previous: The Remains of Angelo ch3
I asked the question from the comfort of the side chair; the visitor’s chair, the place to inquire about questions that have nothing to do with your own mind, body, or soul. “How long does a round of chemo last?”
I can still recall Dr. Edwin Zhao’s response. “As long as it needs to.” He spoke the words like a teacher addressing a class of small children. Dumbass kids always want to know ‘why.’ ‘Why is the sky blue, why is water wet?’ And once the brilliant adult renders an answer the little shit will just keep asking why questioning the world all the way down to an atomic level.
All I wanted to know was, ‘Why does my partner have such a severe, negative reaction to the only possible treatment for his super rare, horrific cancer.’ Angelo had a preexisting heart condition, made worse by the fact that the inoperable tumors were within the very walls of his crippled organ.
“Seriously,” Angelo grumbled, he reached for a pack of cigarettes, but once he realized where he was, he grabbed a bag of CBD gummies instead. “Who the fuck gets cancer in their heart?”
The last time Angelo underwent the procedure, his chest would freeze; his oxygen would fall to well below seventy percent and he would quickly lose consciousness. What was even more infuriating was the fact that when his blood oxygen reading was starting to fall below eighty percent, none of the radiology staff seemed to care. The reaction was, ‘That doesn’t happen. You’re probably just misreading the screen.’ Or my favorite, ‘Chemo doesn’t affect the respiratory system. What you saw was just a fluke.’
Those nurses were very wrong. This had happened at both appointments. That was why I considered this to be ‘two rounds of chemo.’ (That was all Dr. Zhao had originally quoted.) It was at that moment, I chose to put on my big-boy pants and ask, “Maybe we could look into other options?”
Dr. Zhao, a man who I once had respect for, looked at me with a patronizing smile. He simply said, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
That was my cue to stop talking. I looked to Angelo who was working on becoming sufficiently high enough to avoid engaging in profanity. “So, what are the options, doc?”
Dr. Zhao nodded, addressing the love of my life in a calm, professional manner. “There’s always the option of moving into hospice care. Unlike the staff at the radiation clinic, this would be a place where medical teams could work to better treat your pain.”
Angelo was very sick. Even now, he had a fever, and just prior to the appointment he’d been vomiting. However, the only thing worse would be if he was unable to work. “No, thank you, Doc,” he said with a chuckle. “I think I’ll take option C.”
“Option C?” Dr. Zhao asked, clearly not getting the ‘joke.’
“CBD.” Yes, Angelo preferred the alternate option; to return home, and smoke a crap-ton of weed.
That got a slight glimmer of amusement from the otherwise stoic medical professional. “Are you currently using CBD during your treatments?”
“At the clinic? I didn’t know that was allowed.”
“It actually is. I think it would be beneficial for you to give treatment one more try while making use of CBD products such as vaping, tincture oils or capsules.”
“But not edibles?”
“That decision really comes down to what you’re able to hold down without vomiting. But I don’t see why not.”
I sighed, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Yes, nausea is a more common side effect of chemotherapy, but that’s no reason to make it the main focus. ‘My partner can’t breathe, you fucking moron. And you’re telling him to keep going, but with the use of CBD? What about morphine? Or how about anything that would require you to stop hiding behind your computer and do something?’
Part of me wanted Angelo to storm out, but that’s not what happened.
“I guess I could give that a try.” Angelo reached for my hand, but his chair was positioned just out of grasp.
I could have gotten up and walked to his side, but that would have been a show of support for his decision. Instead, I found myself crossing my arms, nodding in silence.
“I guess it’s decided. I can get you another session in about two weeks,” Dr. Zhao said as he stood up, holding out his hand.
Angelo mirrored his movements; standing, gripping the doctor’s hand with a firm, professional motion. Perhaps this was out of politeness. With this handshake, Angelo was sealing his fate. I’d like to think he did it for me; he wanted to be with me, to live a long healthy life. But I wasn’t blind. I know he did it for her.
Katie was still living at the cafe. She seemed to finally realize that Angelo did not have a secret family. His life was the cafe, the neighborhood. They would collaborate on ideas for events, donations, and giveaways. She even convinced him to start writing a book; a non-fiction memoir with all of his recipes.
We walked back to my car in silence. Angelo pulled out his old model iPhone, texting someone. He smiled, chuckled even. It had to be Katie. They texted back and forth until we arrived at our destination. Despite the fact that we were housing someone who royally pissed off the Dragon Queen I still had my parking space in the pay-by-the-hour lot.
“Oh?” Angelo looked around, taking a moment before letting out a sigh and exiting the vehicle.
“It’s nothing.” He sent one last text before pausing to lean on the car for stability. “I just need a minute.”
