Elaine’s Wig

I found this story whilelooking for something else. Wrote it and forgot it. 2011


Elaine’s Wig

Elaine had lost her wig. It blew off her head as she gripped the crook of Stanley’s arm, on the way to the car after chemo. The wind was high, driving a warm, exhilarating rain into their faces. Though Stanley held their big umbrella in front of them with his other hand, the rain found its way like a worm, under their collars, their buttons and into their boots.

He’d stayed with her the whole time, as she sat in the reclining chair with the IV dripping into her veins, fast asleep. He read the paper or chatted to the people accompanying the other chemo patients, and to the patients themselves. He never asked them about their cancer, although they seemed open, even eager, to talk about it. Instead he talked sports, the news of the day, but no politics. Politics, religion and now cancer, were off limits. He didn’t want to upset anyone here, especially the sick people, in case it somehow disrupted that smooth drip of pure poison into them that was, perhaps, their last hope.

At least, it was Elaine’s last hope…or more accurately, it was Stanley’s. Elaine hadn’t wanted it. After they removed her left breast, and told her she needed chemo, she wanted to let go. She was tired, she said, but would do it to please Stanley. Still the more chemo she had, the more she seemed to weaken. Her skin was dry and tired looking, her energy much diminished. Her once robust body whittled away to nothing It wasn’t just the chemo or the cancer, Stanley thought. She was giving up. If he were the crying kind, he would have wept tears of anger and frustration. Instead he distracted himself with woodworking projects. He’d made a birdhouse the other day, and then another. He wondered, sheepishly, how many birdhouses the world really needed. He figured he could supply the town at least.

Elaine didn’t cry either, she simply faded. Stanley imagined that one day he’s wake up and the woman beside him would be as translucent as a jelly fish, and the next day she would have disappeared altogether.

When Elaine woke up she smiled sleepily at Stanley. “What day is it?” she asked. He knew she was joking. Gladness swelled in his throat, threatening to make him a dancing weeping fool. He smiled at her but she closed her eyes again, as though exhausted. Stanley’momentary joy crumbled. How could a woman who’d raised three children and worked hard every day of her life, be tired from simply telling a joke?

A young nurse came over with the second IV bag. “How’s she doing today?” she asked Stanley, in a loud, friendly voice. Elaine’s eyelids fluttered but she didn’t bother to open them. Stanley squeezed her hand. “She’s about done” he said. “Brown on both sides.” The nurse seemed delighted that he had a sense of humour. She laughed heartily, patting his hand and repeated the joke to her coworker.

When it was all over, it was early afternoon. Stanley helped Elaine into a wheelchair and they sat for awhile, nibbling on the cookies provided for the chemo patients. Stanley’s stomach gurgled and he thought longingly of takeout burger and fries, but he knew the smell of it would make Elaine nauseous. Anyway, there was a tuna casserole at home from one of the neighbours, who told Elaine they were going away and couldn’t eat it, but which Stanley knew was a gesture of concern.

He wheeled her into the elevator. Stanley had always loved being alone in the elevator with Elaine. On their third date, he had kissed her in an elevator like this, on their way up to her parents’ apartment where he would say goodbye to her and hello to her parents, who had watched from their living room window as his old Volkswagon pulled into the visitor’s parking lot, and Stanley opened the car door for Elaine, and walked her into the building right on her curfew. They wanted to know he was a gentleman, Elaine said with a laugh as he nuzzled her neck and fondled her breasts, all the way from the ground floor to the 9th.

Elaine had been remarkably uninterested in the fact that she had lost a breast. “Good riddance,” she said at first, whereas Stanley bore the shock of the loss. He’d always loved her breasts, the soft harbour they made for his head when he fell asleep. Elaine was more concerned about people knowing she was sick. She couldn’t tolerate pity.

At the front door of the hospital, Elaine insisted on getting out of the wheelchair and walking to the car. He knew she didn’t want to leave the hospital as an invalid. Luckily he had found a free handicapped parking spot and on account of his prosthetic leg, he had the parking pass to go with it.

Elaine refused to wait for him to bring the car to the front door. “You’ll drive off without me,” she said, gripping his arm. She was just being stubborn but he was relieved. He knew how easy it was to stop doing for yourself in the face of tiredness and pain, and if you give in one day, the next day you’ll give in a little more, and that would be the end of you. When he lost his leg years ago, crushed by a dump truck on the building site where he was a new foreman, he’d been in a blue funk for days, believing somehow that his reason for living had been attached to the missing leg,. Elaine did her best to make him angry, taunting him for his foul mood as he sat in his wheelchair. He’d never been a violent man, but he swiped at her with his fist. She simply pushed her chair back. “Come and get me, you fat assed gimp,” she whispered meanly. It wasn’t physio that helped him recover, it was Elaine pissing him off.

