Between Two Yards
Alisa A. Gaston-Linn
The Montréal Review, March 2011
Summer Picture (1971-2) by
Euan Uglow,oil on canvas 43 x 43.5"
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But it was as if she could not hear me. She continued to tout the importance of the two of them moving forward. How his mother needed to let go of Shane and accept Dana. This went on for at least 45 minutes until I finally had to stop her.
"Dana, Shane killed a little girl."
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
"Imagine what he must be thinking of every single day. I know that marrying him is important to you, and I'm sure he wants to get married, but right now, he has to come to grips with the fact that he killed a little girl. And he is going to have to think about that for the rest of his life. I'm not sure that he's in the right emotional state to even think about the future of his relationship with you."
Dana didn't have much to say to me after that. We hung up the phone. By the time Shane got out of prison a year later and moved into a work-release home, he had long since stopped talking to Dana. He had refused her visits, refused her phone calls. Dana held his clothes hostage. His mother called her many times demanding that she return them.
"Why don't you want to return his clothes?" I asked her.
"It's just a box, it's not like I have his entire wardrobe."
"But why do you want them?"
"Because I think he just needs to get away from his mother, and then he'll finally understand that we can have a relationship."
Shane never reached that point.
Five years ago, roughly a year after Dana finally gave up on Shane, while I unloaded the dishwasher, listening simultaneously to James Lipton questioning Sharon Stone on The Actor's Studio on cable and the honking of traffic pushing from Lowell Street into my open windows, Dana called me.
"I have cancer."
I put the dishes down, turned off the TV, and sat down at my table, an ache pinging my insides in one constant assault. I couldn't respond.
I didn't know what to say but ended up saying the simple things that people say in such situations, evolving from sorry.
Dana cried. "I'm not getting chemo or radiation, that just kills people."
"I know chemo and radiation are abrasive, but my friend Jeannie had ovarian cancer twice and chemo helped her. And you know my brother-in-law has had radiation for his thyroid cancer, and he's been cancer-free for several years now." Then I realized I was doing that thing. Trying to compare stories when all someone really needs is for someone else to listen. So I listened.
"I'm going to see a holistic doctor."
Shortly after Dana's diagnosis, she began telling me about problems at work. She worked for Time-Warner, performing some sort of quality assessment check on some type of board they manufactured, or sold. I can't really remember, but I remember that whenever she talked about her job, she always talked in technical terms about hands-on tasks. Dana said her boss did not like her, and they argued quite a bit. Dana also kept me updated on her cancer. She talked of the holistic approach-using herbs, meditation, and healers to cure her disease. I was afraid for her. I wanted to scream at her to get traditional treatment immediately before her cancer spread, but I respected her decisions, and listened.
We walked around the lake, and then she dropped a rock into the smooth conversation of healing. She said that while talking to her holistic healer, he told her that if she had cancer, they would start her on a cleansing treatment. I stopped walking.
"Wait, what do you mean, if you have cancer?"
Dana stopped and looked at me. "Well, I do have cancer."
"But you just said if you have cancer."
"Yeah, no I mean, I have cancer. I have cancer."
"So you have cancer for sure?"
"Yes, I have cancer."
"It isn't maybe pre-cancerous cells on your cervix?"
"No. I have cancer."
After that, I began to wonder. Dana had told me that she did not tell anyone except close friends about the cancer.
"And I told Trevor."
"I didn't realize you and Trevor were that close."
Dana used to work with Trevor before Time-Warner. "We're not. But Shane works for Trevor now, so I'm sure Trevor will tell Shane."
And to that, I had no response, but I feared that easily curable pre-cancerous cells had formed into some sort of deranged attempt to win back Shane.
My conversations with Dana over the next three years dwindled. I felt betrayed in some way. I felt that she was possibly lying about something that killed millions of people, including some people I have known. She periodically called me to update me on the latest holistic treatment she received and although I was apprehensive in tone, I felt the need to support her in some way.
"I went to Reno where they hooked me up to an I.V. to flush out my system."
"What was in the I.V.?"
