Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July

This journal entry was written a few months before my bone marrow transplant, during treatment at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. The date: July 4, 1994. It originally appeared in "The Leap Years: Women Reflect on Change, Loss and Love," edited by Mary Anne Maier and Joan Shaddox Isom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.) It seemed appropriate for the holiday:

The nurse on the night shift says to my roommate, Donna, "Try to sleep. Are you afraid to sleep?" Donna replies, "Yes, I'm afraid I'll die."

Jesus. No wonder why she has been fighting to keep her glazed eyes open all day.

What right do I have to feel separate from her, even superior? I've got the same demon in my body. I've had nine month's rest from cancer, gained back my lost weight and hair; I look normal to the normal eye.

I see fireworks through the thick window in my hospital room. Gold, spermy light. Will I have children? Should I worry about fertility when my general survival is at stake? The woman in the next bed--skull, bones, and slack skin--is being eaten alive, is afraid to sleep. Afraid she'll die in it.

One flaming rocket just up, round and bright as my last week's bridal bouquet. I can see the Fourth of July onlookers, listen to their catcalls dimly through the glass. They feel like ghost people, muffled, separate from me. Donna and I are like bruises beneath the hospital's skin.

More explosions. A heart. A sky sparkler. A garden. A carnation. I am alive in this world. Purple is my color. I share a room with someone too tired to eat, fighting to live. A green burst for life. White for hope. Pink for love. Gold for magic. I can barely hear them out there with their watered-down crowd sounds, their oohing and aahing. A red for passion. A peacock. A sequined 20's dress. The hospital room is reflecting off the dark glass: the white curtains, the blinking red lights. The white privacy curtain is separating me from death. Outside, an explosion of colored flowers and stars. "She's in a position she can't see the fireworks," the nurse says. "How sad."

The fireworks end suddenly. Lightning strikes, so the City of Zion stops the show. It's my second round of chemotherapy treatments. I've already had thirteen months. It is the second round, the first chemo, the fourth day, the Fourth of July. Not the first holiday I've spent in here.

No Benadryl this chemo until tonight. That's why I've been so clearheaded, which isn't my usual in here. I don't need all the Benedryl they pump into me. I'm going to tell the doctors not to use it on me anymore, or at least cut the dose in half. It makes me too dopey and I have a say.

I am Dorothy, blue-ginghamed, and able to face down mock wizards and lions.

Just before I sleep, John telephones, says to me, "I'm surprised the hospital hasn't grown chicken legs, like Baba Yaga's house, and swum across Lake Michigan to bring you back to me."


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