Blessing From the Bagman at Harris Teeter

I am standing at the checkout line at my local Harris Teeter and I sneeze into my arm so that I don’t spread germs all over the woman ringing up my groceries.

I hear “Bless you.” from behind me and say “Thank you.” without turning my head.

The woman asks if I would like my bag of oranges put into another bag, which makes me pause for a second, and I say “No, thank you.”

A few minutes later, a middle aged man in a Harris Teeter uniform comes over to help put the rest of my groceries into bags.

I like Harris Teeter because when I check out I basically hand over the full cart to the check out people and they do the rest. And, this store in particular, is pretty much empty on Monday mornings. Not to mention, their rest room is immaculate, and I always need to use a rest room. Thanks to the birth of my son for that. Mothers will understand what I am talking about.

The bag man asks me if I am the person he said “Bless you.” to and I say “Yes, thank you.”

Then he says, “I don’t know if you know this about me but I was hit by a car, in a coma for a year, and I have no memory.”

“No short term or long term memory?” I ask.

“No short term.” he says.

I tell him that I understand because I, too, know someone with no short term memory.

He shows me his elbow as proof of his accident and says he has no recollection of the event. He tells me he was in a coma for a year, but can’t remember any of it.

“I could have killed a person.” he says says with a smile “because I wouldn’t remember if I did.”

I smile back and say “I don’t think so.”

He agrees.

My bags are ready and so I swipe my card, sign the receipt, and say “Thanks so much.” and “Have a great day.”

I move past him on my way out.

As I do, he turns to me and says “See you for the first time again, next time.”

And I say, “Yes, you will.”

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Monday Morning in Poolesville, Maryland

I drive into the local Tractor Supply parking lot, windows down, McDonald’s large nonfat latte in hand, and am one of a few cars and supply trucks here on this early morning. I pick my usual spot with the sun rising in the east, car heading north, and the perfect amount of sun shining on my right arm and leg. The warmth of the sun’s rays soothe me. They let me know that everything is going to be ok. A chorus of melodious birds sing in the background. The sound of carts being wheeled to trucks, doors slamming, and revving engines interrupt their songs. Someone is building something in the distance. The tap, tap, tap of the hammer and noisy planes overhead comfort me. They are the sounds of everyday life. They are the sounds of my childhood in the small Central Illinois town of Spring Valley.

Here I sit, in the middle of this small town, in the middle of my life, waiting. I have spent most of the last four years waiting: waiting for test results from my doctors, waiting for surgery, for my next surgery, for the drains to release the fluids from my swollen, stitched up breasts so that I may have them removed, waiting for my son at this place or that place,  for my husband to come home from work so that I am able to take another pain pill because I need to be able to drive until he can take over. And now, some how, some way, it is all coming to an end. The finish line is so close I can see it, feel it, taste it. But then, what? What’s next for me?

I have come to believe that I am experiencing a kind of survivor’s guilt. I can’t remember much of the last four years because so many days were filled with pain, as well as pain medications. I took every pain pill that was prescribed to me. No more, no less. I couldn’t have done it without the meds. They were a huge part of the healing process. Now, I am continuing to work on the healing process on my own and it is lonely. I didn’t abuse the pain meds, but they did become a kind of friend. I knew that I could count on them for relief. They worked. Today, I have to work through the pain, loneliness, loss and accompanying sadness, without them. Some days are easier than others, but, I made it. I finished the marathon. The only thing is there was no celebration at the finish line. No last chapter, no “The end.” The breast cancer doctor stopped calling when I was turned over to the ovarian doctor, who stopped calling after I met with the radiation oncologist, who never called after I met with the genetics social worker. The plastics surgeon doctor and her nurses became like a kind of family to me. Appointment after appointment, year after year. Reconstruction can be a very lengthy and tumultuous experience. No one knows what they will find until they cut you open to see what’s inside, to see how the foundation that they have built is responding to the actual tissues. And, the right breast’s response to reconstruction can be entirely different than the left. Of course, symmetry is the goal. The residual numbing from the surgeries can be very bothersome at times. It is impossible to wear a bra most days because the pressure on my scars becomes intolerable. I have permanently erect nipples and the left one is slightly off center. My breasts are nonfunctioning, but they look good in clothes. They are the breasts of an athletic 18 year old. Sometimes, I forget that I have fake boobs and wonder what these things are on my chest.

And, then I remember: cancer. Oh, yeah, that.

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my child

Your eyes, half-hidden 

under a mound of hair,

peek out with curiosity

and wonder. 

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dance with death


Twirl me round
with wide, wild steps.
Never let go.


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My bloodstained boots 

Carry me through doors

Into foreign lands

And hostile territories.


And generations 

Of ancestors 

At the mercy of their cells

Follow closely behind.

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Reflection in a Mirror at the Mayflower Hotel

As your arms
wrap tightly around me
I wonder…

did your face
have the same expression

when you hugged
your Wife after French toast
with powdered sugar.

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Pit Bulls, Valium, