Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Malignant Part 2

Everything outside the car window is baking in the sun. The asphalt is steaming. There are no people out in my neighborhood. I don’t blame them. If it were not for the air conditioning in our minivan, I would be roasting. As it is, my skin is covered in goose bumps. I jiggle my feet, causing the seat to shake. I can’t seem to contain my jitteriness. I look over at my mom.
            She feels my eyes on her and smiles. Without taking her eyes from the road ahead, she reaches over with her right hand and pats my leg. Then she returns her hand to the steering wheel and grips it tightly again. Her eyes dart between the road and the rear-view and side mirrors every few seconds. Mom is a focused driver.
Mom and I are driving to the hospital.
I close my eyes.
After Mom quickly dismissed the importance of the overheard phone call, I pushed her until she told me what was going on. She confessed that she couldn’t stand for long periods of time without being winded from pain. Dad and I encouraged her to go to the doctor, but Mom is a firm believer that unless someone is dying, doctors are unnecessary. Finally, when she couldn’t cook a meal without sitting on a stool to lessen her pain, she agreed to go see our family doctor, Dr. Lenott.
            “Take care of yourself Carol,” Dad said, as he gave her a back massage. “I’m looking forward to watching you run laps around my wheelchair when we’re old.”
            We all laughed together. I kept to myself the fact that I didn’t like seeing signs that my parents were aging. Gray hairs didn’t scare me so much, but strange illnesses and increased fatigue during normal activities sure did. Mom was supposed to be around forever and never in pain.
            Mom went to the family doctor the next day. When she got home, she called Dad into the living room from his den and asked me to pause the computer game I was playing. The speakers emitted a small beeping noise every few seconds to remind me that the game was paused.
Mom sat down on the couch and put the sticky pad she was holding in her lap. When Dad came in, he sank onto the couch next to her. Mom’s mouth was smiling, but her eyes weren’t.
            “Dr. Lenott referred me to a gynecologic oncologist,” Mom said.
            “Why?” Dad said. He shifted his body to face hers. He raised his eyebrows.
            “He’s just being careful. He wants me to have a laparoscopy just to make sure,” Mom said. She took Dad’s hand and traced small circles on his skin with her thumb.
            “Make sure?” I said. The beeping of the game began to irk me, so I moved one arm and pushed a button on the keyboard to mute the sound. The rest of my body was immobile. Make sure of what?
            Mom looked over at me and met my eyes.
            “Make sure I don’t have ovarian cancer,” Mom said.
            “What?” I said. I jumped up from the desk. I hit my knee on the underside of the desktop and accidentally knocked over the desk chair. “You don’t have cancer. It’s just back pain. Can’t you just go to the chiropractor?” I said. I was standing next to the overturned desk chair and ignoring my throbbing knee.
            I moved across the room and pushed the large ottoman that we use for a coffee table until it was pressed against my parents’ knees. Some magazines fell off the ottoman onto the floor. I sat Indian style on the ottoman.
            “I’m supposed to call Dr.¾.” Mom looked at the sticky pad she had in her lap for reference. “Call Dr. Mosa tomorrow to make an appointment for some time next week. It’s an out-patient procedure, but I’ll be sedated so I’ll need one of you to drive me.”
            Her eyes moved between us before resting on my dad. I knew that she wanted him there to support her.
            Dad pulled his left foot out of his slipper, then put it back again. He rolled his ankle, popping it. The pop sounded loudly in the otherwise still room.
            “Well, it depends on when the appointment is,” Dad said, “because I’m going out to the council building next Monday to survey the site and present my proposal to the head of the city’s beautification council. But if it doesn’t conflict with that I’ll definitely take you. Reeses might have to, though. It’d be good practice for her.”
            Dad avoided looking at Mom or me. Instead he kept his eyes on the floor.
            Dad reached over and put a hand on my shoulder. He lifted one corner of his mouth in an attempt at a grin. I tried to smile, but his hand just felt heavy. I shrugged it off. He took his other hand from my mom and balled both hands in his lap.
