Lady In Waiting
For a city all about speed, New York is a lot of waiting.
Sometimes it's waiting for a cab, sometimes it's a table on a Friday night at Chelsea Piers, sometimes it's waiting in traffic on a Monday afternoon, and sometimes it's just waiting for a bathroom.
And in each case, to people conditioned to think that the space time continuum runs differently in our city that never sleeps, the minutes spent waiting feel like hours.
But the worst kind of waiting happens in the room that takes its name from the act itself.
On Tuesday afternoon, Erik, me, Christine and Raoul sat in the waiting room at one of the top doctors in Manhattan, Dr. Ronald Adler. Christine had been given a biopsy and we were waiting to hear the results.
I couldn't really believe she had cancer. She was so young! Erik had told me in private that her mother had died at an early age as well of a mysterious disease, so it probably ran in the family, but yet…it was so bizarre, awful; like a nine car pileup in downtown Manhattan, or hearing about a shoe sale the day after it happened.
Christine sat quietly with her hands folded in her lap. She was looking stoically at the floor, waiting to hear her fate.
This was truly the worst kind of waiting because it wasn't like being caught in traffic where you could scream out obscenities or hank your horn, or waiting for a table where when you got fed up you could just leave. We were stuck, waiting quietly, not even a Highlights Magazine in sight.
Finally the nurse came in and took Christine and Raoul away.
"I wish we could be in there with them," I muttered, pregnancy was making my motherly hormones kick in.
"I know, but the doctor won't allow it," Erik said, taking my hand and kissing it, "They'll be alright."
But they weren't alright. Christine's lump was malignant.
"They said it was…stage one," Raoul told us over a somber lunch at Pastis, "And we've scheduled the…operation, to…take it out, next Wednesday."
I nodded, but I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Again, my hormones were wreaking havoc on my emotions.
"Good," Erik said, "You know, a woman in my office had breast cancer and she's completely fine now."
Christine was teary as well, making our waiter quickly drop off our food before awkwardly rushing away from us.
"This is how my mother must have died," Christine said in a low voice, "This is what must have killed her. They said that your chances of getting it are better if someone in your family has had it before. Why is that?"
Not feeling that this was a time to explain gene pools, I tried to cheer her up by pulling myself together. That was the tricky thing about my own condition; one minute I was a wreck and the next I was fine.
"Christine that was…years ago," I said, and I meant it; Christine's mother had to have died in the 1800s. "We have better ways of dealing with this illness now."
"But I still have an illness," Christine said, "I'm still sick. I could die."
"You're not going to die," I said quickly.
"You will be fine Christine," Erik said firmly.
Raoul remained silent. His face was a little green and I got the feeling it had nothing to do with the trout amandine he had ordered for lunch. I could understand; if sometime told me Erik had cancer I wouldn't know what to say either.
From a somber party in the Meatpacking District, I had to go to a wedding party on Madison Ave. Susan, whose wedding was set for December 12th, had made an appointment at Vera Wang for her wedding dress and her bridesmaids dresses to be fitted.
"No…no I think this needs to come in more on the top," I heard Susan saying as I was led back to where the girls were trying on their dresses. "And the hem on Rebecca's dress needs to be longer."
"Longer!" Rebecca sounded scandalized, "Honey, I'm wearing this to a wedding not a convent!"
"Rebecca, this is my wedding, not some night out downtown!" Susan snapped. "Is it really too much to ask that for once your dress isn't a…micro mini!"
From what we had observed, the combine pressures of pregnancy and impending nuptials had made Susan become even more anal that usual.
"Well, I guess you could consider it your gift, but I'm taking back the crock pot I got you."
"Oh you were the one that got that!" The anger completely disappeared from her voice, "I saw it was gone from the registry! That was one of my favorite things…"
I laughed inwardly despite my grim mood; these girls could always make me smile.
"Liv! There you are!" Susan cried when she saw me, "My maid of honor! I was wondering when you'd get here!"
"Liv are you alright?" Jackie, who could always pick up on style, noticed that today I had paired by Mui Mui dress with a belt of distress.
I nodded, "I'm fine, and so is the baby…but we've just come from the doctor's. Christine has breast cancer.
Rebecca looked terrified, Susan sympathetic, and Jackie confused.
"But she's so young," Jackie said.
"I know," I sat down miserably on a round sofa in the fitting room. A woman tried to hand me a glass of champagne and I glared at her. "I'm not fat you know, I'm pregnant! Get that alcoholic poison away from me!"
