Come closer, a little closer please, I need you near. My mood is reflective, the bathroom mirror draws me in, as I observe my nakedness through the toothpaste-streaked surface. I carefully scan my gently used skin for irregularities, reflecting on the less than peachy color, a dullness if you will, but mostly what I see is unmasked fear. As I lean over the sink, closer to my reflection, I stare at my estranged features, sometimes familiarity can be so blinding.
I take a hard look, what am I avoiding, what would I prefer not to see? Dean Koontz says, “there’s just something unsettling about studying your reflection. It’s not a matter of being dissatisfied with your face or of being embarrassed by your vanity. Maybe it’s that when you gaze into your own eyes, you don’t see what you wish to see—or a glimpse of something that you wish wasn’t there.” Understatement of the year.
I failed my mammogram.
How does one manage to do that you might ask? It has more to do with genetics than talent but in some strange way, I do consider it a gift. The truth is it’s most likely benign, I’ve been told fibrous tissues are the classic culprits, but this is when my imagination goes into overdrive, and I find myself contemplating all kinds of implausible scenarios, right up to the message I want engraved on my tombstone. It’s morbid, I’m aware, but I can’t stop my thoughts from traveling to those dark places. I stare into the endless void of my now enlarged irises, I feel numb, that might have something to do with wine, because honestly, I would prefer not to feel anything at all.
The word reflection comes from the Latin reflectere, made up of the prefix re-, “back,” and flectere, “to bend.” So it’s bending something back, like your reflection in the mirror, which is simply light waves bouncing your image back at you. This also applies when pausing for reflection, looking deeper, allowing your thoughts to bend inward.
I wonder how many women have been in this very same position, studying their healthy image reflected in the mirror, juxtaposed with the knowledge that some suspicious tissue is lurking just beneath the surface? Shannon Alder notes, “beauty is not who you are on the outside, it is the wisdom and time you gave away to save another struggling soul like you.” This type of fear is held collectively by all women, it’s our ground zero, a place memorialized by grief and suffering. Come closer.
Water is the most versatile of all elements. It isn’t afraid to burn in fire or fade into the sky, it doesn’t hesitate to shatter against sharp rocks in rainfall or drown into the dark shroud of the earth. It exists beyond all beginnings and ends. On the surface nothing will shift, but deep in underground silence, water will hide and with soft fingers coax a new channel for itself, until stone gives in and slowly settles around the secret space. Death is water’s close companion, and neither of them can be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. Water doesn’t belong to us, but we belong to water: when it has passed through our fingers and pores and bodies, nothing separates us from earth. Emmi Itäranta
We’ve been up at the lake for the holiday weekend, the murky water has been a source of endless entertainment, along with my three granddaughters, a couple of adult children, husband, beloved neighbors and a naive sort of ignorance. Autumn is in full swing, I spend my days admiring the surprising varieties of birds preparing to winter in a cushion of plush reeds gathered under the surface of this spring-fed water. These beds of reeds cause all sorts of problems for boaters, clogging up the propellers, creating impenetrable boundaries, and spreading like cancer around the lake.
I’m also enamored with the appealing blanket of amber, rust, and honey-colored leaves now carpeting our barren courtyard and the memory of my granddaughters gathering the colorful leaves and gleefully throwing them into the air. Nono thought he was raking and disposing of the debris with his silly granddaughters but he was actually creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. I watch from a distance, sipping my coffee, warmed by the sound of their giggles.
There is a strong message about attachment embedded in Fall’s landscape, I cling to the familiar seasonal patterns, and derive comfort from this deep knowing that even though our lives seem scattered like the fallen leaves, the days will shorten, the temperature will drop, and during the winter solstice we’ll emerge from this womb of darkness, imbued with new life, and a huge visa bill.
What I failed to notice was a missed call on Friday morning, or the one on Saturday afternoon coming from the Breast Care Center in Los Gatos, or the third attempt on Monday while driving through a no service zone on our way home. They said I would receive a call only if something concerning showed up in the images. I remember thinking after the scan, while dressing in the dim stall, what a sad place this is? It’s either no news or bad news. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Well, that and I had promised to treat myself to an egg, cheese, and sausage biscuit breakfast sandwich from McDonalds, a righteous reward for allowing someone to smash my breast into the size of a Swedish a pancake, while I held my breath, and remained perfectly still. It’s absolute torture which only serves to stir one’s appetite.
Personally, my preference would be to avoid the entire situation, bury my head in the sand, pretend it never happened. Henry David Thoreau must have known my dilemma when he said a lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. I’ve decided my nature is most definitely shallow! Wasn’t it just last night that I marveled at the reflection of the full moon on the rippling surface of the water and thought I had not a care in the world?
“The moon’s reflection bored into the flat water like a hole into the sea, like the ice well where Tert Card’s father’s hairy devil washed his pots and pans.” Annie Proulx
Sitting shotgun I casually scan my social media accounts, settling into my ergonomically designed seat, as the light slowly fades to dusk. This is when I notice the alert for a missed call from an unrecognized number? This is understandable, my last mammogram was more than six years ago, and I never entered the number into my phone, but they left a message, which I regrettably opened.
Glancing at my reflection in the window it reminds me of Mary Oliver who said someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. Darkness is required for a glass surface to be reflective, to bend inward, because sometimes you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.
Larry says, “call them back now.”
“They called you.”
“I would prefer not to.”
I get the look.
I scowl at the reflection mocking me in the window.
“I am, calm your tits.”
He waits quietly while I talk with the scheduler.
“What did they say?”
“My left boob failed miserably and they want a closer look.”
“It’s probably just a precaution.”
“Or insurance fraud.”
“When do you get the results?”
“Right there on the spot.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No, I can manage.”
“You have to work.”
“I’ll make arrangements.”
“What if it’s bad news?”
“Then I’ll be there.”
“Can you go without me?”
I acquiesce because the truth is I don’t want to go alone, we drove the rest of the way home in silence, which can be rather loud even with the lack of noise. I kept feeling myself up, as if I could locate the problem with my fingertips, and ask it to leave, but I’m met with fleshy skin, no noticeable lumps.
John O’Donohue says reflection comes between us and every other person and object in the world. An object or a person can be reflected in so many different ways. Yet the heart of an object or the essence of the heart can never be reflected. All faith and creativity is the hunger to cross over this frontier, it is the desire for pure and total encounter and belonging. Love is an affair between a reflection and its object. I had to read that four times before it started to sink in but damn the man has a way with words.
Come closer, a little closer please, I need you near.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll watch a movie, there will be heavily buttered popcorn, and wine.
Update: I’ve been given the all clear for an entire year. Apparently, since I have been delinquent in my mammograms the images on file were vastly different from the current state of my breasts. This is common as we age, this is why I decided to risk exposure, and drag this issue into the light. This is an important screening for women, something we rarely talk about, and clearly one I would prefer to avoid. So get on the phone, schedule a mammogram, share your experience in the comments, it just might encourage others to do the same! Thanks for all the love and good juju – I’m so feeling it.
- “Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” William Wordsworth
- “The funny thing is that I never see the world any differently through new glasses. I only ever see things differently when I look in the mirror.” Jeff Zentner
- “What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” John W. Gardner
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