Unraveling - a weird journey I’m on…

in busy •  last year  (edited)

skiing-tundra.jpg
(me skiing in the tundra at about 40 below)

Unraveling

My grandmother died of a broken arm. Not technically, but that’s how I remember it. She’d been in a bad motorcycle accident; suffered a severe concussion from which she never seemed to fully recover. She’d not broken her arm then. That came later. My recollections of this bit of history are by osmosis, by eavesdropping, by just being there when my rather loud family had had too much to drink and words spilled out unbidden, unwatched. In essence, when my grandmother’s arm somehow got broken, she had decided that she was done. She wouldn’t get it treated for the longest time. She stopped speaking, eating, talking. She’d take care of her plants in the garden out back, but beyond that, she was a ghost. It took her a few decades to fully and completely die, but I remember thinking then, even as a kid, that she’d let that damn broken arm kill her. Let it drag her under completely; let it take her away from me.

That year back home, in a place devoid of gardens or anything not rendered in black and white, I had broken my wrist while doing backflips on the bare concrete floor of the gym. I heard the distinct crunch-snap-snap of it before the pain hit. Hot, sharp, wail-inducing, when it finally came. I went home, my swollen hand held tightly to my chest, under the heavy coat. When my parents came home, I had already decided that I wouldn’t tell them. I felt it was broken with every cell of my throbbing appendage, but telling mom and dad would solidify that fact, and I wasn’t brave enough to hear it for sure. I managed to hide it all the way through supper, my hand hanging limply, uselessly under the lumpy sweater, parents too busy yelling at my brother and me over something or other to notice. Afterwards, when the table was cleared and mom had asked me to open the tiny widow a crack to let out the smell of burnt oil, I had used that hand to do it, out of habit. And screamed. And was dragged across town to the doctor, and the x-ray machine, and the slides with all those scary lines in them, and finally there was a cast.

There was a tiny part of me that was stunned I was still breathing after that ordeal. And that I was expected to go to school the next morning, and the one after that. And that nobody looked at me with those eyes people look at you with when they know for certain you’re dying.

But I am Russian, and we’re an oddly fatalistic lot. It’s in our collective DNA. It’s the reason every time I put on something Russian in my house, a movie or even a cartoon, my very much non-Russian husband looks at me funny, and states that there is a sense of foreboding in the opening credits/music/scene. Two cartoon characters could be piloting a very colorful rocket, huge smiles plastered on their faces, and at the first tiny bit of silence, hubby winces. “Something bad is gonna happen, I just know it,” he’d say. And he’s never, ever wrong.

Maybe to fight against that cultural imprint of the inevitability of death or the longing for it, depending on who you ask, I spent my teen and young adult years taunting fate in every way that should have rendered me deader than dead. Proving my own immortality to some Slavic god of impending doom. Learning to be brave. I’d sledded into rocky bottoms of abandoned mine shafts, jumped off roofs of the tallest buildings I could find (into the snow, because there was always, always snow), took off with one way tickets to wherever I could get to or hitched rides with strangers, and did all the other dumb, crazy stuff that mom claims is solely responsible for every gray hair on her pretty head.

At some point, years into my actual adulthood, I found myself on the low-railed balcony of a tall building looking down, and I was afraid. I remember the shock of it, the embarrassment. I’d never been afraid of heights before, but in that moment the fear was so sharp I had to step back. That feeling of loss of the dare-devil me, the invincible me lingered; it lingers still. But more than anything, the shame at having taken that step away from the edge, at not fighting the fear.
ledge-waldorf.jpg
(me on a ledge of a hotel in Manhattan, still invincible)

It’s strange how some things bother us long after they happen; these small moments that make us face who and what we are.

At the beginning of December, I turned 44. We drank at a little club offspring had a gig in; had a nice dinner. We joked about me being over the proverbial hill, and walkers with brightly colored tennis balls in my immediate future. A few weeks later I woke up to a bizarre lump in my neck. Hubby, my unofficial diagnostician of all that ever ails me assured me I just had a cold and as such, my lymph node was swollen. Not a biggie. When it was still there three weeks later, I googled it. Naturally, pretty much everything that came up in response to my search predicted certain death from one kind of cancer or another. So off to the doctor’s we went - if only to assuage my fears. “A sinus infection,” was my quick clinic guy’s five second assessment. Ten days of antibiotics later and the thing was bigger. Harder. More uncomfortable.

