Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Too Late

June 19, 2010

Mama pulled me by the hand, as we ran to the car,  “Hurry Baby, come on, we’ve got to get home.  I didn’t realize how late it was.”

We’d stayed at the park too long.  The sun wasn’t hot anymore. The slide didn’t burn my bare legs when I went down.  It was the best time to be at the park, but we couldn’t stay. It wasn’t a good time to be away from home. I didn’t argue. I wanted to get there as fast as she did. 

She started the station wagon and we lurched into traffic. Cars kept getting in our way, stopping at lights, or taking a long time to turn.  The mailman kept putting mail in people’s boxes and Mama banged her hand on the steering wheel.

“Dammit,” she said.

My Daddy’s truck wasn’t home when we got there and Mama let out a long breath.  “Let’s hurry,” she said.

Pork chops sizzled in the skillet and Mama was washing lettuce in the sink when the screen door squeaked. Our heads turned at the slide of the key in the lock.  It happened every time the key slid in, even if Mama was humming a song or washing a dish in the sink, she stopped, turned, and watched the doorknob.  The key made a scratching sound, then a click, and the knob turned.

When my Daddy came in the house singing or whistling or carrying a grocery bag, everything would be OK. He might pick me up and swing me around, calling me his doll baby, or kiss Mama and dance her around the kitchen.  It didn’t happen often, but when it did, we had fun. Even Mama looked happy.

When he came in quiet though, I held my breath.  Tonight, he was quiet.  The door of the trailer opened into the living room.  The sofa faced the kitchen and the TV was between the two.  I was sitting on the floor watching the Roadrunner outsmart the Coyote.

“Shut that damn racket off,” Daddy said.

I turned the knob on the set way down so I couldn’t hear the “meep, meep,” and backed myself up until I was sitting in the hole between the sofa and the green chair.  There was a space just big enough for me to curl into, if I pulled my knees up real tight, and held them with my arms.  I squeezed my eyes shut, and waited.

“Where have you been all day?” he asked Mama.

“Here mostly,” she said.  “It was sunny, so I took Maggie to the park this afternoon, for a little while.”

“Uh huh, sure you did,” he said.

I heard the refrigerator door open and the beer bottles rattle.  He popped the top off of one and the cap rolled around on the kitchen floor.  He kicked it, and it hit the wall under the window.

“Must have had fun today,” he said, “going to the park and all.  That why you’re all dressed up?  That why you have on lipstick?”  He asked Mama.

“I’m not all dressed up,” she said in a quiet voice with a shake in it.

She wasn’t dressed up.  She had on a dress, but it was an old one with a hole at the bottom where she got it caught on a nail outside one day.  She always wore lipstick.

“Can’t I give my wife a compliment, tell her she looks nice without an argument?” He said, his voice getting louder, as he slammed the bottle down on the kitchen table. 

“I’m sorry, Honey,” Mama said.  She said she was sorry a lot.  Most of what she said wasn’t right or didn’t come out like she meant it to.

“You’re sorry alright,” he said.  “I should have listened to my mother.  She said you were no good.  She said you’d run around on me and lie.  ‘Too pretty for her own good,’ she said.  ‘Don’t go and marry her, you’ll regret it,’ she said.”

Then their voices stopped. I could smell hot oil in the skillet, hear water splashing in the sink. My heartbeat was in my ears. I opened my eyes. 

Mama turned with the lettuce in her hand just in time to catch the back of my Daddy’s hand with her cheek.  She spun around on the floor, letting go of the lettuce.  It smashed into the kitchen window and bounced off the table and ended on the floor.  Mama fell in a heap at my Daddy’s feet.  She was curled up, holding her face, and crying.

“Don’t lie to me again,” he said, picking up his beer as he slammed out the front door.

I waited a few minutes, until I heard the truck roar, back up, and take off again, scattering rocks against the side of the trailer.  I crawled out of my hole and over to my Mama.  I sat on the floor rubbing her back.

“I’m sorry I made us late,” I said.  “I won’t do it again.”

I looked at the TV. The coyote was pushing an anvil to the edge of the cliff, waiting for the roadrunner to stop underneath.

Jane Eyre and the Mammogram

December 31, 2009

     “High school freshman literature is a killer.”  This statement comes from Ryan’s English teacher.

      He’s right, it’s one long read after another.  It’s also a fourteen year old boy’s nightmare.  The year begins with the Odyssey.  It may have all the violence and adventure that teenage boys crave, but it is also written in ancient language that they can’t understand.  Ryan didn’t need glasses to read the Odyssey, he needed hip waders to slog through it.  “Torture, Mom, that’s what it is, pure torture.  How could anybody enjoy a book where you have to read each part at least twice, ask your friends what they think it means, listen to your teacher drone on about what it means, which is nothing like what you and your friends think, and finally you have to go read the spark notes to understand it.  How could that possibly be interesting?  There are 24 chapters of it.” 

