Good Narrative Principles

In Position


I’m in position. I can’t move. They let me know this many times. It’s an alternating chorus between “don’t move” and “you’re doing great”. As if me staying still, perfectly still with these daunting machines staring down at me is reason for praise.

The machine rotates. And holds. Hovering over me so that I can see the reflection of my left breast in the dark glass surface of the machine’s face. They tell me what they are doing. Treatment hasn’t started yet. This is just the dry run. Smile for the picture.

Someone has thoughtfully replaced the tiles right my head with a little scene of a blue sky and bare tree limbs. It reminds me of one of my first memories — lying on my back and staring at limbs against a blue sky. I remember feeling bored.

In this moment while writing this I am also acutely aware of exhausting all associations and leaving nothing further to think about or respond to during the long six week trudge through therapy.

Week after week I’ll lie under this machine to be burned a bit more. It feels crazy to me. You’re whole life you’re taught that radiation is bad. There is that memory of watching a movie on Saturday night — a Fright Night feature about this island of beautiful women walking around with bandaged faces. The whole time you’re wondering what is under those bandages? A man lands on the island. A scientist maybe or a drifter. The details are sketchy. He falls in love with one of the bandaged women and pleads with her to leave. She yells at him that she can’t leave. He begs her. No is not an answer and so she says ” you want to know why I can’t leave? This is why!” and she rips off the  bandage around her eyes to reveal bloody putrid skin caused no doubt by radiation.

I wonder if this is what I’ll be thinking about 15 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks?

Plunked down in the middle of the painted blue sky is a black and white line drawing of happy fish. It could have been cut very carefully from a coloring book and tapped up to the ceiling. So the illusion of the sky is rudely interrupted by the happy fish. Carp maybe. A nice fat series of line drawings.

For the benefit of a child no doubt.

Everything about this causes my heart to break.

I’ve been trying to come to peace with this, the six weeks of treatment, the having to relay my sorry medical history again and again and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve done something wrong. I keep having to revisit the scene of the crime.

My left breast.

How did it happen they want to know? They ask the same series of questions but never in the same order so that I have to think about it. Age of first period? Age of menopause? HRT? Birth control? History of bc? Pregnancies? Breast-feeding?

And when no satisfactory answer emerges each Doctor shrugs. I’m still the patient. I still am there to charge up a bill.

To be taken care of.

The drama has changed since surgery. Then I was in the hands of the gifted surgeon who could either extract the necessary amount without doing too much harm or not. There was the lead up…the finding the right surgeon…the tests…the big day…the happy news.

It should be done.

It should be over.

But crawling back to yet a new set of doctors and hearing that no this is not over seems unfair. I want to scream I am not a criminal.

Let me go already.

I try to come to peace with it through a variety of strategies. I try the “think about those less fortunate than me” approach. A woman for instance died the other day having spent 66 years in an iron lung. She hosted dinner parties. Emailed friends. Had a documentary made about her. Evidently she was able to face her afflictions with grace and rise above them.

I think about the child who is hopefully distracted by the picture of the colored in carps. I think about the mother of the child, feeling so responsible and just plain bad as she’s advised to leave the room while the radiation is being administered.

None of this really helps me. Perspective is not what I need right now. Or maybe it is what I need right now but I am so far gone, so deep into my own getting through process that I am merely struck by this news as opposed to healed by it.

I wish someone could just slap me across the face, like the man does to an hysterical woman in a movie and yell “get over it” and I do.

And then I’m OK. The truth is present in its proper proportion and I can move on and not be haunted by a daily reminder — some day I will die.

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