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June 18th, 2012

The minister across from us was waiting for his daughter. The woman with the tightly wound hair read silently to herself with her head down and her foot wiggling violently back and forth, as if she were River Dancing in her sleep. There was an Indian couple off to the left by the coffee machine and one lone man, probably in his late twenties, half asleep and slumped in his chair. Two volunteers manned the front desk, and the waiting room was large and spacious, and came equipped with a big screen TV that hung over our heads blaring Anderson Cooper and his teeth.

Tom had grabbed us a corner couch nestled off to itself between two fake ferns and a coffee table in the middle. He and Allan bought enough food to feed West Africa and by the time Lysa and I arrived, they were sitting on the couch, with the munchies spread out like some bizarre, hospital picnic. The last time I’d been in a hospital waiting room was in the 80’s when my best friend Ginger was spending her final moments gasping for breath, and surrounded by doctors and nurses is space suits, terrified this strange new immune disease was going to leave splotches on their skin. I didn’t have a lot of practice with waiting rooms.

And this time, it was my wife. My wife was having brain surgery to remove a tumor. From her brain.

A week before Chrisanne and I had spoken to the neurosurgeon: a bright and slightly too young looking Dr. Chu.

“This is a benign tumor, but we really won’t know until we get in there.” He said with this calm and whispery voice. Dr. Chu had beautiful skin. Probably the most beautiful skin I think I’d ever seen on a man before. And certainly on a neurosurgeon. And every time he spoke, I kept picturing an Asian Marilyn Monroe.

“So, exactly what does that mean? What exactly are you going to do when you…get in there?” I asked, Chrisanne by my side smiling from ear to ear.

My wife, who’s fascination with this tumor thing was starting to get on my last nerve, found everything that was happening to her “Fascinating”. She’d looked up the operation on You Tube (and watched it twice…once in slow motion I think), she’d been to the acoustic nearoma website, found pictures of brains with various other tumors, and was mesmerized by her own MRI.

“Well…what we’ll do is make an incision here…” he pointed to the lower right part of my wife’s head, as she turned and smiled again, “…and then we’ll make another one coming across it, like a window.”

“Uh huh.”

“Isn’t this awesome?” Chrisanne chirped.

“And then, we’ll make a hole in her skull, and open it up and we’ll begin the removal of the tumor.” he whispered.

“You’re making a window and a door in my wife’s head? So what…like a duplex or something?”

Dr. Chu snickered. I did not.

“Sort of, yes.”

“This is so cool.” Chrisanne said.

And so, we sat on the conjoining sofas in the too green waiting room, and ate from the large spread of food, and I was surrounded by some of the best friends I have on the planet. And I sat, with my computer in my lap, watching Lysa work on her show she was off to direct in the summer, and with Tom nestled next to me skimming Facebook and occasionally showing me pictures I haven’t seen since before I was married.

The woman with the tightly wound hair left our circle eventually. I watched her find a chair off in the corner by herself. She was deep in something, and I understood it. I got it. I didn’t know who she was waiting for and she never spoke to any of us, but when she left, when she needed to get away from the crowd that overtook her space. And I got it. I needed these people with me. I needed them to see me, to hold my hand and pretend nothing was happening and eat and go on, and laugh, and leave the room to go downstairs so I could smoke and come back and talk to the minister and hold hands with the Indian couple, and keep me from wanting to jump head first from the third story we were on. My friends did all that, and because they did all that and because the woman with the tightly wound hair saw all that, she had to leave.

And I got it.

I would be fine, and then I wouldn’t. And as the hours dragged on and as the afternoon turned into evening, I wouldn’t be fine. I’d picture the window and then the door in Chrisanne’s skull, and her on a long white table being cut and sliced by people in blue gloves, poking her naked brain. At times, when it was too much, I’d go into the restroom and shatter like a piece of glass. I’d hide my weeping in my hands, or grab some paper towels and cram them into my mouth heaving and shaking on the toilet. Then I’d come out and see Tom’s huge eyes, and his Cheshire cat smile, and I’d be okay. Or Allan would suddenly appear, and take my hands, or hold my shoulder, and I’d be all right. Or Lysa would peer up from her script and wink, or giggle, or talk about “My Fair Lady”, and for a couple of minutes, I’d be okay.

And then I wouldn’t be, all over again.

Because the woman I’ve loved since 1976 was having her skull cut open by people I didn’t know, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I was helpless. Utterly and totally helpless.

Finally, around 6pm that night, after Lysa had to get on the road for her summer gig, we were told Chrisanne was out of surgery and safe, but that she lost a lot of blood and had to be taken to the ICU. Because Allan has worked at Cedars here in LA for almost a decade now, he not only knew most everyone in the hospital, he knew every turn, every trick, every phone number, and every crevice of that hospital. There was appoint at which my brain shut off and I was moving by wrote, at which point, both the boys became my guides. They lead me by the hand and took me to another waiting room, where Tom had packed up the rest of the food and where Allan had brought us through secret tunnels and elevators and few caverns. I felt as if I was walking through the opening of a “Get Smart” episode.

We paced and waited and called and waited some more until about 2 hours later, we were lead to a tiny room with several beeping machines and my wife lying flat, her head bandaged and swollen. I remember standing at the edge of the bed, my hands clutching onto themselves and my breath short and shallow. She was white, white, and her eyes flickered back in her head. Tom and Allan stood next to me, silent and calm and I went to her side, passed the night nurse, and touched her hand. She opened her eyes as wide as she could, and mouthed a drunken:

“I love you.”

After the boys left, I slept overnight in the chair they set up for me in the corner, occasionally bolting upright when the nurse would slide the curtain aside, or when Chrisanne would moan or ask for water. The next day they put her in a private room, and set up a cot in the corner where I laid our bags and set up shop. The next few days were crucial, and anything could happen. But she was alive. We didn’t know if anything had yet happened to her face, or her hearing, but she was alive on the planet and I could touch her and see her and no one else was going to get their hands on her ever again. That was the last time. My wife takes care of things, see. It seems as if it’s me…but it’s not. I’ve done things, sure. I’ve lived through being homeless, through heroin, through AIDS, through my parents death, through my friends death, and through this new journey of finding my way to getting a master’s degree to set me off in a brand new direction. I’ve done stuff, sure. But when the chips are down, when things need to get fixed, or solved, or thought through, or made better, it’s my wife who does that. Not me. So she can’t leave. Who’ll solve the problems?

So the next few days were crucial.

The second day of my hospital adventure, Chrisanne was a bit more alert and attempting to speak and chew and breathe and find herself again, and I was on my way to the cafeteria to get what they called a hamburger. As I walked down the hallway, coming directly at me was the woman with the tightly wound hair. Though this time, her hair hung down over her shoulders. And there was something else. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, and it wasn’t as if I knew her, and although there was little to no time spent with each other in any way, I could see something had changed. She was completely different. She was lighter. She was bigger and brighter and the thing that seemed to weigh her down in the waiting room, and that nervous hyper speed she kept in her right foot, was gone. She was at ease. She was finally breathing. We both stopped in the middle of the hallway, she with her purse around her shoulder and me with mine.

“Hi.” I said, as if we’d missed each other for lunch.

“Hi.” she echoed back.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Better. And you?”

“Better.”

She smiled at me, and headed to the room towards whoever it was she was she’d been waiting for. I picked up my tempo and headed for the almost hamburger, and as we passed each other, we smiled. Big, large, broad and wide. I turned to watch her disappear around the corner and I heard a faint hum escape her lips.

And I got it.

I completely got it.