Chapter ? – Turbulence
“Attention, passengers. We are experiencing some minor turbulence. I ask that you please remain seated until further announcement… thank you.” The voice disappeared and I watched as a little red light appeared above my head, commanding me to stay seated. I heard children hush and adults exchange nervous whispers. I shook my head, unworried, and tapped my fingers on my glass. It was now less than a quarter of the way full and most of the bubbles had disappeared. I felt eyes watching me and turned my head to catch them. The woman in the seat beside mine was eying me curiously. She raised her cup to her ridiculously red lips and drew it away slowly.
“Are you feeling any better?” I asked too kindly. She cocked her head to the side.
“You know, I am!” She said it in a way that was remarkable; with an air of pretended surprise.
“Wonderful.” I resumed facing forward, an action that I thought would politely end the conversation.
“Turbulence always makes the flight interesting,” She murmured on, running her finger up and down the cup. “I’ve never been intimidated by it.” I could feel her cold, bottomless eyes riveted on me.
First-time flyer my ass, the me inside my head scowled.
“I’m sure you haven’t,” I rejoined coolly, and continued facing forward.
“We’ve scheduled the surgery for June 18th.” The doctor looked down at his clipboard while he said it, too uncomfortable to make eye contact. “Make sure he gets good rest and plenty of fluids until then. The day before the scheduled surgery, he needs to eat no more than a very small breakfast; half of a waffle, or a few bites of cereal, and a banana maybe. No aspirin or other medications during the three days preceding the surgery. Also, we’ll need to have him here overnight before the surgery; you can bring him anytime after six. One parent can stay in the room with him.”
The doctor nodded his head to conclude the lecture and strode out of the room, his long legs ending in dark blurs called shoes that smacked at the ground with no emotion, no heart, and no sympathy – unanxious to linger, to listen or to console. It wasn’t at all like it is in the movies; there had been no dramatic music leading up to the event, preparing you, emotionally, for the bomb to drop: things didn’t just resolve themselves after a few climactic minutes of horror and suspense. It was just a follow-up appointment after Bobby’s last visit with the doctor, where they had taken more x-rays, more cat scans and had finally ordered an MRI of Bobby’s head. The MRI had been telling. It had caught the cancer.
Days before all of this, Bobby had fallen, out of nowhere, while he and I were standing with mom in a check-out line at the grocery store. He was able to get up okay afterwards but my mom, who’s nerves were entirely shot at this point, was fully convinced that although previous x-rays and cat scans had produced no evidence that there was anything seriously wrong with Bobby, there must be something awful hiding inside of him. This incident is what had prompted the emergency visit to the ER that had ultimately resulted in the doctor to order ordering an MRI. How telling it had been.
Mom had been sitting in a faded blue office chair while the doctor spoke, her knees pressed tightly against each other and her hands resting in her lap, gripping each other so tightly that I wondered if her fingers could break. My dad sat in a similar blue chair beside hers, his noticeably newer, or at least not used as much. He was wearing beige khaki shorts and a red t-shirt with “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” stretched in black letters across the front of it. He held a gallon-sized coffee mug in one hand and rested his other hand on his knee. Both of my parents gazed down, unable to look at each other, refusing to look at me. I watched both of them quietly and wondered why they were so quiet.
Meanwhile, Bobby was back at the house. Grammy and Grampy, who had precipitated the seriousness of Bobby’s condition and driven up from Florida to be with our family, were staying at home to watch him. They probably had him resting on our big, blue sectional sofa right right this minute, propped up on pillows, watching his favorite cartoons and eating his favorite food: pizza. I don’t even know why I was there in the doctor’s office with my parents — why they had decided to bring me with them. Maybe Grammy and Grampy wanted time alone with Bob or maybe they didn’t have the energy to deal with both of us kids by themselves at once. Or maybe I had just been begging to get out of the house all morning because it was “so boring” in there. Who knows. Finally, dad looked over at mom. She felt it and turned her head to meet his eyes.
“Is this really happening?” she whispered.
My mom looked over at me suddenly, her eyes colorless, her stare blank.
I noticed how pale she looked and how sad dad had become, and I couldn’t understand why.
I was five years old, and my brother was having his brain tumor removed.
The house was instantly thrown into a complete and total state of chaos. Grampy had to drive back home to Florida because of work and it, along with everything else, made Grammy a nervous, crying, hysterical wreck.
“Oh Russ I can’t leave now,” she cried, picking pillows up from off of the floor and setting them onto the couch. The cat had probably knocked them over.
“Bobby needs me, Lucy needs me… I have to stay.” Lucy was my mom’s name.
Grampy agreed and I woke up the next morning with his white van already missing from the driveway. Bobby’s surgery was still a week away, and no one seemed to know what to do with themselves.
His school was notified of his condition right away and Bobby was formally pulled out from the first grade. He wouldn’t return to his classes for years to come. Mom and Gram were so exhausted and red-eyed that I only ended up going to school one day out of the whole week. Our emotions, our routine, our questions about the future — everything was in an upheaval.
So Bobby stayed at home all day long, lying on the couch, watching his favorite movies on repeat. I was with him a lot of the time, our cat Smokey curled up on my lap while I sat on the couch beside my bro, stroking and handling the cat a little rougher and harder than he probably appreciated.
Bobby lived like a king that week, despite the incessant headaches and dizziness he was experiencing.
“What do you want for breakfast, Bubba?” Gram would question him early on in the morning. He usually ignored her the first time.
“Waffles?” She asked with a playful smile.
Bobby continued facing forward, with his eyes locked onto the television, and shook his head, frowning.
“French toast?” She mentioned hopefully.
“Noooo,” Bobby moaned, irritated. His nerves had gotten pretty bad, too.
Grammy paused for a minute.
Bobby’s eyes lit up.
“Can we order it from Dominoes?” he eyed her suspiciously.
And that set the pattern for the rest of the week: Dominoes pizza, every day, for breakfast. It was nice. I’m surprised we didn’t get sick of it.
He played video games on and off throughout the day and either Grammy or Mom would bring him a coloring book when he grew tired of them. They were constantly moving from room to room, locating and bringing to him any item or article of clothing he wanted to have on the couch next to him. They liked keeping him there on the couch. It was safer.
The day of the surgery finally arrived, and it was quicker and sooner than anyone had been prepared for. Grammy wanted to come so badly that after persistent pleading, Mom relented; we all went together, and the plan was for Grammy and I to play in the hospital’s children’s room while Bobby was being worked on. Mom and dad would be sitting in stiff office chairs on an upstairs floor somewhere, praying and crying and worrying for their son and waiting for the surgery to be over.
I had fun in that children’s room, cooking with a fake kitchen set that came with rubber plates, spoons and cups and fake sets of eggs and bacon and bread. There was a wooden “bead maze” that I spent lots of time with too, moving the colored objects and beads up, down, and across the curvy design. I looked up and over at Grammy every once in a while and smiled, happy to know that she was in there with me, hoping that she was watching me and that I was impressing her somehow. Every time I looked over, it seemed like she was wiping her eyes with a tissue, and even with my back turned, I could hear her incessant sobbing. It would grow quiet for a few minutes and then it would return in a horrible, forceful weeping that caused her whole body to heave and shake. It made me feel sad and sick to my stomach; it also made me feel strange. It was then that I wondered where Bob was and if he would be coming to the playroom soon. Grammy won’t be so sad when Bob gets here, I reassured myself.