Red and White
My newly-wedded husband’s hand seemed to transfer warm pulses of energy through my body. We walked beside each other in perfect harmony as we neared the large, white hospital. I tried to prepare for anything that could possibly come my way.
I sat in the waiting room, somewhat dazed. At the same time, I was very aware of all the tiny, discrete noises around me. The scuffling of patients as they walked in and the noise from the front desk, such as the receptionist typing. I heard my name, and twisted around, scanning the bland grey lobby.
“Allison?” a tall nurse said with a terribly hoarse voice. I glanced over at Adam. He gently slid his arm around me. He didn’t speak but this tiny action soothed my nervousness. I looked into his generous blue eyes and I knew that I wouldn’t experience hell for long.
Step by step, I was guided through a series of confusing corridors that resembled a labyrinth. I could hear Adam’s soft footsteps behind me as we approached the room. Inside was a dusty chair that was propped up against the aged but clean cot. I offered the seat to Adam, who firmly insisted I take it. The all-too-familiar hospital scent traveled to my nose and I waited in painful silence.
Silently I sat, as I listened to the doctor’s endless rant of questions. She asked everything about my medical history, from baby exams to my last Tetanus shot a few years back. She checked parts of my body to see if there were any decreases or increases in tissue or any serious inflammation. She also asked me if I had had any weight loss, fever, bruising, fatigue, or coughing, any worrisome symptoms. I answered her questions as truthfully as I could, sometimes not answering at all and having Adam reply. After evaluating me and performing all the essential procedures, they conducted the blood tests.
“How are you holding up after all that?” asked Adam as we left the room and headed back to the lobby. “I don’t know,” I mumbled, my chin low. He acknowledged with a simple nod as if he thoroughly understood, but I knew he didn’t.
As soon as I stepped into the warm environment of our apartment, I became relaxed and peaceful. I draped my coat over the couch. Adam approached me and gave me a nice, soothing kiss. My spirits lifted, but only for a limited period of time. I then dragged myself over to the master bedroom, and fell onto the safe, cozy mattress. I sunk into the pool of covers and left reality, for a roller coaster of excitement and thrill in my dreams.
Days of stress and exhaustion gradually passed. I had an empty spot in my stomach. I was yearning to know how my life would play out… if it ever did.
One morning I was awakened by my usual obnoxious alarm, ready for another dreadful day. Although I didn’t realize it, that dreadful day changed my life. Adam’s voice found its way through all of the clanking plates and rushing water from the sink, “Allison! You gettin’ ready to go to your appointment? You’ll be getting your results today,” Adam called from the kitchen. I halted in my thoughts and processed what was happening. I thought so heavily for those few minutes that I had forgotten to reply to him all together. “You alright darling?” he called again, this time more softly. I shook my head as I tried to wake myself up. “Fine,” I lied. I imagined him nodding while I dragged myself to the bathroom with what was left of my remaining will. I stared at my pale face in the mirror. Dark grey circles surrounded my grey eyes, revealing the exhaustion. I rubbed those grey eyes as if to make them alive, bright with color.
I lightly grasped my toothbrush, as I squeezed on the spearmint toothpaste and brushed the heck out of those teeth, until I was sure my gums were bleeding. I rinsed my mouth out with water and spit the remains into the sink. There was a river of water, toothpaste, and a surprising amount of blood just from my gums. I gazed at the blood and wiped my mouth with a rough, white washcloth. Suddenly I could feel a cough trailing up my throat. I coughed hard into the sink, and again saw the vermilion liquid. I was coughing blood. No wonder there was so much. I turned the faucet on as the red river spilled down the drain and I dizzily wandered back to the master bedroom. Blood, what a terrible way to start the unbearable hours. I got dressed and we left the house, unprepared as ever.
I sat slouched on that same dusty chair. I was almost sure I knew what was coming. I jumped up from my seat as the doorknob turned. “Hello Allison and Adam,” said the doctor with the fakest smile that I had ever seen.
“Hello…” I answered.
“Are you ready for the results?” she said again, far too enthusiastically for what was to come. I gave a subtle nod when she said those dreaded words. The truth that was unsaid became reality. It hit me hard in the chest, harder than anyone could imagine.
