I am sitting at the kitchen counter. It is 3:20pm and I am waiting for my seven-year-old daughter to arrive on the “late” bus. She always takes the late bus on Wednesdays, which is early release day followed by a piano lesson. Any moment now she will ring the doorbell and possibly also flip up the metal flap of the mail slot, bend down so that her mouth is level with the slot and call out to announce herself.
I take a deep, satisfied breath and allow myself to slump a little in the bar stool. I have just devoured a leftover meatloaf sandwich (the meatloaf was leftover, not the whole sandwich) on toasted wholemeal bread with a generous smear of mayonnaise and some watercress, with cornichons (which the Breeteesh spellcheck changed to coronations — really?) and cherry tomatoes on the side. If there were Breeteesh speech correct I imagine it would be all offended now, and correct my pronunciation of toe-may-toes to toe-mah-toes with slightly softer “t’s.”
Up — there she is. Excuse me. Fast forward 20 minutes. Now she is seated across the counter from me, having brought in her lunch pack and washed her hands, which is the after-school routine. She is reading a book called “Crunch” which her friend Timothy lent her over the summer. She wants to know what “duh-rell-er” means. What? I say. Point to it. Oh, “derailleur.” You don’t come across that one every day. Anyhow…
I’m thinking about the last 18 hours. And wondering how things can change so quickly. How in that period of time, which does not seem very long at all, one can experience a fury of circumstances and emotions.
Last night after dinner I washed Charlotte’s hair. Actually, a more accurate recount of the evening might include the fact that she had refused to bathe two nights running, had succumbed to a quick bath which she gave herself (but no shampoo) two nights ago and was protesting again last night despite clear signs that she could not go one single day longer without a shampoo. She then had a tantrum and pretended to go on a hunger strike, refusing to come down for dinner “because I don’t like fish curry anyway” until we tried to convince her she might starve to death. “I don’t care if I starve.” She said. And I wasn’t concerned that she would or in fact that she was in any danger whatsoever.
Of course once she had sauntered down she cleaned her plate and said it was the best fish curry she’d ever had. And to think I bought that monkfish from some dude who was going door to door ringing bells and asking if anyone would “loik fresh fish” several months ago! He caught me at an opportune moment seeing as I had just returned from vacation and had neither help nor dinner plan. So I said yes in fact I would “loik” to buy fresh fish and then came the kicker — I had to buy 10 lbs of fish (not all monkfish tho cuz that woulda been weird). So I did and we are all still here today. You know, sometimes you just have to say “what the fuck…” Anyhow, I digress.
She got into her pyjamas and then I aimed the blow dryer at her while she slouched over the latest issue of “Match of the Day,” a magazine about soccer. She became soccer obsessed at some point — exactly when eludes me — in the past year. So she pours over these publications and the accompanying “Match Attax” trading cards ad infinitum. She even categorises the cards in clear plastic sleeves in a notebook, periodically pulling them out and reordering them according to her master — whatever that is — plan of the moment. So you get the gist. She was absorbed. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. And knows who she is. In fact, when asked to describe herself in one word by her second grade teachers, she reflected briefly and responded “Chartastic.”
Once her hair was reasonably dry and she had brushed her teeth and either actually flossed or claimed to have flossed, we settled down in her bed to read a chapter of “The Secret Garden” which we have been reading for a few weeks now. We are at the part where Colin, the little boy who has been told all his life he is disabled and going to die young, stands up from his push chair in the secret garden to prove to old Ben Weatherstaff that he is no invalid.
The bedtime routine is all very calm and cosy and warm, and at the close of the chapter I bookmark our place, lay the book on her desk, tuck her in, kiss her on the forehead and turn off the light. “I love you.” I say. And leave the room.
I trot downstairs — can one trot on stairs? Well I am using that verb. I seem to manage to trot while ascending and descending. And I begin to put away the leftover rice and monkfish curry when I hear what sounds like faint crying.
