Kage Baker relied upon her mind. A lot of people do not – as it were – ever think about it, hur hur hur: the miracles of self, perception and intellect go on with the same casual ease as digestion, and are only considered when they malfunction.
Not Kage. She lived in her mind. Of course, there was a lot more room in hers than in most – it went on in several non-standard directions and through unusual dimensions. Time zones were apparently a matter of daily choice. I think sometimes even who was in charge was arbitrary. Kage always maintained that while she had no doubts at all of who she was, other people nonetheless used her brain for storage – she was always tripping over someone else’s memories. Her favourite analogies were an attic with an open window, where winds and squirrels and nesting birds made free; and a roulette wheel – spin it and see whose past comes up on top today!
She maintained, therefore, that she was actually lucky when the brain tumor was diagnosed. It wasn’t in the front of her brain, nor the delicate middle – not the seats of intellect or ratiocination or creativity. Not the halls of memory, which in her case were enormous and involved as a chambered nautilus. It was only her cerebellum, a plain little working class neighborhood just above her brain stem.
“Hey, I don’t use that much, do I?” she said airily. “What’s it for, anyway?”
“Walking. Balance. Fine motor control. A little further down controls your breathing. Don’t you know what’s in your head?” I asked in disbelief.
“I know that parts that count,” she replied.”Everything that matters is in the front.”
By this time last year … she had had the brain surgery to remove the tumor in her cerebellum. Her balance was shot to hell by this, but the hideous headache of Christmas Eve was gone. So was her long red braid, but at her direction I saved it; in the meantime, her hair curled all around her face the way it had in high school. With all the weight she had lost, she looked like she was in her early 20’s again. She was unabashedly delighted.
I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s going back and forth between our apartment and the hospital, twice a day. I brought Kage battery-operated candles as a night light; I cooked all her meals, since she refused to eat the hospital food (she had a point, there …). I bathed her; I bullied her on to her feet and made her walk; I kept track of her meds. It was not that she didn’t have competent nursing care – her nurses were great. But they had lots of other patients, and I had only Kage to look after. I could pay more attentio.n And I found that the nurses were so grateful for some help, they tried to keep an even closer eye on her. So everybody won.
I read P.G. Wodehouse to Kage. I brought her printouts of her daily emails and read them aloud – during the course of her illness, hundreds of people wrote to her. If any of you, Dear Readers, were among them: please be assured Kage got your message. I read every single one of them to her.
I also nursed the fallen heroes trapped at my house. Kimberly and nephew Michael had sped up to Pismo as soon as they could after the horrid revelations of Christmas Eve: they took me shopping, helped me clean house, made me eat and sleep – and were promptly stricken with whatever gastrointestinal horror had gotten me a few days beforehand. What was intended as a lightning aid mission turned into a prison sentence for them: they couldn’t leave until they stopped throwing up and could escape the bathroom.
Kimberly nonetheless rallied a few hours every day to make sure I survived: how she did it, I do not know. Michael just rolled into a ball and went into suspended animation. I think it was the sickest the kid had been in his entire 18 years. The Emergency Room was not even an option; the local hospitals had so much of this virus they were doing triage in tents in the parking lot. My poor family lived on Gatorade for three days before they could manage the 3-hour drive back home.
But they had set me up well before the Plague got them. Kimberly helped me set up the schedule that would get us through that last month; the round-the-clock nursing, the steady tide of comforts and amusements that let both Kage and I pretend for hours at a time that we were not just marking time. Hope is not always necessary, so long as despair can be avoided.
And we steadfastly did not despair.