This is an absolutely true story
" An illness is like a journey into a far country; it sifts all one's experience and removes it to a point so remote that it appears like a vision." Sholem Asch
"You aren’t going to believe who I heard from..."
Willie was on the other end at work. She worked the late afternoon; early evening shift and was due to return at around midnight. Which would be way past my bedtime to have serious discussions. She worked in the anesthesia department at The Methodist Hospital. She procured all the utensils and items need for the surgeon and anesthesiologists. She said she was a glorified maid. But she looked damn cute in her scrubs and lab jacket. I could hear packages being ripped open while, she went about her business stocking the doctor’s carts for surgery. I pictured her in her blue scrubs and surgical hat – phone cupped in her neck oblivious to the cares of the world as I was about to lay a bomb shell one her.
“Who babe?” Ahhh how carefree she sounded. And I was about to change all that.
“Bootsie” I heard the phone drop and a distant slew of cursing as the receiver knocked against disparate surfaces around the room”
Yikes, I re-thought, why didn’t I wait until she got home. Shit.
“What. Why…I’m coming home”
“Willie, no, that isn’t necessary. She’s not with me,” I continued “I just heard from her.”
“How” she asked.
I explained about the instant messaging when Bootsie was in Ixtapa. I then told her about Bootsie’s claim of a fatal illness. Thank goodness that confession was alarming enough for her to completely glass over how I got the news. I wanted to be honest with her and had she asked I would have been forced to tell. In retrospect it was a lie by omission and I will grant you that, but if you knew how volatile this woman was, you would understand my reluctance.
She agreed this was a ploy, but at the same time she understood, if it were true, she would be facing a situation where I might have to make a choice. And there was a chance I would feel morally drawn to go to Bootsie and help her through this darkness.
That wouldn’t happen and even though Willie was still in a state of skepticism about my loyalty in the wake of this disastrous news, she assured me that certain colon cancers, if caught early, are easily brought to remission. She also explained that if Bootsie were in the advanced stage, and she really felt there was little possibility of this, but if so, Bootsie would have a grueling road ahead of her. In my mind, I actually thought we could all do this together. Willie had a medical background that could at least be of some value with the psychobabble the doctors could potentially deliver. But I do not think there was a day where Bootsie and Willie even looked at each other. So me as lover to either, friend to both and diplomat to all, I felt maybe I could close the gap.
The days that followed Bootsie would come to our house during the day on Community drive in West University place, Houston, when Willie was working and follow me around the house like a pathetic puppy, purposefully dropping ashes from her cigarette and leaving little cat sprays all over the house. I would quickly follow up and sweep them away. And why did she continue to smoke if she were “sick”. She said she couldn’t use this time to stop as things were just too hard to deal with. Again I was skeptical. Bootsie would rumage through stuff grabbing little mementos.
" Can I have this?"
"Those would really look stupid on you" as I grabbed my silk panties from her hand.
"Which toothbrush is Willie's?"
I just guffawed at her, really, like I was going to tell her. She would probably close the bathroon door in an attempt to wash the toilet with it.
Then the day came where she wanted me to come to the hospital because she was going to be there for tests, skepticism turned to panic. I was floored. I DIDN’T TELL Willie. I didn’t want to deal with her irrational behavior as this was starting to look serious. I spent many hours looking up this disease, searching for answers, and again those damnable statistics. I thought of Bootsie as I have known her, every part of her was warm and fuzzy, like a teddy bear, a panda. She was an endearing sort, but she had the entire gay community of Houston bowled over by her stories. And she has them. She would tell one lover one story, another an entirely different one. She had different degrees and crazy scholarships. Jobs, girlfriends, family that were portrayed differently to everyone she met. At one time Willie and I went to eat at OnesAMeal and met three other lesbian couples. Each one of us knew an entirely different Bootsie. As fate would have it, she showed up. Hands in her pocket, button down white polo shirt, khaki's and penny loafers ...and that charming smile, walking in as if she owned the world. She spotted us at the table, but instead of coming over and greeting us, she turned and quickly beat feet to her car. We all laughed. You see only Bootsie could get away with that and no one would ever confront her. That would cause a rift and no one wanted to be at odds with her. Yes, she has that much power. She just was so damn cute! And sweet and full of shit. But eventually, I would bring it to her attention.
