By Sarah M. Glover
At the end of the week, Virginia is allowed to return to
the Pete Gross House. Fiercely independent, she
bristles against my help, but her body demands it. She
cannot stand on her own; her legs are useless. I reach
around her, hoisting her up from her bed to the bathroom,
laughing with her that she makes a crummy dance partner.
She snorts and sings a tune. I remember years ago,
while waiting for a subway late one night, she jumped up and
began tap dancing. She swirled along the tiles,
chuckling at her improvised soft shoe. I joined her,
singing something from Cole Porter. We finally
collapsed on a bench in gales of laughter after receiving
rousing applause from several men disembarking a car.
The following days are spent in near catastrophes as we
drive back and forth from the Cancer Casa to the Hutch.
Looking like circus clowns, myself a mere 5’3”, I strain to
extricate this 5’9” grandmother from a Ford Focus. I
can feel the rebellion in Virginia’s flesh as I try to lift
her, try to hold on to her as she fights to hold on to her
vitality, her control. I need to help her, and I take
heart in the fact that I can help; but I swallow down fear
every time my arms fold about her. My love for this
woman is so strong; I cannot falter, I cannot slip. I
cannot let my mind envision a life without her. If I
stop fighting, if I stop laughing, I will give into
this—this dark pull that lurks in the corners of these
antiseptic corridors and on the lips of people on cell
phones wiping tears from their eyes.
Another day passes. I return from the hospital,
having left my mother-in-law behind for transfusions.
The fourth floor is empty. I reach our apartment and
glance behind me. The photo of a small girl with a
blue crocheted cap is taped to the door opposite ours.
I stare at her. Her large kindergarten head rests upon
an unknown shoulder; the owner has been cut away by the
popsicle frame. A photo of a Papillion with an
elaborate name is hung below what appears to be family
members sitting at a kitchen table. They smile for the
camera. It is an old photo. I feel both voyeur
and mourner at that moment. Is the young girl the
patient? Is one of these others the patient? I
cannot tell. I think of my son and daughter back in
San Francisco. I could not do this if they lived
behind that door.
I turn back into our room and bolt the lock tight behind me,
realizing for the first time that there are no photos on our
On the last day of my stay, my mother-in-law is
readmitted to the hospital to receive her six million stem
cells, cells housed in plastic, salmon-colored baggies
that look like frozen food and smell like rancid garlic.
Surrounded by balloons and cards, we sing and laugh as they
sloop their way through her Hickman. In a few hours,
they will find their way to her bone marrow and begin their