Power of Prayer, Chapter Four: Ben's Preamble
I cannot do this again, she thought walking toward the red-brick building. The window tinting reflected her dissheveled appearance, red shirt half-tucked into high waisted jeans, lopsided ponytail sagging toward the left side of her head. For a moment she forgot this was a window and she took a moment to adjust her hair and tuck her shirt. She swished Chapstick over her lips and continued along the white sidewalk toward the automatic sliding doors. The summer sun and heat was replaced with artificially cooled, humidified air and glaring white light. She walked up to the grey desk and signed her name on the clipboard.
"Hello, Jeniece," the receptionist greeted her with a perfunctory smile.
"Hi, Nora," Jeniece replied without looking up. She took a seat by the door, unconsciously communicating her desire to leave. Face turned to the television screen she didn't notice the frankly shocking errors in the closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
"Come on back, Jeniece," a short black nurse in sea foam green scrubs said. Jeniece stood, picked up her black faux leather purse, and followed the nurse like a woman condemned.
The nurse rapped twice on a tall wooden door.
"Dr. Jacobson, Jeniece Winters is here." The nurse smiled at Jeniece and then waddled back down the hallway. Jeniece stepped into the ornate office and leaned over the wide desk to shake the veined, wrinkled yet strong hand of Dr. Jacobson. His blue eyes were dim and Jeniece knew in her heart what news she would hear today.
"Have a seat, Jeniece," he said, voice falsely pleasant.
She sat. What else could she do but sit.
"Richard couldn't come with you today?" he asked.
"Emergency travel," she replied, which was a lie. Richard was home with the children, as he should be, and as she would if be it weren't for this appointment.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Jeniece, we didn't expect the news would be good, and it isn't good. Ben's cancer has not responded to treatment, in fact, the cancer has continued to grow despite the treatment. Ben's prognosis was never good, Jeniece, I was very forthright about that fact from the beginning. I'm afraid the last scans confirm the worst. There's nothing more to be done, Jeniece. I'm truly sorry, but it's time to acknowledge Ben's situation. He has only a few months left, Jeniece. We can continue treatment and prolong Ben's death by, possibly a few weeks, possibly an extra month or two, but the treatment will not save him."
Jeniece watched the strangely pink mouth deliver the words and wished she shove all the words back in and sew the pink mouth . Instead, she nodded slowly. She and
Richard had already discussed this possibility and discussed whether they would continue to seek treatment.
"We've discussed that," she whispered, her voice flat and hollow, though she'd tried to create a normal tone. She didn't have enough energy for normal anymore. Her normal was exhaustion and defeat. "Ben is sick all the time from the treatment. Puking and not sleeping and miserable. We want to stop treatment, just make him comfortable. Let him be a little boy for what is left."
Dr. Jacobson gave the same small nod Jeniece had given. He was not surprised. After nearly seven years of fighting with recurrence after recurrence in the child, he thought this choice was the best. Ben was just over nine years old. No child should spend their entire childhood hooked up to poisons to try to stay alive.
Jeniece stood. Dr. Jacobson stood.
"Thank you, Dr. Jacobson," she said, her voice still flat and soft.
She was just so tired, you see? Too tired to try to talk anymore.
She turned and walked out of the office and down the short hallway, opening the grey door and entering the lobby. The receptionist watched Jeniece walk across the slate grey carpet and through the sliding glass doors, head held high but arms unmoving. Her purse dangled from her fingertips as if even that were slipping unavoidably away.
Jeniece walked to her car, feet shuffling on the hot concrete. She climbed into the passenger seat and sat with her hands on the steering wheel, keys resting on her lap instead of in the ignition. She sat like that for a long time, not seeing the tree in front of her or the people walking by or in the traffic in the distance. In the heat of the car it was easy to just sit, just be, instead of constantly having to bear the burden of her life.
Her first son, Daniel, had died of cancer and she'd thought she'd paid her karmic price. Six weeks after Daniel died she found out she was pregnant. When Ben was born he was so perfect. Perfect eyes and perfect hands and perfect ten toes. When he was two she found out she was pregnant again, and three months later Ben was diagnosed with cancer. The same cancer that Daniel died of. A rare and aggressive brain cancer and both of her sons had it. She was grateful when her daughter was born, but her daughter, Rachel, was born while Ben was undergoing treatment. The celebration of Rachel's life was tainted by that fact. Ben's cancer returned when he was five, again when he was seven, and now again as he turned nine. Rachel had never known life where her brother wasn't sick and using all the family's time, energy and money.
And she never would.
Jeniece was pregnant again, just past four months. Ben would die and immediately a new child would enter the family. Rachel, sweet, healthy, laughing Rachel, would take second place to the needs of an infant. Nearly seven years old and Rachel had never been the most important child in her parents' lives. Jeniece hoped Rachel wouldn't despise her health and vivacity. A vibration from the passenger seat signaled an incoming text. A second vibration signaled it was, in fact, a call, not a text. She pulled her phone from her purse and saw Richard's picture on the screen. She slid to open.
"Hi, honey," she said in her flat voice.
"Where are you? I expected you home half an hour ago." She looked at the clock on the car dashboard. An hour had passed since she'd gotten into the car. Sweat trickled down her head and neck and between her thighs. Funny, she'd not noticed she was so hot.
"Sorry. I'm coming right now. I'll bring ice cream," she said. She didn't want ice cream. She didn't want any of this.