Elisabeth R. Finch
Frank tells me I'm lucky I'm not dead.
he tells me why I shouldn't bother pressing charges. "Even
if we caught 'em, million to one shot you'll get anything outta
'em. Cut your losses, chalk it off to a bad day."
at his bald spot sticking out like an area rug plopped on freshly
cut grass. I watch the tow truck yank away the royal blue mangled
accordion that used to be my car. And I start laughing like hell.
Frank just stares at me. "Maybe you should go get checked out
by a doctor."
containing my hysterics. Fail. Try again.
if I'd played my damsel in distress card with any degree of aplomb,
he'd have offered me a ride home.
I am, after all, my mother's daughter.
mother, all 5' 3" and 110 pounds of her now, was built of South
Philly stock -- where everyone was tough, the women just kept it
secret. If asked to, Mom could change a flat tire, tweak leaking
faucets, and throw a speedball better than anyone three row houses
over. But most of the time she baked mandel bread, finished class
assignments with stellar penmanship, and played the violin for bored
grew up with perfect teeth, perfect SAT scores, and got a Masters
in French while most of her friends majored in Pre-Wed. She had
time. So she took it.
day she finally got married she laid out a budget on hotel stationery,
and told my father they were ready to have kids.
years of infertility drugs followed, prescribed by short-sighted
doctors with limited resources. Four years in, after everyone she
knew was making several laps around the Baby Track, she packed up
and moved to France with my father, where cutting edge trials were
surpassing any options they had Stateside. They both spoke the language
fluently, and were obsessed with warm baguettes. Three years of
hormones and poisons injected into her arms, legs, and rear-end
at unpredictable, inconvenient times. Timing was everything. My
brother was their miracle baby. I followed two years after.
was never a homemaker. But if she'd have cursed more in polyester
suits and leaned a little farther to the Left, she could've been
up in Jersey, I learned how to change tires and fix leaky faucets,
but could never do it without ruining my brand new shirt. I didn't
learn violin or how to cook mandel bread. But I learned Mom's art
of smiling, doing the work, and taking hits however they came. "Lucky
day," my mother would always say, no matter what was going
wrong. In the world of glass half-empty/half-full, Mom never weighed
in; she was too busy figuring out how to fill it to the top next
when she called me and left a message on my voice mail that just
said, "Lucky Day," I knew to call back right away.
was 2001, and I'd just passed under six skies in six days, New Jersey
to Delaware, Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas, en route to college.
Six skies away from my mother on the other end of the line, telling
me something I didn't want to hear. I smiled through clenched teeth
as I followed crude gas station directions, turning left, right,
left, down Austin city streets I suddenly didn't give a shit about.
I was paying attention to the voice on my cell phone. For the first
time in my life I was struck with the idea there might be a limit
to my mother's words.
on my thigh, in rhythm with music I couldn't block out and I pulled
into Barton Springs. I didn't see the pecan trees and walnut groves
that lined the mile-stretch of water. I simply stopped the car,
left my keys in the ignition, and threw my body on the grass.
stupid thing," my mother called it.
never used the "C" word. Never will. She never said prognosis
or hospital or radiation. I rested my elbows on my knees, my hands
running through my scalp, brand new cowboy boots pointing up to
day, huh?" I said to my mom.
father's been getting fantastic parking spots all afternoon,"
her I loved her. She told me not to drive too late at night without
"two flares and a spare".
next day they launched a nuclear war inside my mother, inside the
same flesh I once depended on for love and vitamins. No target dates.
No guarantees. Only mothers, doctors, drugs, and prayers pressed
tight between my father's fat fingers.
years later, we were all experts in pharmacology, wig design, hip
hospital lingo, and fashioning surreptitious means of throwing up
in public places. I hadn't finished undergrad, but got my Masters
in Navigating Red Tape, and a PhD in Managing the Moronic Masses.
My mother got to keep both her breasts and one of her day jobs.
day her margins and mammograms came back clear, she celebrated with
a piece of chocolate cake, two glasses of red wine, and told me
to get the heck out of her house. She kissed my hands, then threw
my empty duffel bag on my head.
one ever expects that first call, that first time. No one ever imagines
hearing their mother talk about "options." The second
call, the second time... there's no shock. More like resignation.
Sure, you've taken vacations, and completed degrees, moved across
the country, made plans and kept them for the first time in ages.
But it was always as if you were waiting, no matter how many years
later, for the phone to ring.
it did, when my father said the word "spread," I hung
up, and started making calls. Not to my aunt, or boyfriend, or airlines
to find a way to get my ass home to New Jersey and fast. I called
the doctor, made an appointment for the next day, ate a plate full
of veggie stir fry without oil, took a shot of Nyquil, and went
next day, a hirsute doctor with an excellent reputation and worn
shoes told me he'd have his nurse come in to speak more in-depth
about "psychological ramifications." Before I could ask
him why I was in a paper gown if I only wanted a blood test, he
was already out the door.
nurse with big hair and no sense of humor came in, sat down next
to me, titled her head, and asked me why I thought this was a good
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