(Note: A Wednesday post! And only two weeks late. I’d like to thank the Word document that disappeared, the new apartment that materialized out of nowhere, and that cancelled flight on weekend of the 4th.
EDIT: Here’s Part 1.)
At the out-of-state 4th of July party I finally made it to, I talked with a much younger friend who I don’t see often. She’s had her own share of serious health issues, more serious than mine, but with no resemblance to cancer.
When night had fallen and the bonfire was in full force, we were hanging out by the s’more fixings and she asked me what I thought a perfect world would be like.
It threw me.
I took some time to answer. After I finally decided not to broach the subject of a hypothetical global system designed to mitigate all human suffering (with this ten-year-old, you never know), I tried to think what a perfect world—as in, this world—would look like, minus suffering and boredom.
Hard to imagine. Though I did know exactly what my perfect place would not be.
It would not be a place where there is no doom or gloom, with birds singing [something] songs, and all the flowers bloom, [something something something rhymes with een], and absolutely green.
At least not in those words.
Back when I was a fake cancer kid, I went to regular appointments (weekly, semi-weekly, then not regularly, sporadically, until the start of high school) in the same clinic as a bunch of real cancer kids.
The oldest kid I knew of was seventeen and had one leg. He did not look like Ansel Elgort. There were a few babies around from time to time, too, and many more in between. Many, many more, it seemed. One time a smiling girl my age, with a cute bandana tied around her head, was called in ahead of me. I was mad. I’d been waiting for two hours. I didn’t care that I had hair and she didn’t.
Did I ever claim this experience made me an angel? No, I did not.
My own appointments, check-ups and chemo combined, were probably only about thirty minutes at most. (It wasn’t until the second season of Orange is the New Black that I realized how long serious chemo can take.)
They were fine in themselves, except for the time a nurse misaimed the needle in my port and had to jiggle it around—while it was still stuck in—for a few minutes until it landed.
That’s what I think of today when I hear the word “discomfort.”
But as established, I was fortunate in many ways. Often for me, the worst part of chemo was the wait. Which could be long.
The waiting room was set up for this. It was well-stocked with toys (toys that made noise), included a separate room with computers that was sometimes unlocked (so I could escape the noise for homework or Zoombinis), and also had a VCR monitor with a cabinet full of videos (the point of this paragraph).
The video selection was decent. I remember choosing, at one time or another, Annie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Sarah, Plain and Tall. The last made a boy—not a sick one, mind you, someone’s older brother—agitate for Sandlot instead.
I ignored him out of stubbornness and still feel guilty when I watch Sandlot today. I never did see it at the clinic and was surprised years later when I liked it.
Still not an angel.
For all the videos available , though, only a few seemed to get regular air time. Someone with the same appointment slot as mine seemed pretty fond of Indian in the Cupboard, for instance. Fine by me.
What was less fine was whichever kid* it was who was obsessed with freaking fricking fracking fecking effing #*$@ing gorram Troll in Central Park.
Pardon? What was that? You’ve never heard of A Troll in Central Park? Well, now you have.
Oh, you want to know more about just how massively Don Bluth misfired in 1994? Go visit the Nostalgia Critic. He’s better at this than me.
He also puts into (very, very bad) words exactly how I felt back then, at ten years old, coming off months of pain and surgery and metabolism killing drugs, surrounded by kids who’d been through all that but worse and were missing hair or legs to boot, stuck for hours in this waiting room while precious seconds of fourth grade life ticked away, captive to this stupid cartoon featuring the above-pictured stupid little round dude with the stupid face and annoying voice provided by a surprisingly big name actor who seems to be constantly singing this stupid song that it turns out goes
Picture a perfect place
Where there is no doom or gloom
Birds singing happy songs
And all the flowers bloom
It’s something like nowhere you’ve ever seen
And absolutely greeeeen
My gut-punch reaction to this song—and this song was on a trailer on another oft-played video, so it was on all the freaking fracking gorram time—was then as now along the lines of,
What the hell kind of a lameass place is that?
Not my perfect world, which involved not doom and gloom exactly, not say, cancer for these other kids.
But challenge. Success. Contrast. Some desert, for goodness’ sake.
Then, what did I know, really? I was considering the perfect place in the abstract.
Back on the day that I was diagnosed for real, after my doctor explained what was wrong, I asked her flat-out, “Will I die?”
I didn’t ask because I was brave. I didn’t plan on going all Eva St. Claire if the answer wasn’t “No.” I did believe death wasn’t the end, but put to the test, I may not have tranquilly accepted that I was just headed to hang out with Roald Dahl for a few years while I waited for some relatives to show up.
I asked because I believed that other kids could become terminally ill, and that that was very sad, but it simply was not possible for me. I asked the question so the doctor could confirm this.
I’d thought of dying briefly, but not in depth. Not then.
Angel, not me, etc.
So for months ahead, in the waiting room, the movie and the song and the little boy* who was always watching it annoyed me. I wasn’t going to die, I was staying for the foreseeable future in this world where there was doom and gloom and it was often what made life exciting and good things better, so what the hell, kid?
Much later it occurred to me that said kid was going through substantially more doom and gloom than I was, that this life wasn’t what he wanted to focus on, that maybe he needed the constant reiteration of that absolutely green place to comfort and sustain him.
Or maybe he just got a big kick out of those incessantly dancing flowers.
Whichever, kid. Hope all is well for you now.
I tried to describe my perfect world, one involving success and challenges and work and some desert. I didn’t do it very well and have accepted that I can’t.
After we discussed it for a while, my friend, who like me likes to read and write stories, commented,
“If the world were perfect, all the authors would be out of a job.”
This opens a whole other can of worms, essay-wise. But to stay on track, it summed up a key reason I was frustrated by that stupid troll and his stupid song.
“I don’t know,” I said, and tried to expand, but not very convincingly. She wasn’t altogether speculating. Oh, well. She’s reading the Narnia books now and will read about Aslan’s country before too long. “Adventures” are fodder for authors, surely, though sickness, sorrow, or sighing need not apply.
Finally we paused for a while.
“Heaven is going to be wonderful,” she said.
“Yes, it will,” I answered. Though frick me if I have any clue how.
Hope all is well for you, kids.
Hope it’s full of dancing flowers if you’re into that kind of thing.
The Wednesday Woman
*I have a vague sense of who this boy was. If I didn’t, I’d still be sure he was a boy, given that the movie’s only positive female character of note is a stupid cutesy toddler who exists to cry and/or make stupid cutesy noises. Don’t think this escaped then or would have ever.
Not that the male characters come off much better.
I am also sure the boy was very young.