Everything outside the car window is baking in the sun. The asphalt is steaming. There are no people out in my neighborhood. I don’t blame them. If it were not for the air conditioning in our minivan, I would be roasting. As it is, my skin is covered in goose bumps. I jiggle my feet, causing the seat to shake. I can’t seem to contain my jitteriness. I look over at my mom.
She feels my eyes on her and smiles. Without taking her eyes from the road ahead, she reaches over with her right hand and pats my leg. Then she returns her hand to the steering wheel and grips it tightly again. Her eyes dart between the road and the rear-view and side mirrors every few seconds. Mom is a focused driver.
Mom and I are driving to the hospital.
I close my eyes.
After Mom quickly dismissed the importance of the overheard phone call, I pushed her until she told me what was going on. She confessed that she couldn’t stand for long periods of time without being winded from pain. Dad and I encouraged her to go to the doctor, but Mom is a firm believer that unless someone is dying, doctors are unnecessary. Finally, when she couldn’t cook a meal without sitting on a stool to lessen her pain, she agreed to go see our family doctor, Dr. Lenott.
“Take care of yourself Carol,” Dad said, as he gave her a back massage. “I’m looking forward to watching you run laps around my wheelchair when we’re old.”
We all laughed together. I kept to myself the fact that I didn’t like seeing signs that my parents were aging. Gray hairs didn’t scare me so much, but strange illnesses and increased fatigue during normal activities sure did. Mom was supposed to be around forever and never in pain.
Mom went to the family doctor the next day. When she got home, she called Dad into the living room from his den and asked me to pause the computer game I was playing. The speakers emitted a small beeping noise every few seconds to remind me that the game was paused.
Mom sat down on the couch and put the sticky pad she was holding in her lap. When Dad came in, he sank onto the couch next to her. Mom’s mouth was smiling, but her eyes weren’t.
“Dr. Lenott referred me to a gynecologic oncologist,” Mom said.
“Why?” Dad said. He shifted his body to face hers. He raised his eyebrows.
“He’s just being careful. He wants me to have a laparoscopy just to make sure,” Mom said. She took Dad’s hand and traced small circles on his skin with her thumb.
“Make sure?” I said. The beeping of the game began to irk me, so I moved one arm and pushed a button on the keyboard to mute the sound. The rest of my body was immobile. Make sure of what?
Mom looked over at me and met my eyes.
“Make sure I don’t have ovarian cancer,” Mom said.
“What?” I said. I jumped up from the desk. I hit my knee on the underside of the desktop and accidentally knocked over the desk chair. “You don’t have cancer. It’s just back pain. Can’t you just go to the chiropractor?” I said. I was standing next to the overturned desk chair and ignoring my throbbing knee.
I moved across the room and pushed the large ottoman that we use for a coffee table until it was pressed against my parents’ knees. Some magazines fell off the ottoman onto the floor. I sat Indian style on the ottoman.
“I’m supposed to call Dr.¾.” Mom looked at the sticky pad she had in her lap for reference. “
Call Dr. Mosa
tomorrow to make an appointment for some time next week. It’s an out-patient
procedure, but I’ll be sedated so I’ll need one of you to drive me.”
Her eyes moved between us before resting on my dad. I knew that she wanted him there to support her.
Dad pulled his left foot out of his slipper, then put it back again. He rolled his ankle, popping it. The pop sounded loudly in the otherwise still room.
“Well, it depends on when the appointment is,” Dad said, “because I’m going out to the council building next Monday to survey the site and present my proposal to the head of the city’s beautification council. But if it doesn’t conflict with that I’ll definitely take you. Reeses might have to, though. It’d be good practice for her.”
Dad avoided looking at Mom or me. Instead he kept his eyes on the floor.
Dad reached over and put a hand on my shoulder. He lifted one corner of his mouth in an attempt at a grin. I tried to smile, but his hand just felt heavy. I shrugged it off. He took his other hand from my mom and balled both hands in his lap.
“You don’t have cancer, Mom,” I said. “They’re not going to find anything with that scope they use.”
