Sunday, July 24, 2011


Evansville Wednesday
Have been here for a week now and we have well-established rhythms to the days. My bed is the couch in the living room, a somewhat formal room full of paintings and decorative accents chosen by Geneva, painted yellow, tall windows, pleated drapes, oriental rug. My luggage, two bags, sit on a couple of occasional chairs, mouths open and displaying my stuff. I roll up my jammies and tuck them in their place, then make some coffee and take it out by the pool. Since I have been waking up very early, the sun is barely up, and the birds are in full voice, their calls somehow blending into a beautiful morning song, chirping, trilling, cawing, all at once, saying good morning. The mama bird who I have named Geneva is already out looking for breakfast and the babies are still asleep. The sun rises over the back fence at about 6:45, when I am on my second cup of coffee. The sun seems to target my face directly, though I smile at the self-absorption of that thought: God aiming the sun at me for my individual pleasure.
Within an hour or so, Geneva comes down, all sweet smiles, in her Glory Gown (so named because she says when she puts it on at night, she says, “Glory Hallelujah.”) We chat by the pool, start puttering around the kitchen, share our stories about the night and our predictions for the day ahead. Dad appears in the kitchen doorway an hour later; he loves to peek his head around the corner, his hair neatly combed, smelling good, like Dad, with his shirt all tucked in and his sandals velcroed around his Gold Toe socks just so. He favors polo shirts or short-sleeved woven ones, but the other day, sported a t-shirt reading MICHIGAN GRAMPA. He gets the paper, and gradually, the business of dressing and washing up and doing the dishes gets done. Geneva drifts upstairs to put some clothes on and roll her hair; I smoke in the chair by the pool and watch Bella trot with such a sense of purpose around the yard, barking sharply toward the fence and whatever she hears on the other side, her stomach contracting and her front legs leaving the ground with each bark.
Sometime in the afternoon, there are naps, and dinner is a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit: sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches, asparagus, all so delicious and somehow decadent in their simplicity. After dinner, a movie from Netflix and maybe some of geneva’s delicious strawberry cake. Bedtime early after carefully locking the doors and turning off the lights. The door keys are on old keyrings and have special places in the room. I am comforted by the sense of order in this house. It is the feeling of older people who have figured out a lot of things that are still a mystery to me.

For the past couple of days I have lost my appetite and am wary of eating much of anything because of the consequences. I understand that this is because my liver isn’t able to do its job correctly. I feel apologetic asking it to do more that necessary. I miss my robust appetite. I miss stuffing my face. It isn’t like me to pick at my food or even to hesitate.
My gut is sore and distended and only loose things feel good. Bella snuggles up to it when I lay down and acts as a puppy-heating-pad, soothing the irritated feeling.

Tomorrow, we return to Michigan and to the house I said goodbye to nine days ago. I look forward to seeing my flowers and sleeping in my bed. Next week we talk to a doctor at the University of Chicago who specializes in treating melanoma. In the meantime, the rhythm of the days will unfold.


Sunday July 10, 2011

In Evansville, one can really experience a midwestern summer. I used to escape here to my dad’s comfortable old colonial house, at the end of the school year, in mid-June, and recover from the end of the year crazies by sitting by the pool and reading a good book. Little by little I would feel the brittle, tired, stiff effects of stress slowly melt into the warm animal of my body (as Mary Oliver described it): skin getting browner, sitting further back in the chair from my usual perched position, easily succumbing to a nap just about anywhere.
Last week my dad brought me down here in his seventeen year old white Lincoln continental, driving all the way down Indiana on old 41, stopping at the Subway and the Cracker Barrel, because of the cancer, because he needs to have me within his sight. Just too scary to talk on the phone with 499 miles between us right now. He needs to see for himself that I can function allright despite this giant mass of tumors in my liver, that every night I sleep and all day long I eat fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches and Posey County melon without too much trouble beyond the occasional mild protestations from my digestive system. He needs to see me laugh and watch movies and help out of in the kitchen and put some makeup on the morning, which any woman knows is a sure sign that you aren’t too despondent. There is some kind of healing quality to going through the rituals of doing one’s hair, putting on the mascara and the shadow, dabbing on some cologne and showing a little cleavage. I don’t want to look like the sort of cancer patient that I grew up seeing on TV. The thing is, this isn’t all that difficult right now since I feel pretty much like I always have. I still have some kind of na├»ve protection from what I already know about this cancer that says, “yes, take those vitamins and supplements. Eat the yogurt, good for your liver.”
Dad brings me food and iced tea and offers me a blanket on the couch. He pats me on the head and on the arm and gives me such sweet, reassuring smiles that it nearly makes me cry.
There’s a birdhouse right outside the back door that has a GO BLUE license plate for a roof. Inside there are baby birds, whose wide-open mouths you can see as the mother bird comes and goes, her jumps off the edge of the little house creating a soft, swinging motion, back and forth, like a cradle. At night, she sits inside with her head framed by the round opening hole.