I live in Florida and the temps even in the evenings have been generously in the 60s. Too warm for a scarf. Not that I own many. But I find one, in a box of winter clothes we never use and start wrapping it around my neck. We go to our primary doc and he plays with the damn thing, asks a million questions and schedules a CT Scan. My first. Since I have to go to the imaging center anyway, he writes an order for my first mammogram as well, because he tells me nicely, at my age, I need one. The few days until the appointment I am weirdly manic in that funny not funny way. I tell hubby dearest how karmically glorious it is that we just got ourselves life insurance policies, albeit tiny ones. I drink more than I should in the evenings. I sit outside at my patio/smoking table, wanting to regret the cigarettes I’d been smoking for some two and change decades. The thing is - I don’t. I enjoyed pretty much every single one of them, save for the few that came on the heels of trying to quit.

Finally, I’m at the imaging place, hubby holding my hand as if I were a small child, but I am terrified and so I am grateful for it. The waiting room is full of old people. The kind I don’t think I am ever going to become. And none of them are smiling or laughing or speaking. It feels strange to be sitting there, among them. Feels like whatever they have is much, much worse that whatever I have.

The contrast (via Iodine IV) is unpleasant. I taste metal and bitterness and I can smell the unique sea-borne sharpness of it, but the tech is nice and my CT is over in a few minutes. Less scary than I thought it would be. The mammogram, however, is - well, let’s just say it sucks. I am 5.2” and tiny. As in I barely have much to work with in the boobular area. The machines must have been made for people much taller and larger. The stand holding the tray your boobs are supposed to be placed on does not move up or down. I have to stand on my tippy toes, my ribs digging into the sharp edge of the tray, as the tech lifts my boobs up and away from me, and there is a moment where I want to tell her that these suckers are, indeed, attached. Instead, I do as I’m told, and hold my breath, and let her take the pictures.

Then the waiting starts. I was never worried about the mammogram results, just the lump on my neck, and those come back first, by way or a long readout hubby picks up. Calcium deposits in some gland that isn’t a lymph node. In essence, not what google said. Not cancer, by the looks of it. Then a nurse from my doctor’s office calls and tells me there is a density issue/thingie in my right boob and I need to go in for another mammogram and an ultrasound, asap. I don’t like the urgency she attaches to it. I don’t like the idea of having my boobs manhandled and plastered to that too-tall bit of equipment. But mostly, I hate the idea of waiting again. Of not knowing. Of being in this in between state.

Hubby turned 47 a few days ago. I would love to plan a little surprise shindig at the house. Invite the few friends we have. Watch him smile and laugh and get a tad drunk. He turns even funnier than he ordinarily is when he’s buzzed. I miss his laugh, the funny accents, the jokes, the conversations with friends. I want to plan it for Friday, no matter what news I get on Tuesday. But I am not sure I’m brave enough to do it and not turn it into a pick my new boobs party, inadvertently, of course. And mostly, I want to be brave enough to not let any of this find purchase in those soft, raw parts of me. I want, desperately, to never again be the me who takes that step back from the edge. But deep down, I am. And that scares me more than anything.

So for the next however long I have of the still waiting, the not-knowing and whatever happens after that–I’m looking for pieces of myself from long before. I am fighting that bit of wiring that made my grandmother not be there for anyone or herself. In short, I am going to try my best to banish the fear before it sets in; to try to find my way back to that unwise, invincible version of myself. Because the few people who love me deserve that. And who knows - I might surprise myself by liking heights again. Even if I have to give up some body parts for the pleasure.


Thanks for reading this weird bit of unraveling…. I mostly write fiction and occasionally poetry. I’m also a proud member and one of the founders of the Isle of Write. You can find us by clicking the treasure map below.

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I don't feel I have the right to read this, much less comment. But as someone similar in age, I'm fighting my own fears of getting older, of having decisions I've made finally catch up to me, and that slow descent into becoming someone else I didn't want to be. I'm equally fearful of seeing the same thing happen to my wife.

In the end, all you have is your strength and your humor (and your salt), even if the rest is taken from you.

I wish you all the best as you walk along the ledge that is life.

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But of course you do have the right to both, read and comment @negativer. I wouldn't have posted this otherwise. And maybe I shouldn't have, but god damn if I don't feel just a wee bit lighter now that I had. Off to work on that humor bit. :-)

Somehow you can always make me laugh in your non-fiction writing. Must be my own Slavic blood, or growing up in the shadow of national tragedies, makes you find moments to laugh at, harder, the more irreverent and dire the description.

But I did get serious too.

My loss of fearlessness came much earlier than yours. I still remember in the pre-elementary, I'd jump from the top of slide, along its length. Or jump down from 2 meters. And place my hand in the mouth of dogs. A couple of years later, and I wouldn't. 5 years later, still wouldn't.
And more than giving in to fright, I was bothered by this loss of a part of my self, that I changed, not of my choosing, and in so doing became lesser.

