The chemotherapy was the worst of it. How would I get through this? Some suggested visualization – to see myself on a serene isle, or bathe myself in healing rays of light.
So I invented him – Señor Adria – and named for the crimson poison they injected into my arm. Señor Adria, my Latin lover. My protector and savior too, but a demon lover. He loved me almost to death.
Our affair was no secret. He came to me five times and each time I opened myself up to him. Everybody knew. You could tell by looking at me that the red devil had gotten under my skin. He was in me, every part of me, every cell felt his presence. I am a marked woman now. With a big red letter “A” – for Adriamycin, alias Señor Adria.
Like a bride who’s to marry the Devil himself, I prepared for each visit. My trousseau of pyjamas and bathrobes. The wedding bed fitted for sickness. A feast of water and crackers. And music – oh, the music! Only the music could change this from ordeal into fantasy.
First, a paso doble to announce his arrival, clapping hands and beating hoofs! The blare of brass trumpets and the red, cold syringes. I extend my arm and the nurse looks for the vein. I see him coming, he’s coming for me, all red in spangly sequins, he shimmers into the ring. A matador, a real lady killer. He offers me his hat and I take it because I’m bald. Slender and thin he moves like a panther. He looks at me square in the eye, nostrils flaring, bows and says, “A sus ordenes, Señora – at your service.” The nurse pushes the plunger and the red gel snakes its way into my arm. He enters me and takes possession of my body, a deathlike consummation of his promise to love me and honor me, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
A black veil drops over me and I don’t see things clearly now, but I feel them – oh, how I feel them. I feel him within, dancing and whirling me until I am sick. He turns me inside out, intoxicates me with poison, he drowns me and saves me. Burning, he eats at my flesh and weakens my heart. He is not a considerate lover, he takes and takes and I want it to be over but it will be three days before I can rise and wash the smell of him from me.
A tango now, and I feel myself break apart. I see my Latin prince dance with a fuzzy likeness of myself, a grey ghost in black dress, a shiny bald head, chrome dome catching the light fantastic. His cold embrace shivers me, and I must dance if I want to live. We dip - and wheel - and turn around -- once more – I think – I’m going down – now back – and forth – he turns me towards – the door – then we look straight ahead. Tumbling and crumbling, I glide ‘cross the floor. He is so debonair – and me without any hair. Dancing, romancing, I’m caught in his arms – he’s the most wicked lover of them all!
Now there are several likenesses of me, lurking in corners, hiding – these are the cancer cells – but he finds them, and dances them until they turn from grey to pink as I absorb his red death. Capable and confident, he tangos with each one. Some collapse and die or lie in a heap in his arms. What a lady killer! Others he transforms, infusing them with his red death with each underarm twirl until they are well and in the pink. Ay que hombre!
Then the fun begins. The tempo changes – and it’s a perky rhumba – a conga line of women – bald and in black dresses – appear. They are the white blood cells, the reinforcements, sent in to clean up after Señor Adria. With each pass they double in number – 16, 32, 64 – hundreds! Rhum-ba! Rhum-ba! Yo te quiero mi amor! Rhum-ba! Rhum-ba! You make me want you all the more!
Thousands of white blood cells circulating in kaleidoscope formation, like the Rockettes, the June Taylor Dancers, it’s Busby Berkely in oncology drag. White bald heads bouncing to the rhythm, scissoring their legs, shaking the skirts on their black dresses. They fill the dance floor and everybody dances! Rhum-ba! Rhum-ba! Their exponential growth saves me!
They bear him up on their shoulders. The beat changes into a carnivalesco samba as they parade across the floor. Their licentious shimmy and thrusting hips are almost more than I can stand. They carry him off - he’s leaving – and I’m in grave danger of being forgotten. As they samba out the door I cry out feebly –
“Besa-me – besa-me mucho.
Como si fuera esta noche la ultima vez.”
(Kiss me, kiss me hard. As if tonight were the very last time.)
And he hears me. He turns on his elegant heel and approaches as I lay in my grey heap. I cannot speak and my heart wants to jump out of my chest. I want to sleep like death and die like sleep but can do neither. He hovers, like a matador ready for the kill, but instead he bends to me, kisses me full on the lips, and blows his red death deep within. Bowing low he hisses – “Ate la próxima vez, Señora.” He winks a red sequined wink and blows me a kiss for good measure, then strides away in all his fullness.
The music winds down and I pull the black veil over me and try to sleep. The dance goes on somewhere else, in some other time. All right, Señor Adria, you’ve had your way with me. You’ve left your mark. But there will come a time when I will kiss you good-bye, when I can bid you a triumphant “Adios!” But until then –
“Besa-me, besa-me mucho.”