beau….You will be at school, obviously,”
“Obviously,” he repeated, smiling.
“But I need you to stay with Beau. Like, in spirit. He needs you Jude man. He needs his brother. I was thinking if you both held on to these rams, it could be like an invisible string. You’d be…”
“…connected.” His hand wrapped around the wooden ram and rolled over, asking for five more minutes.
The elevator doors opened and I think I may have audibly gasped.
“Oh, they’ve changed the floors.”
The other occupants on the elevator either understood completely, or didn’t at all, and if it was the latter, lucky them.
It’s the kind of thing you would only notice if you had seen the elevator doors open hundreds of times to the same hospital-beige linoleum. But today the doors opened to a very modern ash with a blue hue, wood laminate and I stood mesmerized.
The planks wove together like a Magic Eye. Perhaps if I started at it long enough, letting myself focus on everything and nothing, meaning would present itself.
‘Please God, don’t let me get to know this floor,’ I thought as I willed myself across the threshold.
The T(w)een Zone was finally open. Open today (after remodel) and available to us (after growing-up). The trouble was it was closed for lunch when we arrived. But Beau wanted to wait it out. You don’t finally gain access to the T(w)een Zone to squander it by not waiting out the lunch break. We decided to go sit outside the hospital on the front lawn.
It was chilly, but not so much so that our long sleeves and the Colorado sunshine couldn’t make a way for us. I read my book, (amazing!) and Beau flipped through Calvin and Hobbs.
“One time we sat on this exact bench and ate pizza after you had gone into anaphylactic shock,” I said looking up from my book.
“What does anaphylactic mean?”
“Meh, just that you are allergic to something.”
“I don’t have any allergies.”
“Well, that day, you seemed to be allergic to Pegaspargase, or they thought you were, but maybe it was just dehydration…” I trailed off because, really, I wasn’t sure it mattered. God willing, we would never have reconsider if that day was an allergy or a reaction. We would never need to worry about Pegaspargase again.
“Remember when we saw that hawk tearing apart the pigeon, right there,” Beau pointed over to the sidewalk where one afternoon we had left clinic and saw a hawk tearing a pigeon to bloody pieces. A couple groups of patients and their parents had gathered and no one knew quite what to do. Do we stop this very natural process or let it be? And for fucks sake, does this hawk not realize that he is 10 feet from the entrance to a children’s hospital and we are all a bit frazzled by this confrontation with the circle of life.
One mom tossed a stick in the direction of the hawk and yelled, “Shooo!” While another dad remarked, “No, let him eat, he earned it. This is part of life.”
But all of us wondered, was this really part of life? Being torn to pieces, survival just a ruthless game of cat and mouse, or in this case, hawk and pigeon?
“Yeah, I remember that. Lots of memories at this place, huh?” I refreshed my phone again, for the 47 times in 30 minutes and the long-awaited email finally came through. [You have a new test result in MyChart.]
I clicked through:
CSF Character: Clear
CSF Color: Colorless
CSF Nucleated Cells: 0
Completely unremarkable, plain ole’ spinal fluid. Free of anything.
“Well, Beau, results are in. You don’t have any cancer in your spinal fluid,” I screenshot the results and sent them to Joshua with the message, “Clear baby. 🔥!”
“Awww man,” Beau remarked, not looking up from the comic.
“What?” I inquired, unsurprised. He had spent many moments that morning remarking how much he loved his memories of Philly, of Children’s, of cancer.
“I just wanted to have to comeback here.”
“Yeah. It’s weird thinking we may be done with it.”
“I want more time inpatient. All the screen time! The food! Remember that one time Grandpa and Grandma brought us pizza….and pickles?”
“I loved being here with you Beau,” I stared into the middle distance, letting myself focus on everything and nothing, hoping meaning would present itself.
“Bam!” Joshua’s reply pinged through.
“What did dad say?” Beau asked. I hadn’t told him I had texted his dad, but he knew.
“Bam!” I read to him.
“Bam baby!” Beau smirked, still not looking up from his book, a phrase that his daddy says when he is really excited.
“Do work, Beau,” I said non-chalantly, another Joshua-ism.
“Nei-how.” Beau replied.
(That won’t make sense to almost anyone, but Joshua will get it and he will cry and that’s enough.)
You spend every waking moment before results yield knowing exactly what you need to see and every waking moment after results yield waiting for the doctor to call and confirm that what you are seeing is, in fact, exactly what you understood it to be.
CSF Character: Clear
CSF Color: Colorless
CSF Nucleated Cells: 0
I texted Maeve’s mom.
“It’s like I know what I’m hoping for until I see it and then I’m spinning out waiting for the doctors call, Does zero mean zero?!?!? Does ZERO still mean cancer-free?? Is there a way the CSF can be zero and there is still cancer? But mostly, they haven’t posted the pathology report and I would assume that zero means Pathology will say clear, because how could Pathology see something when the something they are trying to see is at zero. But mainly I am just going slightly crazy because why isn’t that report posted?”
“I know. We suddenly forget everything we know to be true and even when the exact results we visualized appear, we wait for the bat. Betsy, It’s zero. Clear. Colorless. Beautiful champagne poke.”
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