When you find out
that the pain is real, you will not tell anyone. You will be more happy that you are not crazy than you are scared that you are going to die - at least at first. Later, you will think it little consolation. You will move through the waiting room as if it were a bowl of clear jello - your head thick and empty of all thoughts. In the parking lot, the sun will still be shining. Everything is shining. Part of you will consider crying on a park bench, but instead you will climb into the borrowed car, drive home, walk to the grocery store, and continue living, as if nothing is different. You will wait, until hours later, when you are alone.
You will not want to be rude - you will clear your schedule carefully, send others messages wishing them a lovely day, subvert their minor disappointment by making other arrangements.You will lie in bed, feverish, while pretending not to think about your tumor. You will give up trying not to think about it - and instead, you will face it directly. You will name your tumor Herman, because it sounds nice combined with the last name of your diagnosis -you, curled in the fetal position, Herman, curled in peaceful repose against your spinal column - little spoon of your vertebrae.
You will tiptoe carefully around his sleeping presence, wondering if he has family - wondering whether he wakes angrily. You'll wonder if Herman understands the word parent - if he has any concept of duty. You'll try not to think of the irony of paying your life insurance dutifully for years, only to let the policy lapse - just before diagnosis.
You will run through an endless list of names, seeking the one who might raise your child well in your memory, not resenting it, finally settling on a man you haven't spoken to in years.
A perfect stranger sends a message, asking if you are okay. You consider telling him, because you need to tell someone, but the thought of this will ruin your composure. Your mind will race gazelle-like, through scenarios. You will feel guilty for your own weakness. You will picture your spine as a zipper, dividing you bodily between not wanting to burden others, and not wanting to be burdened by their concern, their pity. You will have a desperate desire to call a man who loved you, once upon a time. You will want to undo every moment you dug your heels into the ground of things which do not really matter. You will pick up the phone - dial half of the number you still remember. You will imagine yourself saying the words "I have cancer. I am scared." But what if he resents it? And why shouldn't he? Everyone dies. Why should anyone share your pain? It's an invitation to a room with too little oxygen.
Instead, you will take to bed for 24 hours. You will make a cup of echinacea tea, while wishing you still liked liquor. You will try not to think of the time you've devoted to yoga, to going to bed early, to elliptical machines, flossing, or standing in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, debating which was better - the organic eggs in the plastic container, or the local eggs in the recyclable carton - as wasted. You will remember that the doctor was less brisk today - that he went out of his way to remind you how healthy you are while he listened to your breath, instead of asking if you'd been using your inhaler. How he went out of his way to remind you that you were born in the year he graduated high school - that you are so young. You will try not to remember how he asked you if there is a man in your life, someone who might be there to set an example for your son, or how he averted his eyes and let the quiet fill the room when you answered him. You'll lay in bed, wondering if his kindness should be a direct barometer for the severity of your concern. You will be as conscious as an unsheathed blade. You will recognize the immediate. You will go out into the yard, to touch the daffodils blooming at the edge of the lawn, but you will not clip them and place them in the kitchen vase - not yet. You will want to lay in the grass in the front yard, because it's the softest, but you will remember how the neighbors talk - you will be intimidated, still, by the thought of their gossip. You will start reading the book Jitterbug Perfume, because everyone you've ever met who reads has told you that you should, and you can no longer remember how long it's sat on your shelf, unacknowledged. You will pore over its pages as if it holds all the gems of the universe - every page precious, every word solid gold. You will wonder what Herman reads, but then decide he's more the physical type. You will laugh at your own wit. You will wonder at the compassion of the cosmic editor who wrote "stay out of martyrdom" in your horoscope - on today, of all days.
August 22nd, 2013