We can wax poetic about how how you are fearful now because you have things to lose, and because you love life, but that doesn't answer fear. And that doesn't matter. What matters is what you do with it now. Is it your fear that is making you vow to not let the fatalism overtake you, to be there in your family's life in these hard times? Or is it in spite of fear that this is so?
Doesn't matter.
Because what matters is what you've decided, and how you'll follow on it.

Good luck Inna. Health. Health in health, and in sickness too.
It is hard to go against the conditioning of generations. Even harder than accepting the loss of half a lifetime of fearlessness.
But we live, and we can.

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"And more than giving in to fright, I was bothered by this loss of a part of my self, that I changed, not of my choosing, and in so doing became lesser." - this. Exactly this. But we do live, Guy. Thank you, friend.

You have me in tears, Inna. Good God. I have no words. You have a beautiful spirit and this: “I want to be brave enough to not let any of this find purchase in those soft, raw parts of me.” Don’t you see, you already are? Writing this piece - you fierce falcon - is a form of standing on the ledge, fearless.

The soft light won’t harm your furniture. Nothing can, my friend. We are fearless once we remember we are deathless.

On a lighter note, it was good to see you too, you tough, little thing! 😊

And you made me smile and chortle with snot. Humor, Inna. I hope it finds you, it’s yours, the deep kind ... that looks at danger and laughs its head off.

Sending you love and keeping you in my thoughts ❤️🙏🏼💫

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"You fierce falcon" - oh, sublime! Yahia, you poets have such a gift for finding the right words!
And that photo - bikini top in -40 weather. Tell me you didn't really mean -40 Fahrenheit, Inna!
No human, not even a Russian, is THAT tough!

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I think at negative 40 our scales are pretty much the same. Actually, just checked, and yep - exactly the same. -40 is -40, Carol.
And that wasn't tough, it was stupid - I was about 15 then. I think I managed that pose for exactly one click of my best friend's camera.

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That’s how I view her, Carol, since I was fortunate to get to know her better through The Isle
🙏🏼

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I'm spending the rest of my day wrapped in hugs and hearts and wanting to believe all those words you generously throw my way @yahialababidi

Not even waiting the thirty minutes. This was a step to the ledge. You made me cry but also made me proud to call a tough bitch like you my friend.

May your boobs be fine and there be no need for new ones, but if new ones be needed, may you face it with all the aplomb this post shows you capable of.

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Well - clearly not as tough as all that, Jess. Thanks, love. For listening. And being there :-)

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this will betray my ignorance of what it's really like, but I love the idea of ditching the overweighted boobs for new, lightweight, no bra required, fakes. Or even... stitch it shut and go flat. No more bouncing.
(In high school, Boing was not my favorite nickname.)

This is exquisitely painful to read. Unraveling is never pleasant but sometimes it is necessary - how to get to the core of a matter without unraveling? I am not a religious type, but I do at least consider myself spiritual and I am sending an honest and heartfelt prayer into the universe for you. Much love - Carl

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Nor am I (religious, that is), though I wish I were...at times. I sincerely appreciate your prayers to the universe on my behalf, kind stranger. Here's hoping if nothing else, there are lessons in all of this. Somewhere. Between the lines.

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Well I am glad news of my prayer was well received. I thought this was really powerful, in a raw high voltage kind of way, a little frayed around the edges and bursting at the seams. I have a feeling this sort of burst out, it felt like the kind of writing that couldn't be contained.

I nominated your post to be featured in an upcoming Author Showcase post on the @curie blog. If you agree to be featured in this way, please reply and:

  • Let us know if we can quote text and/or feature images from your post.
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You can check out the previous week's Author Showcase to get an idea of what we are doing with these posts.

Much love - Carl (@curie curator)

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I’d be thrilled @carlgnash. So yes :-) and thank you!!!

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  ·  last year (edited)

Inna - fear not!
And I mean that in an ironic way.
I utterly despise platitudes--
Cheer up!
Fear not!
Keep calm and carry on!

I hate those words, hate hate hate 'em,
BUT--
I'm here to dismiss your fears. (You're a tough bitch? I'm German. I'm heartless as well as tough.)
First - fear of the lump, followed by the latest encouraging prognosis:
Calcium deposits in some gland that isn’t a lymph node....not cancer, by the looks of it. Second- a density issue/thingie - When I was 45, they said the same thing to me. Six mammograms in one year as they fretted over the darkish, thickish thing. And it went away on its own. And that was ten years ago.
Fear is wired into us by evolution. It's what keeps us alive. Backing away from the ledge of a tall building? Revisit "Wizard of Oz" and the speech the lion gets at the end: You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you're confusing courage with wisdom.

