What’s Underneath the Surface

Mbot: Blast off!

What’s underneath the surface?

One morning in May, I entered the bathroom to find both Gbot and Mbot standing together on the footstool. Gbot held a tube of some overexpensive, undereffective face cream and was nanoseconds away from squeezing. “Gbot,” I warned, “If you squirt that out, then I’ll look like an ugly old hag.”

Mbot looked up from the nail clippers he was attempting to use. “Why will you look like an ugly old hag?” he asked. “Because that’s what you really are?”

I think the babysitter had been reading them old-fashioned fairytales, in whose archetypal plots lurked witches disguised as beautiful maidens.

No, I told them. I’m gorgeous inside, but my skin is getting wrinkly, so the contents of the tube will keep me as lovely on the outside as I am on the inside.

That was at the end of May. The next week, I received a letter in the mail. I was being called back for a follow-up mammogram. “Heterogeneous tissue in the left breast,” read the letter. Do not be alarmed. Only four out of every thousand mammograms detect something bad. Two days later, I was staring at a black-and-white image of my left breast, magnified by four hundred percent, and Dr. Green, a radiologist, was pointing out a cluster of white specks that she called “calcifications.”

The next day, I was lying face-down on a biopsy table while twelve miniscule tissue samples were suctioned out for further study. Beyond the translucent shades of the corner room, the sun glanced off car roofs two stories down as they navigated the parking lot. Inside my own story, it was very quiet. I felt within those beige walls like part of an elaborate pop-up book, a parallel universe whose covers were these walls. Afterward, I smiled at the staff, because it was polite, but no one smiled back.

The next day, a woman’s brisk voice on the phone announced that she would put Dr. Green on the line to explain the biopsy results.

She used words I had never heard before, and other words I had heard before but not in the context of my life. “Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, Grade 3.” “Abnormal cells in the lining of the milk duct.” “Lumpectomy.” “Radiation.” “Hormone therapy.” “Tamoxifen.” And these, which I clung to: “Early detection.” “Not life-threatening.”

The rational part of my mind was not worried. I was grateful. During daylight hours, I packed lunches for summer day camp, swam with bots, made dinner, read Harry Potter, went to the Children’s Museum, oversaw time-outs.

The other parts of my mind were not so cooperative, especially at night. I began writing my dreams down in Haiku. Pressing the labyrinthine plots into the three brief lines of a poetic form I’d learned in childhood allowed me to, literally, synthesize my fears, understand them, and begin to assimilate them.

Dream #1

Hung over, wine glass

shards glinting, last night’s chicken

still out, breast sliced white.

Three days later, I celebrated my forty-sixth birthday by meeting with my OB/GYN. This sort of thing–early detection–probably noninvasive Stage 0 calcifications–is what gives breast cancer a good name, she told me. You’ll be fine. The chances of your dying from this are less than getting hit by a bus.

I drove home looking sideways at buses.

Quite unexpectedly, I found I had acquired a team: a breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. Every time I succeeded in forgetting about the disease I had, but could not see or feel, someone would call wanting me to make an appointment or register or preregister: for appointments. For a chest X-ray. For a radioactive seed localization implant. In spite of good medical insurance, everyone wants my credit card. I am earning air miles. I have a complimentary tote bag, heavy with literature and complimentary DVDs for cancer survivors. I have a new label.

Dream #2

I’ve promised to bring

the Angry Bird costumes but

they’ve all been rented.

Less than three weeks after the initial diagnosis, I was in surgery.

That was Wednesday.

The next day, we went to the circus. My mom’s in town–she’d planned the visit months ago, and bought the tickets in April as birthday presents for the bots. We’d planned to drive up to Idaho for the month of July. We will leave a week later than planned.

Dream #3

My son, three, standing,

neatly gutted. I wasn’t

there when it happened.

Both the lumpectomy incision and the incision close to my armpit, where two lymph nodes were removed for further study, are small, and in a few weeks will hardly be noticeable. Yesterday in the shower, I shaved my armpit and I might as well have been pulling the blade across the pork shoulder I’d cooked for dinner: nerves damaged during surgery had yet to repair themselves. Today, there is tingling.

Close Shave

We are not entitled

to feeling good. Or, to

feeling anything.

Results from the pathology lab will arrive Monday, and at this point the prognosis is very good. I’m lucky.

Dream #4

Gwyneth Paltrow is

having swimming lessons. What

an unflattering view.

I choose to interpret this last one like this: even though she doesn’t look great having swimming lessons, Gwyneth Paltrow is still the most beautiful woman in the world (according to People magazine). Ergo, although parts of me may look ugly as seen on a mammography film, I’m still not an ugly old hag.

A Small, Irritating Raccoon Celebrates Father’s Day

So, here is a confession: the Andrews family crest is headed by a small, irritating raccoon.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

The small, irritating raccoon can even irritate another inanimate object.

A small, irritating raccoon made from cotton pompoms, holding a pompom apple, both apple and raccoon circa 1975.

A small, irritating, inanimate raccoon by the name of Superpeeky.

There are actually two of him. Different generations. Identical except for the fact that one was acquired by my brother when he was five, and the other two years later. My brother carried them around everywhere, with a fist around their necks (an anatomical feature denoted by the layer of glue affixing the pompom body to the pompom head.) Over the years, their necks elongated and they lost any semblance of a chin they once may have possessed.

