Saturday, January 10, 2009

To Waiting, January 10, 2009

Prompt: Write about waiting. You might want to use a line or two from the following poem to get you started.

To Waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

W. S. Merwin
Present Company
Copper Canyon Press


Alysun said...

more waiting
he is pacing, she is hurting
hands are squeezing
breathing and pushing, breathing and pushing
crying, smiling and rocking, smiling and rocking

Carol Henderson said...

So few words can create such a powerful scene.

Carol Henderson said...

I wrote a tribute to a friend who just died--and said when he was diagnosed with serious cancer several months ago--that he would never again wait in a doctor's office, for more bad news. He wanted the best quality of life and that meant not waiting in doctor's offices. I'll post the piece later.

Anonymous said...

Sixteen years she has been waiting. Waiting and training and gearing up for 2008, Beijing. She missed the cut in ’92 by three seconds, ’96 by one. 2000 she got tripped on the final curve, limped to last place. And 2004 she’d like to erase from memory. Two one-hundredths of a second. Nothing hurts more than a near miss.

But now, on the famed Hayward Track in Eugene, Oregon, where legend Prefontaine became Pre, Lilly has one last shot. She’s retiring after this year, hanging up her spikes, hopefully to start a family. Though her time is running out on that too; she’s nearing forty.

The announcer calls the participants for the 5000m Final to the track. Lilly’s muscles are warm, her right hamstring tight – a nagging injury from a Cross Country meet last fall. But she’s fit. And ready.

She starts at a jog, throws in some strides. The plan – 4:50 first mile, hold the pace, finish in under 15. Her PR is 15:05, set four years ago at the…well, she’d like to forget.

Clouds rush in and the sky blackens. All of a sudden, it looks like rain. Sprinkles hit the track, bounce off the soft rubber, dancing, skipping. Spectators pop open umbrellas; runners take cover. No no, Lilly thinks, not now. The announcer makes it official – rain delay.

Backstage, in the stadium tunnels, runners slither back into tracksuits, replace spikes for flats, slip on headphones, re-zone. Lilly asks one of the meet officials, how long?

“Can’t say.”

“Well, we’re running today, right?” The women’s 5000 is the second to last event on the schedule. And Lilly’s not waiting another 24 hours. It has been 16 years already.

“Can’t say. Let’s hope.”

The rains break and the meet recommences. Lilly and the others spill onto the track. Second time around, their warm-ups are rushed. No one wants to wait another day.

“Ladies, line up.” Lilly takes her mark. She’s sandwiched between Esther and Jean, the top two entering seeds. Lilly’s ranked fourth, needs to finish top three to make the Beijing squad.

They go out slow. Too slow, Lilly thinks. She doesn’t want to lead, and so tucks into fifth position, relaxes her shoulders, strides. But she doesn’t trust her kick, not against these young girls, and can’t stomach another 80-second quarter.

Four laps in, and Lilly moves to the front. All but three runners latch onto her heels. She surges two, three times, drops everyone but Esther, Jean, and Mary. Lilly keeps checking her shoulder, pushing the turns, but the pack remains at four. Esther moves to the front to lead. Lilly’s relieved to let someone else do the work for a while.

Eight laps in, still, pack of four. Ten laps, Esther and the rest pick it up, drop a 69-second quarter. Half mile to go. Lilly’s running in second. One lap. Lilly goes to her arms, her right hamstring catches. Esther surges, and Jean moves past as well. Then Mary makes her move.

‘Hold her off, Lill, hold her off.’ Mary and Lilly are running side-by-side, but Lilly’s got inside position. She keeps this position around the final turn, refuses to let Mary pass. And then there are 100 meters to go. Esther and Jean have opened up a gap. Lilly and Mary fight for third.

Mary knocks Lilly with an elbow as she moves towards the inside. Lilly cocks her own out to make room. 50 meters, still even. 20, arms flailing, legs wobbling. 10, Mary might have a step, but Lilly wills herself to the line, diving. They cross together. Photo finish.

