‘I’m covered in squirming blanket puppies, soft wet tongues followed by sharp bites of my earlobe. Their mother pants in the nearby shade, thankful for the reprieve.’
I stretched my upper eyelid to apply the brown waxy line along the top of my thinning lashes. The yellowed corner of my eye stuck out like a dingy armpit stain on a cotton-white shirt.
So, this is how it ends when your liver finally gives in. A lump of nausea roared its way up in protest.
I hear my daughter’s muffled voice in the emergency department of Cedars Sinai, “My mom has a neuroendocrine tumor that has metastasized. She recently completed the first dose of a phase one clinical trial drug. A few days ago, she presented with yellowing eyes and skin. Her blood work showed a spike in bilirubin, and now she is filled with fever.”
The last thing I remember was the anesthesiologist named Sheila. She leaned her head sideways and came close to my face, “I’ll be right here with you.”
Fog settled in. I’m crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to our new home in Sonoma. Trembling, I slide down from my seat and curl up on the floorboard, wrapped in my pink Binkle. I rub my tongue back and forth across the callous that was my thumb.
My father, unusually kind that evening, eyes the slinky move. In the same Irish cadence of his father, he begins, “Wooehldn’t you know de ahld genie oehnder de bredge is smahkin ‘is pipe tahnight.”
My ears perk and I crawl back up to spy billows of smoke spilling over the rails of the bridge. My mind conjures a giant genie squatting between the orange pillars beneath our car blowing smoke rings the size of a whale.
My father continues: “Soon ‘e’ll be ready to sleep fahr de night. If you lesten carefoehlly, you may ‘ear a wee bet o’ snahrin.” I nestle back into Binkle and am lulled by the smooth inhales and familiar gentle snores of “the genie,” the gatekeeper to my new life on the other side of the bridge.
I dreamt of a life of pillow fights and tag on the lawn and being thrown over the volleyball net of our pool. When the laughter cracked and turned sour, I tried to ward it off. The genie sometimes got angry, like a dart that pierced my belly.
The dart turned into fear. Fear turned into the tumor.
I burst out of my body and bid farewell to my father’s blue cutlass, looking back only once to salute the genie. Then I pirouette with Muir and run my fingers up Petaluma’s craggy thigh. I breaststroke to Sonoma, grabbing a fistful of golden grapes to shove in my mouth—its warm tang tingles down my chin.
I come up for air at my backyard fence to peer. I’m covered in squirming blanket puppies, soft wet tongues followed by sharp bites of my earlobe. Their mother pants in the nearby shade, thankful for the reprieve.
Then I remember my loved ones crooning over the threadbare blanket that was my body. “Don’t worry,” I say. I dribble a squeeze of wine down the backs of their necks. “I’m here. Always was. Always will be.”
Then I rise from the depths of the ocean and burst into the sky, Katy Perry style. Two tiny bits catch a drift and magic carpet me back to the Genie behind Wilhelmina’s corner of Golden Gate Park.
At the foot of an old gnarled cypress tree.
I had asked my father, posthumously, “This tree is where you want to remain?”
“O’ cooehrse me darlin daoehghter,” he said in his Irish lilt, “Joehst like me — it’s an ahld bastard.”
Kelli Devan Edwards is a writer, public speaker, long-term cancer survivor, and educator. She is a patient mentor for a Los Angeles-based support group for Neuroendocrine cancer and the newsletter editor for the Orange County Branch of the California Writers Club. Her writing has been published in Orange Coast Magazine, Journal of Expressive Writing, and Guideposts Magazine. Born and always rooted to the Bay Area, Kelli frequents the city every few months.