"A mixture of nutrients. But my oncologist got pissed off at me. He said, 'You can't cure cancer with vitamins.'"
I then thought, she must have cancer. If she has an oncologist, then she must be telling the truth. I felt like a mean person. Someone who had walked away from a woman with cancer. Someone who had let her own annoyance over petty orders from Dana and possible misconceptions get in the way of comforting Dana.
"What does he want you to do?"
"He wants me to get chemo, but I'm not doing it."
A few weeks later I saw Dana when I came home from work. Our method of communication while in our backyards was for me to stand on my patio chair to veer over into her yard while she stood at the fence.
"My psychic healer told me I need to write a book."
I looked at her, a tinge of annoyance spreading through my blood. Dana knew that I had written a book and had been trying to get it published. Her competitive side came out in this time of dying cells and nutrient-filled I.V. bags.
"What are you going to write about?"
"How I survived cancer using holistic methods."
I felt like an idiot and shoved down my selfish attitude, letting compassion flourish inside. "I think that's great, Dana."
I sit in my writing room in our new house, and I see the mountains that are so close, they are not blue, but brown, and I see space, and the other week, there was a herd of twenty elk lounging in the grass across the street. I am a technical writer. I telecommute three days a week and write manuals about web content management systems, and web content about Antarctica . I edit content submitted by content providers, I research accessibility standards for government web sites, I organize global navigational aspects and content layout. I have a master's certificate in technical communications.
Roughly three years ago, Dana was fired. She lived on unemployment for a year while she updated her kitchen, had a new garage built, and upgraded from holistic healers to psychic healers. While she still had her job, at some point, she began telling people that she was a technical writer. When she first did this, at book club, I gave her a surprised look. Surprised as in this is the first I've heard of this , and surprised as in what the hell are you talking about ? After that, I had heard her many times tell people she was a technical writer, and even though I knew that she was lying, I never said a word. She had been unemployed for a year because she had been applying for technical writing positions-positions for which she was not qualified.
Many times she said to me, "I can't believe I'm not getting hired."
She talked to her spirit guides and went to her psychic healers more often and called me one night to tell me that she had been cured.
"My psychic healer referred me to this Filipino healer. I went to this house, where I laid on like this massage table."
"What kind of a healer was this man?"
"He's also a psychic healer. He's supposed to be pretty well known in the Philippines . Anyway, I was on the table, and he and his assistants started rubbing down my body."
"Who were his assistants?"
"They were also Filipino."
"Men or women?"
"They were all men. So anyway ..."
"Wait," I insisted, "Were you naked?"
"Yeah, I had to be naked in order for them to send their energy into me. So they rubbed me all over my body and I could feel all of their energy going into me."
"Did they touch your breasts?"
"Well, they had to rub me all over."
"Dana, did these men touch your breasts?"
"Okay, I don't know about this. It doesn't sound right Dana, I mean, why were these men touching your breasts? What does that have to do with your healing?"
"My psychic healer told me that this is how they did it. It's okay, she knows this guy!"
"Anyway, they rubbed their energy into me, and then the head psychic healer came out and he went inside of me and pulled the cancer out."
"He put his fingers in me and pulled the cancer out of me."
"Okay, wait just a minute. What are you talking about? How did he pull the cancer out of you?"
"With his fingers."
"Where did he put his fingers?"
"Inside of me."
"Inside, like inside down there? Into your vagina?"
"Was he wearing latex gloves?"
"This doesn't sound right to me, Dana."
"No no no, it worked. I saw it."
"The cancer. I saw the cancer after he pulled it out of me."
I sat in silence, absorbing, swallowing, stuck on this occurrence of what I thought any normal human being would consider a sexual assault. But I was trying to be her friend. She had told me that all of her friends were becoming angry with her because she refused to get chemo. I thought of choices. I thought of respect. If she felt comfortable with strangers rubbing her naked body, then who was I to scold her?
"What did the cancer look like?"
"It looked like egg whites, and it had this little chunk in it that looked like a chicken liver."
"What did he do with it?"
"I don't know, but I'm cured."
I could feel Dana's beaming over the phone.
