“I can’t. Just the smell is making me want to vomit again.”
“Please. Just try.”
I knew I needed to have something in my stomach. I sat up and sipped the cloudy broth slowly. It tasted gamey and gross, causing my stomach to rumble, but I forced half of it down.
The nausea kept me up most of that night. Around four in the morning, I started to feel a little better and wished it weren’t too early to call Mitch. He had told me to call anytime, but I didn’t want to wake him a couple of hours before he had to get up for school.
I decided to check facebook instead, even though I vowed to avoid it lately. It was a constant reminder of everything I was missing back home. Mitch had an account but never used it. I saw that someone had tagged him in a post from last night.
Watching the new Batman movie —with Mitch Nichols.
My heart started palpitating. Brielle was a girl he dated at one time. I kept staring at the status. Technically, Mitch and I weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend, but if the cancer hadn’t happened, we would be together. He did say we’d take up where we left off when I was better, but we never clarified exactly what that meant for us in the meantime. He never explicitly said he wasn’t going to date anyone else.
The reality was, girls were constantly after him. I just didn’t expect him to run out with one when he was supposedly so concerned about me.
My stomach was still churning when I picked up the phone and texted him.
Hope you had fun on your movie date with Brielle.
He didn’t respond.
I rolled over and put the covers over my head just as another bad wave of nausea hit. After several minutes, I started to regret sending the text. It wasn’t realistic for me to expect Mitch to stop living for the next six months or more. He would start to resent me. But it was a Catch 22 because the thought of other girls getting to have time with him that would have been mine was impossible to accept. I wasn’t able to handle it like before.
Since I hadn’t gotten any sleep last night, I ended up nodding off around six am.
My ringtone woke me an hour later. It was Mitch. If I didn’t answer, it would bother me all day.
My voice was groggy. “Hello?”
“Thank God you picked up.”
“What is it?”
“I just saw your text. I was asleep when you sent it. That’s why I didn’t answer. We’re on our way to school now and running late. Listen—”
“You don’t need to explain. You have every right to live your life. You can’t wait around while I—”
“Fuck that, Skylar.” His tone was angry. “Listen to me, okay? Last night when I called your house and your father told me how sick you were, I felt helpless. I was pacing my room. I had just wanted to hear your voice. Are you there?”
“Davey shows up at seven, and I had totally forgotten that I promised him we’d go see the new Batman movie. I told him I didn’t want to go.”
“So, you ended up going with Brielle instead.”
I heard some rustling then Davey’s voice.
“Romeo is taking too long to get to the f**king point. I showed up last night. He looked like the walking dead. He told me he needed a drink. He was worried sick over you, and I was worried about him. The f**king bird was barking. I dragged him to the movies, reminded him he’d still have his phone if you called. That bitch happened to be there with her friend. They sat next to us, and she tagged him on facebook. He was checking his phone every five seconds to see if you called, not even paying attention to the movie. You know I wouldn’t lie to you.”
That was the beauty of Davey. He had no stronger allegiance to either one of us and had no reason to lie. Relief washed over me.
“Thanks. Put Mitch back on the phone.”
It felt like my blood pressure lowered with the return of his voice. “Hi.”
“I’m sorry. This is just so hard.”
“No. I’m the one that’s sorry. Apparently, I never made things clear to you. I’m not interested in anyone else. I haven’t dated anyone since the night we kissed. I thought you already figured that out. I only want you, Skylar.”
My bald head shone in the reflection of the mirror over my chest of drawers, and a tear fell. “I’m only half of me right now.”
“I’d take a half of you over anything else that’s whole in the world.”
I heard Davey in the background. “Dude, get me a band-aid cuz my ears are bleeding.”
I couldn’t help but laugh through my tears. “I miss you. I miss him. I miss home.”
“I might be physically here, but every second of every day, my heart is with you. Please promise me you’re not going to waste the energy you need to get better worrying about foolish things. Talk to me if something is bothering you.”
“Okay. I promise.”
“Just think…in two more days, we’ll finally be together for Christmas.”
It had been over two weeks since that conversation. Cancer didn’t get the memo about Christmas and instead of celebrating it with Mitch, I spent it in the hospital.
He was livid because I wouldn’t tell him where I was out of fear he would show up. He finally agreed to stay away only because I told him I needed to be isolated due to the risk of infection. That was a white lie since the doctor had only said not to make close contact with people but that it was okay to be around them.
Mitch had a slight cold, and that was the only thing that kept him from pushing the issue. I just couldn’t bear to let him see me so weak. My weight had plummeted, and on the days when the fever returned, I couldn’t tolerate wearing anything on my head.
It all started the day before Mitch had been scheduled to visit. My fever escalated in the middle of the night, and my oncologist, Dr. Vega, advised my parents to take me to the hospital. Thank God my mother had come early and was with me.
Once admitted, a test showed that my white blood cell count was low. To prevent infection, the doctor on call immediately put me on a drug to help increase cell count along with antibiotics through an IV.
I’d been in and out of the hospital ever since with recurring fevers and had to spend several nights there. They ended up postponing my next chemo treatment, which meant an even longer time before this nightmare would be over.
The worst part was, being stuck in the hospital gave me way too much time to think. The more horrible I felt, the harder it was to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Even though the prognosis with Hodgkins was a promising one, some days I felt like the chemo was going to kill me if the cancer didn’t.