Officials go to the tape, play back the finish again and again. Usually, video dissections are reserved for the sprints. Seconds pass, then minutes. And then, nearly a half-hour after the race, with runners back in warm-ups, fretting, waiting, the announcement is made.

“Women’s 5000m Final official results. First place, Esther Williams, Second, Jean Travis, and Third, Lilly Cox. The difference: one one-hundredth of a second. Lilly gets hugs from Esther and Jean, notices Mary slumped in the corner. This is her first Olympic Trials.

Lilly eases over, puts her hand on Mary’s shoulder, says, “Next time. You’ll get it next time.” The baton is passed: now is Mary’s turn to wait.

Michele said...

Watchful Waiting is a lullaby for people who have cancer and their families. It lulls you into a day dream state where after a little time you no longer watch nor wait. You go to your checkups – wife or S.O In hand, have a few blood tests, maybe a CT scan, and the doc says – “looks pretty good – come back in 3 month or six months or even a year.” . .and the cancer is put back into its cage for another time to watch and wait….
It lurks, it wakes you at night, it moves about a bit, you sweat, you develop bumps, and you play tennis anyway and swim those lengths in the pool as if you were swimming across your life.
Your wife, or your companion or your this or that, if you are lucky enough to have one who cares, wonders how you are feeling about it, worried ? Apathetic? What more can we do? And in the darkness she or he or they think about you and wonder where this will end. On what day of your life together will there be no more waiting. We think, what doc will say – “OK Mister, its time not to wait anymore. The watching is over, until we watch for symptoms of side effects…heh.heh. .. ” And that watching is more predictable.
We do the research – a great way to fend off. We know that “rituximab”* will give you the depressive blues, that “fludaramab” will give you headaches – many believe so bad that you think you will die and you have to take 4 other medicaments to make the pain go away – which it will if you just wait a little. And why do they all end in “mab.” ? No one seems to be sure.
No operation is in order – not on this doozy – this vile little thing that stalks your healthy system. That’s good, we watchers and waiters say – or is it? If you could just cut it out. . . then take some reserpine or or maybe melamine – you would be cured!
Now there’s a thought, “cured.” Does remission mean cured? “Well, not quite…it kind of depends on how long you are free of it. “ But the cancer is strong we know. Small but strong. You have to be careful because all your friends want you to be in remission so they don’t have to ask any more or worry about you or feel for you or…feel guilty when they can’t do for you.
No, watchful waiting is for you. It IS the cure – it is the state of being that could drive you crazy. Drive you to treatment – there’s that next word. Treatment. Those who know call it “Tx” like Rx – not Tex Mex.Nor T-Rex , though it is as fearsome as he was. But wait. . .yes, wait a minute!
You don’t have to fear it -- you’ve been watching and waiting almost 20 years. What’s to say you can’t do that for 20 more? Some punky doctor who read the latest reports of some really toxic, really effective Tx and wants you to know that it could be coming – maybe even right now, “no doubt it would work.” No charge – Medicare pays.
NO thanks. We will just wait here—and swim and work and travel and dance and play tennis -- and watch and wait some more. It is amazing how good your life can be when you are just watching and waiting.
*Drug names are not accurate.

Carol Henderson said...

Powerful pieces--all of these. Suspenseful. I guess I will post what I wrote for my friend David.

Carol Henderson said...