“I can drop you off closer,” I offered. The café apartment was still a good two blocks away. It wasn’t much of a walk for me, but for someone who was undergoing physically demanding cancer therapy (the decision may have been an oversight on my part.)
Angelo didn’t answer, he just started to walk slowly, taking frequent breaks to catch his breath. I maintained a deliberate pace, staying a few feet behind him. to make sure he was able to make it up the stairs without incident. I waited in the doorway, until he was comfortably sitting in bed, with his pile of notebooks, each one filled with ideas, recipes, and stories. His eyes closed and in a matter of seconds, he drifted off to sleep. With nothing better to do I went to check on my new housemate.
Katie was downstairs running the cafe. “Sure, don’t even say hello,” she said as she emerged from the kitchen. The former tattoo artist/prostitute was pretty decent at assembling salads, even bringing in her own ingredients.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you.”
“No worries,” she said shoving a spoonful of some kind of cold, grain-based salad in my direction. “You like?”
It was a decent enough version of a tabouleh salad “I guess. It’s edible.”
“I’m adding it to the event menu.”
We were going to host a day-long event, with all proceeds going to the local homeless shelter. (Last week it was a school raising money for a new playground.) I didn’t mind working for free. I loved to cook, and I loved Angelo. I loved him enough to trust him with my future; if we went broke, we’d all go broke together.
“I think I should go check on Angelo.” I walked away quickly, before Katie could even reply. Upstairs, I found Angelo in bed, just a little after 12:30, sleeping among his papers.
My partner was often very cold and his shivering looked an awful lot like a seizure. I shook him a little harder than I intended. “Angelo?”
He opened his eyes, reaching around the bed for his reading glasses. “Hey man. how’s Katie doing with the project?”
Katie entered the room, holding a similar paper notebook. She flopped down on the bed, like an overly excited puppy. “We’re all good for tomorrow’s tasting party.” Taking her place on his lap. she playfully removed his glasses, placing them on her head like shades.
“Tasting party?” I asked, making my way to the doorway.
“Don’t worry I got it covered.” Katie giggled. She cupped Angelo’s face, giving him a long kiss. It was the kind of kiss that people give their prison spouses. (That should have been my first clue.)
Angelo took a moment, swallowing a lump in his throat. “I’ve been having dreams about my mother.”
“Maria Angelina?” Katie asked. Working in the kitchen she wore her hair up in a style that would not get us in trouble with the health inspector. But in his bed, in his arms, Katie removed a series of rubber bands, releasing her long flowing curls.
“No, my biological mother. I think she might have passed recently. I just keep having visions of a woman with blonde hair, blue eyes.”
“Does she speak to you?” she asked while massaging her newly liberated scalp.
I wanted to comment on her freshly dyed hair. She readded the blue, mixing with her base of burgundy red, giving her streaks of purple, ruby and lavender.
Angelo spoke, his eyes glazing over with exhaustion and pain. “She stands in a field surrounded by death and decay.” He was stroking Katie’s vibrant hair, holding her close like an emotional support animal. That’s what Katie was.
She even purred like a cat, as she turned to me. “Don’t be shy, Jeff. There’s plenty of room for one more.”
“I’m good. I’ll leave you to your privacy.” I shut the door quietly, resisting the urge to slam it. Yes, I was resentful, but her companionship was doing something for him. Angelo had told me about his history of hiring prostitutes. It started when he lost his virginity to a high-end sex worker. The man had been pushing forty at the time, so it felt like a necessary expense. Since then, he had indulged five more times (prior to his suicide attempt.)
I reclined on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. there was a floral pattern that crossed the room like an ocean wave. There was something about being with women; something that he craved, a magic the healed his soul. It wasn’t my job to understand.
I planned to spend the night on the sofa, drinking myself to sleep. Unfortunately, there was no beer or wine to be found, (and I sure as fuck was not about to touch Angelo’s collection of unlabeled bottles) so I just had to settle for cigarettes and cheap iced tea. (Not exactly ideal for sleep.) And then the screaming started.
“Fuck me like you mean it, daddy.”
‘Jesus Christ, why?’ I tried to hold a pillow over my head, but the sounds were still audible.
“Oh God, yes, daddy.” Katie was whimpering like a dog in heat. “You’re so good. You’re my savior, you’re my King.” This was followed by more sex talk in Spanish.
‘But why was she the only one talking? Was Angelo even conscious?’ I told myself, if the door was locked, I would go back to bed and pretend like this was all a bad dream. (If he or she was dead, I could deal with the aftermath tomorrow.) With that in mind, I placed my hand on the knob, turning it as silently as possible.
The door easily opened. (Of course, it did. This was her powerplay.) By the light of the window, I could see Angelo going balls-deep in Katie, fucking her doggy-style over the bed. I don’t know what was more shocking; Katie’s overacting worthy of an adult film award, or the fact Angelo was standing on two feet, pounding her illicit regions with the energy of a man half his age.