      At parent/teacher conference, I ask Mr. Azano, “What does Ryan have to look forward to after he finishes The Odyssey?”

      “Jane Eyre,” is his reply. 

      Oh great, I think, a teenage boy’s dream read.  I’m sure that Ryan will love  this book.  After all of his trouble with the Odyssey, I decide to read Jane Eyre with him. It wasn’t first on my list of winter reads, but I figure I can suffer with him.  That’s what parents do, right?  They suffer through things with their children.  Children don’t believe that, they think parents cause suffering. I go to Barnes and Noble and pay $7.99 for a book I don’t want to read.  

      Ryan is assigned two chapters per night, then has to answer discussion questions, fill out character analyses,  critically think.  Fourteen year old boys do not think critically, do not analyze or discuss anything other than video game strategy. I am resigned to a long, slow, literary experience.  I have assigned myself Jane Eyre.

      The first night of our assignment, Ryan meets me at the door, wanting to catch me having not done my homework. “Did you get your book?” he asks.

      “I got it, and even read two chapters on my lunch break,” I say, feeling kind of smug for having my assignment complete.

      “Yeah, I read mine too, before you got home.  It’s not too bad.  At least I can understand what she’s saying.” 

      I fix supper, and later that night we talk about the book and he answers his discussion questions.  1. What is your first impression of Jane Eyre?  What qualities would make her valuable as a friend? What qualities would make friendship with her difficult?  Explain.

      Why do teachers insist on making questions multi-dimentional?  I’m not sure whether it’s all boys, or just mine, but I have to pose one question or give one direction at a time.  I can’t lump three things into one sentence. If I do, they only complete the first task and leave off the others, never hearing or seeing past the first.  Ryan wonders why he only gets partial credit on his essay questions. Now we both know why. 

      I decide to take my copy of Jane Eyre to my mammogram appointment.  I figure I can get ahead on my reading while I wait.  I am called in for registration.  The registrar asks me all the familiar questions, address, phone number, emergency contact, work place.  Nothing has changed since 1986.  I live in the same house, have the same phone number, work at the same nursing home, am married to the same man, have the same breasts.  The only thing that has changed is the left one.  It has a lump. She doesn’t ask me about that.

      Back out in the waiting room, I notice how crowded it is for this early in the morning, how many women are waiting to be seen. I wonder how many are routine and how many are not.  I take out my book and glasses and begin my reading.  Names are called, women come and go.

      Jane is unhappy.  She lives with an abusive aunt and mean cousins. She is mistreated and is told that something is wrong with her.  She is damaged, and even though she is in a house full of people, she is alone. 

       I hear my name, put my book away,  and follow a  woman to a dressing room.  “Take off your sweater and bra,” she says.  “Use these wipes to take off your deodorant or any powder and put on this cape.  I’ll be back in one minute.”  I do as she asks and don my cape.  I feel like Super Breast Cancer Woman, naked from the waist up, in my little pink cape.  She returns for me and we enter the mammogram room.  I’ve been here before, but it’s more intimidating this time.  I’m feeling vulnerable.

      The technician introduces herself, but I cannot remember her name to save my life.  She is short and stout.  She is also kind, taking stock of my comfort and calling me “sweetie.”  She is older than I.  She positions me at the machine and adjusts the height as I am tall.  She looks as if she could use a step stool, she’s reaching up, and stands on her tip toes. We laugh about our differences in height.  I stand, feet pointing forward, leaning into the machine, turned just a bit to the right and she moves the press in place.  She asks me if I am in pain as she lowers the press, squeezing my breast and flattening it as far as it will compress.  I cross my eyes and grit out, “no, I’m alright.” 

      I wonder if the lump is mashed to the point of bursting inside me. I wonder if the cells, safe in their nest, begin scattering out and away from the stress, running in other directions to avoid the pressure.  I wonder it this makes it worse, but I don’t ask. The question seems silly.

      My technician peers at her screen.  She says to me, “You know it’s been a while since you have had a mammogram. Don’t wait so long between visits.  We find one to two breast cancers a day, just here at the Women’s Center.  You need to take good care of yourself.”

      “I know,” I say softly.

      She has me follow her back to the dressing room and hands me a plastic bag.  Usually, the technician tells me to get dressed and head back to the waiting room until the doctor reads the results.  This is different.  She gives me a robe to put on over my cape and tells me that she thinks that the doctor will order an ultrasound.  She asks me to have a seat on the “green sofa” and wait to be called.  “It was nice to meet you,” she says.