“Allison, are you alright?” said the doctor. Was she stupid? No, I was not alright. I was terrified, sad, angry, and so many more emotions flowed. Although she was probably just trying to be nice, it sure wasn’t the right thing to say to someone in my position.
After Adam and I had checked out of the hospital, we slowly made our way to the car. I could feel his presence stronger than ever before. He probably didn’t have a clue what to say, but I wasn’t paying much attention. We arrived to the car in the parking lot and slipped in. He just sat there for a few minutes and thought, and that was when I broke the ice.
“Adam,” I said, as I stared out the windshield.
“Yeah, sweetie,” there was immense hesitation in his voice. I felt a tear as it made its way down my cheek, burning my skin. I opened my mouth to speak and tasted the salty warm tear.
“I have leukemia.”
There I laid on the soft, white bed. We were home, finally. Adam and I spooned and I felt his warm embrace. I could feel his chest on my back as it rose and fell again. I was whimpering, and the next thing I knew sobs were spilling out of me. Eventually, we drifted off to sleep, just like that.
Those next days were harsh. I never thought I would get through. Adam and I had gone to my oncologist to discuss the next steps… like chemo. I never imagined that such a thing would happen to me. Why me? I guess it’s just the way things had to play out. The thought of being bald, just the whole chemo thing, lingered in my head. And all the needles, the needles that would slowly penetrate my soft skin, leaving a scar that would be unnoticed by all the people as they walked past me. Just getting on with their amazing, cancer-free lives. They didn’t know anything, but then again, neither did I.
Adam and I found ourselves in the hospital once again. Today I was starting chemotherapy. The nurse led us to the infusion suite. I gazed at it for a few horrible seconds through the window, and hesitantly pushed myself through the door, my hand slipping out of Adam’s soft grasp. The nurse told me she was going to order my chemo cocktails and any pre-medications that I would need from the pharmacy. In the next few minutes the nurse returned with an IV. I studied her delicate, slender hands as she set it up with the saline solution. She then approached me and explained how she was going to puncture my veins with needles and how there would be medicine running through my body which was so incredibly strong, it would strip me from my hair. Her words sounded muffled as if I were under water, and the next thing I knew, I felt a prick in my skin. I cringed and didn’t dare to look at my arm. I glanced at Adam, relying on his face for comfort. From that moment on, nothing in the world, was ever the same to me again.
My body was awake. I struggled to lift my eyelids, they felt as heavy as fifty-pound metal weights. I was able to see about half of the room, and it had been roughly two weeks since my first day of chemo, I would have to return in about a week.
I thrusted my left hand to the bedside table. My fingertips lightly caressed my icy water glass as it tipped over and began to fall from my weak touch. My ears rung from the sound of the sharp shatter. I slapped my hands over my face and rubbed my pale, dry skin in frustration. Adam’s footsteps thudded as he came to the rescue. He stood in the crimson door frame. “I’m sorry… I can’t even pick up a glass of water without ruining it. How will I be able to live life as best as I can before I die if I can’t do the easiest things?” I croaked. Adam sat on the bed next to me and traced the simple designs on the quilts.
“Allison, nobody ever said you are going to die!” he stated, his voice shaky. “And you know what? I would never let that happen. Because my love for you is so strong, not even God could pull you away. If you ever want to do something, we’ll do it. If that is what will make you happier”. I cracked a sad, genuine smile.
“I love you too. I’m just so tired all the time, it’s hard you know?” he pursed his lips and nodded. “Now, clean that up would you?”
“Yes, my queen,” he replied. I let out a small laugh. The first I had had in a long time.
I sat at the table in my cozy flannel pajamas. It was around 2PM, and I hadn’t eaten anything. Adam stood in the kitchen only several feet away as he poured his ingredients on a pan which he then put on the stove.
“So, your parents are coming later today,” he said over the sound of the sizzling eggs. My head darted up as if I were a dog who just spotted a squirrel.
“What? Since when?” I replied with a high tone.
“Since yesterday,” he said as he stirred the food. “I would have told you, but I didn’t want to wake you,”
“Oh god. They’re not going to know how to deal with… the situation I’m in. They’re gonna be all awkward”.
