Volume 28, Number 2

The Dream

David A. Einhorn

Moving to California had been my dream as a younger woman, and my husband at the time had not found the idea of moving objectionable. It would be wrong to say that the California Dream had disappointed, at least for over two decades, before my health crisis surfaced.

I’d been unaccustomed to hospitals until that year, mainly because all the work I’d had done had been performed in clinics. It was explained to me that the implants had not caused me to get breast cancer, but they had exacerbated the problem by delaying its detection by mammogram. More than twenty years earlier, I had opted for silicone rather than saline implants because I’d heard that the feel and other components of them seemed more authentic. For over twenty years, they had presented no complications and had served the purpose, or purposes, that the consumer of cosmetic surgery tends to hold.

After my cancer diagnosis, my initial reaction was strange in that I was relieved the problem had developed in that body part. Having also had a reduction rhinoplasty procedure, lip augmentation and, more recently, a facelift, I was happy that my new medical concerns had not resulted from that work. Imagine a health complication that would make it impossible to go out in public, that might be termed “…as plain as the nose on your face,” if you will pardon the pun. While my diagnosis and the string of appointments, tests and treatments that followed were sobering, I could still, literally and figuratively, show my face in public. Naturally, I did become worried as the gravity of the situation dawned on me, and the appropriate steps were taken. It is a testimonial to the quality of the work I’d had done that my appearance did not really suffer despite my inner turmoil. I kept on “looking California but feeling Minnesota,” as it has become chic to say. It was impossible not to think about the worst case scenario, of becoming the prettiest woman in the cemetery, of dying while at least looking young and leaving a pretty corpse. That hasn’t happened so far.

There are a few who have been critical of my lifestyle, my priorities, the choices I have made, and some have voiced their objections over the years. I am convinced, however, that my decisions of these recent years and decades have been beneficial and efficacious. Had I chosen a different path, I would never have gained access to the lifestyle I currently enjoy and would likely have been unable to afford the quality of medical care I have received in recent months. It doesn’t mean, however, that there hasn’t been some heartache involved.

The private room in which I found myself at the end of my breast cancer journey did surpass the exposed radiators, snoring roommates and scampering mice of the public hospitals I’d seen as a child. While being able to afford a private hospital is a plus, it’s still a hospital. The interior of the room emphasized a greenish turquoise and looked like someone had trapped a small inlet of California ocean under transparent plastic. The window framed the tops of palm trees, resembling sprigs of dill, clouds rarely appearing in the unceasing California sunlight. The view was like the posters of temperate places that I’d seen in record shops and travel agency windows as a kid, images that had tantalized me on winter days when I’d stood between grayish snow piles waiting for my bus to come. The food was also better than a public hospital, and the staff treated you like a paying customer rather than just another needy patient.

My daughter, Alyssa, was the most regular visitor I had while a patient at the facility. Her husband is among those I mentioned, people who have questioned my approach to life, although he hasn’t done so recently. While his disapproval was expressed in a relatively mild way, I still took umbrage with it. I never criticized him for his endless cups of coffee, the cigarettes it took him four or five tries to finally quit, his sideburns, his battered, old baseball caps and any number of other peccadillos. His career title is “Fleet Supervisor,” meaning that he dispatches trucks, not that he is a distinguished member of the Armed Forces. The California Dream that took hold over two decades ago was for my daughter’s benefit, as well as my own, and I hadn’t projected that she would marry someone like that. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong him, but enhancing one’s range of options when it comes to suitors would certainly be part of living the Dream. He’s a nice enough man, but she could have done better.

Her marriage, however, fits the pattern of her personality and priorities. She never showed the slightest concern as noticeable and enduring bags appeared under her eyes, as lines appeared on her forehead and around her eyes and streaks of gray appeared in her hair, all before the age of thirty. Her once shapely and attention-getting hips had begun to melt into more of an almost straight up and down profile like the stick figures adorning the door of restrooms. Alyssa seemed completely indifferent to such possibilities as getting her own children into the right schools or social circles that might have positively impacted their lives as years passed. I would have thought that her own work with preschool children as an Early Childhood Educator would have given her some insight into the importance of “launching” in the right direction, but she remained oblivious or indifferent to such notions.

I should be clear, however, that this is not meant to depict my daughter as a person with no redeeming qualities. Her kindness and warmth, from her own childhood on, might best be described as not just palpable but effusive. They are qualities that would serve an Early Childhood Educator well, but so conspicuous, in her case, as to make her seem like someone who would be willing to settle for second best. She would do so not because she lacked the self-esteem to believe that she deserved the best, but because she would feel that she was denying it to somebody else by claiming it for herself. I had no inkling just how fateful a visit it would be the last time she came to see me in that room.

She brought the original Monopoly game with her. It’s always been one of my favorite board games, and we’d played it together ever since she’d been in elementary school. She was almost apologetic when she took ownership of Boardwalk, the most valuable property that a player can acquire.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” she smiled, “we’ll be back on the boardwalk together soon with your prognosis being so much improved. I’ll get an ice cream, and you can get your frozen yogurt. We want to take you to dinner too. The kids will be really happy to play some of the games with their pretty grandma.”

After a rather lengthy game, she fell asleep. She didn’t have to work the next day and had, apparently, informed her family that she might be staying with me until very late or even overnight. I took up my phone for a while, keeping in touch with those who still made me a priority despite my situation. I felt well enough to get up, remove her utilitarian shoes and do what I could to make her comfortable. Then, I turned out the light. Feeling cautiously optimistic about my medical situation, as well as nostalgic and unusually affectionate towards Alyssa after the Monopoly game, I curled up next to her on the lush and comfortable sofa. Within minutes, I went to sleep myself. It came easier than it would in a public hospital without the accompaniment of coughing and snoring from other patients and the shuffling of feet back and forth from the nursing station.

I have slight misgivings, to this day, in asserting that what happened next was just a dream, although it’s the only rational explanation. From a sound sleep, I awoke or dreamed that I awoke, suddenly and fully in an unusually heightened state of alertness. My room and the corridor beyond the doorway were unusually dark even for the middle of the night. A tall figure stood in the doorway, and I knew, or sensed, that it was not a staff member or fellow patient. It was virtually impossible that an intruder could have gained entry to the facility. It appeared to be hooded and somehow darker than the darkness itself. While its presence felt commanding and ominous, I thought I could also sense a degree of bewilderment about it. My blood ran cold as it leaned towards us slightly and, then, I thought that I could hear it whisper or perhaps even read in its thoughts, “The older one, the older one.” I attempted to blink the vision away as people often do when they believe their eyes are playing tricks on them, but was unable to open them again. It seems that I either went back to sleep or that I had never actually been awake in the first place.

When I awoke, early in the morning, I reached over and touched Alyssa and found her skin disturbingly cool to the touch. I yelled out her name and shook her in a futile attempt to rouse her. Then, I screamed for the doctor, the nurse, anyone to come and undo what had already transpired hours earlier, but my daughter was gone.

I miss Alyssa every day. It almost seems like even fate won’t give you your due or any degree of respect, if you’re too gentle to stand up and demand it. As for myself, so far as anyone can discern, I am cancer-free. Life continues, with a painful void inside me, but it is life. The California sun can’t illuminate what it can’t reach. Sympathy borne of the things I have endured in recent months has won me discernible favor in my social circles, but I would trade it all, in a second flat, for one more trip to the Boardwalk with Alyssa. I am endeavoring to be a positive influence in the lives of my grandchildren.