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Authors: Ellen Gardner

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BOOK: Veda: A Novel
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There was a real difference in me after that. The tension in my shoulders was gone and I could walk into a room without feelin nervous or guarded. And without feelin ashamed. I even joined the Dorcas Society. It made me feel useful. I helped collect clothes for families in the kinds of straits I was in when my kids was little. I knitted hats and scarves for homeless people, and worked at the food bank. Before long I was doin things I’d always been too shy to do, like speakin in front of people and takin charge of rummage sales.

After a while Charlie started comin to church with me. He drove, of course, ’cause he never did git over me messin up so bad on that first driver test. A church can always use a big strong man who can fix plumbin and paint classrooms. They even give him the job of keepin the church’s books and payin the bills. I thought that was funny, seein as how he never did a decent job handlin money of his own.

.

48

I
WOKE UP ON THE KITCHEN
floor. Charlie was bent over me sayin my name.

“Oh God,” I moaned. “What happened?”

“You passed out.”

There was a funny taste in my mouth, like … pennies. “I was dizzy, queasy. I saw a blindin light and then ever’thin went black.”

“I heard you hit the floor,” Charlie said. “When I came in here you were flopping around like a catfish.”

The headaches had got worse. Sometimes I thought the top of my head was goin to come off. I’d been to the doctor several times, but he didn’t find anythin serious. Just told me it was common for ladies in their late fifties to have headaches. He give me pills. Over-the-counter ones at first, like Excedrin, then ones I had to have a prescription for. None of em helped much. I stopped tellin Charlie about the headaches ’cause he tended not to believe me. But I never blacked out before.

Charlie told me to stay put, that a ambulance was on the way. I could tell he was scared. He rode in the ambulance with me and waited at the hospital the whole time while a couple different doctors checked me out. Then I heard em in the hallway talkin to Charlie. It was a seizure, they said, and they were sendin me to Sacramento to git some tests done.

It was a Monday, and the city traffic made Charlie fume. He yelled at a guy for not lettin him in the lane he needed, and he yelled at me when he missed the exit. The medical center was huge. Lots of floors and elevators and confusin signs. When we got to the right office, the girl at the desk said, “You’re late,” real snotty. I started to tell her we never been there before, but she just pushed a clipboard at me and said, “Fill this out. We’ll call you when it’s your turn.” Then after her bein so snippy with me for bein late, I had to set there for nearly a hour before she called my name.

They took me to a room and handed me a gown and told me to take off ever’thin but my underpants. Then they give me a shot and rolled me up to a machine that looked like a huge doughnut. The test itself was short, but the drive there and all the rigmarole gittin the paperwork filled out and waitin my turn took the whole day. We ended up eatin supper in the hospital cafeteria. And that was just the first test. They told me to come back the next week for another test in a new kind of machine.

After that it was two terrible weeks of waitin and worryin before my next appointment. Either they’d tell me nothin was wrong, and I knew there was, or else say it was somethin bad. Either way, it wouldn’t be good.

The doctor came around the desk and patted me on the shoulder. “Veda, it’s a tumor, a growth, on your brain. That’s what’s been causing your headaches.”

I stared at him and my first thought was, Now Charlie will have to believe me.

“You’ll need surgery,” he said. “I want you to see a specialist in San Francisco.”

I don’t know what went through Charlie’s mind on the way home, but I was tryin to think of how I was goin to tell the kids. What would I say, “Hi, it’s me, I have a brain tumor?”

I was on the phone with Rosalie. “Charlie always said it was all in my head,” I laughed.

“Mom,” she said, “it’s not funny!”

“Well, of course not. But I’m just glad they found somethin. They been puttin me off for years, sayin there wasn’t nothin wrong. Sayin I was goin through the change, or it was migraines, or just a case of nerves. Now at least they believe me.”

Once the ball got rollin, Charlie took over, makin my appointments, gittin my medicines, and arrangin for the operation. We met with the surgeon, who drew a picture on his prescription pad of how he would cut a hole in my head and go in there and take the thing out. He made it look simple enough. Said they would put me under so I wouldn’t feel a thing.

“What then?” I asked.

“First, we’ll operate,” he said, “then we’ll see.”

They give me a date, and as the time got closer, the kids come to visit a few at a time. I could see how worried they were, and I kept tellin em I’d be fine. They brought things for me to take to the hospital, books and magazines, hand lotion, crossword puzzle books. It was real sweet, but the attention made me jittery, like they were thinkin it was more serious than they let on. And what if it was?

It was dark outside, but the hospital was lit up like summer. White walls, white tile floor, white window shades, even the plastic chairs in the waitin room was white. At the admissions desk they give me a whole bunch more forms to sign, sayin I give em permission to do it and sayin I understood there was a risk I could die.

“Charlie,” I said, “I’m not even sixty years old yet.”

“Go ahead and sign,” he said. “It’s just a formality.”

They come and got me with a wheelchair, took me to a little room with a curtain and give me a gown to put on. It was blue with little green and purple triangles on it. “Good,” I said, “it’s not white.” For some reason that little bit of color made me feel better. The nurse left Charlie to help me git undressed. He put my clothes in the drawstring bag they give us, and then the nurse poked her head back in.

“Are we ready? I’m goin to start your IV now,” she said. “This will relax you. When we get you into the other room, they’ll put you to sleep and you won’t feel a thing. When you wake up it’ll be all over.”

When I came to, my head felt heavy and dull. There was tubes in my arms and nose, and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton. I opened my eyes just enough to see Charlie and Rosalie and Pete beside the bed.

