All There Is

So this is how it happened, Thursday afternoon.


We got caught unprepared in a small rain shower, ducked under a tree, leaned against a large rock and watched the black-socked tourists go by.


My phone rang.


It was a Tallahassee number I didn't recognize, so, because I wasn't really available to talk, I let it go to voicemail.


I showed her my phone, and she agreed it wasn't a cellphone number.


We shrugged together, and waited to see if there would be voice mail.


Beep. The front of the phone lit up.


I flipped it open, turned on the speakerphone, and we both leaned in to hear.


It was Becky.

The radiologist would like me to come back.

Please call.


I frowned at my companion.


I thought I was completely out of the woods when they didn't call back Tuesday, the very next day.


OK, when they didn't call on Wednesday, I only thought about it a little.


By Thursday morning, I wasn't thinking about it every second of every minute.


And now?

NOW they call?

The day before the presentation?

Before Halloween Horror Night?

Before Epcot Food and Wine Fest?


Fine. Whatever.


I called Becky right back.


This is Dr. Soldani, I just got your voice mail.


Hi! Good. How about tomorrow at 2:30?


No. I'm out of town.


Monday at.... 10:15am?


No, I can't cancel class. It's World War 2....


How about Tuesday....


I cut her off. I'm only available from 3:00-4:45. That's it. That's all I can do.


OK,. (I hear click, click, some whispering) October 31, 4:05pm.


That's fine. That's perfect. Thank you.


I look at my friend.


What did they say? Why do they want you to come back?


I didn't ask.


I held my hand out to confirm that the rain had stopped.


Are you going to cry?


Me? Cry? No. But I'm going to feel this. For just a few minutes I'm going to let it go completely through me.


She stood still.


It was clear I didn't want a hug, a pat, any sort of silly pep talk.


After a few deep breathes, I lead us out from under the tree.


This is all we have. Today, here, this. Now. This is all there is.


She nodded.


And it's pretty damn great isn't it?


We continued meandering around tourists, stepping over puddles, laughing at nothing in particular.


Nerves of Steel, Purse Contents, Magazines

This morning I woke up, well aware of the date.


Monday, October 15.


The day of the mammogram.


I heard from a good source that women who forget to wear two piece outfits to their mammogram end up wearing one of those hospital gowns that allow gentle breezes to waft up their sacred Brazilian rainforest.


Forewarned, I have dressed for battle in my 2-piece red suit, the one that shows my curves in a I'm-too-powerful-to-have-anything-wrong-so-don't-cross-me way.


I have my rope pearls on, ruby ring and brown crocodile print pumps with dainty bows on the just-subtly-rounded toes.


Into my matching crocodile print brown bag I've stuffed:


  • 7 tubes of lipstick, lipgloss, lip shimmer and lip glass because it's IMPOSSIBLE to match a red suit in changing light...

  • 2 protein bars, just in case my appetite returns

  • $3.35, excavated from the bottom of my red purse.

  • The pink prescription form from my gynecologist, with it's generic stick figure drawing of a woman's drooping breasts, providing a field for physicians to sketch in any "suspicious areas."

  • The checkbook, in case there is a co-pay. And also, because I have promised myself I can buy Boston Market chicken soup and a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola's Rossi on the way home. I may or may not do this, but in the meantime, I'm unapologetically allowing myself to imagine it soothing me.

  • The lucky silver egg that I bought in Austin

  • My brown-pink-and-teal striped journal

  • very engrossing book which I decline to mention here


Yes, a book.


I hate waiting-room magazines especially ones targeting women, warning them to clean & decorate their house (cheaply and quickly!), lose weight (quickly!), teach their children manners (quickly!), fix their marriage (because that's a woman's responsibility!), and -- after home and family are all safe and perfect --- figure out what they want to do in life.


Whatever.


I already live my dreams, and the only magazines that helped me get here are the ones that published my articles back when I was taking baby steps toward finding the writer I'd buried deep under shame, pain, and habit.


That was years ago, in my own dark ages, before I realized that my writing gives me nerves of steel.


So this afternoon, while I'm standing there alone in a cold room, breasts squished between unforgiving metal, that's what I'll be thinking of.


Nerves of steel.


Living my dream, today, tomorrow, and every day.


The Big Squeeze

If I could do it again, I might have folded the referral sheet and tucked into that pocket in my purse where I stuff things I can't handle quite yet, but I need to have handy for the moment my courage surges back.

But I didn't.

Today when home, while the kids were rummaging around for afterschool snacks, I taped it up at eye level on the side of the refrigerator.

It took less than 15 minutes for Zoe to see it, read it, and ask me what was going on.

"Oh that? It's for my mammogram." Damn, why didn't I leave it in my purse?

"Your WHAT?"

"Mammogram. It's where they use a special machine to squeeze your boobies and to make sure everything is OK."

She gasped and held her imaginary breasts. "Will it hurt?"

I don't answer.

It hurts now, deep in the pit of my stomach.

Thinking about it makes me flinch, the pain more emotional than physical.

My breasts have been good to me.

I can't imagine them being part of any sinister plot to shorten my life, take my hair, challenge my virility.

"It's no big deal. If it does hurt, it'll only be for a minute. I'm tough, right? Plus, if there is anything wrong, I can get NEW breasts!"

She gasped in mock excitement. "How?"

"You know Aunt Milly? She had breast cancer and she got two new boobies AND a tummy tuck. You can ask HER how they make new ones."

I smiled and locked my teeth together, waiting for Zoe to lead the conversation.

To change the subject would raise her antenna.

To lead her deeper into this than she can understand would be dangerous.

The girl would be googling "double mastectomy" within hours, and parents from school would be calling us to discuss Zoe's "anatomy lessons" in the playground.

Zoe smiled at me, looked down at her unopened bag of doritos, and -- I imagine -- considered whether spending time on this with her mom would be as satifying as a rerun of Full House.

"Well, we girls can talk about this later."

She spun on her heels, disappearing to her room, content and secure.