Over the decades, Superpeeky has contracted a personality like some contract a disease. He is an egomaniac; he thinks he can fly but is tragically anti-aerodynamic; his brain, such as it is, with just one axon spinning wildly in attempt to synapse with itself, actually resides in the apple that he carries between his front paws; he lusts after the female wild boars who root about the bamboo forests near my brother’s home in Japan, and he is suspected of having fathered several boar/raccoon offspring, probably born with their apples in their mouths, but no one knows for sure, as none have ever been sighted.

The Superpeekies have also acquired a brief but notable wardrobe. Grandpa Supes (the elder) wears a red-and-white striped suit that I hand-stitched for him I think when I was nine. He has not taken it off since. Over this, he wears a Magic Tanning Shirt. It is pale yellow with a white polo collar, fashioned by my mother long ago in homage to a ten dollar shirt my father wore for over two decades during annual family vacations to Hawaii, and which he insisted accounted for his deep and even tan, which was the envy of his teenaged daughters. (It was the eighties). The original shirt was immune to the ravages of time, the changing of fashions, and an onslaught of sand, suntan lotion, sloughed skin, and derogatory remarks. As though feeding on the negative attention, it only grew stronger (while growing shorter and more misshapen) as the years passed. Sort of like Yoda.

I finally forced its retirement by purchasing a new Ralph Lauren model in a similar shade of yellow, but like Freddy Kreuger or, more accurately, like a wolf spider, who carries its pinpoint-sized, newly hatched spiderlings on its vast back, and if crushed by, say, Harry Potter, Volume 3, in the middle of the night, lives on in the miniature versions of itself that are small enough to scuttle to freedom (until they’re sprayed with toilet bowl cleanser)*, the shirt found new life in Superpeeky-sized versions of itself.

(If at this point you are questioning the sanity of my family, I am in no position to offer you assurances of normalcy. But if you ever find yourself in an airport interrogation room being questioned about why a small, irritating raccoon holding an apple and made out of pompoms is wearing a polo shirt, you’ll be able to whip out an answer with convincing speed.)

Superpeeky the younger can often be found sporting the Magic Tanning Shirt, which he wears sporadically, as the mood moves his keepers (the Superpeekies rotate between my brother’s office in Japan and my parents’ bookshelves in Idaho, when they haven’t been kidnapped by other family members who have been known to demand ransom in macadamia nuts).

One could write a doctoral dissertation on the psychosociological ramifications of Superpeeky. In the meantime, he has several practical uses.

He makes an excellent foil against which to measure oneself and the situations in which one finds oneself (for example, “Wow, gout must really suck, but by God, at least your brain isn’t in your apple.”)

He also provides a good go-to subject for special-occasion customized greeting cards when the selection of eCards falls short. For example:

FATHER’S DAY CAN GET BETTER AS YOU GET OLDER

and your hearing starts to go:

img001

img002

I’m just saying, every family should have a Superpeeky. (But if ours disappears, we will track you down and make you wear a Magic Tanning Shirt.)

*Not that that ever, ever happened in real life in the bots’ bedroom, leaving Husbot to clean up the poisonous toilet bowl cleanser which presented much more of a potential hazard to bots than a harmless yet large and gross mommy wolf spider.

Oh *I* See the Problem Now. There’s a Pig in My Shoe.

Last week, we were leaving Tae Kwon Do class, which looks like this:

Mr. Rice demonstrates a punch for Mbot. (Mbot: "Oh, I've punched my brother.")

Mr. Rice demonstrates a punch for Mbot. (Mbot, unimpressed: “Oh, I’ve punched my brother.”)

At the end of class, Mbot sat on the floor to put on his sandals. Kids were coming in and practicing for the next class, and after two full minutes of watching Mbot through the milling crowd, I saw that he was working very hard jamming into the toe of his sandal a keychain, which looks like this:

A gift my brother in Japan gave me long ago finds new admirers in the next generation. (on sale now for $1.50! at getgags.com)

A gift my brother in Japan gave me beellions and beellions of years ago ago finds new admirers in the next generation. (still on sale today, for $1.50! at getgags.com)

Having accomplished this task, he worked for another two minutes to stuff his foot far enough into the shoe to affix the heel strap. “Mbot,” I was urging, “If your shoe is not on by the time I count to three, we will leave without shoes.” The door to the dojo was standing open, desert air flowing inside at 102 degrees, and Gbot, who had just awoken bleary-eyed in my arms, was growing exponentially heavier as the seconds passed.

Finally, Mbot tottered happily out the door and across the grass with his heel hanging off the back of one sandal and the other sandal in his hand. I left him at the curb to climb into the car while I loaded up Sack-o’-Potatobot. Mbot, gaining his seat, crossed his foot over his other knee, considered it without expression, and then said as though totally surprised, “Oh I see the problem now. There’s a pig in my shoe!”

I take a few things away from the pooping pig in the shoe incident, and they look like this:

1. Don’t assume that your goals are the same as the person you are with.

2. When the world is not funny enough,

The world is not funny enough.

The world is not funny enough.

 make your own jokes.