While I don’t quite feel like I’m “almost there”, half way is definitely something to celebrate, and nothing says party like some drinks with umbrellas and plastic flamingos. We even busted open a bottle of the bubbly, although since I’m off the hooch until treatment ends, we had to settle for sparkling apple cider. Probably for the best as I’m pretty sure Dr. Fishman (and my fellow patients for that matter) would not have appreciated me getting the staff drunk. Tipsy nurses + needles = bad news bears.
Charlie was there; Annie snuck out of work and came over to help mark the occasion, and my favorite chemo nurse Dionne even got down with the festivities. I’m sure if my mom were around, she would have been there, too. In many ways she was the inspiration for the party. She always told us ‘you’re either laughing or you’re crying, so you might as well be laughing’ (usually after one of us – and usually her – accidentally found some ingenious new way to make a spectacle of ourselves.) My mom had this way of making the ordinary special and turning adversity into an adventure.
Case in point: the infamous PB&J sandwiches story. My mom was in the middle of final exams and studying like a fiend, only to be broken from her deep concentration by a 5 and 6 year-old Annie and I wanting some dinner. We were on welfare while mom put herself back through school, so we were not necessarily eating high on the hog on a good day, but we must have been close to the end of our food stamp run, because when she looked the through the cabinets to see what she could throw together, she found…nothing. We had Kraft mac and cheese but no milk or butter; ketchup but no frozen hotdogs to boil; no rogue, dented can of soup at the back of the cupboard to open. There was not even one of those lousy, frozen Swenson turkey pot pies that were usually on sale 15 for a dollar that I had come to loathe almost as much as Spam. (That’s another post altogether.)
She did find peanut butter and jelly – promising – but sadly, no bread. There was, however, half a sleeve of saltines in the cupboard. She used the crackers to make little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which she arranged on a plate for us on lacey paper doilies. She brought the plate into the dining room, feeling like she had utterly and completely failed as a mother (as in “I can’t even feed my kids”.) Annie and I were so excited at the site of that plate all set to look like little finger sandwiches at high tea, that we squealed “mom!! Why have you never made this before?!” and immediately burst into our best British accents as we ate the sandwiches and drank our “tea” with our pinkies sticking out (okay fine, it was water, but nobody was gonna tell us that).
I’ve told that story a million times before. And I was just telling it for the million and first time, when it hit me. Not the poignancy of the moment – that was the point, right? But the fact that we, who were on welfare and could barely afford shampoo most weeks (we used bar soap on our hair a lot) had DOILIES just lying around. You know. The usual. Just some lace doilies next the salt and pepper. No biggie. And all the times before when I told that story, it was no biggie. Of course we had doilies. Because no matter what, my mom never lost of her sense of play and she never lost her knack for making things special.
So that’s all just to say that I could totally see her there in the chemo room, wearing one her fabulous hats that she reserved for the most special occasions (like high tea the Mayflower or the Kentucky Derby), plastic martini glass aloft, pinky akimbo, toasting to the halfway mark and saying something awesome like “Here’s to cancer: thank you for everything you’ve taught me. Now scram!” What can I say; she was a sucker for a good party.