After 7 weeks of fire and brimstone radiation David told us he would never go into another doctor’s office or hospital, ever again. Why waste one minute waiting in a doctor’s office, and for what—more bad news?
When he could, on a good day, he met friends for brunch outside at a Weaver Street wooden table where he could observe dogs, children, old hipsters, young Dead heads, metros, gays, families. David always wore a baseball cap, baggy jogging pants with strips down the sides, a t-shirt, and, in cold weather, a fleece.
One time he struck up a commiseration with a guy wearing a Chicago Cubs cap. “Such a shame,” David said. “ All that losing.” Before long he knew why the guy lived in Carrboro, the Cubs games he’d been to, and the names of his wife and children. Another instant friend.
And then there were the times at Foster’s and the pink-cheeked, tight t-shirted waitress who delighted David, well, for a lot of reasons, one being that she proved him right.
“Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same,” David told Linda and me. We poo pooed him, told him he was crazy, teasing us again.
So he called the Bottecelli waitress over. “Yes, she said, “they are not the same—a yam is a . . .”
As she talked David sat back and smiled, arms crossed over his chest. “See,” he mouthed to me, shrugging again. Told you so.
So a yam is . . .Damn it. I need David here to tell me. What’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. I can’t remember. David never forgot, anything or anybody.
David and I talked about everything--Bush’s latest blot on history, Philip Roth’s latest ending, Roger Federer, David’s summers away from the city, his wicked father. I was always happy to get him talking about his life—since he was always probing me about mine.
David and I watched Grand Slams together when we could. “Un fucking believable,” he’d say, to a perfect Roger line drive or a cross court drop shot. He and I would scream at the TV, while Linda walked by, shaking her head, ducking into her studio for relief.

Various doctor friends speculated about what was happening inside David’s body but he didn’t want to know more than he already knew. His body gave him plenty of information, way more than he wanted. That was something else he and I had in common—besides tennis and our cantankerous camaraderie --both of us suffered from incendiary bowels.
When I was in my thirties I developed inflammatory bowel disease—ulcerative colitis. David and I knew all too well that Book of Job bowels can make even the most gregarious man around town say—“I will not stray more than 30 feet from a toilet, my own toilet, thank you very much.”
Those lucky people with lung cancer or brain cancer, we would say. They can talk about their diseases and not have to mention shit. For me there was a cure, of sorts but not for David. I felt for the first time that perhaps there was some redemption, some purpose in my disease because I so knew how he felt about living with such a messy nightmarish condition. We could share that. And he didn’t have to feel quite so alone.
But enough about shit.
David wanted to focus on living and that meant keeping up with his favorite things in the world—people, teasing his girl friends.
He teased me a lot, the way he did all women. Dye your hair, he’d tell a girl friend. Balanchine would not approve of that tummy of yours, he told me. And when I complained once about my big rear end before HE could, he told me, “Please walk backwards out of the room when you leave so I won’t want to have to look at your fanny.”
On one of those last visits I read him a short interview with Joan Rivers from the Times. He got a good laugh over Rivers saying she’d had so much plastic surgery that when she died they could donate her body to Tupperware. And about how everybody in Hollywood was claiming to have lost millions with Bernie Madoff. Please, Rivers begged interviewer Deborah Solomon, tell everybody that I lost a lot so people will think I’m rich, or was rich.
“You didn’t lose any money with him Carol, did you?” David asked me.
“Millions,” I said, “like Joan Rivers.”
“No really,” he said. Are you OK? And he was serious. Because David really cared about the wellbeing of his friends—the state of their relationships, their investments, their sex lives.” He always had dead-on advice and it came from his gut and his heart.
I almost always took it.
I’ll always regret that David and I never played tennis together. I had a rotator cuff issue, then got scared about being out in the sun after having a squamous cell carcinoma.
“I’d whip your ass on the court,” I always told him. Like hell you would, he’d say.
“I hit flat and hard,” I’d say. “Bring it on,” he’d tell me. “So do I.”
I didn’t get the satisfaction of creaming him on the court but I did win some of our zinger arguments.
“People always tell me I look great, he told me in the last months, “Are they shitting me?”
“Yes,” I said, ‘they are. They just don’t know what to say. Because you refused all treatment they can’t ask, how’s the chemo going? When’s the next surgery?”
I admire his courage and his strength and his resolve. Woody Allen said, “It’s not that I’m afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
David didn’t either. But better dying at home than in a hospital bed—sick from chemo and struggling with a colostomy bag—or waiting in a doctor’s office for more bad news, when there was tennis to watch, the New York Times to read, or somebody to talk to, to learn all about . . . to tease.

Alysun said...

Thanks for sharing David with us. Seems like a one-of-a-kind friend.

Michele said...

Carol, thank you for writing about David whom I barely knew.

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