Sitting there, in the bleak waiting room with stacks of torn magazines on the coffee table, I was more terrified than I had ever been. I was afraid of something one millionth my size, but it was something that would change the rest of my life. Nervously I cradled my mother’s warm hand in my clammy one, trying to read her expression. Yes, there was definitely a hint of fear, masked in a cool stare, as well as anxiety and determination. I looked away as she turned to me. Even though this thing might not actually be in me, it had already changed us.
On my right sat my father, leaning toward the table with elbows on knees, his left hand holding a magazine, the other turning its crinkled pages. His glasses sat on the middle of his nose, completely different from their usual position around his neck on a red cord. My father had decided to act completely indifferent, “until I find out for sure,” he had said, with a hopeless smile. But the last few days had been degrading and robbed him of sleep, despite his seemingly bright mood.
I looked down to my rugged Converse high-tops, then back to my sleeve that didn’t cover my fingers, and almost wished that the big red couch would engulf me, put its brawny arms around me and pull me into a different reality. I would willingly go, so that I wouldn’t have to face It. I shuddered at my thoughts, rubbing my thigh with my palm. Wow, I should do my nails. The black nail-polished fingers tightly gripped my knee.
It was a scary thing. I had rarely thought about It before, but I now realized my immaturity. I thought about a time when It was nothing to worry about, and my only reminder was a pink bracelet, or maybe a ribbon, or a letter from a hospital asking for donations. I thought about what I had taken for granted. I tried to calm myself, but the numbness at the back of my throat returned, bringing a warm curtain of hazy blur over my eyes, and a tint of reddish-pink to complement it. That never seemed to leave these days; the swelling had lingered uninvited. A week ago I would have been very concerned that this would ruin my thick black eyeliner.
“Um, Miss Vel-itch-i-kova? You’re up next, honey,” said the nurse with a fake smile. She started down a hallway, on either side of which were black doors with names. I looked at her back, trying to keep my face neutral. My mother still held my hand. My dad silently followed. Halfway down the corridor we stopped in front of Room 26, that of Dr. Ruckel.
“We’re here,” the nurse stated, in a sing-songy voice. I could feel the anger inside of me like an overwatered shoot of bamboo, and I must admit, I barely restrained myself from doing something indignant. What was with her mood? She worked at a doctor’s office, not an amusement park. People went there when they were sick. She didn’t seem to comprehend that because she accompanied the statement with an extra smile that just added to my irritation. I just gave her a look and entered.
This room was approximately the same as the last except, instead of the low coffee table, there was a huge desk bordered with stacks of folders and loose papers. The doctor peered over it and motioned for us to sit.
“Well, the second round of results are in,” she said. I couldn’t read anything from her face. She had probably practiced this skill.
After watching my mother’s eyes grow larger with each second, and my father’s smile fade, the doctor looked up. Her pale face floated between her loose bun and the red turtleneck she wore under her white doctor’s robe. A strand of pearls lined her thin neck, and there was a whiff of expensive perfume. On her desk were pictures of what appeared to be her husband and two children. Overall, she reeked of sophistication, a woman in her prime. I wondered what pleasure she had when she saw so many like me, about to die (it never occurred to me how many lives she actually helped saved). She was nothing I ever wanted to be, I decided. She looked at me and I instantly read her eyes. I wished I weren’t so good at that. Half-heartedly, I tried to conceal my knowledge. But the tears did not come as I expected when Dr. Ruckel uttered the words I had been dreading since my last visit.
My mother turned to hug me, her own tears tumbling onto my shoulder, deep into a grieving place where only motherly souls go. I propped her up and looked straight into her eyes with a tranquility that surprised even me. That was the first time I had seen my father cry. He was my manly man, my bitter-tempered protector. And when he was reduced to such a vulnerable state, I felt helpless. I don’t think the news had really hit me; I distanced myself inside my fog of confusion. It was true. I barely registered my father’s huge embrace that felt like he was never going to hug me again. Suddenly the clarity washed over me and I found what I had been searching for. I now knew that there really was nothing to be scared of. It wasn’t my imperfection, it was nature’s. All I had to do was beat it.
My mom asked in a broken voice, “Honey, did you not understand the doctor? It’s alright to cry, just cry.” In a whisper all I could say was, “There are no more tears for me, Mom. It’s time to fight, it’s time for my heart to cry, bleed. I have cancer.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the December 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.