I made my decision. I was going to scope this out for myself and if push comes to shove, Willie will be involved. But no need to start a new row with them if it wasn’t necessary. I arrived at the hospital the next morning, luckily, it wasn’t Mel’s hospital. She was at M.D. Anderson, and that immediately provoked concern. M.D. Anderson is a cancer hospital and usually you are not slated for your medical needs until after all the tests were done and a doctor made a determination. As I walked the halls, I tried to keep my eyes forward and focused, but one could not ignore the pain and hopelessness on the faces. It was especially difficult because she was in a ward just past the teenagers. Looking at those children and thinking of my own was far too much. Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one ever had to worry about the random cruelty of fatal illness or the woes of old age attacking them or their loved ones? But I had to continue and be faced with it, or I would not be able to be there for Bootsie.
I finally found the waiting area on the floor where Bootsie was. It was filled with her folks. Grandmother, mother, sister - Diane, aunts, nieces. I saw this and realized I may have been mistaken in my skepticism. And then Bootsie came tearing down the hall in her grandmother’s scooter.
“This thing can do 20 mph easy” Bootsie smiled.
She jumped out of the seat and ran to me encasing my shoulders in her warm embrace.
Bootsie was not a small girl. She always had a weight problem, she was around 5’2 and weighed well over 200 pounds, but it really suited her. Part of her persona. And it certainly did not hinder her ability to meet and capture the “fem” crowd.
“You came! I didn’t think… Grandma, Grandpa, Ginger (as she called her mom), this is Dianne, you know the girl I told you.”
I was impressed. I had no idea I had been part of this extended family’s conversations. Diane of course looked at me a bit askew as we had our dealings in the past with Bootsie and her ability to transgress the truth. Bootsie sat down, and with all these witnesses, took my hands in hers and leaned forward in her seat which had changed from the scooter to those awful vinyl covered couches. You have seen them, from a distance they look like they are covered with fine upholstery, up front, they were actually vinyl. But it was a hospital, people throw up, and have other messes. It always causes me to inspect the creases and piping for possible hazmat issues.
“Dianne, they are going to operate on me in a couple of hours, please stay”
I told her the truth, that I hadn’t told Willie where I was and I really needed to go home. Of course, I thought this was just going to be a minor issue, the doctor would look at her colon on the screen (I was hoping Bootsie didn’t call the news offering the film for the 5:00 pm session, much like Katie Couric did. My mind wandered thinking of Bootsie’s colon in Times Square. She loved that kind of shit…excuse me, stuff.
I explained that I planned to tell Willie and that given the situation, and Willie, I believed we could handle this together. Concealing an illness is like keeping a beach ball under water. Bootsie’s contempt showed immediately, but she accepted this as an alternative to not seeing me at all.
I held back my tears. I couldn’t believe this bigger than life personality was going to be reduced to a statistic. My heart just sank. If this turned into something worse, I didn’t think I could handle it. I prayed I wouldn’t run. I prayed I wouldn’t destroy what I had with Willie out of compassion for Bootsie. If Bootsie had any idea of how I was thinking, she would have asked the doctor to cut her from stem to stern and leave the wound wide open for me to see. A person's illness is his or her private territory and, no matter how much she loves you and how close you are, you stay an outsider. You are healthy. In some ways this fit into Bootsies agenda in a strange way; One always has the idea of a stupid man as perfectly healthy and ordinary, and of illness as making one refined and clever and unusual.
The truth was, I had reached that crossroad, that fork in the road, the fork I was going to dig into my own heart. I can truthfully say, at that moment, in my mind, I was packing my stuff and getting ready for a drastic change. I couldn’t have told anyone my decision, because I had no idea what it would be.
But the energy that comprises Bootsie could not be diminished and I hung on to that promise. I believed this was just going to be a little tiny tumor and then it would be gone.
How wrong…how horribly wrong I would be…