Adrian has a preference for how I style my hair, if you can call it that, a style. When I let it air-dry after a shower, it springs up in waves throughout the day. At Adrian’s request I’ve let it grow out longer, like when he was a baby and would grab hold of it when nursing. One tiny, hand curled around my pale breast, the other tangled up in my hair. It becomes thicker the longer I wait to wash it. Sometimes I wait a long while, avoiding getting it wet under the stream of the shower. I hide the expansion of it, like unruly weeds, under my grey, woolen hat through long stretches of frigid temperatures. Wearing head-to-toe wool is warranted in Maine right into the second week of May.
Often, I tie my hair back at the base of my neck. Or I pull it way up on the top of my head in a tall bun. This style, apparently, has a name—the ninja bun. I’ve been wearing my hair in this way since I was a teenager. All those many years back when I sprinted around a track, my chest pressed forward, the smell of rubber wafting around me. The silvery spikes in my cleats puncturing the springy, cadmium-orange surface both steadying me and propelling me forward, channeling my intense desire to gain distance at the curve. We started out crouched and staggered. I tried closing the gap before rounding the corner where, suddenly, I could catch up with my advantage.
I collect my hair in this way now to feel cool air on the back of my bare neck after being wrapped in layers all throughout the day. I pull it up to be lightened as I circle my kitchen putting away the white mugs with the red fox painted on the side. The plastic lids get stacked in the bottom drawer before the incense is lit where it burns in the smooth, red bowl on the ledge by the front door.
After I’ve unpacked the lunches—a responsibility technically belonging to Jonah and Adrian—I notice Adrian milling around, not having settled into a game or book or some other unwinding activity. I invite him to come over to me on the floral rug, so I can wrap my arms around his still-compact body. I remind him we haven’t yet had our afternoon hug. He walks toward me leaving foggy footprints on the wood floors with his socks, damp from the humid interior of his shoes.
I kneel down in front of the sink as he approaches me. He eyes my hair pulled-up and begins to grin, a beguiling expression coming over him like an expanding aura. Warm air blows around us from the vent at the floorboard as he drapes himself into my arms, looking suspicious, as if he is going to play a trick on me. He pulls back from our embrace and then acts like he is walking away. While I’m still within reach, crouched down, he moves around the side of me quickly and like a bandit, reaches up and pulls the elastic band out of my hair. My bun comes tumbling apart and my hair windmills down to my shoulders, all the while he’s exclaiming,“Let it be free! Let your hair be free!”
When my phone finally rang, it was a call I’d been waiting for. I was sitting by the ledge of a large picture-window in the library where the sun streams in all throughout the shortest days of the year. I can rest my coffee on a step-stool there, my computer in my lap, and look out at a courtyard with a jagged, stone sculpture. A rectangular church spire can be seen above the other buildings in the distance. I’ve witnessed this scene in every season in all manner of weather.
Although conscious of the quiet atmosphere, I experienced a breathlessness in my voice that didn’t come from an effort to speak softly. It came from the river of small talk I had to wade through while balancing a bucket of fear.
The room was suddenly hazy, titles of the knitting books lining the section in front of me all began blending together, as if in a dream. I tried to find a place where I could speak freely finally settling on a small, un-occupied room. I went in with my laptop and closed the door behind me, leaving my bag with my wallet on the floor in the other room where anyone could have taken it. There were no windows and sitting at a little desk, I could have touched any of the four walls. As I listened, I managed to think about how much I would rather be anywhere else, and also, how perfectly-appropriate it was to hear such news in that drab place.
I listened to everything being said, and yet, it registered as if it were happening to someone else. The size of the tumor was being described, and the grade. I suddenly became privy to things like proliferation index and types of receptors as indicators for treatment. I held the phone between my head and shoulder, something I have never been good at, and began typing into my computer. I titled the document breast cancer and put words and actions to the page I had no interest in ever impressing upon my body.
My body is for breathing through in the still, quiet of dawn and for filling up with luscious, green foods—sprouts and arugula and wheat grass. It is for standing tall in, engaging my muscles and learning to invite my rib cage upward so it doesn’t land like a basket set-upon my lower back. It is for feeling the earth on all corners of my feet sunk in soil, learning to find balance upon this tilted earth. My body is for cradling what is unique and infinite and timeless in me and for connecting with the universal in us all.
Who will make the lunches? Who will unpack the wet and muddy, rubber rain pants from the backpacks? Who will soak in the sweet aroma of my boys after baseball practice or a bath? Who will be patient with their unreasonableness, their profoundly exacting command of language? Who will count the number of connections in a given day, ensuring there have been enough? Who will rub their ankles, their necks, their knees after the third-goodnight? Who will look beyond the words escaping their lips and dive deeply into the pool of them beyond the place where language matters?
The need for color came on suddenly, like a hot-flash. I drove directly to a home-goods store and bought new throw-pillows for our couch. Never mind conscious-consumption. There was one really long, velvet pillow that I come across with a flourishing scene filled with jungle animals—a black panther, a giraffe, various monkeys and a gorilla. It would demonstrate to Jonah and Adrian how intently I understand their passion for wild animals. I imagined them piling on top of it in their room. The powder-blue, floral pillows with tassels on the ends swirled with abstract flowers colored in rose and tangerine and pear-green. These would contrast nicely with the orange bench in the living room.
My husband was seated beside me in another sort-of living room, wearing a black, collared shirt, notes scribbled in red all across the papers in his lap. They bring you to these cozier rooms with real furniture to review troubling results, in-person, as if the couch cushions might soften the blow of life’s capacity to turn on a dime. His face became increasingly red, his eyes welling up with tears as he expressed his understanding of all that needed to be considered, treatments studied and absorbed late in the night. I took his hand in mine as he tried to manage things in the way he does with our mortgage rate and insurance policies. He was looking for absolutes, hard to come by in the world of unruly, cell division.
He sometimes mistakes my propensity for surrender as passivity, our natures at odds when it comes to ideas about commanding outcomes. I comment to the doctor about how I make most decisions on instinct, from the gut. The truth is, I operate largely from the heart, feeling my way forward as if leaping, stone to stone, across a river.
For a few days I experienced the world through a haze, like peering out a foggy windshield trying to find my way. The endless rain and low-hanging clouds and Xanax taken for a particularly difficult medical-test didn’t help. Then, in a single, distinguishable moment, driving down a steep hill not far from our house, life returned to focus. I arrived at the bottom and came upon an enormous, golden forsythia bush. Its hue was so vibrant, so luminously-yellow, it might have qualified as a new color all-together. I sat in my warm car, the heat blasting and absorbed this glowing vision of nature’s capacity to reemerge even despite its darkest days. Its branches arched up and around, cascading down like a wild head of golden hair.
Despite the raw temperatures and our seemingly endless wait for the sun to splash down upon us in these damp parts, the creatures have come out of their nests and burrows and holes, making their way among us. Just this week I witnessed a skunk scurrying across the road at dusk as if in a hurry to get back to work, a black cat pausing and looking out from the edge of a forest and the neighborhood osprey, constructing their nest once again on an electric pole from which it has been twice removed.
A ruby red cardinal swoops back and forth from a small pine tree down into our newly tilled garden bed. I watch hopefully as this symbol of energy—of vitality, fire and life—prepares for the days ahead.