I knew what a colonoscopy was because Brandon’s mom had recently had one, and she had regaled us with the experience just as soon as her sedatives had worn off. It had been funny at the time, but it wasn’t so much now. I’m not sure if a laparoscopy is similar to that, but I don’t want to ask.
“Well, like I said, it’s just to make sure,” Mom said. “I hope I don’t either, but if I do¾”
My dad stood up quickly. I scooted the ottoman back a little with my feet so that he had room to move his feet.
“I’m sorry, Carol,” he said, “but I forgot I have to call Mr. Boletti about his Orchids. He’s having some trouble with them. We can talk more about this later.”
He patted her arm, then dashed out of the room.
“Greg, wait,” Mom said, but Dad didn’t respond. Mom’s head fell and she let her eyes close.
I stared after my dad. I couldn’t believe he’d just done that, ducked out on a serious conversation¾especially one that concerned Mom’s health. When Dad and I have important discussions, he is routinely the one standing in the middle of the issue, inviting me to wade into it with him, but not this time.
His steps echoed as he thumped down the hall. We heard a door shut. It must have been the door to his den.
“I’ll take you, Mom,” I said.
Her smile almost reached her eyes that time.
I open my eyes. I can’t remember the last time I went to my mom’s doctor’s office. I stop jiggling my feet. The asphalt is still steaming. There is no one out. Everyone must be inside under their ceiling fans, drinking lemonade. I wish I was there too, rather than in this icy cold minivan, suffocating.
One of the nurses wheels my mom up the hall toward me. When they reach me, the nurse stops pushing the wheelchair.
Let’s get you up,” the nurse says. She comes around the chair and puts her hand
under my mom’s elbow. Mom, who is fighting to keep her eyes open by blinking
repeatedly, attempts to stand. She wobbles and almost falls over.
“Whoa,” the nurse says, and helps Mom sit back down in the wheelchair. “Maybe we’ll just wheel you out to your car.” She pushes the wheelchair out the sliding glass doors ahead of me.
I follow them out. The doors whoosh closed behind me. My mom’s purse is swinging over my shoulder. It’s much heavier than it looks.
The nurse pauses on the sidewalk and looks at me.
I point to the plum colored Chevy Venture near the front of one of the rows of parked cars. “The purple one right there,” I say.
The nurse nods and wheels my mom to the passenger side of the van, positioning the wheelchair close to the sliding door. Mom sits still in the chair, her eyes vacant. The medication they gave her to put her out is still very much in effect.
I fish the keys out of my mom’s purse and push the keyless entry remote to unlock the doors. The lights flash and I hear a whir as the doors unlock. I pull open the sliding door and the nurse helps my mom climb into the second row of seats. Mom lays down. She is asleep even before I have time to slide the minivan door shut.
“Remember to start her on something light,” the nurse says. “Like a smoothie or soup. She’ll be hungry when she becomes more alert.” She smiles at me and turns to push the wheelchair back to the hospital.
“Thanks,” I say, but I am not sure if the nurse hears me.
I walk around the car and open the driver’s side door. I hop into the seat, close the door, buckle my seatbelt, and insert the keys in the ignition. My heartbeat quickens as I start the car. This is my first time driving alone. I twist in my seat to check on my mom. She is lying across the bench seat on her side, but her legs are hanging off the edge. A small string of drool crawls from her mouth to the seat.
I wrinkle my nose and turn to face front again. So much for having a supervising adult when I drive using my permit.
I start the car, put it in reverse, and pull out of the parking spot. I go 5 mph through the parking lot like Mom has been teaching me to do. I stop before I pull out into traffic. There are quite a few cars on the road. It’s and everyone is heading home for dinner. Deep breath. Foot off the break. Forward motion.
I turn right and make my way to Jamba Juice. Mom will like an original Caribbean Passion when she comes out of her drug-induced stupor. I pull into the parking lot and steer the van slowly toward the drive-thru. The narrow lane makes me feel like the minivan is ten feet wide and should have a “wide load” sign across the rear bumper. I feel the front tire on the passenger side tap the curb, and I push hard on the breaks. Deep breath. I can do this. I ease forward as I turn the wheel more toward the left.