            “You don’t have cancer, Mom,” I said. “They’re not going to find anything with that scope they use.”
            I knew what a colonoscopy was because Brandon’s mom had recently had one, and she had regaled us with the experience just as soon as her sedatives had worn off. It had been funny at the time, but it wasn’t so much now. I’m not sure if a laparoscopy is similar to that, but I don’t want to ask.
            “Well, like I said, it’s just to make sure,” Mom said. “I hope I don’t either, but if I do¾
            My dad stood up quickly. I scooted the ottoman back a little with my feet so that he had room to move his feet.
            “I’m sorry, Carol,” he said, “but I forgot I have to call Mr. Boletti about his Orchids. He’s having some trouble with them. We can talk more about this later.”
            He patted her arm, then dashed out of the room.
            “Greg, wait,” Mom said, but Dad didn’t respond. Mom’s head fell and she let her eyes close.
I stared after my dad. I couldn’t believe he’d just done that, ducked out on a serious conversation¾especially one that concerned Mom’s health. When Dad and I have important discussions, he is routinely the one standing in the middle of the issue, inviting me to wade into it with him, but not this time.
His steps echoed as he thumped down the hall. We heard a door shut. It must have been the door to his den.
            “I’ll take you, Mom,” I said.
            Her smile almost reached her eyes that time.
            I open my eyes. I can’t remember the last time I went to my mom’s doctor’s office. I stop jiggling my feet. The asphalt is still steaming. There is no one out. Everyone must be inside under their ceiling fans, drinking lemonade. I wish I was there too, rather than in this icy cold minivan, suffocating.
One of the nurses wheels my mom up the hall toward me. When they reach me, the nurse stops pushing the wheelchair.
            “OK, Mrs. Lane. Let’s get you up,” the nurse says. She comes around the chair and puts her hand under my mom’s elbow. Mom, who is fighting to keep her eyes open by blinking repeatedly, attempts to stand. She wobbles and almost falls over.
            “Whoa,” the nurse says, and helps Mom sit back down in the wheelchair. “Maybe we’ll just wheel you out to your car.” She pushes the wheelchair out the sliding glass doors ahead of me.
I follow them out. The doors whoosh closed behind me. My mom’s purse is swinging over my shoulder. It’s much heavier than it looks.
The nurse pauses on the sidewalk and looks at me.
            I point to the plum colored Chevy Venture near the front of one of the rows of parked cars. “The purple one right there,” I say.
            The nurse nods and wheels my mom to the passenger side of the van, positioning the wheelchair close to the sliding door. Mom sits still in the chair, her eyes vacant. The medication they gave her to put her out is still very much in effect.
            I fish the keys out of my mom’s purse and push the keyless entry remote to unlock the doors. The lights flash and I hear a whir as the doors unlock. I pull open the sliding door and the nurse helps my mom climb into the second row of seats. Mom lays down. She is asleep even before I have time to slide the minivan door shut.
            “Remember to start her on something light,” the nurse says. “Like a smoothie or soup. She’ll be hungry when she becomes more alert.” She smiles at me and turns to push the wheelchair back to the hospital.
            “Thanks,” I say, but I am not sure if the nurse hears me.
            I walk around the car and open the driver’s side door. I hop into the seat, close the door, buckle my seatbelt, and insert the keys in the ignition. My heartbeat quickens as I start the car. This is my first time driving alone. I twist in my seat to check on my mom. She is lying across the bench seat on her side, but her legs are hanging off the edge. A small string of drool crawls from her mouth to the seat.
            I wrinkle my nose and turn to face front again. So much for having a supervising adult when I drive using my permit.
            I start the car, put it in reverse, and pull out of the parking spot. I go 5 mph through the parking lot like Mom has been teaching me to do. I stop before I pull out into traffic. There are quite a few cars on the road. It’s 5 PM and everyone is heading home for dinner. Deep breath. Foot off the break. Forward motion.

