If there is a God, he seems fond of the phrase, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about,” because after complaining for months about my difficulties with breastfeeding, I found a pea-sized lump on my left breast. I hoped it was just a clogged milk duct, so I began massaging it, and it went away. But the next day, it was back. I mentioned it to my OB-GYN at my next appointment.
“I can feel it,” she said as she examined my breast. “I’m going to send you for an ultrasound. It’s probably nothing, but let’s find that out.”
I try to prepare for the worst, always thinking I’m ill so I won’t be surprised when I really am. A common cold is really strep throat that will go to my heart and kill me. A rash is a fatal infection. A clogged milk duct? Breast cancer.
“You don’t seem very concerned,” I said to Bruce when he got home that night.
“I don’t think you’re sick,” he said. “Do you really think you have cancer?”
“No, but that’s the way cancer is. You never think you have it, and then you’re shocked when you get the diagnosis,” I said.
I almost wished I had it, just to show him.
I made the ultrasound appointment for the following morning and tried to get Bruce to go with me, but he’d accompanied me to a doctor appointment earlier that week, and it had taken longer than expected, which made him late for work again. He’d come with me to most of the baby’s doctor appointments. I couldn’t expect him to come to all of mine as well. I wanted him there because I feared the baby would have a meltdown as the technician did my ultrasound. I tried to get a friend to go with me, but she had a physical therapy appointment that morning, so I went alone.
I arrived at the breast center with a diaper bag on one shoulder, my pocketbook with a small laptop in it on the other, and I was carrying Edwin in his car seat like a kettle bell. I was immediately impressed with the facility. There was a coffee machine that had cappuccino, mocha hot chocolate and tea. There was a container of half and half in a refrigerator, and they had a bowl filled with chocolate kisses. On a table near the television, there was a vase with pink roses. Each was wrapped in cellophane and had a sticker on it that said, “Thank you.” For what, I wasn’t sure.
I poured a cup of coffee and just as I stirred in the cream, the technician called my name. I picked up the pocketbook and diaper bag and slung one over each shoulder and then picked up Edwin and waddled down the hallway.
“It’s no wonder mothers wind up with bad backs,” she said.
The test was short and painless. Eddie’s car seat was perched on a countertop right next to the examining table. He slept through the whole thing. I imagined him growing up without a mother and thought how painful that would be. I thought of Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment,” and the way her little boys said goodbye to her. One was in tears. The other put on a brave face, which was more heartbreaking because you could feel the depth of his pain even if he wasn’t showing it.
When the test was over, I was sent back out o the waiting room to wait for my results. The television was on, and Kathleen Turner was a guest star on one of the morning talk shows.
“She didn’t age well,” said a woman sitting a few seats down from me.
“She’s obviously had work done to her face,” I said.
I’m usually not comfortable talking to people in waiting rooms, but having conquered my fear of going unaccompanied to a doctor’s office with Edwin seemed to have emboldened me.
“She must have had some kind of surgery around her mouth because it looks funny,” I said. “It’s weird because she obviously doesn’t care about her weight, but she has her face done. She looks like the Joker.”
I laughed. No one said anything. I thought I must have talked too much or said something stupid. There’s a fine line between being friendly and being overly friendly. I wasn’t sure where that line was, but I felt like I’d crossed it.
After about 15 minutes, the technician called my name and asked me to come out into the hallway.
“The doctor took a look and said everything looks fine,” she said. “He wants you to come in for a mammogram once you’ve stopped breastfeeding, but just for a routine check.”
“So it was nothing?”
“He didn’t see anything suspicious,” she said.
I let out a cathartic little whimper and thanked her.
“Take a rose,” the technician said.
“I already did,” I said.
As I drove home, I thought about the women I’d left behind in the waiting room who were still awaiting their test results. One of them was bound to get a bad prognosis. I suddenly felt bad about taking a rose. I should have left it for someone who really needed it.
When I got home, I unloaded my bags from the car and then went back for Edwin. As I unlatched his car seat, I noticed I’d left the pink rose sitting on the front passenger seat. As I lifted it off the seat, the flower head fell off, and I was left holding a stem wrapped in cellophane.
I unclipped Edwin’s car seat and carried him into the house, and as I placed him on the floor, I noticed the baby carrier my cousin had bought me. It was an apparatus that you strapped onto your back with a pouch in front to carry the baby. When I first opened it, I was intimidated by all the straps and buckles and clips. The directions seemed too complicated. But after lugging Edwin to and from the car in that heavy car seat, I decided to give it a try. I slipped my arms through the straps and fastened the cushiony pouch onto my chest, leaving it halfway open, as the directions instructed. I then slipped Edwin into the pouch, facing me, and fastened it shut, and I put my arms around his back to make sure he was secure. It felt good to have him there. It was like we were dancing. I picked up his little arm and closed my hand around his hand and began to do the box step, shuffling across the dining room floor as I began to hum “Lara’s Theme,” from the movie, “Dr. Zhivago.
I remembered when my father, Edwin, was dying of cancer, I stumbled upon a song by the Icelandic singer, Bjork, called ”Venus as a Boy.” Everything in my life at that time felt unhinged, surreal, and this magical, ethereal song fit my mood. I’d listen to it over and over again and envision my father and I wearing white gowns, holding hands and running across the clouds in heaven like lovers running across a wheat field in the movies. After my father died, I listened to the song a couple more times, and I would dance with myself, one arm up in the air as if I was waltzing with him. I rarely listen to the words of songs. I mostly just hear the sounds. So I never took on board what Bjork’s song was about, not even its title, until a few months after my father’s death. I realized it was about the Roman goddess of love and beauty, if she were a boy. The song was even quite erotic. In fact when I first heard the title, I forgot Venus was a woman and thought, “Venus as a Boy,” was about when Venus was just a little boy, and I’d see my father as a boy and that I was trying to comfort him in what would have been a scary time for him.
I thought about all that as I danced in my living room with my son, Edwin, who is named after my father. I then walked over to the CD player and put in REM’s “Shiny Happy People,” and grabbed Edwin’s hands and raised them up and down in the air to the beat of the music, and we spun around and around like dervishes until we were dizzy.