I met B. on a plane today from Toronto the Pittsburgh. I was heading home for a short break from our tour. Our plane had propellers. Turns out, I think I’m afraid of planes with propellers. I didn’t know they still made planes with propellers.
“They don’t,” was my father’s response when I finally arrived in Chicago this evening.
B. was traveling from Toronto to Boston to attend the funeral of a guy my age that, a few days ago, decided he didn’t want to live anymore. She was going to see her friend, the boy’s mother. As she said, “You don’t go to a funeral for the dead, you go for the living.”
B. was from Pakistan, spoke with a curried British accent, and carried little ginger candies from Trinidad with her. That’s about as Toronto as you can get I think. B. told me that the doctors had to put a metal valve in her heart that made her heartbeat sound like a ticking clock.
I told B. about cancer. Her sister died last year of cancer in Pakistan. Her sister was a nurse. A nurse who would get out of bed in the middle of the night to fix a patient’s catheter, but wouldn’t put herself in a car and drive to the doctor to check the lump in her abdomen. A little lump that caused a whole bunch of trouble.
Here’s a story about chemo brain I told B.
It was March, about 3 months after I finished chemotherapy. My brain was still oatmeal, and I couldn’t remember a thing. I was angry and frustrated all the time. I don’t exaggerate. It must have taken a great deal of pity and understanding for anybody to stay close to me during that time.
I got out of rehearsal late one night and – BAM! – I drove right into a huge pothole. Blew my tire nearly clear off the rim.
I pulled over and popped the trunk to get the spare out. In the dark, I couldn’t understand how to get the spare unlatched and out of the trunk. It took me twenty minutes of fumbling in the dark to get the tire out.
Already worn out and frustrated, but as yet unwilling to admit it, I jacked the car up and took off the tire. I put on the spare and unwound the jack. I stood up and looked over my shoulder and there it was.
The blown out tire. Still on the car.
See, I had changed the wrong tire. My brain was so wasted that I couldn’t even think straight long enough to change the right tire. It was awful. It was like that everyday, all day. One frustration after another. Names I couldn’t remember, times I’d forget. Sometimes I’d leave the house and drive straight to the store, get out, walk in – and realize I meant to drive to work. Not the store. So I’d walk out, and by then I would have forgotten where I parked the car.
Doesn’t that sound awful?
That night I jacked the car up again, put the good tire back on, jacked up the other side, took the busted tire off, put the spare on. I drove about 10 feet before realizing the spare was also flat.
I was so frustrated I could’ve pulled a whole tree out of the ground if I’d had any strength in me. In the end, my girlfriend came looking for me and we waited in the dark for a tow truck. She found me in a very foul mood.
“My cousin worked at a bank,” B. said, “but she hit her head in a bicycle accident and forgot everything. Total, permanent memory loss. She had to take a calculator to the grocery store.”
B. asked me if going through cancer changed how I felt about life and death.
My brother J. once told me a wise thing about death, when he was young and talking about something completely different. I was 16, and I was worried about going to take the driver’s license test at the DMV.
“Dave, just remember: everybody has to pass it. How hard can it be?” he said.
Which is true. Every driver driving out there on the roads had to pass the same test I was about to take. And even at 16, I’d seen some real idiots driving cars.
And I figure that death has got to be like that, too. No matter what you do in life, good or bad or in-between, everybody has to go through it. It can’t be so bad if everybody has to do it; if everybody before you has done it, and everybody after will need to do it, too.
“When my sister was laying in bed, the priest said, ‘Nobody comes here with a one-way ticket. We all gotta go back sometime.’” B. said.
We had the most interesting stories to tell each other!
(Actually, I think part of it was that B. saw me looking at those propellers over her shoulder and just wanted to keep me talking. She once worked as a flight attendant in Dubai.)
As for an afterlife…well, either something happens or nothing happens, I haven’t decided yet. Either way, it’ll probably be alright. I’d prefer something, myself. Maybe a beach and a bowl of ice cream. If there is one guy watching over everything, I surely doubt he’d send anybody to hell after seeing the kind of suffering that happens down here during life.
B. works at a medical office, but when she heard about her friend’s son in Boston, she left right away. She didn’t even talk to her boss. She left a message on the machine. She had an emergency and she’d be back in a week. She bought a ticket on a twin propeller aeroplane to Boston and high-tailed it out of Canada.
“I’m coming!” She said.
And she told me this:
“Do you know that smell, right after it rains?” She said.
“Yes.” I answered.
“That’s what God smells like.”