I wish you only good news from your tests.
One of my grandmothers decided she was done when my grandpa died. It took her another couple of decades to die, but she never took care of herself, mismanaged her diabetes on purpose, encouraged people to smoke around her in spite of her asthma (she then developed COPD), never listened to docs, stopped taking meds or took them improperly, it was very hard to watch...always wondering if she'd be there next time I went to visit her.

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heartbreaking, to watch someone you love give up in that particular way. So sorry you'd had to do that @orangina. Though at times, I think if maybe all our choices, even those that are hurtful to the ones we love ought to be honored. Don't know. But maybe even in the giving up those souls are making a stand of some kind.

Thank you for the all wishes. And reading me.

Thank you for giving all that take the time to peek in and read the honour of a rare glimpse at the other side of the one that I have come to know as a genius fiction writer and as well a Master with words. You have your own unique path and gifts that are already unfolding that is so precious to many. You touch lives that you may not know, you for sure you have touched mine so deeply it changed be for the better, you have added to my life that special energy, vibe, your way of just being you that caused me to step outside of my life for a moment and live in the world you created with words, which has further impacted my literary gift as a literary artist. Thank You @authorofthings

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I never know what to say to your extraordinary comments @rensoul17. Here, I'll only say I hope that if there is any truth to that, I use my words wisely, though I'd never known myself to be wise. You are a lovely soul, my friend. Truly.

This brought tears to my eyes and a catch to my throat, Inna.

Because of the beauty and bravery of the writing. Because fear, like love, is one of those things that can be difficult to write about without falling back on the numbing, dissociating power of cliche, and to me your bravery is perhaps best exemplified by your refusal to do that.

I love this piece.

I don't think any of us need to worry about you finding "my way back to that unwise, invincible version of myself", because clearly you already are. Wishing you vibrant physical health to match the raw vitality of that inner daredevil!

❤️

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@bennettitalia - I only hope you're right in that.... Thank you so much for reading this. I feel almost a little guilty for the tears, but I love you for being ok with shedding them. <3

I'm sorry I missed this beautifully written journey into what you are going through right now, and how the past has played a role in the person who is facing that sense of crisis (I haven't voted because I missed the 7 days deadline, but will find a newer post to place a vote on in lieu).

Once you got the part about finding the lump, and the treatment, the waiting, the anxiety - I have been there, twice. Your writing, your explanation of the emotions, the CT-scan, the experience in general is exactly how it is.

For what it is worth, and forgive me for hijacking your post (this is not my intention to make this about me, just offer words of reassurance from my own experience), I had a body part removed 15 years ago (right lung), and overcame that cancer. I was diagnosed with a new cancer 2 years ago, and live with 4 tumours currently. I get the fear and uncertainty. I read your words in the spirit they are offered in.

I wish very much that this is not your experience, but no matter the future, life can go on, and even get better.

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Don't be sorry @naquoya, not for that. It's not hijacking in the least. I debated writing this, for many reasons, and in the end, I only did it because I know there are people who are going through what you're going to who might have needed to read it. Hugs. And wishing you all the best, truly.

It’s strange how some things bother us long after they happen;
these small moments that make us face who and what we are.

So true!
Your nonfiction is as insightful, compelling, and riveting as your poetry and short stories. I love this essay, Inna. I am 100% convinced you have nothing to fear, no matter what medical test equipment might come up with. You've mastered mind over matter. All is well, and all shall be well!

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"You've mastered mind over matter." - well, not quite. Not even at the beginning of that particular journey. But I thank you, Carol.

Trish went through a similar experience late last year. I hope yours turns out the way hers did, just an extra trip and one extra mashing--no bad news. You'll be in my thoughts Inna.

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Thank you @jonknight. I am so glad Trish is alright. So so glad. :-)

This is such a wonderfully, passionately written piece. I love how you tied the fear of heights and the in-between state together.

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Thank you @caleblailmusik.... I'm hoping to love the heights again, I truly am.

The Russian cartoon: LOL!
Geographically, and spiritually, your ancestors are very very near and dear to mine, the Germans, and "2germanic" is one of my IDs because of Gottedamerung, Sturm und Drang, and all the Kafka stuff.

Hope everything works out in the end. Beautifully written.
Good luck.

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thank you so much @hispeedimagins and my apologies for the belated. It looks like I will be alright, for now :-)

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Yay! So glad to read this!!!