What was it like at radiation, once she went through the doors? What did she do and think while I flipped through issues of Newsweek and watched the clock? Who did she talk to? Did the nurses remember her? Was the room too cold? The radiation hot? Shame on me for not asking—for not even wanting to know.
I remember a day when my sister and I took my Mom to Salt Lake City. Was it for a CT scan? Seems like it was. My sister, a nurse, would know.
I do remember that she couldn’t eat anything, so my sister and I didn’t eat anything either. It seemed wrong to have pancakes for breakfast or stop for a cheeseburger when my mother was trying to gag down some drink that would light up like neon in the machine they would feed her through like she were on a conveyor belt. She was trying not to throw it up. She took tiny sips and then shivered. She lay back in her seat taking measured breaths. Inside the building, we sat with her in the waiting room, watching a 30ish man in bicycle shorts talk with the receptionist. “The form says shellfish,” he said. “I’m allergic to shrimp, does that count?” She nodded. There’d be no neon drink for him. I wondered to myself if that was a good or a bad thing.
We moved to another room. When they called her back, we left the waiting room.
“I’m starving,” my sister said. I was too. Mom had told us to eat. She’d begged us to stop on the way. We didn’t. She told us to go while she was in for the scan. We hated the thought that she might finish before we were back. Suddenly, it seemed, that was the whole point of a waiting room. It wasn’t for those waiting to go in. It was so that someone was out there waiting for you when you were done.
We found the candy machines. They didn’t take debit cards. Nope. Cash. Of which we had very little. We went out to the car and raided the glove box and the cup-holder drawer. When we’d pooled our change we bought a packet of red, coconut-covered zingers. I don’t remember anything ever tasting quite so good. I hadn’t had a red coconut zinger in years and years, since I was a kid, probably. We both wanted chocolate milk to go with them, but we settled on long slurps from the drinking fountain because we only had two nickels left.
That’s what I remember from that day: red coconut zingers. I buy them now, sometimes. They still taste good to me. “Do you know what’s in these things?” my husband says, reading the label. Yes. Hydrogenates. Trans Fats. High Fructose Corn Syrup, or something else, equally bad. They’ll probably stay on a shelf for years and not go stale. They’ll survive nuclear war. They’ll attach to my artery walls and stay there. I just want to eat them and have my memory. They are, after all, inseparable in my mind from that day—CT scan day.
“I know.” I say, “They’ll kill me.” I bite into one. That is, if the cancer doesn’t get me first.