            I turn right and make my way to Jamba Juice. Mom will like an original Caribbean Passion when she comes out of her drug-induced stupor. I pull into the parking lot and steer the van slowly toward the drive-thru. The narrow lane makes me feel like the minivan is ten feet wide and should have a “wide load” sign across the rear bumper. I feel the front tire on the passenger side tap the curb, and I push hard on the breaks. Deep breath. I can do this. I ease forward as I turn the wheel more toward the left.

Malignant Part 1

I stand up and leave my best friend Brandon slouching on the couch¾the one with the price sticker still pinned to the cushion because Mom isn’t sure she wants to go with a floral decorative scheme in the living room¾and walk down the hall toward my parents’ room. The wood floors are chilled against my feet, giving me a second of relief from the heat with each step I take. I begin to speak before I round the corner into the master bedroom.
            “Dad, can you take Brandon and me to ‘Pot or Not’? We have to get our plants for class,” I say.
            I rush into the room. There are no lights on. Lights create heat.
Instead of finding Dad, I see Mom sitting in her recliner. She is on the phone, but she stops talking when she sees me.
            “Shh,” she says, and waves at me to leave the room by motioning toward the door with her hand.
            “Sorry,” I say. I try to pivot away from her, but my toes catch in the carpet, and I almost lose my balance. After steadying myself, I take a couple steps toward the door I had burst through only a moment before.
            “Reeses,” she says
I turn back toward her and see that she is holding the receiver away from her mouth.
            She turns up one corner of her mouth and moves to press one finger to the tip of her nose.
            I mimic her gesture, pressing my pointer finger to my nose. As I leave the room, I am barely aware of the randomly painted squares of forest green paint amid mint green walls and crackled white painted furniture. Mom is trying to decide if she wants to repaint the bedroom again. She’s tired of the pale green color she chose several years ago.
Rather than rejoining Brandon in the living room, I stop just after I pass through the doorframe of the master bedroom. Ordinarily, I don’t eavesdrop on my mom’s conversations. Maybe it is the pleasure of feeling the cool wood flooring against the soles of my feet that stops me from moving back up the hall. I take two slow steps away from the doorway so that if she moves around the room during her conversation and happens to see me, it won’t look like I am eavesdropping. I lower my body into a crouching position so that my head and upper body are against the wall. I move my legs out from under me and splay them across the floor.
            “Sorry Trish” I hear Mom say. “Reese came in to ask me something. No, I probably won’t. It’s not a big deal, really. Just aches and pains... O.K. so a month is a long time, but ...  Geez, stop pushing... Because something must be wrong... I’ll think about it. Anyway... ”
            The wood surface warms and begins to stick to my skin. I peel my legs off the floor and slide down until I am draped across the floor like a stretching cat. What aches and pains is Mom talking about? She hasn’t mentioned anything. It’s probably no big deal, like she said. But why did she say “something must be wrong?” Maybe she has arthritis or something.
I look across the room¾past all of the plants, pots, and fountains¾to where Dad is talking with Mr. Dylan, the owner of “To Pot or Not,” our local plant nursery. He went over right after we arrived to ask Mr. Dylan’s opinion on some sturdy, easy plants Brandon and I can tend for our horticulture assignment. It doesn’t look like he’s talking about low-maintenance plants now, though. It looks like he is talking about his most recent landscaping project by the way he’s gesturing with his hands. Dad only moves his hands in big circles like that when he’s excited like a little boy who is imitating the movements of the whirring blade on a helicopter. He’s been hired to landscape the park behind the city council building. It’s a small job compared to the work Dad has been doing in lately, but he is antsy to begin implementing his design. He’s decided to use only foliage and flowers that are native to our Orange County climate. He was anxious about that idea when he ran it by me several days ago, but I assured him it was great. More people are aware of how they are using our resources these days, especially water.
            Dad always practices explaining his landscaping layouts on me before he presents his work to his prospective clients. I’m his test audience. He sits me on the couch, whichever one we have at the time, and paces in front of me, pointing to samples of ground tiles and pavers, pictures of flowers, and possibly fabric swatches that he has organized and glued onto big pieces of poster board. As he speaks, the circles he is making with his hands get larger and larger until his arms are flailing. If he wasn’t smiling, it would look like he was drowning. I smile and nod and say that I am thrilled with all of his ideas. I enjoy seeing all of the flowers and plants he works with, even though I have no idea what any of their names are, scientific or common.