As they stepped out of the hospital’s front doors, he opened the big umbrella in front of them. It sounded like someone was flinging pebbles, the rain was so hard. He hesitated a moment before stepping out from under the overhang. Elaine, however, tipped her face upward, as though to receive the sun. She’d always loved the rain. Her wig of grey curls was slightly askew, darkened by the watery onslaught.

They took a few steps toward the car, the wind tearing at the umbrella. With Elaine gripping his left arm he had no control over it. The gale ripped it from his hand. At the same moment Elaine’s wig, as wet as though she’d been swimming in it, slipped sideways over her ear, then fell completely away. Stanley watched it roll behind them like a tumbleweed.

Elaine put her hand to her patchy baldness. She looked like a young eagle chick, Stanley thought. The rain slicked her hair to her head, which, Stanley appreciated now as never before, was a beautiful shape, an elegant, even regal shape. She blinked in the rain, as though she couldn’t move.

A security guard was watching from the shelter of the overhang at the hospital entrance. He scooped up the wig and shook it, then handed it to Elaine with a solemn look. “Here you go ma’am.” The diehard smokers in the bus shelter on the sidewalk, one of them pushing an IV pole, looked too. Elaine put two hands up to cover her ears, as if someone had told her something so terrible she couldn’t bear to hear it.

Stanley wanted to hold her, to whisk her away from view. But instead he grunted, “Rain getting’ in?” She looked at him, stunned. “Rain getting’ in your ears?” he asked, as he gently propelled her by her elbow into the passenger seat of their car.

Elaine looked straight ahead of her. Stanley dumped himself into the driver’s seat, lifted his leg in, and slammed the door. “It could of been worse,” he said. He waited for her question, so he could utter the punch line, but she was too lost to humour him. “It could have been my leg,” he said to the air around them and started the engine.

Stanley drove them home, windshield wipers going so fast they almost seemed a parody of themselves. He took Elaine’s elbow, got her settled on the couch with pillows and blankets, taking the wet wig from her hand. She fell asleep right away, mindlessly, gratefully, he thought. It occurred to him that she wouldn’t see the end of the year, that their time was coming to an end and he knew finally that there was nothing he could do to stop it. He kissed her fingers and turned on the television.



Never swim alone

Well, yesterday I went for my first swim in months.  It didn’t feel like it used to. Where I was strong, I am weak.  All the muscles that used to work together are out of tune and awkward sounding. All the movements that used to blend together jar and jangle.  And today I ached all over and slept too much.  But I am still happier than I was the day before yesterday, because yesterday, I went for my first swim in months.

Even before injury and illness and the seasons of body and earth kept me from the pool, I was not a good swimmer. When I am at my best, strongest and most consistent, I am neither fast nor powerful, my  form is bad, I don’t know how to whip kick, I can’t front crawl anymore because I can’t seem to coordinate my breathing– it makes me gag, like going to the dentist does.  So I slowly make my way from one end of the pool to another– breast stroke, side stroke, back stroke without the arms. I just kick, not even using a flutter board. I swim for 40 minutes, if you can call it swimming.

People who don’t know what a good swimmer really can do, think I am a good swimmer. But compared to almost anyone who swims regularly, I am almost ridiculous. I swallow water, end up stopping and coughing and gagging almost every occasion I am in the water, at least once.

One day I was in the lane next to the very slowest lane. A tall young guy got in the slow lane and started swimming. it wasn’t swimming really… it was like he was a living submarine. He kicked once or twice,  and travelled  the length of the pool without coming up for air. I was in awe, because I had never seen anyone swim that way. I imagined he might be an Olympic athlete visiting from some other country because I never saw him there again.

If I compared myself to people who are good swimmers, never mind giants of towering greatness like that guy was, I couldn’t set foot in the pool.  But I don’t, anymore. No matter how uninspired and unaccomplished a swimmer I am, I love the water. I feel at home there, as much as I feel at home anywhere.  Swimming gives order to my body and my mind and my life.  Weirdly, it gives me hope. I think that’s because it strengthens me, and when I feel strong and capable, I feel like  other things don’t matter, because I know I can survive on my own strength if i have to.

I am not sure where desire to feel I can survive came from, because I have been incredibly lucky not to have suffered lack of money or family support or to have been hurt by anyone in a way that would make me preoccupied with survival.  The only person I have had to fight for survival against is my self.