I trot back upstairs, calling to Charlotte, since I know that the other child, the 10-year-old, is in the living room practicing the clarinet. I reach Char’s door and open it. “What happened?” I ask. “I hit my head!” She cries. So I flip on the light and honestly I can tell you that I was not prepared because she wasn’t crying that loud. I had one of those text-book “don’t react this way in front of your child” reactions, mouth agape, exclamation taking the Lord’s name in vain, what have you. Because she is sitting in the bed and her right hand, sleeve and the entire right side of her forehead are smeared in blood.
Simultaneously, Isabel, who has followed me up the stairs (clarinet still in hand), appears at the door and has a similar reaction. Which of course escalates Charlotte’s crying. At this point Char starts yelling “I’m going to die,” which was actually, in retrospect, kind of funny because after we settled her down and cleaned her up it was clear that the bleeding was under control and that the gash was small, about 1.5 centimetres.
Having rediscovered my rational self, I assured her that she would not die and would be just fine but that we might have to go to the hospital to get the wound closed because it was rather “gashy” (that’s a medical term — did you know?).
I spent about ten minutes trying to decide whether we should haul ass to the Royal Free Hospital’s A&E department (this is the local NHS hospital for those not familiar), knowing that we would probably wait an eternity. But, once I ascertained that Bill was en route home from work, and after calling the GP, texting my plastic surgeon friend and having a good think about it, I decided to get things going and we prepared to leave. I told Bill, who was in a cab, to have the driver leave the meter running and we would jump in and go to the hospital when he got home. That didn’t leave much time, which is why Char was wearing a white, pink and purple bunny pyjama top smeared with blood, no underwear, red sweatpants with blue polka dots, my pink Mickey Mouse socks from H&M, Isabel’s old Uggs that are at least a size too small for her and a shabby green fleece. Oh and she was armed with Froggie, a favorite green stuffed animal that somewhat resembles the shabby green fleece though it is a different shade of green (which isn’t easy, I hear).
I was wearing a peach-coloured cotton sweater with large sequin lips on it (what?) and brown Lulu Lemon sweatpants. And I think I had on underwear, but can’t remember for sure.
We got in the cab and the driver said “Royal Free?” and when I responded in the affirmative Char hollered “I don’t want to go there — I’ll get Ebola!” “You won’t get Ebola,” I said. The driver backed me up on this. So it was kind of funny that the first thing we saw when we arrived was a huge sign that said EBOLA with signs and symptoms and pictures and information and shit. I have to hand it to Char though, because I know damn well she saw it and thought “what the hell” but she didn’t say anything. She doesn’t miss much, even with a minor head injury, so she must have decided to believe me or that her fate was sealed and resistance was futile.
They checked us in (I could use the term nonchalant but a more accurate descriptor might be “could not have given two shits” to describe the young man and woman behind the counter). I had not bandaged Char’s head after cleaning the wound because the bleeding had pretty well stopped so at this point I asked if a nurse could come put a bandage on hoping that would get things moving (hello, head injury!!!) but they just gestured for me to go into a waiting room and said that a nurse would be “right out” to triage us. I would say we waited at least half an hour to 45 minutes for anyone to come out, and this after I complained several times because the wound had started to bleed again and I wanted them to put something on it rather than just let her bleed from the head in the waiting room (duh).
I looked at the signs on the walls. One boasted a 95% cleaning rating. I didn’t get close enough to see 95% of what, exactly. But a downward look revealed what I might call DIRT on the floor along with a discarded plastic bag and stuff like that.
Once the nurse attended to us, which encounter consisted of the usual wound cleansing and the application of some steristrips and a bandage, it took another two hours or so to be seen by a doctor who, after he confirmed that Char didn’t have a concussion (which I could have told him since she was her typical, sarcastic, Chartastic self), cleaned the wound again, pressed the edges of the gash together and glued the sucker. I noticed that during this Charlotte didn’t flinch or complain a bit and indeed I was proud of her stoicism.
When we got outside into the bracing cold she even suggested that we walk home. Um, no, I think we will take a cab honey, I said. It was half past midnight. But again I admired her determination and sense of adventure. Heck, she was probably thinking, it isn’t that often I stay out this late so let’s make the most of the situation and scare up some action!
