What I’m writing . . .

Comfort Food (Essay Finis)

One morning I woke up, brushed my hand over my chest, and felt a lump on my breast. It was a shock. Where did this come from? Could you grow lumps overnight? Maybe it would vanish as quickly as it came. But it was a persistent lump and after several fretful days, I decided I needed to check it out.

At the time I was living by myself during the week in a tiny apartment in the back corner of a rickety old house. It was the price I paid to go to school and get that final college degree. I loved learning, but I hated being lonely. Every night I called my husband.

“I don’t know. The lump fairy left it on my chest instead of under my pillow,” I told him. “I’ll call the doctor tomorrow. I’ll probably need a mammogram too.”

Of course the doctor was booked up for the entire week and I didn’t think I should schedule a diagnostic mammogram without her go-ahead. So I was stuck waiting—waiting and wondering and worrying. I checked my lump several times a day, testing to see if it had grown and if so, how much. I tucked a wooden ruler under my chin and tried to measure my lump. I was becoming attached to it. I even thought of a nickname: Bubby. I had a Bubby on one of my boobies.

Google had all the information I needed to know and some things I didn’t, about breast cancer and breast cancer treatment. During the day I’d convinced myself it was merely a cyst, nothing to worry about. But at 3 a.m. in the morning, my new wake-up time, I planned my funeral. I needed to find someone eloquent to read the poem Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant: “When thoughts of that last bitter hour come like a blight . . .”

Finally, I found myself sitting in a blue-flowered hospital gown on the edge of the examining table waiting for the radiologist’s verdict.

“It’s a spider bite,” she pronounced.

“What?” At first I wasn’t sure I heard right. “A spider bite?”

“Yes, or some other mildly venomous insect. You’ve had a reaction.”

My breast lump was a spider bite. I almost felt cheated. Then I thought about the old house I was living in while I went to school, the spider webs I saw in a couple of corners of the high ceiling. I’d chose to ignore them, fancifully believing if I couldn’t reach those spiders, they couldn’t reach me.

Walking down the tree-shaded street to my car after my doctor’s appointment, I felt so light and free—and thankful. I was one of the lucky ones. I whispered a prayer for all those battling breast cancer who weren’t so fortunate. I realized I was hungry, ravenous even.  It felt so good to feel hungry again. There was a new restaurant in town I’d heard about, gourmet dining, called Doughty’s Bistro. I needed to reward myself, comfort myself after all this needless suffering. What would I order? I’d begin with a chicken satay appetizer and then for dessert, maybe a chocolate torte. I was already looking forward to licking the icing off the spoon.

What I’m reading . . .

The Cruel Prince (Genre: Teen Fantasy)
by Holly Black

The wonderful thing about young adult literature is that it doesn’t beat around the bush with a lot of wasted words. Good YAL has potent stories and great wisdom–all bound in a 50,000-60,000 word package. The Cruel Prince, though not particularly wise, has a fantastic story that had me reading until my eyes were dry and gluey.

Black’s book is a fantasy about faeries, but anyone that knows the medieval origins of faerie myths will tell you faeries are a dangerous lot, nothing like Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell. And indeed, in The Cruel Prince we have a pair of mortal sisters growing up in Faerie Land and subjected to all manner of cruelty. Added to their misery is betrayal and confusion. Some faeries who would appear to be adversaries are friends and vice-versa. One of the sisters manages to outfox her faerie masters and in the process stumbles upon true love. It’s actually an old tale, well told by author Holly Black.


They Both Die at the End (Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi)
by Adam Silvera

Where was this book when I was teaching high school reading to “reluctant readers,” particularly boys? Most young men would enjoy reading They Both Die at the End–even some older ladies. The author really draws us in with this futuristic story of two young men who get a call from “Death Caste,” an agency that lets people know when they have a day left to live.

The death call courtesy is suppose to allow people to say their final goodbyes and arrange their own funerals. It’s an intriguing hook, particularly when you consider Marcus and Rufus are both around 17-years-old. How these young men respond to their own life tragedy, and how they deal with mourning from their loved ones, is heart-rending.

There’s lots of lessons here about living all the way to your life’s end and learning how to say a good, goodbye. Though the book is a touching tale, it’s brutal and risque at times. Marcus and Rufus are inner-city youth. Strong language is used including an occasional “F” bomb, and one of the protagonists is bisexual. In this, it is a modern story of young people today. Still, I’m not sure They Both Die at the End will find a place on all school library shelves—which is unfortunate.