From the door, I couldn’t see his face. The light was mostly on Katie’s back, highlighting her ass and thighs. From her position, Katie turned to me, our eyes locking for less than a second. Apparently, that was enough to be considered a challenge. She slipped away from Angelo. Repositioning herself on her knees. She bit the inside of her mouth, breathing hard in anticipation of Angelo’s moist, glossy member.
I slammed the door. In my head I was screaming profanity; she had won, that night was the last time I set foot in the bedroom. Katie had claimed her space, and now my spot was the sofa. Hopefully this would be all worth it.
At Angelo’s next chemo appointment, he was walking with confidence. He seemed strong, and for that I was grateful. He was hooked up, with the line connected to the port in his chest. Leaning back with a bottle of water and plenty of CBD pills, he seemed poised for success (or at least the possibility of making it through one full session.)
And then his heart stopped. I was forced out of the room for what felt like hours. According to the doctors who broke his ribs to revise him, Angelo had been (legally) dead for about thirty seconds. He was moved to the ICU.
Katie came over after closing the cafe. She was forced to wait in the hallway, since the ICU staff was already told that I was Angelo’s only family. She waited patiently for a little over an hour. I knew this because she never left the view of the doorway.
Eventually I felt bad enough to allow her in. I did this under the guise of taking a bathroom break. When Angelo was asleep, I waited until Katie’s back was turned before disappearing into the closet. The ICU did not have individual bathrooms (because most were too sick to move on their own.) Staff had their own bathrooms (requiring a key and a passcode.) Any visitors needing to take a piss would have to leave the ward, walk all the way to the public restrooms by the elevators.
Soon, Katie took the opportunity and snuck in the room. She took a seat on Angelo’s bed, kissing his cheek. “I got you something.”
From under his oxygen mask, I could see him smile.
“Trick or treat, Angel baby.” Katie kissed him again, cupping his face as she removed the medical device.
She was slipping him something and I needed to know what. I sprang from my hiding space, gripping her by her stupid clown hair. Katie of course screamed but this was more out of shock than fear.
“What did you give him?”
“Why do you care?” She quickly turned to spit in my face. “Fentanyl.”
‘You have to be kidding me.’ I had never hit a woman before. Katie would be the exception. I slammed her against the farthest wall, near the door. I had every intention of tossing her out on her ass. And then she sprang up and started to strangle me.
To say I had even a remote chance at victory would be incorrect. I was larger, stronger, but Katie was from the mean streets of the bible belt. She punched me in the face, over and over. When she had me on the ground, she pinned me down with her knees and resumed her attempt to rip my head off. Eventually security pulled her away. It took two large men; one to remove her and a separate one to restrain her.
“I want you out of the apartment!” I shouted. Glancing at a nearby mirror, I could see I had bruises on my neck and face, appearing as if I had just been on a receiving end of a fight with a brutal drug dealer. That’s what she was; a drug dealer, a street walker, and God knows what else.
“It’s Angelo’s apartment!” Katie shouted. “He wants me there, and you know that!”
She was cut off by the guard. “Sir, do you want her kicked out or are you looking to press charges.”
I wanted her arrested. I knew if she was picked up right that moment there was no way she would piss clean. But then I thought ahead. There was a matter of Dragon; if Katie still had access to drugs she must have still been associating with the most powerful woman in the neighborhood. That was a target I did not want on my back. I turned to Angelo, to see if he was awake. This moment would cement my decision.
Angelo was conscious. His hand moved to his bed controls, allowing him to sit up just enough to grant me a view of his eyes. His blue eyes were filled with sadness. Unfortunately, there was no way to determine which one of us (Katie or myself) he wept for. I needed to play it safe.
“No, officer,” I said with a mouth full of spit and blood. “I don’t need to press charges, just get her out of my face.” The guards chuckled, likely assuming I didn’t want the world to know I had been beaten by a girl. When they were gone, I was taken to get my injuries treated.
I had a broken nose, two black eyes and hairline fractures in my collarbone, neck and spine. I was given a room on the main floor (with two randomly assigned roommates.) One appeared to be a rambling homeless guy coming down off a bad trip. He was speaking one long monologue about the injustices of the world. I buried my face in a pillow, forcing myself to find sleep. That was how I didn’t notice Katie enter the room.
“Hey Jeff.” She shook my shoulder, getting my attention before taking a seat on the opposite side of the room. Her choice of plastic chair allowed her to look into my eyes while staying close enough to the door to make a quick escape.
Tired and in pain, I muttered a single word, “Why?”
“Why?” she repeated. I needed to specify which of the many issues I wanted an explanation for.
“Why did you give him drugs? Angelo is a recovering addict.”
