All Adventurous Women Do
I am sitting on the bus and I can’t use my phone this morning because I forgot my charger. I need a full charge so I can call my mother after the biopsy, so my roommate can let me know she is there in the waiting room.
This is the same bus I ride every morning, but today I notice that everyone is wearing black. This isn’t New York, none of it is fashionable, why are we all in black? I can’t stop staring. Black is the presence of every color, maybe we are all full of too many things today. Maybe I am projecting.
There is a man five seats in front of me and he looks miserable. I pull out my phone—I have to. I type a note that says “Man chugging coffee. Depression.” I think it is a story idea, but I know it is a maniacal thought.
I have settled on the understanding that sometimes I have thoughts that feel so repetitive or beautiful or sad that I need to scrawl them down on whatever is close by. A word I hear from a maid in the hallway scrawled on the last sheet of a hotel notepad, complete with an ancient dog ear for a bottom left corner. A barf bag from a flight to Florida covered with the words Aunt Jemima and You can’t yell on an airplane. They’re written over and over, covering the white surface in black ink. I wanted to yell about syrup and I do not know why. It is just a part of who I am. A part of me.
I repeat that to myself when things get bad. Feel bad, are bad. This is just a part of me. It has long helped me remember that while my emotions, my actions, the words that escape from my mouth are not always ideal, they still come from me. They come from somewhere inside of me. And all of the good comes from me, too. The kind words, the listening, the jokes, the laughter, the writing that sometimes means something to others. My perspective, my coping mechanisms.
I learned best how to handle the bad after I ran from it and quickly realized even four hundred miles between does not matter—your troubles travel, too, and they live rent-free on the floor next to your bed. There is no universal formula to get rid of them, but time is always part of the equation.
I moved to a city two years ago, so I ride the bus to get to work and I usually focus on my phone. Check the news, check Tumblr, check Facebook. Listen to music.
But today my phone cannot die. When I get to my office, I lock it in my top desk drawer.
I work all day and I am running late. I resign myself to hailing a cab, which I never do. I make it to my appointment just in time. They give me a pregnancy test and I joke about the Immaculate Conception. There is forced laughter from the nurse. “It’s protocol.”
I undress from the waist down and wait for the doctor to come in. I stare at the ceiling as he explains the procedure. I do not bother to tell him that I know, I have done this before. The ceiling has fluorescent lights and that white tile filled with tiny holes. I make a note to google what it’s called when I get home. I am half listening to the doctor as he talks about the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario because I already know. I just want it done.
“You will feel pressure, but I’m not doing anything yet. I will let you know when I do something.” The light strapped to his head switches on.
Laying there, my heels resting in stirrups, my eyes full of unnatural light, my dress hiked up around my waist, the nurse with no sense of humor offers to hold my hand and I get angry. I get angry at the show Girls and every person who treats HPV lightly, because they have not been here. Maybe their bodies have cleared it out of their systems, but mine has not. In six years, mine has not. I get mad at Gardasil for not protecting me. I get mad at however I got this. There is no answer there. I only know I was safe and that it was still not enough.
The doctor tells me what he sees. A mosaic of cells. It used to be four small spots, but it is a mosaic now. I think about colored shards of glass in crushed pieces, sealed together into something beautiful and I hate him for using that word.
He lets me know he is going to “do something” now. I clench and unclench my fists. I feel my legs shake, first my knees, then my calves, and I see the thin white paper covering them start to rattle.
I am mad at myself for being unsteady.
I think about the text message my mother sent me earlier in the morning, talking about the God I do not believe in, have not believed in since I was seventeen. Her prayers are one thing, mine are another. I direct requests and questions at the ceiling and I think about the people I love when I send up words. I picture the people who would send me well wishes or sage advice. I picture my mother, my father, my brothers, my friends, my dead family, my dead friends, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Samuel Beckett, Dorothy Parker. I send my words to them through the ceiling.
“Here we go,” he says and I look at the wall.
He clips and I feel it in the very center of my body. I wonder how they can say, every time, every doctor, that I may want to take an ibuprofen an hour before, I might have slight cramping. The pain shoots up my spine, arching my back and opening my jaw to my chest. My eyes don’t squeeze shut until I realize I have been staring wide-eyed at the lights long enough to make them burn.
“All done,” he assures me. Tissue gone and into a cup.
I think about my mother’s prayers again. I list and count my blessings until I run out of fingers and toes and the doctor says, “just applying pressure to stop the bleeding,” and I wait for the bleeding to stop. It takes a while, so I think about the man on the bus and my roommate waiting a few rooms over. I think about my friend Tim and how he still cannot hug me with two arms. I wonder where he learned to hug like that. I think about how I have not called my best friend in two weeks. I think last about what the diagnosis means.
The doctor rolls his stool back and I am told I can sit up. I remind myself that I have a backbone, not a wishbone like the ones I used to snap on Thanksgiving, and it helps me sit up straight. I ask to see the part that they took. The nurse holds up a clear container with liquid and a blob of red floating in the middle. It’s so small. It felt like so much, like so much had been taken, but I see that it is only a tiny piece.
I think about the day that this will not be a part of me anymore. I remind myself again, this is just a part of me.
I silently prepare myself for what might be sleeping next to me tonight and, with 29% battery left, I call my mother.