A frigid chill ripped through me as I sauntered into the Chemo Bar. Nana Mangia's chair was empty. We always are very uneasy when one of our group is missing. Human nature I guess. We always think the worst.
But Nana Mangia. Our matriarch. Everyone's sainted Italian grandmother whether related or not. Our beloved clickety-clack constant crocheter who delights us with homemade delicacies and enlightens us with sage asides, often delivered in such a quiet, understated way that her sly verbal barbs don't hurt until at least ten minutes later.
Her chair was empty today.
I was afraid to ask.
But me being me, I asked. No one in our Cool Kids on Chemo group knew. They hadn't asked. They wanted to know but they didn't want to know. But they really did.
When Nurse Debbie, an angel right here on earth if ever there was one---actually the entire staff at the Chemo Bar is full of angels; God bless them for what they do---came to give me the first of two rabies shots this week.
They're not really rabies shots. It's just what I call them. Its some stuff that encourages and entices the growth of white blood cells. Kind of like Viagra for neutrophils, stimulating them so that, well, you know, they do it. They get all the pleasure and I get all the benefits. And I'm good with that. Side effects? Of course!! And much like those with chemo, considering the alternative, they're just fine. Annoying as hell. But just fine.
So as Nurse Debbie is dumping my first round of cocktails into the port buried in my chest which makes for easy access and quick reaction, I whispered, "So Nana? Any word?"
"Oh! She's down in the salon. Her great-granddaughter gave her a dye job last night while she was sleeping. Bright blue. Shes getting it fixed now."
The Chemo Bar AND Salon. This place has everything and anything to help out cancer patients.
Apparently, Nana Mangia came in huffing and puffing early that morning. Muttering this and sputtering that which would make any Italian blush. And for those who don't speak the language, even they would understand: she was a bit upset. Her head was wrapped turban-style. Very uncharacteristic. She loved to show off her beautiful alabaster hair, always well-coifed with an architecturally sound bed of befuddled braids that begged for, but balked at, becoming a beehive by way of a bouffant. But breathtaking nonetheless. I'm sure it took hours but this woman undoubtedly does her 'do daily and was quite proud of it. And rightfully so.
Nurse Debbie sensed something was amiss.
"Nana? Is everything okay?"
"Yes and no. Oh, here have a cannoli."
"What's the 'no' part?"
"My great granddaughter played hair stylist last night while I was napping. Just look."
She snapped off the head scarf with the majesty of a magician unveiling his, well, magic.
Her hair was blue. Neon blue. Shockingly neon blue. REALLY shockingly neon blue.
"Oh. Interesting. She did a very good job," said Nurse Debbie while choking down a gasp.
"Think I can get in the hair salon today?"
"I'll see what I can do. I think this classifies as an emergency. How many cannolis you have there? our angel said with a wink."
"Probably not enough. But I'll bring more tomorrow.'
The miracle worker worked a miracle.
"Let's go. They'll get you in now."
"Oh bless you. How many cannolis?"
And off they went before anyone could see.
"Oh my God. Blue?" I asked. "I've got to go see."
"Bright blue! And no you won't. She told me specifically not to tell you."
"Debbie! Darling, I'd only go in support. Surely she needs some consoling and a calming spirit in this time of trauma. And who better than I?"
"She said 'Absolutely do not tell Andy.'"
"Fine. I won't go," nearly biting my tongue in two. Or three.
So! While Nurse Debbie toddled off to tend to other tasks, I hopped up out of my recliner and told Mr. Robinson that if she asks, tell her I'm in the bathroom which wasn't really a lie. It'd be my first stop on the way to the salon. This cocktail stuff. What goes is, does come out. With my rolling cocktail tree in hand, off I went on my mission of mercy.
Clanging and banging into the salon, I broke the quiet even more, "Any chance I can these roots touched up? I've got a CT scan tomorrow and I simply must look my best."
Heads snapped towards me.
The stylist: "Not today. Booked up full. Next week!"
With the slowest, most dramatic head turn ever, the much revered Nana tossed out, "Roots? You've got to have hair to have roots. You've got neither. Here. Have a cannoli."
"Well, Nana Mangia! What are you doing here?"
As a million smarty alecky remarks crowdsourced in my head, not one escaped. At the moment.
But less than 20 seconds later…. "You okay? You seem kind of blue." I hate myself sometimes.
I can't say this was one of those times.
Fortunately, for me, by now her dye job done died and her hair was just the tingiest azure; an eek of indigo if you will. And even if you won't. So she didn't know that I knew. Both Nurse Debbie and I were safe from the wrath of this beloved woman. Maybe. She more than me.
"I'm just having a wash and comb out," she said. "And then my braiding of course. Mona here is the best. Maybe she can do something with that.
"Come 'ere. THIS THAT!" she exasperated all over my forehead while flicking my one remaining bang the stood like an lighthouse on the top of my head.
"Frankie? Oh hell no! She's not touching Frankie."
And then Mona flatulated her way into the conversation. "What the fuck? It has a name!"
"Exactly. That's his name. What the Fuck Frankie!"
Apparently she had read about him earlier. Or not. Or maybe heard about him. He is the talk of the town, I've learned. Actually, I just made that up.
"So Mona, next week to get these roots touched up? Think you can gel up Frankie too? He seems a bit flaccid up on top. He could some perking up. How about Tuesday?"
"No. All booked up."
"But I thought…"
"For you, all booked up. And for your little friend too," hissed Mona. "I'm a professional and you don't seem to take hair seriously."
"But I'm a patient here!"
"And I don't have patience for you."
Actually, who could blame her?
"Well, ummmm. So there," I said as I was sucker-punched. "So Nana, are you about ready to go? I'll walk back with you. I've got a get rabies shot in between cocktails and this one is about empty.
"You go ahead," she said." I'll be about an hour or so."
I'm thinking it'd take Mona at least that long to get Nana's hair back to the whiter shade of pale.
"Here. Take a cannoli with you for later. Think Frankie wants one too?"
"Probably not. He's dieting. But thanks."
"Sure he is, you big mamaluke," shaking her head with an obvious air of dismay.
And as the door was closing I heard what I thought I'd never hear come out of her mouth.
"Frankie. What the fuck? Such a big mameluke," and then with a sigh she added this hug:
"But he's my mameluke. I love him like he's one of my own."
Here at the Chemo Bar and Salon, we meet as strangers and leave as family.
Hey! Want a cannoli?