My Guardian Angel
I remember taking that dreadful one-mile walk thirty-seven times. Most of those mornings were sunny. Though, in my mind, they were the gloomiest, murkiest, and haziest of my life. I remember the building, modern in its outward appearance, and the uninviting smell once I entered. I remember the patients that sat in the lobby who greeted me with cheerful smiles. But I quickly learned that behind those forced, almost customary gestures of kindness, lingered specks of doubt that could never fully wane. I remember the array of colored candy in the glass jar on the counter next to the magazines about all things cancer. I remember the nurse calling my name and taking that long walk down the bright hallway filled with medical certificates and degrees and pictures of former patients on display. I wondered if all the plaques and certificates were supposed to somehow ease my anxiety, and if the pictures of former patients who had come back to offer thanks to the doctors were supposed to give me hope that this moment in time would eventually cease to exist, someday. I remember the darkened room where a large machine sat in the center, and the chill of the slab that was attached to the large machine, and that god-awful mask, perfectly molded for my face.
Every day that I endured radiation treatment, I clenched the side of the slab with my left hand. Somehow, this ritual brought me closer to my guardian angel, Simone. She lost her battle with cancer a year and a half prior to my diagnosis, and in witnessing her rapid deterioration, a part of me died with her. The other part endured a similar fight seventeen months later. Simone did not have many material possessions in this life, and the few she had were kept in a black backpack as she traveled from residence to residence. She did not have a ‘home’ in the typical sense. Sure, she had children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers, and a host of friends and others she affectionately referred to as family. Simone and I connected when I was thirteen over a similar passion for books and tastes in music. I enjoyed how our casual conversations about the most mundane of things always turned into deep-rooted debates about life in general. She never judged me, just listened, and offered her suggestions. There were no proverbial walls, constructed by my utter distrust of people.
Simone was a cook at a small café in downtown Long Beach. And though she loved cooking at the café, she loved cooking for her friends and family even more. She cooked for her family on most every holiday. She had a gift for arts and crafts, always making homemade Easter baskets for her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. She made the best homemade cheesecakes of all-time, too! Every year on my birthday, I sat and watched as she beautifully crafted a special one just for me. Her main ingredient was love, always love. No ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. Just love!
She taught me many lessons before and after she died. But the one that will sustain the tests of time, “You are not your condition!” She always said that. She never made excuses for herself, or allowed anyone to feel sorry for her condition. Simone was many things in her life: a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. But she was my guardian angel. I held her hand thirty-seven times on that cold slab, donning that mask, that uncomfortable mask. And I always whispered to myself, “I am not my condition!”
by Charles Banks, Jr. (Poet/Writer)