“A recovering addict is still an addict.” She crossed her arms. “I know you’re aware of how much he drinks. And the guy is practically obsessed with CBD.”
I knew she had a point. “And that’s why you gave him illegal drugs? It was a special treat that only you had the power to give him?”
Katie nodded; her gaze fell to the floor. “You know you’re the only boy he’s been with. Before you he never even thought of guys.”
“Is that what he told you?” I knew that Angelo masturbated to gay porn. From what I’ve seen, it was mainly solo males doing things to their bodies that involved either comically sized toys, or vibrators. Some of it was pretty hot. I was getting slightly turned on just thinking about our time in bed. When watching porn together I’d always go down on him. The way his body tensed, the smell of his sweat. He craved me, he wanted me. Angelo made me feel like I was worth something. And Katie had to go and take that away.
“You know he loves you,” Katie said. Her tone was completely serious, without any hint of sarcasm.
Although I did not trust her word, I secretly hoped that it was true. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Love would be the only way to explain how much pain I was in. I wanted to die, because I could not take Angelo’s sickness. I wanted so badly to take his pain away, but that was not within my power. “Screw you,” I muttered under my breath.
“It’s the truth.” She stood up, walking to my bedside. “Angelo told me you like to kiss him in his sleep. Sometimes he’s actually asleep, but most of the time he’s just waiting for you.”
Now I was crying. It felt so long since I’d given up my spot in the bedroom. “There was a reason why I always kissed him in his sleep. Sometimes I could feel his breath, soft gentle warmth caressing his lips. It was a reminder that he was still alive; to talk to, to hold, to love. I guess that’s why it broke my heart that he chose you.”
“He never chose me. I forced my way in with tears and blowjobs.”
“Yes, that has been established,” she said with a smirk. “Rest assured I’m not as good as you.”
“What?” Now I was the one looking for clarification.
“At oral sex.” Katie placed her hand upon mine. “Angelo speaks highly of your technique. I just don’t have the same skill set.” “The only thing I have to offer him is drugs.”
I wanted to ask if she drugged him in order to get sex. Clearly what I had walked in on, was the combination of Viagra and ecstasy (possibly cocaine.)
“You know, he really does miss you.” Katie’s finger wiped away a single tear from my cheek. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but could you consider coming to bed with us?”
“Maybe,” I said with a smile, “Only if you promise to be on your best behavior.”
“I can only promise to try.” Katie leaned in, giving me a kiss on my forehead. “Anyway, I got to go.”
“Why? Security doesn’t give a crap if you’re here,” I muttered, assuming that was her main concern; if she was caught on the premises, she could risk being arrested.
“I want to try to check on Angelo.” She patted my hand, clearly devoted and determined to attempt her task. “I know he’ll be asleep, and the ICU nurses will probably recognize me, but I really have nothing better to do.”
“I’ll check back tomorrow. Hopefully the rising sun will bring about a better day.”
She left before I could ask about the origins of her odd, fortune cookie, quote.
Unfortunately, the next day brought only more suffering. Dr. Zhao, now fully convinced that traditional chemo was not a viable option, revealed that Angelo could be a candidate for a procedure that could allow him to receive treatment without having to be conscious.
“That would help how?” I asked.
Angelo was resting comfortably in his ICU bed. He was awake, looking at me with his big blue eyes. I realized he was choosing to let me handle Dr. Zhao.
“The surgical implant would allow for localized chemotherapy.”
“Um, ok?” I had no idea how it worked or if it was even legit. “Is this covered by Medicaid?”
As a small business owner, Angelo qualified for the ‘Covered California’ healthcare program. This was a public, low-cost health insurance through the Medicaid system. But this insurance was more for show; pharmacy still cost an arm and a leg, as did emergency room visits and most medical procedures.
“No,” Dr. Zhao replied. He directed his next words directly to Angelo himself. “The procedure is considered experimental, in this country.”
“But it’s legal?”
“It’s in the process of getting FDA approval.” That pretty much meant that the co-payment would be more than any normal person could afford.
“Can we have a few weeks to think about it?”
“A few weeks?” Dr. Zhao looked at me like I just asked for a gram of unicorn fairy dust. “With the advanced stage of your partner’s condition, he’ll likely become ineligible within six months.
“Last time I checked a week was less than six months.”
“There’s going to be the issue of scheduling. This is not a commonly performed procedure. I would need time to locate a facility willing to take him as a patient.”
“Fine,” I said through gritted teeth. “How long do we have to talk this over before giving you an answer; a day, a week, an hour?”
“Let’s schedule a meeting in a week. Will Friday work for you?”
I slipped my fingers under the blankets, reaching for Angelo’s hand. “Yeah, I guess we’ll see you Friday.” That would be enough time to converse with Katie and set up a game plan.