“Honey, don’t worry too much. We’ll figure it out. They’ll be here in a few hours.” I shrugged as he slid the eggs onto my plate and brought it over. I picked at it as the smell of pepper curled my nose. I started to itch my head, and what remained in my hand was not satisfying. In my hand lay a curly brown piece of hair. It shined as the light glinted off of it. I put my hand back on my head and focused my grip on a nice thick lock. I pulled just the slightest amount to see if more of my hair would come out, and it did. Soon enough, I was going to be a bald woman.
I flinched as I heard the sharp ‘ding’ of the doorbell. “I’ll get it,” said Adam. He flung his legs over the edge of the bed and almost dropped his computer. I grabbed ahold of his sleeve, stretching the fabric. “Um… let me come with you. Hold on I need to put on a sweatshirt,” I grabbed my oversized USA hoodie and threw it over my head, careful not to pull too much hair out. We headed over to the doorbell, hand in hand. The next thing I knew, two old, wrinkly parents stood before me.
After Adam helped put my parents luggage in the guest room, we all sat on the sofa, making small talk. My mother sat next to me. The strong stench of her perfume roamed the air.
“So Allison, your father and I have lots of things we want to do with you during our visit. We have made some plans,” she said, her back straight as a stick. I frowned. It seemed to me as if she thought I was just going to die and that was that. No hope. Way to go, Mom.
“What sort of things do you have planned exactly?” I said, picking my nails. She grinned, revealing the red dollar-store lipstick on her tooth, which made me smirk.
“Well, first we want to take you out to a fancy dinner, then we will take you to the beach, then we were thinking you’d be interested in that old art museum… “
“Mom, we can’t do all of that!”
“Well… why not?” Was she blind? I had LEUKEMIA. It was exhausting just to climb up and down some stairs a few times. But then again, I did want to do as much as I could, just in case.
“Listen, we’ll start with the fancy dinner. But I’m not promising too much,”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. You will see honey.” There was a long pause. “What shampoo are you using Alison?” she said again. “Um, I don’t know. Pantene? Why?”
“Your hair has gotten awfully thin,” she ran her fingers through the hair that remained. Her grin darkened. And suddenly, she was grim.
I buttoned up my maroon blouse with shaking hands and stood in front of the mirror. I studied my pale skin, my weak muscles only made me look more dead. I just stood there, and stared. Until I was startled by Adam as he entered the bedroom. “Sweetheart, are you doing alright?” he asked, and I could tell it was sincere.
“Yeah, just my parents. They don’t really understand. They’re not admitting to themselves that I have cancer. You know?”
“Yeah. I know. Listen, they’re waiting. How about we get out of here, and if you need to retreat back here, we will,” I smiled and nodded. We gracefully made our way out of the apartment to the car. I slid onto the leather seats next to my Dad in the back. Adam was the driver. And we were off to a fancy dinner.
A blond woman in a sundress escorted us to our table and set out the menus. I sat down next to Adam and opened it up, scanning all of the fancy dishes that were listed. I decided on some steak dish. After we had all ordered, I could tell everyone was just waiting for someone to speak. And that person was my Mom. “So Allison, tell me how your job is going?” suddenly all eyes were on me. Like a magnetic pull.
“Mom, I don’t have a job. You know that!” I said, somewhat surprised
“Now, how was I supposed to know that?”
“Under the circumstances I’m in? It’s fairly clear I’d like to think,”
“I think it would still be reasonable for you to have a job. It’s not like you’re going to have a stroke now is it?” she chuckled, but no one else joined in. I could feel my cheeks redden with frustration.
“Mom, I have leukemia! Anything could happen. I can’t just do anything I want, I need to be super careful! You just don’t wanna admit to yourself that I won’t be around for much longer!” I said, almost yelling. I glanced around the restaurant, spotting the people's gazes. I pulled out my chair and went to the bathroom, my vision off kilter. My heart was beating. Hard.
I was dizzy. I turned on the sink and splashed my face with cool water. It didn’t help. Nothing did. I then looked in the mirror, only to see a bloody nose. I began to cry. Tears streamed down my cheeks like a waterfall. It burned. My heart was pounding even more than before. Then, I collapsed. I saw the blurred image of Adam hurrying in, my parents behind. Their faces broke into fear. My eyes closed. And that was it. It had to be. It was.