It’s probably different for everybody. It’s also probably exactly the same.
That initial phone call. The drive to the doctor’s office. They wouldn’t call you back in if it wasn’t serious. They wouldn’t have you make that second, or third drive there. If it wasn’t serious, they would tell you over the phone, “We got the tests back, everything is fine.” The final word would be “Benign.” Then, you could breathe again. Brew your coffee. Go for a run. You could forget to make sure to notice new flower buds or the hummingbird outside the window. You could forget to remember the way your daughter’s hands look just like your own. You could forget that you every day, every day you are trying to remember.
But in the case that you answer, and in the case that they tell you to come in, your tests are in, can you come in today? Then you have to get in the car. Make that drive.
You say you are on your way. You click end on the phone call. You don’t remember putting your shoes on, or starting the ignition. You remember to spray perfume before you leave. A scent you love. Maybe the one you wore on your wedding day, and you turn off all the lights, but you don’t remember a jacket and it’s raining.
It’s probably all the same, even if it’s different for everyone. The thoughts that start running in your head, I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m going to die and I need to pick up the dry cleaning. You’ve been down this road before. You hate this road.
A sign tells you to turn right on exit 91. A road sign next to a symbol of a cross. Or maybe it’s a not a cross, but that’s what you see when you read the sign and you wonder if God loves you. You wonder if your husband still does. Still will. You use to be beautiful. You use to dance in the rain, not drive to hospitals in it.
You wonder if you’ve told your daughter to always pee after sex . You wonder if you’ve told her to never marry a man she wouldn’t be proud to have as a son. That there is no such thing as a perfect wife. Or mother. To lay her fears at the doorstep of her love. That the more she worries about her orgasm, the more she will chase it away. She is too young to understand, but you, you, have too much to say to someone who is too young. So you just try to remember all the things you haven’t told her yet about being a woman. And about how everything feels infinite when you are young. And how then you learn it isn’t. And you learn it on a drive, down a road, alone.
You’ve been down this road once before, when they removed your left breast.
It’s probably different for everybody, but everybody thinks about something they’ve never done before. Somewhere they’ve never been.
You have never been to Southeast Asia.
The doctor has blue eyes. He talks to you about test results and stage four and his eyes get watery. You wonder if his eyes do that for everybody. You want to be different. But you aren’t.
The doctor points to something on a screen, he doesn’t look at you, and he presses his right palm up and down against imaginary wrinkles in his lab coat. His words pass through your skin and chill your bones, but you’ve heard them before, and you silently say them with him like an invocation, and you know it and he knows it, “Carriers have a fifty percent chance of passing the cancer predisposition gene to each of their children.”
The walls are eggshell white. Antiseptic burns your nose and you are silent, waiting for the good news next, but the doctor is silent too.
You don’t remember leaving the hospital.
You remember the dry cleaners. The broken English attempt at, “good morning,” from the cleaner and he asked how you are, and you said, “I’m fine, good, thanks how are you?”
At a stoplight, you forget where you are, and cars honk behind you as you stay parked at a green light. The car right behind you swerves around to pass you. The tires squeal. A voice yells at you through an open window. The driver is a young man in a Yankees cap in a blue car and you want to tell him, “I’m sorry. I’m dying. I’m so sorry.” Instead you grip the wheel, hunched forward, swallowing gulps of air and he calls you a dumbass woman, tells you to learn to drive and you remember the first time your husband unbuttoned your blouse buttons, one by one. The smile on his face.
You pull forward. That is all you remember about the drive home. That, and that maybe you are dying.
When you get home, you ascend the stairs, holding the banister like an eighty year old, not a forty three year old. It’s dusty and you wipe the dust off with your palm on each step up. The cat appears on the stairs, twining its slender body around your legs. You are convinced the cat is trying to kill you before the cancer does. The cat however has just killed a bird. It wants to show you but can’t get your attention and so you will never see it. You husband will find it later on the deck, laid out in front of the door like a little gift. Its wings frozen out to the side, prepared for eternal takeoff.
Not everybody does this, but many will.
You look in the mirror. You stare at yourself. You are naked, your right hand is pushed up against the mirror, and you are leaning in towards your reflection. When was the last time you felt whole? You can’t remember. You reach up and cup your right breast with your left hand, squeeze, roll the lump in between your fingers. The angry red scar across the concave portion of your upper left chest is still healing.
Everybody remembers the lectures. Don’t smoke. Sleep eight hours. Exercise. SPF. Everybody wonders what they could have done differently.
Despite everything, your right breast is still perky, round, and milky white. You are too young for this.
“I think you might be the most interesting woman I’ve I ever met,” your husband said the first night you two met and then he lifted his whiskey glass up near his cheek and he shook the ice in it. His shirt cuffs were monogrammed with his initials, I.G. You twisted in your chair and he stared at you. You were twenty two. Everything felt infinite. He started touching your face. You will be his first wife. His only wife.
The sound of running water could be coming from anywhere, the kitchen, the rain gutters, your tears, but today it is coming from the bathtub and you don’t remember bringing in the toaster, but it’s there, shining, all stainless steel, perched on the porcelain ridge of the tub. Your father use to love burnt toast. Your father walked you down the aisle and you held onto his index finger. Your father’s ashes are scattered through the northern forests of Minnesota. The tub is filling up.
The day your daughter was born you made a promise that you would never let anything bad happen to her. You wonder if you are the bad thing that will happen to her.
You stop wondering.
Electrocution. Electro. Execution.
The words make sense but nothing else does.
You want to tell your husband how the cancer has spread to other organs. To your spine. Your lymph nodes. But you will never tell him. Everybody has something to say that they never do. It’s something different for everybody, but it’s probably exactly the same.