It was time to check out of the hotel. I went downstairs to the front desk, I was carrying my 30 lb knapsack with all my electronic gear, and a pillowcase stuffed with all my clean laundry for the apartment (sheets, towels, etc), a classy look to be sure. I checked out and grabbed one of the hotel’s delicious free plums for the road…the road up the block to the apartment. It was pouring, so I decided to sit a while in the hotel lobby. I parked myself on a couch, I was not far from the hotel bar (a good place for viewing)…and there I stayed for about twenty minutes or so. A couple, in their mid-50's walked up to the hotel bar after apparently just getting caught in the downpour. She was tall, fairly fashionable, wet, with very short silver hair. Her husband was tall as well, heavy-set, wet and had a t-shirt that said Harley Davidson California, they both seemed like they could come from California, but he didn’t really seem like the Harley type. I watched the both of them at the bar, the way you just do when you’re in a hotel lobby. I was not so far away, and the lobby was not so quiet that I couldn’t hear the bartender ask where they had been when they got stuck in the rain. She said that they had walked all the way to the Boston Common, that they wanted to go before their flight this afternoon. I was struck a bit by the way she said all the way to the Boston Common. The Commons are no more than seven blocks from the hotel, not such a long walk really, and they looked like they were up for a lot more walking than that.
They finish their iced teas at the bar and leave. Shortly after, I decide to saunter downstairs to catch a cab to the apartment…I’m not going to walk that five or six block walk again, not after my experience on Tuesday. I’m not going to walk all that way again. When I get downstairs, I see that the California couple is also waiting for a cab at the hotel taxi stand. It’s like a monsoon now, and she ducks inside the hotel. Her husband stays outside to assure that they don’ lose their place in the taxi queue. I stand outside for a few minutes more when I start to feel way more moist than I want to feel…I duck inside the hotel and find myself standing near the California lady with the really short silver hair. She asks me “if Boston is home for me or am I going to the airport?” I say, “No, I’m not from Boston, and I’m heading to an apartment just up the block.” She then says “but you stay at the hotel?” I tell her that I’m a patient at MGH, and that I’m staying at a friend’s apartment while I’m here for treatment, but that the stairs had started to become too much. She said, “I’m a patient also.” “What kind of treatment are you having?” I tell her “I’m here for radiation.” She says “for breast cancer? You look great, nobody would ever know that you were undergoing treatment. I’m sure you don’t feel great, but you look really good”. This makes me feel terrific. A non-friend, non-family member, that doesn’t have to say I look good, but says so because she really thinks it. An unbiased compliment from outside my inner circle perhaps stupidly carries a lot of weight. The fact that the world does not gaze upon you with curiosity is key when you are going through an illness. It makes you feel like you fit in. I tell her, that I’m receiving radiation for a skull-based brain tumor (don’t know why I feel comfortable enough to tell her this), but I guess I feel closer to her because she’s been so complimentary. She says “Me too, I had surgery two months ago, that’s why my hair is so short”. She went on to say “she was just back for her first follow-up since surgery, and that they’re holding off on radiation for her at the moment”. I tell her “You look great, no one would ever know”. She said “really?” I said “really”, and I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t in her inner circle, and I could tell it meant as much to her as it did when she complimented me. Her cab arrived, we wished each other good luck, and I know for both of us, we would think about this mutual exchange all day, and that we would feel just a bit better because of it. After she left, I thought back to how I heard her talk to the bartender about how she walked all the way to Boston Common…only seven blocks from the hotel, and then my taxi pulled up to take me the five blocks back to the apartment. It made sense. We may look okay, but we’re not…not yet.