I look back at Brandon, who is looking at some yellow tulips. I don’t know why he signed up for horticulture. He doesn’t care about plants. He cares about that stupid world war three movie that’s coming out in October. It’s all I’ve heard about from him all summer.
“Mom shrugged me off and said it was nothing,” I say. “’Just aches and pains.’”
            I finger the leaves of the amethyst flower I am examining. The different colors of the flowers are amazing. Pink, lavender, white, blue.
Brandon nods, and his floppy brown hair moves across his face. He tosses his head to get the hair out of his eyes. He insists that his hair is the perfect length, even though his mom teases him about looking like a wookie. Brandon’s barber would probably agree with Brandon’s mom.
“Hmm,” Brandon says. He picks a dead leaf off the plant he is looking at and throws it at me. The leaf catches in the air and floats to the ground, landing at his feet.
            “Nice one Brandon James,” I say. I laugh at him. He dislikes being called by his first and middle names. Even from his mom it is barely tolerable.
            “Thanks, Reeses,” he says.
            I smirk at him.
            He grins back at me. He is wearing his favorite t-shirt, a black cotton tee with a small Mario decal on the lower left-hand corner of the front, near the hem. His hair is in its usual form, or lack thereof. One particular chunk always flips out on the right side of his head.
            “Maybe you’re running her ragged,” he says. His grin spreads to his eyes.
            My mouth drops open and my eyes widen in mock outrage.
“You know what?” I say.
I scowl and begin to move around a bench covered with flats of petunias, raising my hand. Brandon knows I am making no idle threat, and he winces, but he does not back away from me.
            “What?” Brandon says. He crosses his arms and tries to make a menacing face by lowering his eyebrows and jutting out his jaw.
            My scowl twitches. I cannot keep it in place. I burst out laughing, and I notice out of the corner of my eye that my dad and Mr. Dylan have both looked our way to see what is so funny. My dad’s arms are spread akimbo. I make eye contact with him, and he winks at me. He then turns back to Mr. Dylan and begins using his arms to describe his project again.
            I burst out laughing again. Brandon takes my bout of laughter as an opportunity to slip around behind me and wrap one arm around my waist while tickling me with his free hand. I gasp and struggle to escape. When he lets go, I jump forward away from him, spinning quickly to face him so he can’t capture me again without warning.
            I look up and see my dad coming over to us. He has a small potted plant in each hand. His eyes are sparkling with glee. Either he is laughing at Brandon and me, or he is excited to show us the plants he found. I don’t know which.
“Would you two stop messing around and listen to what I’m trying to tell you?” he says. I have my answer. I can hear his amusement with our antics in his voice. He leans toward Brandon and pretends to whisper.
“Nice move,” Dad says.
            Brandon lets out a deep, loud laugh.
            “Thanks Mr. Lane,” Brandon says. He wiggles his eyebrows at me. I try to do it back and only succeed in scrunching up my forehead. Brandon laughs again, louder this time.
            “Ahem,” Dad says. “Mr. Dylan and I agreed that you guys should choose a plant like cactus or a fern. Maybe Mother Fern or Holly Fern, like this one. What do you think?” He lifts his hands, gesturing toward me with the fern and toward Brandon with the cactus.
            Brandon takes the cactus in one hand and holds it up close to his eyes. He is reading the little card that sticks up out of the dirt.
            “Cool,” he says. “I can move the plant’s position in the light and make the shoots grow in different directions.”
            Dad chuckles.
            “Well yes, yes you can Brandon” Dad says.
            “Hey, Dad?” I ask. “Can’t I do something more exciting?” I bite my lip and wrinkle my nose at the fern he is holding toward me.
            “Well, Reeses,” Dad says, “ferns are easy plants to grow, and I think it’d be a good starter plant for you. It’s a way to find out if you’ve got your dad’s green thumb.”
            He winks one of his warm blue eyes at me. He extends his arm and taps my arm with the plastic pot holding the Holly fern.
The plastic is dirty. I reach up with my hand and brush the flecks of dirt off my arm. I hold out my hands and he places the small pot between them. I look down at the small fern. It is kind of pretty.
            “I know you were thinking of growing something more vibrant, like poppies or orchids,” Dad says. “But this little guy is a cute little thing. Besides, all you have to do is keep it moist, keep the bugs off it. Probably put it in a clay pot. You don’t have to coddle it like you do other plants.”
            I sigh. “Thanks Dad. It’s great.”
            “Great,” Dad says. “Let’s pay Dylan for these plants and get out of here.”
Dad beams at us. He takes a step toward the register then stops. He turns and comes back toward Brandon and me. Dad lowers his voice and speaks as if he is sharing a secret with us.
“It sure is a sticky day today. How does ice cream sound?”
            My mouth widens into a grin. I glance at Brandon, and he is grinning too.
            “Double mint chip?” I say.
            “You bet,” Dad says.
            “Sweet,” Brandon says. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.” The hair flips.

