It had been this way for months now. She stood on the edge of a cliff waiting to jump or be knocked off not knowing why or how she’d gotten there. When she lay in bed at night she could feel a blade against her neck as if remembering or knowing how it felt to be beheaded.
This was commonplace.
This was her reality.
This was the way that every day had begun and ended for months, yet somehow it surprised her; this wash of odd sensations and feelings. It felt like something was coming; like the universe was warning her as she stood upon the shore.
She began wondering if she belonged in a psycho ward where reality and self-reliance were unwelcome guests that only came in glimpses between pill time and afternoons spent making crafts with popsicle sticks. But she knew that wasn’t the case even as she daydreamed about receiving electro-shock therapy and having all of her painful realities zapped out of remembrance.
“You have cancer.”
It was said that simply. The doctor had said it many times and it showed in his delivery. He conducted himself with a combination of kindly world weariness.
But it wasn’t said to her. Her mother, mom, mommy was the recipient of this diagnosis.
It hadn’t sunk in it.
He was young, too young to realize that telling them he performed several mastectomies a month wasn’t comforting.
She looked at her mother’s face. Though it still carried the same sweetness it always had amongst the freckles and wrinkles life had given her, her eyes showed the betrayal of realizing that this time, in this instance she was not going to be given a fair shake. It wasn’t that she’d had an easy life. Just the opposite in fact; because there is a lie that people tell themselves when they’ve survived and fought their whole lives avenging and being avenged on trouble; and this is it; They tell themselves that they’ve already seen the worst that life has to offer and from here on it will be easier.
Her mother had believed that and had as much said it from her earliest remembrance. Momma had survived being born a half-breed, multi-racial child in a time when children like that were not the norm and were not accepted by anyone from either side of the family tree. She had lived her life linked to two worlds but only welcome in the one she’d made for herself.
Besides this she had survived being molested by her step-father and being betrayed by her husband who drank their marriage away in desperate gulps.
They had been mother and daughter, a united front of strength, rage, love and tears since the day that the daughter had protected mommy against daddy’s angry, drunken fists when she was only five, and some years later, mommy had finally kicked daddy out.
He had abandoned them then only making the occasional visit in their lives as husband, father, and guest. Mommy had worked hard to ensure they wouldn’t lose their home, and her daughter had worked hard to ensure that mommy wouldn’t know (just yet) that daddy had done more than drink and that imprint of his hands still clung to her at odd moments.
Now they were here in this moment, with the great lie of their lives ambushing their thoughts with furious arabesques. There would be more hard times to come and obstacles to somehow survive. The weight of the moment in that little examination room pulled them down to some unknowable place where their emotions raged and crashed against jagged black rocks.
She held her mother’s hand as she had always done in times of trouble. As a child her mother’s hand was a guiding comfort; the strong softness of it never letting her completely go. Now she was the one with the guiding grip helping her mother remain steady on diabetes deadened feet.
The lie was dead never to be brought back and life had taught them a new lesson. They were not free. They had not already done their time in hell and in just a few weeks her mother’s breasts would be removed, studied and thrown away as medical waste left to rot in a garbage dump. Her mother’s breasts where she used to lay her head and listen to bedtime stories or suckle when she was newly born and red faced screaming. Her mother’s breasts were to become the comforters of vermin and filth as seagulls hovered overhead looking for their next retreat.
Grandma had had breast cancer too which meant that she was at risk. She could live her waiting or have them off now. Perhaps a mother/daughter mastectomy day. Perhaps not.
Now she knew why she’d been standing on the cliff. Now the blade against her neck made sense. She had somehow known before it was possible to know that this moment was coming. She knew something else. She wasn’t going to fall and the blade was going to disappear. At least she hoped she knew or perhaps this was just another lie.