“Let’s do a chest x-ray, just to make sure.”
The doc knows I’m climbing the walls because I’ve had a tiny cough all summer. During my annual physical in May, he had initially told me to ignore it, but the damned thing never went away, so here I am again in the panic-inducing office.
“Ordinarily we’d just walk across the hall and do it, come straight back here and have a look, but the radiology room is closed due to Covid, so I’ve gotta send you across the street to the hospital.”
“Do I get to come back here to see the results?”
“Nope,” he says. “I’ve got patients to see. I’ll email you tonight.”
Crap. It had already taken two weeks to get to this point due the fact that his staff had dropped the ball with several messages I’d already sent him. My eye had begun to twitch in fear a few days ago, the first time that’s happened in years.
“Tonight,” I say, pointing a crooked finger at him, “or when I die in two weeks I’ll come back and haunt you.”
“You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he says from behind his Covid shield, escorting me out the door.
An hour later I’m sitting across from an ancient man knocking back his second bottle of barium while he scrawls seriously in a big yellow legal pad.
“I’m Gabriel,” the radiologist says from down the hallway. “You’ll be coming with me.”
Double crap, I thought. An angel from the other side already sent to escort me home. Clearly the universe has not one lick of subtlety.
“Take off your shirt and walk up to the machine. Grab the bars above your head and take a deep breath.”
I’m thinking the amusement park guy says the same thing when the partner drags me on one of those upside down roller coaster jobs. I’m attempting to keep my thought on that and not the time my mother, not much older than I am now, walked up to the same set-up with no idea her life was about to change forever. I take a deep breath and focus on the pair of poorly drawn mallards soaring across the pond in the picture on the wall before me.
“You can go home now,” archangel Gabriel says a couple seconds later, and I have to shake myself to realize he’s talking about home across Wilshire, not home of the pearly gates. “Your doctor will get the results tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I ask. “But—”
“Tomorrow,” Gabriel says, and with a flap of his invisible wings he’s done.
On my walk home, I’m already thinking about both sides of my future. If the results are good, then yay. If not, then I have to find some way to live every day like it’s my last, because it very well could be. So that means smelling more roses and other things I’m not quite sure I can wrap my head around, let alone afford.
“Could you spare a couple bucks for some dinner?” the homeless guy asks from the curb.
I decide if I fork that and a couple more over it could definitely help my chances for a rosier outcome. I can already feel myself grimacing the same way I did as a kid when they told me Santa’s elves were always watching. Is this what the next 24 hours is going to look like? Hell, I’ll be broke by the time I get home.
As I know the partner’s in a Zoom meeting, I call my friend Kyle, who always makes me feel better. “I just saw on the internet where Kathy Griffin has lung cancer – yikes,” he says. “What’s up?”
“Can I call you, like, later?” I say.
I decide to take a longer route home, one lined with giant sycamores and well manicured lawns. I’m trying not to think about how if I do get challenging news I can write a daily blog dealing with that and change people’s lives across the universe. I decide I’d rather get good news, write one post, and be done with it. On my earphones, Eckart Tolle says this may all be a dream anyway, that some people spend their lives going from one ‘thing’ to the next, without letting themselves ‘be’ in any single moment. I think back years ago when the curtain would be going up for my one-man-show, I’d do what Laurence Olivier said and try to feel my feet in my shoes. No better cure for stage fright.
A harried woman gets out of her car in the driveway ahead and complains into her phone – “I can’t belieeeve she said that.”
A crow argues with nothing from a limb high above me. I think about how much my father hates them and how much I’ve always loved them. When I was small I had a book about a boy and his crow and it was my favorite thing. I decide to allow myself to take in all the shiny black bird’s cantankerousness for as long as I want. The cell phone lady is studying me from her front porch. “I knooooooow,” she complains, not nearly as lyrically as the crow.
The whole next day I’m refreshing my email, awaiting the news. One hour I’m sure I refresh it fifty times. “Some people go from one thing to the next,” I hear Tolle in my head.
That night when I see an email from my night owl doctor, I call the partner to stand by while I read it. “Hey Phillip, your chest x-ray is normal. There are a couple small things going on around there, but nothing serious and certainly nothing to address before our physical next year. So go to bed.”
“I’m gonna live,” I think for a second before I say it out loud.
“Well, I already knew that,” the partner says, realizing my proclamation means so much more than the obvious.
I open a bottle of wine, wishing it were champagne instead. “Holy shit, I’m gonna live.” I take a deep breath into my almost healthy lungs, remembering the shaky breath I took in front of the archangel the day before.
Just before day the next morning, I allow myself to watch the partner while he sleeps. I stopped doing it ages ago when he caught me and said I had the same look in my eye Glenn Close had in Fatal Attraction when she was boiling the family pet in the pressure cooker. But this time I don’t give a shit.
A few hours later, I throw the covers off me and whisper to no one, “I’m gonna live.”
As I make the coffee, I stick my nose into the grounds and inhale, knowing there will come a time when they’ll no longer be a part of my existence, no matter how long I do or don’t live. I glance forlornly at the tequila bottle on the counter, mourning the fact that I’ll be without it one day, until I decide I can’t fathom a heaven without it and suddenly feel better.
“I’m gonna live.” I think of how I’d say that had I gotten different news, but that’s where it gets tricky. “There are a couple small things going on around there, but nothing serious,” my doctor had said. And I’m certain that’s the scenario for anyone who’s over 35. These days any of us can be snatched into the next world from any number of scenarios – someone fails to hit their brakes on the freeway, a shooter shows up in our supermarket, we inhale something we shouldn’t from a neighboring fire, a knuckle-dragger fails to wear a mask. Just the other day a friend of a friend informed me she’d grown up near Chernobyl. “I have to get checked, like, ten times a year. I know the inevitable is probably inevitable, but for today I’m here.”
Aren’t we all.