I thought visiting Randi at the hospital after surgery was the last time I’d walk through those automatic doors. I was wrong.
Mom closes the door, and says, “Mrs. Picconi asked if you could come with Randi to her radiation treatment tomorrow.”
“I hope you said no.”
“She needs you.”
This time will be worse. What is radiation? Will doctors strap Randi to a table and electrocute her like Frankenstein? All night I dream about horror movies.
“I’m so glad you’re coming, Francie. I hate going there. I can’t move. When it’s over, I throw up.” Randi hops in the back seat of her mom’s station wagon, and I follow. Is she smiling because I’m coming? I wish wasn’t.
I can’t look at Randi without seeing the C word. How can I have fun with my best friend when I don’t understand what’s happening to her? And do I really want to understand? I’d rather play like we used to...kickball, dress-up, hide and seek, count down to our tenth birthday parties, not go to her Frankenstein appointment. God, can’t you heal her tumor so I can have my friend back?
“I’m thinking of an animal that lives in the water and walks on land,” Before she guesses alligator, we arrive at the hospital and stop laughing. I follow Randi’s steps down the corridor. She points to a poster of Claude Monet’s White Water Lilies. “Turn right at the pond painting.” Randi pinches her nose. “Smells like fish today.”
The elevator doors open to a sparkling clean lobby, and I follow Randi again into a world I’ve never seen. Sick children, tears, and smiles.
The walls are painted bright yellow, orange, and purple, colors that clash against the blue-gray war zone where children soldiers fight enemies inside their own bodies. God, why? I see relief ripple across faces when the nurse comes and calls someone else’s name to the front line. Will the radiation weapons work?
I sit down next to a boy, about five, with thinning hair. As he colors Superman’s cape, I wonder if he imagines flying away to save people.
A teenage girl in a Gap t-shirt holds a baseball cap and twirls her ponytail. She stares at another girl, the color of a corpse. Will she be a survivor or one of the casualties of war?
Randi slumps in her chair and traces the flowers on her sleeve. I wonder which group she belongs to.
A young nurse with curly black hair and a gentle smile handles the roll call, checking each name off a clipboard. “Randi Picconi…you’re next. Come with me.”
Randi ducks behind her mom and whispers, “I don’t want to go. Don’t make me do this anymore. Please?”
Mrs. Picconi leans over, adjusts Randi’s scarf and looks into her eyes. “I know, but I want my little girl to get better. Come on… I’ll even sing the bumblebee song if you’d like. I’m . . . bringing home a baby . . . bummmble . . . bee. Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?”
Randi smiles slightly. I want to throw up.
Mrs. Picconi turns around and says, “We’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”
I nod, and she escorts Randi into the battle zone.
I read an out-of-date Seventeen magazine for longer than twenty minutes and try not to stare at the other children. I read every page, learn all the latest hairstyles, how to apply make-up with a natural glow, how to flirt with boys. I even try a few exercises; “Sure to tighten your buttocks,” the author claims. But when I look into their eyes, I see that none of this stuff matters. No one cares about flirting when she is throwing up; people don’t care about hairstyles when they don’t have hair; no one cares about having tight muscles when he is just skin and bones.
By the time Mrs. Picconi and Randi return, I’m half-asleep with the magazine on my feet. “Sorry, you waited so long. Randi threw up again.” Mrs. Picconi speaks for Randi who looks defeated. Her scarf is off, and Mrs. Picconi is holding a throw-up bag.
“Please put Randi’s scarf back on. My hands are full.” Mrs. Picconi sighs.
I place the scarf on Randi’s bare head. Up close, her skin looks smooth and transparent like a baby’s. It’s not a fair fight.
Randi sleeps the whole ride home. I didn’t want to go, but my best friend needed me.
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