Monday, April 4, 2011
Light My Fire
Gainesville is 500 miles from Key West and I spent many hours on the road with nothing but the radio for company. Normally I’d be armed with a well-stocked iPod, or a talking book, or a pile of CDs. But, like I said, this was an impromptu trip and I was not prepared. I was alone, with my thoughts, and some scary interviews about the state of the world on National Public Radio. My first goal was to outdistance the horrible weather. I did. I drank fast-food coffee and felt my throat getting sore.
Every hour or so my son called to check on my progress and update me on his father’s condition. My heart was aching for him, his worry over his father’s condition, his frustration with the confusion over what exactly was wrong with him and what was going to be done about it. The doctors and nurses seemed to have no clear answers. Everyone in his life responded differently to the shock of Mike’s illness. His father, Miguel’s grandfather, broke down and sobbed when he arrived at the hospital to see his son critically ill and barely conscious. It tore everybody to bits to see the old man so sad. The thick mesh of love we've woven through the years, the affection we share, saved us like a net when we wobbled on that awful tightrope of not knowing.
I know a lot about being ill. I’ve been there and done a lot of that in the last couple of years. Cancer treatment is brutal and horrible to endure. But what hurts more than being ill yourself is to see someone you love suffering. I'll swap witnessing a sick loved one for being the sick loved one any day. It doesn't hurt nearly as much. Believe me. Seeing my ex husband in a hospital bed was a sickening shock. And it hurt me deeply to witness my son’s torment and suffering. There was nothing I could say to assuage his grief. We talked about funny stuff his father had said or done. We talked to calm ourselves.
Meanwhile, back in Key West my husband Michael -- yes, I married two guys with my same favorite name — jumped each time the phone rang, nervous at what the news might be. We talked throughout the day, too, about the fun and good things that made our lives sweet. My son told me that my ex was asked if he knew his last name. He said he thought it might be “Turner.” It isn’t.
“He thinks he’s Ted Turner,” I told Michael, “that’s why he spends money like he’s got lots of it.”
A traffic jam in Hollywood cost me two hours. I was hungry and thirsty and miserable. I had to pee. I wondered why you don’t see more people peeing on the side of the road in such situations. I remembered my mother saying, when I was a little kid, that if you peed on the side of the road you’d get a sty in your eye. Did she make that up? Or did her mother tell her that? I imagined creating a portable privacy potty, made of canvas, that could easily be erected on the side of the road to accommodate the aging bladders of people like me during traffic jams. They could come as standard feature in new cars. I see the ad on Saturday Night Live . . .
As the sun was setting I entered the Keys and my gloom lifted ever so slightly to be back on the islands, on familiar ground. I found Keys radio stations to listen to. I watched the mile markers zip by. And as they did, I realized that my own life was zipping past, too, and that these terrifying episodes, growing more dire as we grow older, are the mile markers on the road that is my life. I ached to talk to my mother. But she died in August. I wanted desperately to talk with my friend Jennifer, whose children gleefully call us BFFs. But Jennifer was felled by a stroke in September and has not yet recovered to the point where she can talk to me in the sweet, steady voice that has steered me though so many rough spots along the way.
Then my mind moved to that PET scan, the ultimate cancer check-up, looming on the horizon. What if it was bad? How in the world would my son handle that? Was Miguel about to become an orphan?
On Big Pine Key, at the place where you slow to 35 miles per hour to avoid hitting a Key deer, two cars tore past me at lightening speed and another tailgated impatiently. My mood darkened. Is nothing sacred?
Then, salvation. "Light My Fire" came on the radio. Jim Morrison. That voice. That song. That time, when music lifted me up and out of the darkness, and the agony of my '60s adolescence. Please, I prayed to the Gods of Rock 'n Roll, please, don’t let it be the abbreviated radio version. Let it be the long version, the album cut. And if it is the original version, I thought, I will know that everything is going to be OK. We will abide, just as music abides. We will live forever, just like Jim Morrison.
It was the long version. I made it home. I made it to work Friday morning. I made it to the PET scan on Saturday morning. I did have a sore throat by then, but, the test proved, I didn’t have cancer. I don’t have cancer. Miguel’s father has remembered his name. Miguel’s sunny world is intact. And so is mine; my fire burning bright.
Listen to this. Have yourself a Doorgasm. Everything is gonna be all right.