I’m waiting to schedule an appointment with an oncologist, any oncologist, and it turns out that the backlog of new people trying to schedule appointments with oncologists is so great it takes days for the new-people-scheduler to call back. Meanwhile, I still have breast cancer. So something has to be done. Joe suggested I start making meth, and my friend Andrea suggested I make it pink, instead of Heisenberg blue, for breast cancer awareness. But after a little research, I decide a trip to Whole Foods is the answer.
My surgeon recommended antioxidants. My research confirms, so I make a list of everything that has antioxidants, which is basically everything that Whole Foods sells. So I start with an antioxidant smoothie and then raid the produce aisle and then buy a supplement called “Vitamin Code Raw Antioxidants” because the Whole Foods clerk says that has the most antioxidants of any supplement. She’s wearing Birkenstocks, so I trust her. Her face manages the kind of wide-eyed-but-squinty expression of someone who either knows why I’m asking for antioxidant supplements or is passing kidney stones. I want to tell her, “Hey thanks! Also, I have cancer.” Because my other new thing, besides antioxidant binging at Whole Foods, is telling everyone.
And I mean everyone. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it makes me feel less burdened or less alone. Or maybe because people respond with stories of other breast cancer survivors who are in the clear and doing great. Or maybe because I like hugs and gifts. For one thing, my friend Carlos has started a monster parade. Every day for twenty days Carlos has vowed to assemble a monster parade diorama in an effort to delight me. Here’s Day One Monster:
And on my first day back after the bomb-drop-diagnosis, my creative writing students are waiting outside of my first class to give me a bundle of roses and a card that reads: “If Fifty Shades of Grey can get published, then you can beat cancer.” Another pair of students surprise me later with a gift bag full of goodies. (Tip: If you see someone walking around with flowers and a gift bag, don’t ask if it’s her birthday.) In fact, everyone in the English Department has been wonderful. I sit in the meeting room during my office hours with a colleague who has had breast cancer and is willing to talk about her experiences so I know I’ll be okay. So, I’m learning it’s good to tell people.
I’m also learning that being at work is easy and coming back home at the end of the day is hard. It turns out children need things. Like dinner. But the oncologist still hasn’t called me back. While I want to bury myself in sofa cushions and curl around my laptop and watch videos of Jean-Claude Van Damme doing splits while suspended from two moving Volvo trucks and do absolutely nothing else, not even eat a single solitary antioxidant, to cope, the five-year-old is throwing a tantrum because when she asked me if I could see the imaginary thought bubble over her head filled with marshmallows I say, “no.” And I should back up and tell you the terrible thing that happened when I picked up the five-year-old from afterschool care and I became the Day One Monster.
It started when the five-year-old (I call her Firecracker) was putting the finishing touches on a lovely work of art, a line of penguins in the sunshine, and saw me coming for her. She was busy writing the word “friends” at the top. “I’m trying to write ‘friends,’” she told me, and when I opened my mouth to tell her how to spell it so we could go already her head jettisoned off her shoulders and her mouth opened wide enough to swallow me and she yelled, “I am trying to write FRIENDS,” so loud my hair blew back and every single child in the gym stopped making sounds. Do you know how hard it is to make twenty-plus five-year-olds stop making sounds all at once? Not even Santa vomiting rainbows can do that. I took her by the hand and very calmly told her through my teeth that we have to take the artwork with us to finish at home. Once we reached the door, she was off, racing away into the night like a lit bottle rocket. I just stood there, watching the little dot of her get smaller past the playground. “You get over here right now!” I called after her, not sure if she was close enough to hear my mouse voice. She saw me, though. She looked over her shoulder, and I was pointing to the ground beside me. “Right here, right now!” Nope. Didn’t work. Fuck this, I have cancer, I was thinking. And then I balled up the drawing and threw it in the trashcan at the edge of the playground.
That’s it. That’s the horrible thing. I broke the artist’s rule. Never destroy someone’s art. Never. But I did it. And the artist is only five, which surely fast-tracks me to a special ring of artist’s hell in which I’m doomed to listen to a loop of Bob Ross describing how to paint snow on a cliff face while I’m on fire. Even worse, it took me maybe two hours before I felt bad about it.
You’ll be happy to know the Firecracker and I have made peace on the porch step as we sit watching the fall leaves drift into the lamplight across the street. She admits it was bad to yell in someone’s face and run far, far away. I admit it was bad to trash her drawing. We decide to get a new set of markers and a big piece of paper and make a new one together.