We are dressed like proper ladies in waiting, surgical gowns in sherbet colors of pale strawberry, lime and orange, the swaths of cotton wrap-around fabric equipped with velcro strips at the shoulders to peel down over each tender breast so they can be squeezed from the top, then the sides between the glass and steel plates of a mammography machine.
“Hold your breath. Okay. Relax.”
We sit in the cold room together in a foam of silent tension that, like aerosolyzed worry beads, slips between our hunched shoulders and the backs of the uncomfortable chairs.
Will the radiologist want another picture? A conference? Or will the nurses hand out “all clear” letters to each of us and say, “Go now, run along, continue with your life, fulfill your dreams, perhaps even have some lunch?”
The odds don’t favor everyone in the room getting that happy Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for our breasts this year — the woman next to me sitting in a wheelchair, for example. She is nearly translucent; poor bare neck exposed in the surgical gown looking naked and vulnerable as she hangs her head in an uncomfortable-looking pose. The oxygen tank makes an electronic thrumming sound at fifteen second intervals.
A friend’s voice speaks quietly, urgently to me, in the voice I know she would use gazing upon this same scene.
Don’t you dare presume to write her off.
I was there and beyond, my violent breasts turned inward, shaking hands and sharing deadly whispers with lymph nodes systemwide and a goner for sure to every pair of eyes turned my way.
Five years later it is now, and these days I dance the Samba on sultry beaches, run marathon races in magnificent cities, make love as never before, celebrate my daughter’s birthdays one by one by one, and make a big, fat, joyful noise.
You are seeing but a sliver of her struggle, only one page, not the book.
Meanwhile, Buck is in some other cold room at the clinic, lying on his back under an ultrasound machine which is peering at his aorta and renal arteries to guard the gates from sneak attack, to be sure no chunk of calcium or other pathological pressure might be coming to bear upon that superhighway of blood and plotting insurrection, bombs, explosions and a messy street scene — one which would most assuredly include a weeping, wailing, screaming woman. That unthinkable revolution happened to the husband of a writer friend and mentor of mine only a few months ago, and mea culpa, K., forgive me for writing of this, but your own experience may help save other lives.
We sit or lie down in these chilly rooms, stripped of our clothes and all our worldly goods, with only our stories written on the backs of our eyes, drawing out the nurses. “You tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine.”
We do this for love, all for the only everything, love, in hopes of satisfying the hungry maw of our own mortality for at least, please, yet one more year of sweet time together.