996. Dig for Fire

At the doctor’s office they took her into a room right away while I sat alone in the waiting room. I paged a little through a two-month-old People magazine but really didn’t absorb much and ended up just sitting there, thinking about Ziggy.

The waiting room slowly filled up, and they took more people into the back, and I wondered why it was taking so long. What were they doing to her, exactly? It sank in when an older man rushed in, taking off his coat as he crossed the waiting room and went directly into the back. The doctor was in, finally.

I went back to thinking about Ziggy. You’d think I’d be in a panic, but I wasn’t. If him hanging up on me was supposed to send me into a tizzy, well, it didn’t. Was I upset and worried? Yes. Was I freaking out? No. There’s a difference, and I was glad to realize that.

Okay. I had fucked up big time by not going to New York. That much was obvious, even if previously it had not been obvious to me why I should have gone. I’d never dealt with someone like Jordan dying before and I really just had no clue—and all the people telling me I should have known better weren’t louder than the million or so voices that had been telling me all my life that I should have known better than to–for example–get into a relationship with my lead singer. Or any number of other things that were “obvious” to society but were obviously not for me.

I started writing him a note–Ziggy, I mean–to get my thoughts in order.

I wish you’d told me how you felt before you went. If you felt like I was abandoning you, you could have said instead of blaming me for not knowing you felt that way. Or did you not know you felt that way until you got there? I was upset with you for a similar reason, for not knowing that I felt obligated to stay here. But now that I think about it, I know you know I felt that way, so it feels like you ignored it or didn’t want to deal with the fact I felt that way. How’s it going to work in the future? If one of us feels conflicted about something, shouldn’t we be helping each other to make the choice? You’re right. I made a choice and stuck to it without reconsidering it. But so did you, so I’d like to get past the blaming each other and onto the part where we figure out what we’re going to do differently next time.

It looked reasonable when I read it back to myself but I had a feeling if I said this to Ziggy he’d skewer it full of holes within seconds. So I was back to really thinking about what was going through his head.

Except a nurse was trying to get my attention. “The doctor would like to speak with you.”

“Oh, sure.”

I followed her from the waiting room into the back area where the exam rooms were. This was another one of those low, stand-alone buildings, so it was a bit like a house where the living room/dining room was the waiting area and the bedrooms were the exam rooms. Except there was no proper kitchen, I don’t think.

The nurse led me to a small office, past several doors that must have been exam rooms. The man in the white coat behind the desk stood up and shook my hand. It was the same guy who had hurried in earlier. “Doctor Gandy,” he said, as he let go my hand and looked me up and down with a slight frown.

I can’t imagine what he disapproved of. My jeans only had one or two visible holes. I guess he was expecting someone more like Remo and less like me? Someone without red streaks in his long hair, I would guess?

“I didn’t expect you to be so… young,” he said.

“Don’t let Claire hear you say that or she’ll sulk for a week about being an old lady,” I told him. “She still can’t get over the fact she has a grandchild.”

“Yours?” he sounded alarmed.

“My sister’s. But I’m twenty-four. I thought most people around here were already married with kids by my age?”

“Oh, I, well,” he sputtered and indicated I should sit down. It was obvious to me my age wasn’t the issue at all. He looked around like maybe there was some other alternative, but there was just me. “What happened to the other gentleman who was with her?”

Aha, so he was expecting Remo. “He had to get back to some other responsibilities,” I said.

“So you’re her primary caregiver now?”

“I thought you were her primary care provider?”

He stared at me a second. “You have the words mixed up, son.”


“What happened to your sister? Is she still living with her?”

“No. They had a falling out.”

He grimaced like he didn’t really want to know any more. “Well, I suppose I should inform you then that the yellowing is normal for someone in her condition.”

“So the cancer hasn’t, like, spread to her liver or something.”

“No. But it can block the bile ducts so the result is similar in terms of jaundice and other symptoms, including nausea and loss of appetite.’ He went on for a while in that vein from which I gathered whether it was too much bile or not enough, it fucked up the digestive system. And if the digestive system was fucked up, so was everything else.

“So you’re saying don’t worry if she’s yellow and puking.”

“Oh, you should certainly worry, but at least it’s not anything new.”

“Okay, but won’t the chemo make things better?”

Here he sighed. “That’s a question for her oncologist, Dr. Taylor. I only handle the small stuff.”

I left his office with a prescription for some anti-nausea meds. I didn’t even know there was such a thing or I might have been outraged that she didn’t already have such a thing. I found her sitting in the waiting room for me.

We got in the car and headed toward a strip mall that had both a grocery store and a pharmacy, at least according to the receptionist.

“Your doctor filled me in on your jaundice,” I said, as we got onto a county road.

“Oh, did he now?”

“Yeah. Wait, didn’t he tell you, too?”

“Not as such.” She sniffed.