“You did fine, Mom,” Rosalie was sayin. “You’re going to be fine.” They left and the others come in a couple at a time. All talkin soft and sayin they loved me and to get some rest, and then I got real woozy.

The pain came and went. When it got unbearable, a nurse gave me a shot and I went all woozy again. Hurt and sleep. Hurt and sleep. If I ate or peed or had a bowel movement, I didn’t know it. It might of been hours, it might of been days, before I saw the doctor that operated on me. He stood at the foot of my bed.

“Veda,” he said, “I’m Dr. Jamison. We did a biopsy on the tumor. It’s cancer.”

“It’s cancer.” That’s how he said it. Not “I am so sorry,” or “I hate to have to tell you this,” just, “It’s cancer.”

I had thought about it, told myself I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it, but hearin him say that word, just matter of fact like that, was like gittin kicked in the teeth.

.

49

W
E RENTED A ROOM
near the medical center in Sacramento where my treatments were. The radiation was easy enough. I went in and got on a table under a big machine and it just took a few minutes. But the chemo was somethin else. It made me feel like shit. Throwin up, diarrhea. Nasty taste in my mouth. It’d be like that for five or six days, and just about the time I started to feel like I was goin to live, it was time for the next go-round. I kept thinkin it didn’t make sense to make a body this sick on purpose. It felt more like they was tryin to kill me than make me well. When the doctors seen how bad off I was, they stopped the chemo, said I needed to go home and rest, gain back some weight before I started treatments again.

Eddie and his wife bought us a cute little forty-two-foot singlewide in a nice park on the river. He’d always hated how Charlie messed things up and he thought a trailer-house would be easy for him to keep clean. It was just the right size for two people. Had pretty wallpaper and a sunny kitchen with one of them new-fangled microwave ovens that cooked things in no time at all. And there was a deck on the back that run the whole length of the house. It’d be a perfect place to set and drop my fishin line right down in the river. And I was plannin to do just that. Soon as I got well.

Charlie got a hospital bed and set it up in the front room by the windows so I could see out. I stayed there all day, restin and watchin the hummin birds that come to feed at the red plastic thingies Charlie hung up all along the deck. The days went by in a blur. Charlie got a microwave cookbook and tried to tempt me with things, but I couldn’t eat. Ever’thin tasted like metal. I had sores in my mouth. It even hurt to drink water.

And it wasn’t long before the place was a mess. Stuff piled up. Dirty dishes. Laundry. A film of dust coated the furniture and unopened mail set on a table near my bed, red ink screamin “PAST DUE.” Sick as I was, I couldn’t help worryin about the bills. I had us all caught up before I got sick, and Charlie’d let it all go to hell.

When the doctor put me back on the chemo, I threw up a dozen times a day. I got down to eighty pounds and I told Charlie I couldn’t do it any more. He begged me to keep goin, said he knew I was goin to git better. I knew I wasn’t. I knew I was dyin, and dyin was better than livin like this.

I thought a lot about dyin and I thought about Mama. And how, when she was in the nursin home, she talked about goin to heaven and seein Jesus. She said she was ready, that she’d made her peace with God. She used to tell me she hoped she would see me “on the other side.” She was ninety-three years old and I was in my early fifties then. I thought I had another thirty years or more.

I keep hearin a song in my head. One that Mama loved.

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.

Hark! ’tis the voice of angels, borne in a song to me.

Over the fields of glory, over the jasper sea.

Mama always told me to make peace with Jesus, and I have. I’m not afraid to die. I expect it’ll be like lettin myself fall asleep when I’m bone tired and tryin my damnedest to stay awake.

I believe I will rest in Jesus’ arms. And I expect to see Mama, there on the other side, and maybe Laird will be there too. Mama said he wasn’t saved but she couldn’t know what was in his heart. And I pray that Ed will be there, standin beside Mama, all the bitterness between em gone.

They say when a person is drownin, their whole life flashes in front of their eyes. It’s like that now: There’s me, young, skinny, workin at them peoples’ house and meetin Raymond. There’s him and me married and livin in one dump after another. There’s my sweet babies. And the Burrises that were so good to me. My “accident,” and the divorce. And there! The hardest thing I ever went through. Ed goin off that day, and me never findin out what happened to him. Havin to hear all those things that was said, that he didn’t love me or didn’t want the responsibility. All those years of missin him, cryin over him, and seein his babies grow up without ever knowin their daddy. Eddie, with the same smile, same blue eyes. Janie, with his tallness, his slender build. Then there’s me gittin mixed up with Charlie and movin to California. The fire, the ranch, the kids growin up and leavin home. And all that other stuff. The stuff Charlie’s goin to have to atone for.

I feel a sense of peace and a sense of pride. In spite of ever’thin that happened, I had a lot of joy in my life, and the biggest joy of all was seein my kids grow up and become the wonderful people they are. I wish I could see my grandkids grow up, too, but I don’t have the strength for this battle anymore. All I want is to lay here and listen to the river. And watch the hummin birds flittin around, backwards and forwards, flashin their bright reds and blues and greens. Charlie says the wings on those tiny things can beat seventy times a second. Isn’t that amazin?

THE END

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Gardner grew up in the Pacific Northwest and is one of the seven children born to Veda, the protagonist of this book. A photographer as well as a writer, she lives with her husband in Southern Oregon and dotes on her extended family, especially her two newest grand-children.

BOOK: Veda: A Novel
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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