What do you think when you see an eighteen year old art student? She is at the cancer center to study its impressive architecture for a class assignment. You might think she doesn’t belong, because she is too old to be a patient and too old to be a parent. She isn’t dressed like a nurse. Just baggy clothes, a sketchbook, and her phone with its camera. Probably self-absorbed in the way only an eighteen-year old art student can be.
She was just looking around, eyeing the space vaulting above her head, studying its proportions, when she overheard the anxious tones of a mother and a father, talking to their wheelchair-bound son. They had a whole speech prepared, trying to explain to him what leukemia is, and how the medicines are going to work, and they tried to keep the fear from seeping into their voices so hard the kid could hardly hear a thing. The student’s attention flitted toward them, over and over, and the space above her began to lose its shine. This kid was confused and scared, and the parents were scared and desperate. Their fear smelled dark and murky, like a morose spill of paint on a studio floor.
“Actually, it’s kind of like this,” she said. She didn’t know how she got so close to them and they never notice her sidle over. “The leukemia, it’s like a dragon in your body. A huge, fierce dragon, and it’s trying to eat your toes. From inside.”
The boy turned his head toward her with interest. Dragons were cool, and he understood them better than he understood leukemia. The parents had that “what the hell are you doing” look of panic in their eyes.
“A dragon? Really?” He said.
“A huge, fierce dragon. And those pills you get every day? Those are Superhero pills. Every pill has lots and lots of Superheros in it, and they go and fight the dragon and the kill it, little bit by little bit.”
The boy turned to his parents. “Are there really Superheros in my pills?” He asked, and they did not know what to answer, for there was a gleam of hope in his eyes, and he was no longer afraid.
“Sure there are,” the student said.
“Like soldiers?” he asked.
“Yeah. Like soldiers.”
“What kind of soldiers?”
“Any kind you like. What kinds of soldiers you like?” She asked.
He scratched his bald head. “I like the World War II kind of soldiers.”
“Okay, then,” she rallied. “They are like platoons of World War Two soldiers in their green uniforms and with their mighty weapons! And they fire their cannons and their machine guns and their other weapons at that dragon. And the battle is really, really loud in your body. It is fierce, and the sound of blasts and explosions reverberates through your skull! And that’s why your hair falls out!”
“Really?” the boy asked. There was a gleam of excitement in his eyes. Platoons of heroic soldiers infused him with hope. A doctor stopped just within hearing range. He wiped his hand across his face in an effort to hold back a bubble of spontaneous laughter.
“Oh yeah, you bet! Your hair grows out of hair follicles, and hair follicles scare easy. They don’t like the noise at all. ‘Oh, what’s that, what’s all that noise? We don’t like that racket anymore!’ They say in their squeaky voices, and they jump right out!”
“They do?” The question came from a little girl that seated herself on the floor. She, too, had a bald head, and the student emerged from the mists of the story she wove only to find that she attracted a bit of an audience.
“They do,” she said. “And when then noise is over and the dragon is killed, the hair will grow right back.”
The boy was happy with the answer in the way most five-year-olds were. He now had an image to hold on to, and his parents relaxed at the sight of their son who was, once again, just another five-year-old with an overactive imagination. If only for just a little while.
“Will you tell us another story?” The little girl said. And the student did. She came back again and again. The children called her The Dragon Girl, and they helped her decide the fate of the Sun Dragon and the Moon Dragon, and the brooding yet kind Night Dragon.
“I have been telling stories,” she told me when she called home. “I think I got it from Dad.” And I only smiled. I could not be more proud of our young lady who grows into strength and beauty, and who finds satisfaction in making healing children smile.
Artwork: Copyright Miranda Pavelle 2012, a.k.a. The Dragon Girl