Saturday, July 10
Nicholas is getting a holiday! I’m taking him to Sechelt on the lower Sunshine Coast. We are going to stay with Peggy, Dennis, their son Stefan and daughter Cara. Stefan was friends with Frankie at school before his family moved to the coast. We’ve kept in touch and Peggy and Stefan have visited Nick at the hospital.
I had resistance from the hospital when I said I was taking Nick. They say he should stay in the vicinity in case something happens. Nicholas is managing as an outpatient with daily visits to the clinic except weekends.
He’s fragile, they tell me. And, he mustn’t get sunburnt.
Yes, he is very susceptible to the sun. You must be very careful that he doesn’t burn. Our usually jovial nurse is very stern.
They can’t straight up tell me not to take him, but boy, are they unhappy about us going.
Nick is thrilled to be leaving town, yet he seems most excited about traveling, a change from the usual short trip in the Ronald McDonald House van, which we can’t take. We need to rent a vehicle. The Dueck Chevrolet vehicle dealership is a big supporter of the Ronald McDonald House and will give us a deal on a rented car. The plan is to leave in a couple hours but they are still searching for a car. It has to be a special car. It cannot have a passenger side air bag (Note to reader: this is 1999). The hospital tells me if an airbag went off, and even if it was a minor accident, with his low red cell and platelet (clotting cells) issues Nicholas’ chances of surviving would be slim.
OK, you’re thinking, so put him in the back seat.
“I’m NOT sitting in the back seat.” He’s adamant.
“Huh?” I say.
“It’s too hard to see out the window.” He says.
“Nick, the dealership says it has to be an older car. They don’t have any without air bags in the front. They already have a great car for us, and we can leave right away.”
“I can’t sit in the back seat!” His face is getting splotchy.
I can’t believe he’s arguing about sitting in the front seat. You would think he’d jump on the chance to get out of here! “What’s going on Nick?”
“People always stare at me like I’m some kind of freak! I don’t want to be riding around in the back seat like a baby! I want to be up front with you!” Big fat tears roll down his cheeks.
We hold out for a car without passenger airbags. On the phone I explain to the woman at the dealership. In her voice I hear understanding when she tells me she will find a car so Nick can sit in the front. Time ticks by. Nicholas shuffles between the kitchen and TV room. He chats with members of the other families who are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. I get what my kid says about people staring at him. He’s the poster child for a sick kid with cancer. Skinny, pale skin, dark circles under his eyes, and a bent-over walk like a tired old man.
The wood door in the foyer of this grand old house swings open and a man with a big smile steps in jiggling a set of car keys. “Nicholas Beresford?” He calls out.
We throw our two overnight bags in the trunk of a big square 1991 Ford Crown Victoria with four doors. There is beautiful irony in a Chevy dealership lending us a Ford. They had it brought over from a dealership across town. It smells clean, the soft upholstery is maroon colored cloth. Nicholas climbs in beside me, pulls the seat belt over his slight hips and buckles up. He looks at me with a big smile.
“Let’s go Mom.”
The day is gorgeous: blue sky, fluffy white clouds and glimpses of foam on waves in the Pacific Ocean. We travel quietly, the radio not turned on. Nick’s face swivels from his window, the windshield and my direction, he just can’t miss a thing. I fight to watch the road instead of him perched next to me, his sweet and vulnerable profile. Pinch me – here we are; a (almost) normal mother and son out for a weekend.
It’s true: outside of the hospital which has been our world for more than half the year he draws attention. At Horseshoe Bay we lean against the car and wait at the dock for the ferry. It’s warm but he’s wearing a heavy sweater and soft cotton pants that hang from his wasted frame. He’s lost so much weight his teeth look too big for his mouth. A ball cap shades his tired eyes. I scowl and contemplate showing my middle finger to people who pass by with open curiosity.
Our friends moved from the southern interior of British Columbia to the west coast because their daughter needed this climate to alleviate her serious allergies. They have a view of the ocean from their house. Peggy listens to me while I babble. I tell her about a recent statement a doctor made that Nick may not receive a transplant.
“What does that mean?” She stops shredding lettuce.
“I asked him that and he just said we need to wait and see. I feel sick because we were told when Nick was first diagnosed he would need a transplant.” Enough said. Let’s enjoy the weekend.
Stefan is fourteen years old, tanned and slim. He asks me to watch him ride his skateboard on the road in front of his house. He’s on the board, got some speed, arms out, looking good until… I’m not sure what happened, it was so fast, but Stefan is launched off the board onto the pavement. On a scale of one to ten his wipe-out is an eleven. His hands, knees, elbows, and one hip is a mess of gravel, blood and shredded skin. His Mom, Dad and I take turns picking rocks from bleeding wounds. Nicholas had been on his way outside to watch Stefan. He says he wishes he had seen the crash.
It was Stefan’s idea to go to the golf course because he has been taking lessons, but now he is hurting. Still, he joins his Mom, Nick and I at the driving range. I’m skeptical, then awestruck as Nick whacks a bucket of golf balls. Can he ever hit those balls! A few seasoned players come over and give my skinny kid some pointers. Nick’s accuracy improved before our eyes. Did you hear what I just said? Nick whacking golf balls like a regular kid.
Dennis takes us all to the wharf and Nick and I row a dinghy in the water. Then we wander the beach and he wades in the warm tide pools looking for purple starfish. He’s never seen one before. I slather suntan lotion on his exposed parts, make him wear a shirt, and continually remind him to keep his hat on.
Two nights we sleep over. I peek in his room before I go to bed. He is sleeping hard, his face smashed into a pillow. His tiredness comes from living, not from obstinate puking because he is getting chemotherapy. He’s determined to suck the life out of his weekend. I think if we could harness all of our will, focus intently on one thing, then we could fly – and Nick is flying for all he is worth.
We leave today. “Thank you! Nick has been a kid without cancer for two wonderful days.”
He’s a changed little boy. There is a light in his eyes and a spring in his step. He rests comfortably in the passenger seat as the big Ford floats along the highway towards the ferry landing. His feet dangle from the seat, not reaching the floor.
“Nick! Look at the tops of your feet!” My heart skips a beat.
The skin exposed in the shoes he’s been wearing is pink. The tops of his feet and ankles are sunburned. He looks from his feet to my dismayed face, and begins to giggle. All the way back to Vancouver we laugh until we snort over the trouble we’ll be in with the nurses.