I put her to bed for the second time that night. Froggie made a detour into the laundry room just in case he had come across any ebola. Char told me to wake her at the regular time for school and that she would see how she felt and reevaluate. And then I turned in myself. But a terrible wind kept stirring up this plastic sheeting covering the scaffolding on a building across the street and it took me a while to succumb. Or maybe it was the excitement of the evening or that I had other things on my mind…
The next morning I woke her and she voted for sleeping in so Isabel and I had an uncharacteristic breakfast together sans little sister and Izzy went off. Char woke up at about 8:30 and after another breakfast we set out for school.
I had to go out anyway because I had had a virus (otherwise known as the common cold) which culminated in serious laryngitis. The inflammation of my vocal cords combined with my loquaciousness, a trip to New Orleans and three weeks of house guests and my penchant for yelling from the ground floor of our house to the top floor didn’t help so after three weeks it was still hoarse. When I informed my mother that I had been hoarse for that long she gave me that look. And told me I needed to get it checked. Do you know what I mean by that look? Yeah, that’s the one. The one that says. Oh shit you had cancer so it could be cancer. And then I told my husband that I hoped I didn’t have nodes on my vocal cords (which is short for nodules — a benign callous like thing that people can get), then he gave me that look. So I said to myself, oh for fuck’s sake I’ll go to the otolaryngologist and determine that I do not have laryngeal cancer. That’ll shut everyone up. And I made an appointment to see a guy on Harley Street.
So I drop Charlotte off at school and make my way to Harley Street. I’m called into this nice dude’s office and we have a chat about my history of breast cancer and thyroid disease (at which point I sort of always feel like a loser because I am only 42 for crying out loud) and I explain the reason for my visit. He talks about the various sinister things it could be, such as, yes, cancer, caused by the HPV virus (ew, right?) etc. and then he sprays some anaesthetic on the back of my throat which he says will prevent me from having a gag reflex when he sticks this long metal thing down there to look at my vocal cords. Tempted though I was, I resisted the urge to mutter some totally inappropriate joke about — you know what? I am not even gonna say it. I’m above that (not really, but the parents are prob reading this so ya know).
So he sticks the probe in there and tells me to intermittently breathe and make a high-pitched “eeeee” and then after about three minutes he yanks it out, tells me I’m perfectly fine and let’s me have a look on the screen at my pretty, healthy vocal cords.
So I leave, my step noticeably lighter. And decide to hightail it to that mecca of all places in which to celebrate LIFE, the Oxford Circus Top Shop. Sometimes when I am in a great mood (or am not but need to be in one) nothing else will do, especially if they have a live DJ. And it is always only a matter of time before I scarf down some fro yo or Lola’s cupcakes. I’m telling you, the weird fake fur stuff I bought there today will totally require a separate blog entry. But let’s just say I plan to take funky to new levels before my time in London is up. And no, one really cannot own too many pink fake furs.
While shopping it occurs to me that a matter of minutes beforehand I had wondered — not outright worried but wondered — if somehow I could possibly be unlucky enough to have cancer again somewhere else on my body. At the age of 42.
And how only hours before that I was putting my daughter to bed and had tucked her in all safe and sound but she managed to hurt herself in her own room. And the fleeting yet unforgettable moment of terror I experienced when I opened her door, flicked on her light, saw the blood and thought she might have a serious head injury.
To better contemplate the unexpected twists and turns in life, I order a frozen yogurt and slurp it down, while balancing a purse, a parka and an entire large shopper full of ridiculous fake fur items.
And several unoriginal thoughts occur to me at once: (1) that life is full of the unexpected; (2) that you have to leave the house because you cannot control everything no matter what your (quite possibly false) perception of safety and security and how ritualistic or careful your routines are; and (3) that there is nothing worse than worrying about your child and the other ones you love, and that this is precisely why my mother and my husband gave me that look, and why it was the right thing to do to take it seriously and get myself checked out.
This was a long one and I commend you if you read through to the end. I didn’t call it 18 hours for nothing, eh? Well, to quote an oldie but goodie, good night, sleep tight and don’t let the corners of IKEA shelving units slam into your foreheads while you are reaching for a toy in the dark — or something like that.