"Olivia!" Susan looked pointedly at me, "We're in Vera Wang remember!"
"Oh but you can order us all around like your Napoleon Bride-apart?" Rebecca demanded, coming over to me and putting her hand on my back, "Olivia's had some rough news and she can't even deal with it like normal people do, with alcohol."
Jackie and I laughed.
"Thanks Rebecca," I said, "That's the first time I've laughed all day."
But it was not the last. It was actually very amusing to watch Susan boss around the women in the shop, trying to make her dress and beautiful and elegant as possible even though she looked pregnant and ready to pop. Apparently Greg had suggested to her that they might want to wait to get married until after she had the baby, but Susan had refused. She had always wanted it all, and if that meant all at once then so be it.
My dress was not so easy either. I wasn't as big as Susan but I was still noticeably pregnant. This did not deter the woman of Wang however. The color Susan had picked for me was a rich crimson, and by the time the fashion forward frock was on my baby bump had all but disappeared.
"Wow," I said, looking at myself in the three way mirror, "Lucky for me the bubble dress look is in."
"You can thank Jackie," Susan said, studying her bride's maid approvingly, "She's the one who told me."
"You look fabulous Liv, in fact," Jackie spun around, "I'd say we all look pretty good."
Rebecca smiled, "Hey, why do you say we all finish up here, then head over to 1492 for tapas and cocktails?"
1492 was a Spanish and Latin American tapas restaurant over on Clinton and Rivington that I had been dying to try and, even though we had just eaten lunch, I had been so depressed that I had hardly eaten.
I know I should have gone back to the apartment, but with all the pressure in my life and now the devastating news of Christine's condition, I did not think I could handle the present, so I went to 1492 instead.
Early dinner with the girls turned into an ongoing gossip fest that lasted past sunset. By the time I got home it was rather late and I was exhausted…and I had to pee. Sometimes being pregnant was a real dump.
As late as it was, Erik had not returned from work yet. I did not know where Raoul was, but Christine was sitting in our living room staring at the TV. Project Runway was on but I did not think she was watching it.
I suddenly realized; Christine had been sitting there all day, waiting, for me.
"Christine?" I asked hesitantly.
"I really like that dress," She said absently, "The one Daniel made…it's stunning, and all made of flowers."
I sat down next to her.
"How…are you?" I asked lamely.
"Fine…I have cancer." She blinked; she looked like one of the porcelain dolls my sister Lily used to have when we were kids. "A week ago I didn't even know what cancer was and now it's killing me."
"It's not going to kill you—"
"But she if it does?" She cut me off, "What if I die?"
I didn't say anything. What was there to say? Instead I sat there and watched the Project Runway marathon with her.
Later that night I was still wondering what I could have told Christine. I realized that a lot of our lives are spent waiting for answers to questions; can my dress be shorter? Can I have my wedding when I'm bursting with a baby? Will I be a good mother? Can I survive an illness that might kill me?
I told Erik what was on my mind.
To my surprise, he smiled at me.
"Liv, I'm going to tell you something. I spent a lot of time, half my live really, brooding over questions and I never found the right answer to any of them. Some things we just don't know. And Christine, well, we've just got to get her to focus on the things we do know. We're getting her the best oncologist in the city, she's having the surgery and then the chemotherapy, and she's just got to take things day by day."
I nodded. Erik might not have had all the solutions, but he did answer my question.
The next day at work his words were still ringing in my head and I had a thought. Maybe I couldn't make her less scared, but as an employee of the House of CHANEL, I did have access to a large fashion rolodex…
"What are you doing?" Christine was asking Erik, who was leading her over to our apartment. It had been a week since her surgery and they had gotten all of it out. Christine was on her way to a full recovery.
"But I don't want to go anywhere!"
Erik opened the door and Christine gasped.
A large banner had been hung in our apartment reading "Congratulations Christine!" and I had gathered Susan, Jackie, and Rebecca. Of course Raoul and I were there. But, most importantly, I had called up someone at Michael Kors and gotten the number for Daniel Vosovic, Christine's favorite designer on Project Runway.
When he had heard my request, design a dress for my sister in law who was battling cancer, he had agreed generously to do me the favor. Some of his friends from the show had turned up as well, all in support of the illness that touches so many lives.
I had also contacted some friends I know who had beaten the big C, Erik had invited his friend from work, and they had all come out in support of Christine.
"I…I don't know what to say," She was practically crying, hugging her husband.
I smiled. We still didn't know if Christine would be alright. None of us knew if we would be alright, but our lives just wouldn't wait.