For the next several months, Dana popped around her house, lighting incense on her porch while meditating, looking up into the sun. She optimistically looked for a technical writing job. My neighbor Laura and I saw Dana on her front porch one afternoon and both gravitated over for a visit. Dana wore shorts, and both of us immediately noticed her swollen leg. Her hefty soccer leg, chunked with muscle, looked bigger than normal.
Laura asked, "What did your doctor say?"
"I haven't been to a doctor."
Laura and I in unison, "You haven't been to a doctor?"
Laura added, "Dana, what are you thinking? You need to get in to see a doctor immediately."
"I think she's right, Dana, you need to see someone."
A week later, Dana's mother took her to the hospital. Dana's kidneys were not functioning properly. During her two-day hospital stay, the doctors told her that she was not cured of cancer and tried to convince her to have chemotherapy, but Dana continued to refuse. They finally sent in a psychiatrist to talk to her. As Dana told me all of this, she laughed. A triumphant nebula surrounded her as she recounted how she told the psychiatrist there was nothing wrong with her and that she was choosing to deal with her cancer her own way.
The doctors put kidney stints into Dana's body to help her kidneys drain, and periodically, she had to go back to the hospital to have the stints replaced. She also lost an incredible amount of weight. She told me that she had seen a nutritionist who gave her the food formula for curing cancer. Vegetables, fruit, and meat. Nothing else. No rice, no potatoes, no pasta. Dana weighed 120 pounds. She proudly talked of her weight loss, and commented frequently about running into people she knew and how they raved about how good she looked, and how she was sure that it would get back to Shane. And she did look good. She bought new clothes, new shoes, her petite body formed in beautiful style in short skirts, her soccer legs down to runner's legs, wispy in sandals with heals. She still had the stints, and she still had to get them changed out. And she still looked for a job.
I walked out to my front porch to get my mail and Dana, in her front yard, called me over. We stood at her white picket fence.
"I had a job interview today and it was really weird."
"What was the job?"
"Well, like I said, it was weird. The woman who interviewed me said, 'I have to tell you up front that you're not qualified for this job, but I was curious as to why you applied so I had to call you in.'"
I gave that, "that's bizarre" look.
Dana continued, "I know. She asked me, 'Do you understand what a technical writer is?' I said, 'Yes.' 'Well, if that's the case, then why did you apply for this job?' I just looked at her. Then she said, 'Do you know that technical writing is actually a specialized skill and people have degrees in technical writing?' So I told her, 'Well, all of the technical writers I know got their jobs just by kind of moving into them.'" Dana pointed at me. "Isn't that how you got your job?"
"Well, yes, kind of. I had a writing background to begin with though, and the woman who hired me knew that. Then I got my certificate. Plus I had written a lot of manuals for a different department. And our company is pretty good about giving people chances as far as moving within departments."
I'm not sure if Dana heard much of what I said.
"Right, so anyway, I told her that I knew I could do the job. And she said, 'Well, you're not qualified to be a technical writer, but I do have another job that I think you would fit well into.'"
"At least she did that."
"Yeah, but I turned her down."
I stared at Dana.
"I'm a technical writer, so why would I go into something different?"
That fall, she was hired at a large company part-time. She said she was hired as a technical writer. I'm not sure if she was because based on how she described it, it sounded more like administrative duties more than actual writing. But she found a job, and I was happy for her. At the same time, I noticed that she was physically dwindling. She was down to 98 pounds. I knew this, because she bragged about it. Her face was pasty white, she looked sickly and frail. It was at that time she quit speaking to me.
At first I thought I was imagining it. I would hear her come out of her garage, say hello to her without actually seeing her because of our fences, yet she would say nothing. I would go out to get my mail, she would be in her front yard, and when she saw me, she would quickly go back into her house. And I let it go. After nine years of going back and forth as far as tolerating her competitiveness, her embellishing, her refusal to seek traditional treatment for cancer, I just let it go. I was well into my master's program and working full time, and volunteering at a family birth center and at an animal hospital, and maybe I'm making excuses because I was just drained from a draining friendship.
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