      I find out the “green sofa” area is a holding place for those of us who are different, who have special needs, who are not normal.  We sit there, lined up in our little capes and white robes, waiting.   The “green sofa” has a small pillow with a pink breast cancer symbol bow attached. The pillow rests there, waiting to remind us.  I’d like to throw it across the room.

      I take out my book and begin reading again while I wait.  Jane is in the red room, she’s been locked in there and told to sit on a chair and not move.  She knows her uncle died in this room and is afraid.  She’s afraid she will see his ghost.  She is the most frightened she’s ever been.

      A cute blond girl comes out and calls my name.  I follow her to an examining room.  It is dark and quiet there, the drapes are closed. She doesn’t say hello,  how are you, it’s a nice day outside.  She gives no pleasantries, no comfort.  She does say, “You can lie down on the table here and uncover your left breast.”  She unwinds a cord, squirts some jelly onto my breast and presses a device into the jelly and over my skin, moving it back and forth, pressing it into me. She pushes buttons on a computer screen as she works, making little “beeping” sounds.  As she is working, I have an overwhelming surge of emotion. I feel the tears behind my eyes, pressing to get out and run.  I will them to stop. I will not cry in front of this girl. When she is finished, she hands me a towel, tells me to wipe off and to get dressed.  She will come and take me to another room to wait for the doctor.

      This room is smaller, stark, with two chairs, hooks on the door and wall. I think it is another dressing room.  I take out my book and begin to read again.  Jane is crying uncontrollably.  She doesn’t understand why. Even the things that normally delight her, don’t now.  Bessie, the house maid and nurse, the only one who is remotely kind to her, worries about Jane, reads her stories, sings to her.

      There is a knock at the door.  A woman, near my own age, walks in. She has dark curly hair and a kind smile.  She extends her hand to me and introduces herself at Kate, the Breast Wellness Nurse. She asks me to come to her office.  The word office, has a scary sound to me.  Office can only mean one thing in this instance, and it isn’t good news.  I follow her, trying to be brave.  It’s a nice office with warm  dessert colored walls and open drapes. The view of the Blue Ridge is comforting, like a little piece of home.  Kate motions me to have a seat on her couch and she sits in her swivel office chair facing me.  “Dr. Payton, the radiologist, is reading your results now,” she says.  “He will come in and let you know what he’s found and what he suggests.  I see that you found this lump yourself,” she says. “That’s good, breast self exam is important.”

      I explain the story of finding it the day my mother called about my cousin’s breast cancer, how I put my hand to my heart and unconsciously started palpating my own breast, how I found the lump and how my left breast now feels like the 800 pound elephant  in the room.  We laugh together. She smiles, touches my hand with hers. She is concerned.  She has chosen the right profession. She is good.

      Kate leaves to find Dr. Peyton.  I take my book and start again.  Jane confronts her aunt. She tells her exactly what she thinks of her and her cousins. She is being sent away to school and hopes never to see her aunt’s house again.  Jane is nothing else, if not honest.  She boards a coach for the fifty mile trip to boarding school. She is alone, but excited.

      Dr. Peyton comes in, all starched in his royal blue shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair spiked with gel, expensive watch on his arm. He’s young.  He shakes my hand and sits down, leans forward.  “I have looked at your mammogram and your ultrasound and I think this is a complex cyst. I don’t think it is cancerous, but I want to have it biopsied just to make sure.  We will send your results to your primary physician who will call and make an appointment for you to come in and discuss the results and your options.”

      “What are your recommendations?”

      “I would recommend that you see a breast specialist and have a needle biopsy.  He or she will numb the area with a local anesthetic, insert the needle and aspirate some of the fluid and tissue.  That’s sent off to pathology and you get the results in about three days.”

      “I would rather make the appointment for the biopsy today.  My cousin and aunt’s doctor is Dr. Summer.”  Dr. Payton looks a little surprised

      Kate jumps in.  “Let me call your primary physician and see if they will allow us to make the appointment for you.”  She dials the office with the number I give her and asks to speak to Dr. Hargrove.  She is given permission over the phone and calls Dr. Summer’s office.  I have an appointment for a needle biopsy on Dec. 16th at 11:30 a.m. I have to be there at 11:15 for registration and prep.

      I am feeling better about this lump.  Two physicians telling me they think it is a non-cancerous cyst reassures me.  I still won’t sleep well until I have the results from the biopsy, but I’m not quite so nervous and scared.

       I’m thinking Ryan and I will be well into Jane Eyre when the 16th rolls around.  I wonder where Jane will find herself during the biopsy visit and how she will be facing her challenges.  Ryan and I will just have to wait and see.