Across the table I look into her blue grey eyes as she gazes at me skeptically. She thinks I am holding back, not telling her everything. Trust me, I am. I try to live openly, she knows this, secrets are toxic. Daddy and I have told her everything that Dr. Rachel has said. My recent improvement and better appearance should be proof of that. Everywhere I go people are mysteriously surprised that I look “so good” for someone 20 months into a death sentence. Still, she is at that hard intersection of her own comprehensive medical knowledge while still being a child looking at a parent. Those eyes have seen a lot.
She was the first person to see me all those years ago on the day I was diagnosed, running into the house, crying, an ice pack taped to my chest from an unexpected biopsy. The night of my lumpectomy she climbed into bed with me and her sister to watch the first season of American Idol. She tentatively visited me in the hospital after my bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction, drains everywhere. It feels like yesterday.
When I look at her I don’t picture changing her diapers or the time she fell while pushing her doll stroller and cut open her forehead or the mint green sweater she wore home as a newborn on a blistering hot August day. I don’t really think about all the soccer games and team dinners and rides to practices or the time she scored her first varsity goal or went to the prom. I don’t think about the vacations, the summer in Spain.
Now, I picture her knitting and painting her nails, laughing, in the infusion room and climbing into bed with me, yakking about her dog. She has gone to every chemo infusion with me this time around. We have been through a lot.
The night I sent her a snap of my swollen port, she told me I had to call Dr. Rachel immediately and she met me at the ER with a bag of clothes. She knew there was something very wrong. Later that week when I was hospitalized she sat at my bedside through my delirious, not so funny, fever. She was there to make the anguished, last hope decision with Dad to put me in a coma. She analyzed the telemetry, read the oxygen levels and drop in blood pressure, and listened to the myriad of doctors, hoping to tease out something, some morsel of information that might save me. She anguished as she held my hand and climbed, once again, into bed with me as her sister put up photos of us in the ICU and Dad remained stoic. He asked her to leave once, she was so distraught. Her medical knowledge overwhelming her, she composed herself to return. It is all too much sometimes.
Worse still, when I finally woke up I looked at her through accusing eyes. I thought she was an imposter, a phony–how could she be so smiley and bouncy when I was so sick. How could she have let Dad do this to me. After conscious sedation for a procedure to repair a bleed around my central line, I “woke up” and was “me” again. I begged forgiveness. Daily she visited me and sat vigil. She accompanied the ambulance when I was transferred to acute rehab and signed me in. So much responsibility, so young. She rubbed lotion into my dry skin, brought milk shakes, helped me to become well again. It was a long slog, some disappointments, and then, excitement, as I took my first baby steps. The child becomes the mother. We spent Mother’s Day in the closed hospital cafeteria. It was wonderful.
Across the table on her birthday as she reads my card out loud, she lets out a whelp followed by a shriek and sobs as she realizes I am taking her to the Caribbean, just me and her, to express my love and gratitude for all that she has had to bear all these years. (Don’t worry, the little coconut will get her day).
Now my girl worries that I won’t last this current medical honeymoon. She fears I won’t be at her wedding some day, that I won’t be around for the next big things in our lives. I can’t make promises that I may not be able to keep. As I gaze across the table into her blue grey eyes I know one thing. I will always be with her.