(grist for the mill)
Kate sat in the small, dark, ultrasound room and tried not to cry. She tried to think of anything that would distract her from the mounting panic she felt. She took the fleshy part of her hand, that plump bit at the base, between the index finger and thumb, and dug her fingernails in as hard as she could. Maybe the pain would distract her from thinking, keep her from the rising realization that filled her with terror.
The technician had been so matter of fact. No, it wasn’t a cyst. Definitely wasn’t that. She’d need a biopsy. That word, ominous and unbelievable. This couldn’t be happening.
But then again, why not, why couldn’t it be happening? She’d heard once, couldn’t remember where, but she’d heard something about a person lamenting, “why me, why oh why me?” The answer, coming from whom, perhaps it was supposed to be God -- Kate could not remember that either now...but the answer was clear and cold; “Why not you?”
But Kate had thought there was a different answer for her. Frankly, she'd thought she was exempt from this sort of thing. She was shocked, stunned, even stupefied at the possibility of it being true, that she might actually have breast cancer. She’d filled her quota for tragedy. She lost a child, wasn’t that enough, didn’t that excuse her from any more agony, wasn’t that enough of a price to pay for one lifetime?
She’d known people who seemed to have nothing but bad luck. One horrible thing after another seemed to befall them. Illness, poverty, loss, the worst of the worst. These people were perpetually bitter and morose, understandably so. But Kate always secretly imagined that somehow they were different, a certain type, a genetic species unto themselves. Maybe she even thought that they must be, in a cosmic karmic kind of way, at least partially to blame for their endless misfortunes.
The thought occurred to her now, sitting in the dark ultrasound room waiting for the technician to come back, that maybe their bitterness, forming as a result of the first things that went wrong in their sad lives, developed into a kind of growth, a festering attitude that drew more and more sorrow towards it, feeding off it in some kind of parasitic way. Had she done that, had she unwittingly caused this growth now in her breast? She’d done her fair share of wallowing, drowned herself in seas of bitterness. Was she in actuality just like one of those people? Was this her fault too?
The door opened suddenly and the light was turned on. “I’m sorry, I could have turned the light on before I left,” the chipper technician said, “I always do that, I always leave people in the dark,” she laughed. Kate couldn’t help herself; “I guess there’s a lot of that going on around here.” The technician stared at her, blankly. “Never mind,” Kate said quickly, “Bad joke.”
The technician had confirmed her findings with the radiologist; Kate would need to schedule a biopsy. She was told she could get referrals at the desk as she left. The last thing the ultrasound technician said was, “Good luck.”
Kate could tell that the woman didn’t hold out much hope, she was being nice but she knew something more than Kate did at this moment, probably a lot more than Kate did. No doubt working in a place like this you got to know what looked hopeful and what didn't. Kate was convinced she could see in the woman’s eyes a look of concealed pity.
There were things, pieces of information that she would have to find out in bits and pieces, a slow steady diet of facts and statistics, medical jargon and redirect. A process was beginning now, this minute, that would take a long time. Maybe there was hope, but it didn’t seem to look good, and this woman knew it, Kate could tell.
As Kate stepped out into the long hall and headed towards the cubical where her clothes and purse were, she saw at the other end a man holding a small boy, a toddler. All Kate could make out from that distance was that the boy had blond hair, like Ethan. But as she was walking towards him, as she got closer and closer, more details revealed themselves. With each step she saw a little more…the striped pattern of his little red shirt, the overalls he wore with the strap hanging off one shoulder, his fingers in his mouth, the sweep of his bangs to one side, the toy in his other hand, it was a little train…was it a Thomas train? With every step all the little details that made him someone specific, an individual child, were getting more and more fleshed out until she reached her cubical doorway and took what would be her closest look, the final degree of proximity revealing as much detail as she would ever have of this boy. She stopped and took it in. She could see his eyes now; they were dark. He held her gaze for a minute and then buried his head in his father’s, well, the man’s shoulder, shy, not wanting to interact with this stranger. Kate understood. She remembered how little boys could be at that age.
Back in her appointed cubical she had to force herself to focus and put her clothes on, make sure she gathered all her belongings and try to act normal, try to walk out of the radiology lab with dignity and make it to her car. Dignity seemed all she had left now. She just needed to make it to her car. When she stepped out of the cubical, dressed, she turned to look for the boy and the man holding him. They were gone.
Once inside her car she looked around to make sure she was alone, no one in the cars on either side of her. She thought she would cry right off the bat but she sat in stunned silence. Disbelief seemed to have numbed her momentarily.
She started thinking about that little boy. Was his mother there for a mammogram? Was she okay? Would his life go on, happy, blissfully safe for at least another day?
Maybe it was a good sign, this innocent little child, like Ethan telling her it was okay Mommy, it will all work out in the end. Or maybe it was a bitter reminder of how cruel, how short, how sinister life could be. She couldn’t decide which it was. Not today. Not here, not now.
And then she thought of Nola, and the tears came.
six words: see ya soon - minor eye injury still needs healing