This story is by Krista Rosa and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
We’re supposed to meet every third week at 7:45 am by the bathrooms in the Cancer Center. These mornings are brutal; they’re early and cold. Lots of mist and fog, it’s hard to drive through, but it’s my mood too, I’m scared. Every time my leg engages the clutch, I say to myself “Hail Mary, full of grace.” From second gear to third, “the Lord is with you.”
This seasonally damp weather is great for the clutch, but not good for my mood. I hope she’s there today. Actually, I’m counting on it, because I’m so damn scared and I really hate how dark my thoughts get when she can’t distract me from my treatments.
It’s unbearable when she can’t come. From third gear to fourth, “blessed our thou among women.”
Downshifting from third to second into the parking lot, I think I see her car, “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…”
She waves to me from outside the women’s bathroom. Noticing her clothing, she’s wearing tan, pleated pants with a black and white butterfly blouse tucked into the waist. She wore dusty black, leather flats with stockings. She was fancier than usual when she walked towards me, putting her hand on my shoulder, holding me close, whispering in my ear, “I can read that look on your face, you thought I wasn’t going to come.” My mood shifts again, “Holy Mary, mother of God.”
I’m hopeful for sunlight to peer through the massive windows of the infusion center. Hopeful for it to breathe light into me. I know the treatments are supposed to kill the cancer cells, drip, drip – but the diffused sunlight would really help my perspective in how I see things. But she’s here today, walking with me to get settled in my chair and to start the long chemo process. Drip, drip.
We became friends 44 years ago. I was four years old at the time and my mom had just lost her mother (my grandmother) a few weeks before, so the mood in my home was tepid and dim, “pray for us sinners.”
It felt like a real coincidence when we met, so full of life, she was. She met my sadness with ease, like she knew where the holes in my heart were. I was learning how to make friends and she was an expert at it. We played often and became even better friends over the years. Drip, drip.
The chemo drips at a perfect cadence. It’s consistent, much more so than my own health. “You know, chemo is an expert at killing cancer” I say to her as six drops fall down into the plastic tube, eventually making their way to my insides.
“I just hope that my body is an expert at receiving it,” responding to my own comment.
“The dripping is dependable, it’s reliable.”
We joked some more about how chemo may be more dependable than our mutual friends and family. That got me laughing and thinking, “It drips, doesn’t it?”
“It drips down, like steady rainfall and I worry I’m going to be too much for you,” I say as she rolls her eyes at me.
Standing up to stretch her legs, my ennui is met with a curt “I’ll be right back, I’m going downstairs.”
I said too much. Drip, drip.
The dripping continued on without her next to me. But I knew she was thinking about the dripping too. That’s why she had to get up and move around, it’s too much. I can often be too much.
The dripping stays with me. It’s in my cells, it’s in my tissues and in my stomach. That’s where I really feel things, in my belly. Everything eaten and consumed drips down into the stomach to be felt and metabolized. The longer she’s gone, the heavier the drips feel. My focus drifts to the weight of being sick, noticing the fog again, “…now and at the hour of our death.” Drip, drip.
When she comes back I’ll apologize for being dark and for hinging my mood on the weather and the quiets drips of an IV.
In the meantime, bright hues of pink peer through the window near my feet. Golds and reds and the purple grays of the faint sunlight will make for good
conversation. It will fill up time and keep the silence to a minimum. I do hate being here alone. I wonder if she can feel how much I’ve missed her over the last 20 minutes. Drip, drip.
She’ll come back if I don’t share too much and scare her off. If I did scare her, I hope the sounds of dripping chemotherapy sliding down plastic medical tubes drown out the words that were too much. I worry she’s forgetting me. Drip, drip
Just now, I can hear her soft, old leather shoes shuffling down the hall.
“There you are, I was getting nervous”
She reminded me that my insecurities are unbecoming for someone who’s ill. Drip, drip.
“Who are you talking to?” Asked the nurse, changing one chemo bag for another.
“My grandmother comes with me to my appointments, she keeps me company during my infusions…”
“Dear, there hasn’t been anyone next to you all day – are you alright?” Drip, drip.