Sun relentless, dry heat, swamp coolers and air conditioners the only relief met me my second visit to California, to Ridgecrest, the desert two over from Death. The normal ways of cooling in western Pennsylvania or the East with humidity, thirty degrees cooler than the 120 in the desert, provided nothing. Swimming in ninety four degree water, conjured taking a bath under a sun lamp left on too long. Driving at night with the windows down with a slightly less hot breeze for ice cream didn't live up to the image of Twin Kiss in my earlier days.
Yet, I loved it. I was with my sister, Diane and newborn Gabrielle, playing with three year old Michelle. It still was summer and we did go to cooler places, like the ocean, on the weekend. I played house, especially the few days Gabrielle recovered from a staph infection in the hospital.
One of those evenings after a long lazy summer day of playing hard before nine am and reading, watching morning shows, napping and preparing supper, a phone call broke into my vacation. Dad, soft spoken, really hard to hear, repeated those dreaded words, "Mom has cancer. They aren't sure where, yet. Surgery to remove a tumor on her side tomorrow."
Crash. I left Mom in bed a few weeks earlier. As she lifted a pot of baked beans from the oven on the Fourth of July, she couldn't stand back up. Dad helped her to bed and she wouldn't go to the doctor, because she had an appointment in two weeks. So we waited on her, mostly Dad. She spent two weeks after my arrival in California at the Farrell Hospital until the tests showed some kind of cancer. Off to the Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital for better surgeons. The phone call.
Diane and I woke early to call about the surgery. Dad's voice, barely a whisper, we strained on the extensions to listen and try to make out what he said. Something about her rump, he mumbled. I realize now, my soft-spoken dad imagined the love of his life would die, as we all did when we heard the word Cancer. I never comprehended how much my dad loved, depended on my mom's love and worried about a life without her, until much later in life. We all depended on him, never realizing he needed to get his strength from someone, too.
Dad, our rock and pillar of the family, encouraged me to remain in California. He only was sitting around the hospital after work. A week later, as soon as the biopsy from the left chest wall tumor reported the source was her thyroid, she had that organ removed. The surgeon cried on Mom's chest , when she spoke after the surgery. I guess he was close to her vocal cords. That act endeared him to her.
I continued my stay with Diane. My flight home bumped to first class because of the air traffic controllers strike, as white wine flowed freely and I partook. The tipsiness vanished as soon as my dad greeted me with his arm around me, telling me about Mom. The fancy of a twenty year old, newly engaged, entering her senior year of nursing school, fled as life became hospitals, caring for a sick mom, and my first real bout with depression. Mom talked of death often, one time wondering if my brother had any guns.
"I'm ready to die, Mollie," she plainly informed me.
"I'm not ready for you to die," I cried back.
One night after a particularly long day, we returned late from the hospital. A few minutes later, at ten thirty, a nurse called. Dad only said, "Yeah." Then to me, "I have to go back to the hospital. You go to bed."
I didn't hear anything all night. I continued my routine of going to school the next morning. After class I pulled my instructors aside and told them what I was going through. They advised me to take the year off.
"Oh, I couldn't do that. My mom would think I was giving up and she would, too. No, I will get through this year and get married as planned, because that will give her hope."
I did, too. Twenty, my life changed so much. Then at twenty one, it changed as I had planned. My mother, did recover and walk again after two years. Ten years ago, as she struggled again with health issues, I told her, "Mom, you're a cancer survivor of twenty three years," she wore that like a badge.
Life is full of changes, but at twenty they seem so quick. Like Mike and Morgan in Last Free Exit, half their life, their dad is gone. At eighteen, that is a long time, as long as double that when you are older. We must realize this for our young people we know.