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  • "What I'd really like is that big tub of purple pills," he laughed into the phone. "The one marked 'Cure.'"

    He had written me of his dream, the one in which I costarred and we went grocery shopping, swapping stories and laughing, the one where we popped a handful of purple pills labeled as "Cure" and started to glow with the knowledge that everything was going to be all right.

    The dreams weren't drug-induced as so many of his more vibrant ones were, the ones that passed in flashes. From this one, he woke to take out the dog before falling back into bed, his dream and our conversation. Shopping. Hope. Cure.

    "I gather by your photo," he texted between writing and calling, "that you are having a procedure today. I hope all goes well."

    I'd posted the poster from a Rob Reiner film: This is Spinal Tap.

    "The fifth time's a charm," I replied and it was as charming as it could be with 20-odd syringes full of lidocaine to which I had a redhead's resistance (stupid mutation of the melanocortin-1 receptor) and five distinct attempts to collect cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar puncture. At least, it was over and my leg had stopped twitching.

    With a little luck, my brain would soon stop leaking from the holes in my back. If it didn't, if the pain reached an excruciating level, I could go into an emergency room to have the hole sealed with my own platelets. I just needed to take it easy, gauge my body's reaction, read books to kids at a domestic violence shelter, work and clean the house. Host a dinner party. Attend a barbecue/celebration with my nephew. Take pictures. Work more.

    In the meantime, I added a trip to the DMV as the perfect chaser to a spinal tap, and for the trifecta, I dropped off a prescription at the pharmacy to start the long and painful battle with my insurance company for coverage of a medicine that wouldn't make me better, medicine that might slow down the "getting worse" even though I was already bad. The pharmacy didn't have it and I would need to go back to pick up the script so I could find a pharmacy that could fill the prescription if insurance would pay, which it wouldn't but somebody needed to fire first. I couldn't afford to pay out of pocket at the low, low price of $32K a year.

    My client picked me up from the tap, the lumbar puncture, LP, to take me home, crossing a million professional lines. The part of my brain that cared must have leaked out of my back earlier or maybe it fell in the brain damage of the disease (if it ever existed at all). I needed a ride and it was either my client or my former boss, who no longer worked for my company and was married to my current boss (but she needed to retrieve their daughter from camp).

    When my friend called, my old friend, the dreamer, we talked of our days, my tap, his swim - the longest open-water swim he'd made to date - and his upcoming race. In response to a question from his daughter, he said he expected to place first in his category - white, 38-year-old, single-kidneyed men and I offered my support, warped as it was.

    "You'll do great!" I said. "You are in really good condition except for the, you know, cancer."

    He was really in the best shape of his life except for the missing kidney and renal cancer growing in his lungs. He was already a winner in my book.

    A doctor told me the team talked about me in their weekly session, about my travel and sense of adventure as a nurse asked how many times I had fallen in the last three months.

    "That's like trying to remember what you ate for breakfast seven weeks ago. I remembered the big ones and guessed at the rest."

    My friend talked of a trial and strong hopes he'd get in, two of three protocols he would meet. I made pasta. He stopped at a store. My other phone rang and someone knocked on the door. Eventually, we had to go.

    I forgot to ask about the dog they will soon have to put down or to mention that the nurse told me he really appreciated my attitude about life. Twice. And that I'd adopted a lot of it from him, my friend. One doctor called me a "trooper" and apologized for the mess she made of my spine; I tried to make her feel better. She said she was jealous of my life and I tried to make her feel better about that, too.

    I didn't mention the soda I'd mainlined in an attempt to prevent a headache from the brain juice leaking from the holes in my spine or that a 50-something-year-old had brought sneakers and a heavier jump rope to the shelter to wait for us to come back.

    We missed almost as much as we said and I longed for more. I wanted those dream hours of shopping. I wanted to be 19 again and talking to my best friend, whole and healthy. I wanted to buy a tub, a pool, an entire ocean of purple pills marked "Cure" for the first in his class: White, 38-year-old, single-kidneyed men (with cancer). The first in every class.

    Instead, I said goodbye and knew that I'd keep tracking flights to Detroit in hopes that we could get together soon, if only for a few hours, for a trip to the store and a few more stories.
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