I really could not tell how much of it was that she didn’t want to know and how much of it was some weird patrician thing where the doctor told the man in charge–me–instead of her, what was going on with her. It felt a lot more like it was the doctor’s usual way of doing things than something that was at Claire’s insistence.

We drove for another ten minutes, then fifteen, and we hadn’t seen the grocery store yet. I finally gave up and pulled into a rather bare-bones-looking gas station to try to ask directions. Claire made a noise of frustration.

“Look, I think we’re lost. I’m going to ask directions,” I told her.

“How sensible.” Her tone was mulish but so what.

I went and talked to the cashier and concluded I’d turned the wrong way on the county road. I got back in the car and told her this. “So if we go fifteen minutes back that direction, then another five or ten, we should come to it.”

She made another anguished noise and said “Dammit.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“It’s just…” She wrung the handles of her purse in her hands so hard I thought she might damage it. “Now I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and now it’ll be even longer, and oh, poo.”

Hm. I reached into the pocket of my hoodie and pulled out the napkin which still held a now somewhat smushed but largely intact chocolate chip muffin. I handed it to her.

She stared at it in disbelief, then took it from me and broke off a piece. Before she could put it in her mouth, though, she started to cry.


“Oh my goodness, don’t think I’m ungrateful. I’m beyond grateful.” She wiped at her tears and pulled herself together with a few deep breaths. Then she ate a bite and took a few more breaths. When she got halfway through the muffin, she paused to say, “It’s just, this thought hit me. When you handed it to me. That’s the sort of thing a mother’s supposed to do for her child when her child’s hungry.”

I didn’t ever remember a cookie or a packet of crackers coming out of my mother’s purse when I was hungry as a child.

Apparently neither did Claire, and that’s why she was crying. “You know I did my best, don’t you?” she asked. “I was far from the best mother–I know that. But I did what I could with what I had.”

It’s funny. What she was doing was not really apologizing. She wasn’t apologizing at all. She was confessing, though, which sort of implied she was asking for forgiveness.

I just started the car. “That muffin’s probably kind of dry,” I said. “Keep an eye out for a convenience store where we can grab some coffee.”

She fell silent to finish eating the muffin and she stayed silent for the rest of the drive, she absorbed with her thoughts and I with mine.


  • Mark Treble says:

    I went back to thinking about Ziggy. You’d think I’d be in a panic, but I wasn’t. If him hanging up on me was supposed to send me into a tizzy, well, it didn’t. Was I upset and worried? Yes. Was I freaking out? No. There’s a difference, and I was glad to realize that.


    Congratulations. It was intended to hurt you, regardless of how you reacted. Be upset and worried, that’s an improvement.

    • daron says:

      I don’t think the hanging up was intended to hurt me, exactly. I think Ziggy has an instinct for impeccable dramatic timing. And he knows when to hang up before the tide can turn back on him in any argument. Not that I’ve figured out what the response should be yet…

      • Mark Treble says:

        I suppose your assessment of Ziggy’s intent is better-informed than mine. It’s difficult to ignore the history that became in-your-face when he “accidentally” stumbled into your room carrying Carynne. The list is too long for a post because it would consume at least 20% of the existing narrative.

        I have no input for a response; even if you followed it we both know Ziggy will twist it until everything’s your fault.

        “Instinct for impeccable dramatic timing” is insightful. Ziggy is a bright shiny object. He’s charismatic, articulate, smooth, self-confident, talented, quick on his feet with zero introspection. You have a matte finish, you’re introspective, need to think about how you feel before talking, thus not quick on your feet, articulate nor self-confident. A surface comparison makes Ziggy everyone’s favorite. Yet, your creator made more than the 2-D images, and in 3-D we find Ziggy isn’t evil, he’s just far more substance-free.

  • Kunama says:

    That doctor. I want to say things have gotten better in this day and age, but they have not nearly enough, and it pisses me off because even as I am sick I have to insist that I want to know details of why this is happening, please educate me about diet and lifestyle changes, don’t just write me a prescription and look at me like “oh you wouldn’t understand”

    • Mark Treble says:

      You’re 99% right. You, not the physician, are in charge of your health and all decisions about it. You cannot make good decisions without good information. If you don’t participate in your own health care, you’re making a big mistake.

      The one percent where you’re not quite spot on is that many physicians have difficulty putting the details into layman’s terms. That’s not an excuse, it is reality. My neurologist is a native of China, and I simply cannot understand his English. The last visit, to find out about brain surgery, my wife and younger daughter accompanied me. When I told him I had done medical school, my wife was a nurse and my daughter a vet tech, so please use medical terminology, he became very easy to understand.

      The other issue with cancer in early 1992 is that there were no answers to the big questions. How long does Claire have left? No clue. She could die in the next hour or could hold on for six more years. Medicine remains a very primitive science. People who are fine with perfect lab tests keel over and die. Bodies that should be in the morgue are walking around and actually get better.

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