“I know. But you always tell us to arrive early. Plus, it took me three weeks to book this appointment—and I don’t really want to be here,” I said, handing him my ID before answering a slew of questions to prove that I was, in fact, me.
Now, I don’t understand that particular brand of interrogation either. I mean, I know there’s a racket for pretend test-takers who will, for a fee, ace your SATs so you can get into the college of choice. But, is there such a thing for medical tests? Would someone with Grade-A-certified tatas stand in for a mammogram? Why would anyone offer to be a pair of stunt breasts so that the well-endowed—at least financially—won’t have to endure their mammaries becoming smores, pressed into a vice grip? And, what good would it do? While it’s true that nobody talks about mammograms, silence is death. . . So is avoidance.
Alone, I sat in the hall where I was told to wait, the TV blaring a home improvement reality show, but soon I was surrounded by other patients, most of whom needed X-rays but three other women (who were older than me, I noted) also waited for mammograms.
I completed the medical form but couldn’t bring myself to use the hot pink clipboards they bought as a special touch for us ladies. (I get weird about stuff like that, not just in an OCD way with the germs involved, knowing that those clipboards are never in their lifetimes sanitized, but like maybe I will pick up the clipboard and–like a medium who can see the future or the past—I’ll sense some poor woman’s grief or sad prognosis. No thank you. I’ll pass.) I checked "NO" next to, "Did you have your first child after 30?" (who knew that was a thing?) but I jotted down my grandma’s brain cancer, using my thigh as a writing surface.
But, because I was ridiculously early, I watched every one of those patients come and go, from the elderly gentleman who must’ve been a retired General because he didn’t think he should be in a holding cell full of, well, people, to the skinny lady who was loudly on the phone with the man she was having an affair with, talking about “what my husband don’t know won’t hurt him.” I did like the cheerful lady whose husband had accompanied her like an air fern that needed neither pot nor soil to take root, but I couldn’t even pretend to share her lightheartedness about Why We Were Here.
Then, in the odd symmetry of chance, I was alone again. There I was all by myself at the beginning and at the end of the experience-which-hadn’t-yet-happened, kept company only by my diminishing wits and my increasing anxiety like mismatched book ends.
I turned off my phone and started to sweat. They had instructed us not to wear deodorant, lotions or perfumes, but this was because I had to be next. It must be my turn because no one was left.
“Ms. Anderson?” a technician with a gentle voice said, and I numbly followed her into the room and disrobed, my clothes like limp excuses on the chair in the corner.
People joke about astro-body-projection, but I travel outside of my body every time I endure a painful encounter. As that uniformed technician pulled and twisted, I closed my eyes and returned to childhood, my head on my mother’s lap as she stroked my long hair. No matter how old I got, I was safe there and comforted in the shelter of her touch.
As the technician changed angles (What was she creating, a photo album?), tears formed but I squeezed them back. Yes, yes, it’s true. I haven’t seen my mom in over a year and, yes, she lives—every day she lives—far, far away from me. For too many years on end. “You’re an adult. You’re a mother yourself,” I repeated to myself as if these reminders were bricks I could use to fortify a crumbling wall.
Back in the car, safely removed from strangers’ stares, I wept until I was empty.
Then I drove home in silence, grateful for another day, another chance, and telling myself that I needed to call my mom. It’s long overdue and I will call her this week to hear her voice. She could make me laugh about the BBs they tape to your nipples like "X Marks the Spot."