The way of all waiting

We thought it was over and then it wasn't over. Not yet.

Published November 9, 2000 7:09PM (EST)

We were waiting for California and Alaska and then we were waiting for Wisconsin and Florida.

She was wearing her bathrobe over the pajamas her parents gave her years ago and she was drying her hair, or it was drying by itself as we watched the maps on TV, red for Bush, blue for Gore, and the red seemed to cover the country.

The magic number was 270 and each candidate had 220-something. One of the twins came downstairs and was calling California "Kali" and trying to get a bet going. He wanted to bet $5 that Gore would win but I said I didn't want to make money on Gore's losses, so I said I'd bet a dollar on Gore.

It will all be over soon, we said, of course, it is always over soon but then it was 10, the son went to bed, it was 10:30, 11 and still not over yet.

Her husband called. There were more things he wanted her to bring him. He was at the hospital with the other son, who had just had a biopsy. The son had surfaced from the anesthesia talking politics.

On TV, it was 226 votes for Gore to 221 for Bush. Or something like that. My friend hung up the phone, combed out her hair, took off the robe and gathered all the things her husband needed for an overnight stay at Children's Memorial. Then she left for the hospital. I stayed, acting as an adult presence while the son slept upstairs. I was waiting for Wisconsin, for Iowa, for Florida, for closure.

A little more than a year ago, a tumor "the size of a football" appeared in one son's abdomen and the chemo started and for months and months we waited -- for the chemo to work, for the nausea to fade, for his hair and his appetite to grow back, for the tutor to come, for the tumor to shrink enough to be removed. It was removed.

We waited for tests and for doctors to take blood samples and provide numbers and statistics. In June it all stopped. Remission.

The boys -- they are twins, identical until last year -- had their bar mitzvah, which was like a big sigh throughout the community, the community that had sat in the hospital and gone grocery shopping and made carrot cake and brisket and bought gift certificates for massage and videotapes and driven carpools and bought books and video games for amusement and distraction.

The doctors came to the bar mitzvah -- the specialists and the pediatrician -- and the chess teacher, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. That Saturday afternoon, even sitting around at the house was a celebration, hanging out playing Scrabble while outside it rained was a celebration -- a celebration of normality, punctuated by the ordinary chaos of keeping track of presents: Put the list in that drawer, there.

That summer was the harvest. His hair grew back and his eyebrows and lashes, the hair came back wavy, isn't that funny, and then there were cancer camps nearby and far away, and chemo that would start in the fall, but then the doctors ruled it out. He didn't have to. He was home free, and the relief spread over everything, a protective sky.

This Halloween both boys went trick or treating dressed as vampires. The year before, I went out with the brother while the other twin stayed in the hospital.

Then last week came the report of another tumor, the size of a golf ball this time, (males have sporting equipment and women have fruit-sized tumors, Marjorie Gross, the late Marjorie Gross, has written), and then the biopsy on Tuesday and then the bone scan (OK) and then will be the bone marrow scan and the in-patient chemo (four afternoons a week starting Monday).

Tuesday night after my friend came back home from dropping things off at the hospital, I walked around the corner to my house and stayed by the radio. On NPR Scott Simon said that it was over, so it was over. But then it wasn't, and I thought if I stayed up long enough it would be over, there would be an end, but there wasn't. We'll know by the end of the day Thursday, they're telling us now.

Wednesday, the boy came home from the hospital and his father and I sat in a room full of books (one of their several rooms full of books) and talked about statistics and knowing and not knowing and how much we can't be sure of, except -- though it always catches us up short -- the way of all flesh.

By S.L. Wisenberg

S.L. Wisenberg is a Chicago writer whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Miami Herald, Creative Nonfiction and many anthologies. Her new book, a collection of short stories called "The Sweetheart is In," will be published in the spring.

MORE FROM S.L. Wisenberg

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2000 Elections Cancer