My father is driving to the city from the Island to pick me up from the hospital. We are spending a few days in the city while I rest up and heal a little more before we take the five hour drive back home. It is only October and already my very first year of university has come to an end. After my high school prom and graduation, I left home for the city. I certainly didn't think I would be moving back so quickly. All summer I worked two jobs while living with my Great Aunt Lee.Now, trying to describe my Great Aunt could never be done justly. She's an eighty-three year old woman dressed like a Spice Girl. I’m not exaggerating. Less than a week ago, visiting while wearing a long red trench coat, she flashed more than a few handsome doctors in nothing but her belly dancing garb underneath. Sparkly bra, belly chains and all. Yes, I said belly dancing. She is amazing. A fire cracker of a person and eccentric as they come. Uncle Jack, a chemist, left her stinking rich in a house that suited her every mood. There was a China Room, the Florida Room, even a Sistine Chapel Room. (The entire ceiling painted exactly - with the addition of a portrait of her little Yorkie, Maurice, on a cloud as well.) My room was a cozy tucked away sitting room with room only for a small bed, a desk and a bookcase.
University at King’s College had been a dream of mine since tenth grade when I saw their book list. I dreamed of living on their gorgeous campus so full of bright people and magnolia trees. I made sure I did very well in high school. People always wondered how I kept my grades up while I was hospitalized. It was because I always had so much time to do my work. I worked hard. So much so that I was able to graduate from high school a full semester early, in January instead of June. I had a thirst for books my whole life that had not even begun to be quenched. King’s College was going to help. It was the single one and only university I applied to. Thank goodness I was accepted – there was never a plan b.
The fall semester started on September sixth. I was in the hospital by September twenty-eighth. It was actually quite wonderful how the Professors and new friends rallied to help me keep up with my studies. A few of my professors actually taped lectures for me so I could take my own notes. But I was in so much pain and medication made me so forgetful. I was feverish and confused a lot. They went above and beyond…but I knew I had to cut my losses. I just couldn't keep up.
I push myself gingerly out of bed and continue packing my things as best I could. It was amazing how much “stuff” I had accumulated over my eight week stay. There were books, stuffed animals from friends, candy, magazines, angel figurines and a framed copy of my favorite painting, “The Singing Butler” by Jack Vettriano. I would see every day it in the gallery gifts shop downstairs. When I was brought back to my room from Intensive Care after surgery it was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. Hanging right on my hospital wall. My Aunt Linda and cousin Jordan put it there for me. I can’t wait to hang it at home.“Hey Chicken! Got any candy?” Dr. Tanton poked his head around my curtain. He was my very first specialist as an official “adult patient.” He worked outside the hospital so I was handed over to the surgeons, but he came to check on me quite often.
“I used to think you liked my company, but now I see. You come just to feed your sweet tooth.” I pass him an open box of jelly beans.
“Listen kiddo, you’re going home today but you’re not off scot free yet. No stairs, no lifting, no showers. That belly needs to stay perfect. If those staples or stitches get infected we’re talking li-,” he put his hand on mine. “I don’t need to tell you this. I keep forgetting you’re an old pro. I’ll see you in my office in three weeks. Bring licorice. Red though! Not that black stuff – yuck!” He gave a quick tip of his hat and was gone.
My dad arrived soon after and but it was a full hour later until we'd finally gotten my discharge papers, my prescriptions, my bags and a very exhausted, very sore me into the car and pulled out of the hospital parking lot.
It’s an odd thing, leaving the hospital and going home. You would think that not much would have changed in just eight weeks, but you would be surprised. When I was admitted to hospital in September, everyone was still hanging on to the last warm days of summer. Still wearing flip flops and shorts. Now, it is late October. There is crispness in the air. Students are cramming the books for midterms instead of hitting the bars for 'Frosh Week.' The trees are putting on their most colorful show of the year. Even some new buildings are built up or old ones taken down. It has been happening my whole life, yet every time I come home there is a huge part of me expecting to pick up right where I left off. But the world doesn't work that way. So much changes.
My eyelids are heavy with exhaustion and medication. It is not until we pull in to Aunt Lee’s driveway that all the orange bright decorations, pumpkins, skeletons and scary masks we've driven by clicks in my mind. “When is Halloween?” I ask my dad, bracing a pillow across my stomach slowly lifting myself out of the car.
“Tonight! I think you should help pass out candy. Interact a bit and get out of bed. I know it isn't your favorite occasion but it will be fun.” At age eight I had a disastrous Halloween incident. An old lady saw my feeding tube and thinking it was a costume, commented on how gross my face looked. I’d never gone out Trick or Treating again anywhere that wasn't family.
After a few hours in a deep dark nap, I’m woken up by the doorbell ringing over and over again. I’m contemplating choking whoever is at the door when I remember the Trick-or-Treaters. I’m actually a little excited about passing out candy and seeing the cute kids in their little costumes. I throw on my baggiest sweatpants and one of my dad’s t-shirts so my clothes are loose around my incision.
“Ok, your turn!” My dad tosses me a bag of chips. “Bowl is there, candy, chips, cans of pop. I put a comfy chair in the porch for you. I've got to run out for your prescriptions. I’ll be back soon. – Don’t eat all the candy – it’s not for you!” He lowers me down in the chair before he leaves.
Almost instantly the doorbell rings. Opening the door I’m met with a bandit, cowboy, and some sort of what I’m guessing is an alien, in the form of three ten year old boys. I’m handing their candy out when one of them asks why I’m not dressed up. “Miss it’s Halloween, you have to have at least fake blood or something going on if you’re going to hand candy out with no costume.”
I heard the comment by five other kids in costumes and I strongly begin to think they are right. What’s Halloween with no costume? What can I do…what can I do…Biting my bottom lip, I open the front porch closet hoping to find an old fur coat or something interesting to put in an effort of assembling something. All I find is my older cousin’s surf board and the musty blazers of my late uncle. I continue to chew my lip, trying to think, when I have my ‘a-ha!’ moment.
My father is barely back in the house when I ask him to prop the surfboard up against the front door where Trick or Treat visitors will see it. I waddle beneath the clouds and angels and into the Florida Room where Aunt Lee has an armoire of bathing suits, caftans and sarongs. I’m in quite a tangle for awhile but I manage to get into a bright red bikini top and tie a black sarong loosely around my hips. I’m looking down on my swollen, red torso. It’s even got scabby old blood around the staples. Now this is a really gross Halloween costume. But it’s also hilarious. It is to me at least.
I waddle back to the front door. My father turns around with a wide-eyed “what the hell?!” look on his face. In that exact moment there is another ring at the door. “Dad, let me! I got it!"
My plan worked perfectly. Over and over the children commented on my “costume”. The next round of vampire faced young boys gave the best reactions.
“Ewww, lady that is SICK!” “That scar looks SO real!” “Cool staple sutures and everything!” and eventually, “What are you supposed to be!?”
“Oh no, boys, this is not a costume…Are you afraid of scary stories?” I leaned against the surf board. Then I proceeded to tell them a terrifying story about being hunted by great whites while surfing alone. I tell them all about the day I was bitten by a shark.
I even have the scar to prove it.