Midway mayhem and carnival games stuffed with sweaty strangers, shirts stained with hot dog condiments and the grip of grubby little fingers.
Thunk, zip, ping, tink-tink-tink— the rift is a background melody, drawing gamers for their shot at winning a stuffed, overpriced trinket.
Tomorrow it will be tossed in the corner, next week lost under the bed but tonight — Tonight it is a winner’s trophy bobbing head-high along the midway highway.
Overhead, thick greasy machinery whirls lighted buckets across the sky. Youth erupts from a cage spinning by on the SkyDiver, screams trailing into laughter.
Stilt-walkers and clowns parade past spinning teacups and bumper cars filled with face-painted children.
A toddler passes, his small hands clamped either side of an elephant ear, nose and cheeks coated with powdered sugar and blackberries.
Fried food sizzles and grease pops under the sweetness of sugar spun convections. I breathe in deep fried Oreos and Twinkies as I pass food trucks stuffed with German sausages, barbecued chicken, ribs and waffle fries parked next to vendors offering chilled microbrews and the delicate bloom of wine tasting.
The breeze manages to slide down the midway, carrying the scent of hay and manure from the temporary stables and arenas splayed over grungy blacktop.
Here is life without borders, without order, an eruption of flavors and flair in a kaleidoscope of American carnival culture.
I’m not a fair person — But this year?
I want to go.
And I only want to go because it’s cancelled.
I found myself thinking about the OC County Fair while in Radiation, craving chaos far removed from this sterile environment of high-tech equipment and restraint I find myself locked into.
I had some specific ideas about radiation going into it, images of a landscape ravaged by nuclear fallout, the smell of burning flesh; you know, a burning husk that is Linda Hamilton, clinging to a chain-link fence.
Radiation is fast, painless and not at all what I thought. No burning sensation, no smell of burning flesh, no laser light show flashing above closed eyelids.
Before I’m ever hit with a laser, I’m brought in for a consultation and a “Fitting.”
Stripped to the ever-present hospital gown flapping open in the back, I’m brought into a sterile room with a gurney jutting out of thick, white machinery.
Two technicians help me onto the gurney, invite me to place my head on the elongated plastic slab. A solid foam pillow is cradled under my knees and I’m handed a foam Distress Donut (DD), what I will fondly come to call Dedie, just because I have to name things.
A warm softness envelops me. Ah, happiness is a heated blanket.
The technician’s face hovers into view, obstructed by both mask and face shield.
“Today we’re fitting you for the mask you’ll wear during radiation. It’s a little warm initially, but shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Then we’ll take scans and Dr. Rad will review them and coordinate your treatment plan. You’ll be here a bit longer than usual today, generally radiation is no longer than ten, fifteen minutes.
Well hey now, I can bear anything for 15 minutes.
Do I have a choice? I don’t. I’m not sure why they ask.
In any event, two more technicians arrive in my peripheral carrying a slab of sturdy white plastic mesh.
“Here we go.”
Let’s get our terminology straight here.
What they call a “mask” is actually a partial body sarcophagus:
Thick, white mesh is heated up and pressed over my features by two, maybe three technicians over the contours of my face, neck, chest and shoulders. All I know is, there are a lot of fingers pressing everywhere, over my eyelids, lips, ears, throat.
It’s not unpleasant, just strange. I lay there as the contours cool and conform to my body.
Mold in place, I hear CLICK near my left shoulder.
The sarcophagus tightens.
CLICK-CLICK-CLICK up my left side, around my head, down the right…
I’m literally being locked into the shell and the shell is locked to the gurney.
Whirring machinery overhead, shadows pass over my closed lids. I want to open up my eyes but I don’t —
For one, my eyes are bad enough without a dose of radiation adding to their demise.
For another, I can’t. The sarcophagus shell is so tight against my features I can’t open my eyes or move my lips. My chest constricts against it with each breath.
I’ve never, ever been claustrophobic but I feel like a wild animal, trapped. I want to thrash and buck. My breath comes fast and shallow. I work to regulate my breathing, go to my happy place.
Somehow I wind up at the OC County Fair. It’s not what I would consider to be my happy place but I find I enjoy it there immensely, far more than the reality that is my environment —
Turn on the news and Coronavirus deaths are rampant, school children are confined to online learning, fires are burning, political debates are raging and there’s anarchy in the streets.
It hurts my heart, steals my breath more than the sarcophagus.
We are bombarded with media that generates far more toxicity than radiation treatment.
Guard your mind, my darling.
Radiation reminds me we have the power to go anywhere in our minds. Before anything appears in our physical realm, it first exists in our minds.
I wonder about this with cancer, whether I created it somehow. I don’t linger on what I can’t control — That, would make me insane.
I ask what it has come to teach me now.
Faith, is a lingering response.
It requires a certain amount of faith to trust my doctors in the midst of what feels like alien exploration (not that I would know) and chemotherapy cocktails that spread across the landscape of my body like poison.
The effects are cumulative.
My skin is a ravaged wasteland of welts, rashes and wounds that don’t heal, this from the biological agent added to my chemo, not radiation.
I’m assured the day is coming when my neck will leather, tanned like a 70-year-old sunbather. And — loss of hair in that area.
I can do without a Sasquatch neck, no great loss.
Radiation Doc tells me she can reach other pockets of cancer, but Dr. Bruce Lee has vetoed additional radiation therapy.
“Why?” I ask him. “Isn’t the goal to rid my body of cancer any way possible?”
Nuke it-Nuke it-Nuke it!
“I’m concerned about the side-effects on your health,” he replies. “We’re targeting the throat already. If we radiate the other areas of consideration, your esophagus would be affected, becoming swollen and irritated. Patients who have this type of treatment endure a great deal of pain… And weight loss. We can’t afford that with you.”
Oh… Well, he’s right about that. I’ve dropped nearly 20 lbs since I started this journey, 95.5 on the dial. The new chemo/radiation combo isn’t helping. It’s hard to swallow, food tastes “meh” or not at all —
Probably why I spent considerable time describing carnival fare.
I consider Bruce Lee, tapping notes on his laptop. The man gives a shit about me, not just killing the cancer.
My heart warms and my eyes burn– Oh dear God, am I going to cry?
Faith in Bruce Lee has just climbed to a new level.
Faith strips away the doom and gloom that has a way of crawling into the attic of your mind, whispering loudly between splayed fingers–
Omg, this is horrible. I can’t breathe. The world is going to Hell. We’re all doomed!
Pick up a mental bat and Cody Bellinger those bitches. Keep practicing and soon enough, we’ll be riding pink ponies and parading those overpriced stuffed trophies down the mental midway.