I just wanted to live my life. Was that too much to ask? Even though I had no physical energy, my mind was going at warp speed. I felt paralyzed and became obsessed with doing everything I never had a chance to. I wanted to travel, drive a car, try sushi…and I wanted to have sex with Mitch. That was the big one. I didn’t want to die without knowing what that felt like. I wasn’t ready, but I was scared I’d never have the opportunity.
There was no one I could talk to about it, either. Angie was too young and inexperienced herself, and my mother couldn’t handle talking about sex. I wasn’t comfortable enough with Lizete and worried she’d tell my father.
The irony was, on top of having all of these grown-up feelings, they stuck me in the pediatric cancer unit. The volunteers there—candy stripers—came by constantly to “cheer me up.” Maybe it worked for the ten-year-olds down the hall, but I really could have done without the bullshit. They talked to me like I was five or had a hearing problem. In their defense, my bald head did make me look younger than I was.
After a while, though, I’d had enough. One afternoon, an innocent striper named Fran became the unfortunate recipient of my wrath.
“Hi, Skylar! What a pretty name! How are you doing today? Look what I have here for you. It’s a—”
“Wait a minute. Are you on speed? You asked me how I was doing, but you never waited for a response. You just kept talking.”
“Oh. Well, I—”
“That’s because you don’t really want to know how I’m doing, do you?”
“Of course. I—”
“You do? Well, I have sores in my mouth, bruises on my body, and I look like Elmer Fudd. So, I feel like shit, actually. Meanwhile, my pu**y is on fire because all I can seem to think about is sex, even though I can’t move. Do you have something to fix that?”
“Maybe some weed?”
Fran had to leave suddenly, and two hours later, a psychologist came to “check on me.”
Sometimes, you don’t realize how badly you need something until it appears out of nowhere. A few days after my outburst, someone new showed up outside of my hospital room. At first, I thought she was just another volunteer. She stood in the doorway and looked lost. I thought maybe she was just hesitant to come in because she had heard about my reputation as a “difficult” patient. I soon realized she was lost and hadn’t come to see me at all. For some strange reason, I wished she had.
She looked to be in her early twenties, with long, blonde hair. She was short and skinny but with big boobs and a butt. She looked like a mini Barbie doll with a donkey ass. She was a beautiful piece of the outside world in this stagnant place. I wished she could take me with her wherever she was going when she left.
I felt her energy stronger than most. That usually meant the person was someone I would have a connection with. I didn’t know anything about her, but somehow needed to know her. I also sensed that she, too, had a lot on her mind.
When her eyes met mine, there was no pity in them, just curiosity. I was lonely and didn’t want her to leave. So, I shut the television off and started a conversation with her. I pretended to assume she was one of the volunteers and asked her to come in. I told her I wanted to talk about sex as a test to see how she handled it.
Her name was Nina. Within seconds, she became everything to me.
She sat down and listened as I told her all about Mitch and my fears: being away from him, ultimately losing him and never knowing what it felt like to truly be with him.
Basically, in one hour, I unloaded everything onto her, and she gave me honest, non-judgmental advice.
I told her how scared I was to let Mitch see me in this condition, and she offered to help get me a proper human hair wig and to make me over so that I felt comfortable enough to see him.
Nina couldn’t have truly known how much her showing up that day meant to me. She had given me hope, and just minutes after meeting her, I knew she would continue to be a part of my life forever.
Today was the day I’d been dying for and dreading at the same time. Mitch was coming for his first visit since I got sick and lost my hair. My cell count had finally improved, so I was discharged from the hospital last week and resumed chemo yesterday. The next infusion wouldn’t be for another week.
The plan was for Mitch to stay the entire weekend with me at my father’s house, so I prayed for no nausea. As of now, I was feeling decent.
There was a knock on my bedroom door.
Nina was carrying a wig on a Styrofoam head along with some clothing on hangers.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I look…like ass.”
“Well, when we get done, you might still feel like it, but you won’t look like it.”
She put down all of her stuff and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you still scared to see him?”
“He just doesn’t have any clue how different I look now. I know he cares about me, but I want him to want me the way he used to.” I closed my eyes and pictured his face. “I love the way he looks at me, Nina.”
Her expression was sympathetic. “I hope you don’t mind, but I happened to mention what you’re going through with Mitch to Jake. I wanted his take on it.”
Jake was Nina’s boyfriend. From pictures, I knew he was a hot, tattooed God of a man. I hadn’t met him yet, but he seemed really down to Earth from how she described him. Seriously, though, he wouldn’t have to say a damn thing and that would have been fine with me, too.
“What did he say?”
“First, he told me that if I lost all of my hair, he’d just have to find something else to grab onto while I went down on him. Then, he proceeded to wonder if I would also lose the hair between my legs, and when I told him yes, he did a little fist pump. When he was finally serious about it, he said under no terms would he find me any less beautiful without hair and said to tell you that if Mitch was into you before all of this, you have nothing to worry about.”
“He sounds like my kind of guy.”
“You have no idea. Why do you think I’ve kept him away from you for so long?” She winked.
“Well, feel free to bring him over anytime…over…under…wherever he’d like me.”
Nina pretended to smother me with a pillow. She knew my sense of humor and wasn’t bothered by it. “We should get started. I have to leave at five, and Mitch will be here in a couple of hours, right?”
“Yup. Let’s check the inventory. Hair?”
Nina lifted the Styrofoam head. “Check.”
She reached into a large black duffel bag and lifted the silicone chicken cutlets I asked her to buy me, throwing them at me jokingly. “Check!”
I stuffed them into my bra. “It’s expensive to look cheap, isn’t it? Make up and false lashes?”