            My dad puts his left arm around my shoulders, and his right hand on Brandon’s shoulder. We walk toward the register to purchase our plants. Brandon is listing the pros and cons of getting his ice cream in a cone rather than a cup.

Update on Malignant

Hi all,

I just want to thank you again for reading along with me. Since my book is now live in the Amazon Kindle store (here) I've decided to remove most of the installments from my blog. I will leave the first two parts as a preview for anyone who is interested.

Thank you so much,

- Em

Sunday, November 10, 2013

To All of Our Veterans, Thank You!

My grandpa wrote this nearly twenty years ago and I wanted to share it with you all.

July 4th 1995

To Our Grandchildren:

This has been a good day mainly because we live in the greatest country presently on the face of the earth.  All is not perfect with our country; our land is showing a few warts but I’m sure that you, the younger generation, can remove them to better our society.

We must never forget the great price paid for our freedom starting way back in time at Lexington and Concord and much sacrifice was endured up to and including the times during WW2.  Many brave men have laid down their lives for our present days wellbeing.

I’m proud to have been a part of the 4.3 million-man Navy, the largest Navy by far ever to go to sea to take on the enemy.  Dictators will come and go; the best part is when they go.  Hitler, by starting WW2, caused 52 million deaths across the wide world.  And speaking of our Armed Forces’ loss of life, they gave up all their tomorrows so that we can enjoy today.

So be alert so that your land and mine will always be in the right and always remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Your Grandpa

This was written by Lawrence Porter Rehkopf, who served in the US Navy for 20 years.

He was in Hawaii when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and on the first ship to go into the area to help afterwards.  He is now 94 years old and lives in Escondido, California.  Thank you to Dad (6 children), Grandpa (16 grandchildren), and Great Grandpa (18 and counting)!!!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dear Internet

There are, in fact, people who hate pumpkin flavored edibles.  

The end.

Monday, October 7, 2013


It's finally starting to act more like fall around here.  The best thing about fall here is that the wind picks up and cools down the air in the evenings.  I love opening all of the windows in the house and watching as the curtains billow inward as the cool air rushes in.

I'm loving the mornings when I get up and check the thermostat and it's below 75 in the house.  This morning it read 69 and I have to tell you, it made me smile.

Come on sock weather!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Foodie Friday: Avocado Risotto with Edam

Okay, okay, this is the last risotto for a while.  I promise!