I grew up like so many perfectionistic kids, anxious about a lot of things and tortured, like so many women, by hatred of my own body. But at the same time as I wanted to be a twig and a waif, I wanted to be able to outrun or if necessary outkick, punch and bite  anyone who wanted to do me harm.  It may be because I did a lot of walking by myself, but more likely it was because I had hermetically sealed myself off from almost everyone, psychologically.

I still find it hard to be a human being. When I am ill, I am very, very ill and it always comes down to whether or not I am too afraid to die or not. No question about wanting to live, just fear of the pain of dying and what comes after.  I argue  with myself. I try to think my way out of hopelessness. Nothing works. I make a plan.  I clean up my place, wear the clothes I want to be found in, and go somewhere, but I don’t go through with it. Last time I made it to the hotel desk to rent  a room, so no one would find me for a while. But in the end, I think I have too much fear  in me, at bottom, even at my darkest, to go through with it.

I guess this fear has saved me, and  drives me to do a lot of things, including swimming. But so does love. I love swimming. I am afraid of people but I love them too. I am afraid of writing, but I love it. I am afraid of having nothing but myself to depend on, but I am still aiming for that.

I love the idea of owning nothing but what I can carry on my back, like a turtle and being strong and healthy and capable enough to survive anywhere. But I know somehow I am just trying to get free of myself and the way to do that is not by swimming or writing or any of the other things I do. I know what I have to do. It’s not a secret. And it doesn’t involve running away or kicking and biting.

It doesn’t exclude swimming and writing though. It encompasses them. It smiles when I do things I love in the service of my own health and happiness. It likes joy, it is abundant and forgiving and helpful. It is what I’m swimming in and for and toward.

upright and conscious, not to be confused with uptight and anxious

018Well, that mental health blip turned out to be bigger than i thought. I’ve been out of commission for a couple months, and during that time I decided to move to Antigonish, . Despite all the worry and dire predictions swirling around me when i was most ill, the idea stuck… and now that I am getting healthy again, I am looking forward to the change of place, pace and head space.  Of course all my hang ups, neuroses and vices and vulnerabilities will move with me, but still, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

In Antigonish, I’ll be subletting a lovely apartment, whose most attractive feature of all is that it has a washer and dryer right in the kitchen. The convenience of being able to do my laundry at home outweighs the inconvenience of not having public transit or a grocery store nearby.

There is a beautiful new public library in Antigonish, called the People’s Place Library which I plan to make my home away  from home. There is a  vibrant arts community, the Lyghtsome Gallery and the Antigonish Review. There is a strong history of social justice and cooperative  movements, Catholicism and the Coady Institute. Any place than is Anti- gonish ( damn those gonishes, damn them) has got to be a place of goodness and light.

I will walk a lot. Hopefully write a lot…and make a temporary, and maybe a more long-term home for myself. And heal. I am looking for healing after banging my head against the wall of the world for too many days.

There are many ways to do most things, when you think about it. Healing is not so different. But the body and mind have their own time, and can’t be rushed… so I try to be patient, and let them do their thing. In the meantime, I have sold, given or turfed most of my furniture, books and belongings, and am slowly trying to shake myself free of he things that have glued me like a barnacle to Halifax.  Some of those are positive things, like friends and family. Others are  negative, like fear and inertia. No matter what kept me here, it’s time to go.

If you’re up my way,look me up… or you may find me at the library, the pool or the bakery at the corner of Main and Hawthorne… whose name I forget, and which I look forward to remembering once I see it again. I’ll be the woman with the purple hat with the green and pink flower on it. Writing away with a smile on my face, I hope.

Summer Comes and Goes

Here we are, almost at the end of summer vacation and I havna touched this blog since summer began. Time travels strangely when you aren’t watching it… like a hummingbird maybe or a butterfly. It gets away from you if you blink once and swear.

It’s been an eventful couple months. My job placement ended, and the swimming and walking began in earnest. The weather has been wonderful, sunny days piled on top of each other, enough rain to make things grow My sister got through chemo and entered radiation- apparently each dose is equal to thousands of xrays.  My parents are healthy and content, my nephews rambunctious and vocal as howlers. If only they would eat as intensely and enthusiastically as they play…
Sad to say goodbye to Summer and to Carrie Smith but looking forward to the Fall, and to new bits of work, a Y membership, and hopefully more writing and painting than I have been doing of late….

God Bless Abilify, Long live our gracious Abilify!