I heard a clear message. “Check your breast.” It was like other times when I had got messages. Deep, serious, not to be ignored. I flopped back on my bed having had a shower and not yet dressed. I wasn’t concerned, I’d had two mammograms last year the first having a dubious ‘shadow’ I’d had to repeat it in another city with a better newer machine but still shooting all that radiation into my breast.It had been clear as of course it would be.
Immediately I felt the lump like a couple of wasabi peas under the skin. I couldn’t believe it. FFS. I felt again. No fucking way. These weren’t the lines from the play of my life, these belonged to others who weren’t destined like me to die from a heart attack or a stroke from trying to unjam the photocopier again or wrestling too hard trying to start the lawnmower yanking on its cord or crying too hard over something I had been crushed by.
I immediately called Family Medical and by the end of the afternoon had the words Malignant Neoplasm added to my favourite book The Hypochondriac’s Almanac.
This sense of unreality sustained me well, like a fabulous breakfast of toasted banana bread with maple syrup and butter washed down by a rich arabica. The shock was a great lifebuoy even making the waves of words like mastectomy radiotherapy chemo baldness surgery side-effects and so forth treacle into calm puddles. Indeed I did feel calm, almost entirely even smugly and congratulated myself on how well I was doing. Sooooooo positive soooooooo courageous except …sometimes.
Sometimes I would catch a view of myself as if I were an alien observer zapping in from planet Zog and see this sad overweight woman who had had the most appalling series of events from an abusive and neglected childhood to abandonment as a teenager to an abusive early marriage, five children, four live one stillborn, a valiant attempt at righting the wrongs of the world altogether Dulcinea Sancho and Quixote, trying to re-build a life after the most unforunate matchmaking in all of history left me partnered with an illiterate Afghani welder, mourning a dead sister, a broken heart and a broken family. I went north, so very far north I flew to a job in Portugal and dived deeply into a life of Zara shopping, walking the fragrant cliffs of the Atlantic and patchworking my mind into the happy semblance of a new life. I’d done it, I’d escaped!
But it wasn’t so. I’d exchanged one set of old leaky pots for another just shinier. No matter how I moved them around in the cupboard or adjusted the flame there were The Truths leaking out all over.
I had fallen deeply in love with a Portuguese man who had stolen my soul and has never given it back and no-one can understand where he has put it, not even myself. I think it could be behind the silver centrepiece his great grandfather made for the Italian royal family, or on top of the love we made in the moonlight in Dona Hilda’s house, or underneath his comic and loving gestures near the fragrant verdant forests we walked together in France. “I am not a good one, my love.” You said and truly spoke. We were ten years together and they were the very best of times and the worst of times, now he is in another country and I am here in Singapore nursing this dark flower in my breast hoping it will die and never bloom.
Inside myself I see a woman who was never really born into life. Confused by it, confused by people, confused by the violent contractions of fury, grief and loss that pimple the skin of humanity making it an ugly repulsive thing when it could be so different. I couldn’t understand it, I was an illiterate welder myself, so I decided to stand on my own. It didn’t seem hard to change things. Be kinder, be gentle, be nice. Not too hard. It could smooth brows, shine shoes and polish tomatoes. Really, it could.
Yet, does it? Do I do that? Am I brave enough to let things go when I have a point to hang something on that I feel has hurt me or I see as wrong? Probably not. Probably I am not willing to easily silkily let it slip away like the skin of the Selkie with my sealskin coat taken by my lover and now I am destined to walk painfully on land. I am an animal in water but human on land, on the land of my rightness, scaling the mountains of justification to plant another flag claim another territory.
The dark flowers grow in this fertile land in great sweeping swathes with their corpulent petrichor after the tears that rain on this land release it. My Right. My Land.
Yet now, I know I don’t belong here in this land. I have been wrong and I have been confused and without meaning to I have invaded others from my harbours, from behind the crenallations of my heart’s battlements with all the artillery and weapons blazing and erasing, promising never to hurt never to cause collateral damage, yet I have. I am just like anybody else.
But…give me back my skin.
Put me back in the water, put me back in the cold salty currents so as to cure and clean the place where my soul had lain before my lover took it and hid it from me. Give me back my soul my love, let me live.
That was what I found out when the message came to me a month ago. I have to find my reason to live, I am in a Manichaean struggle.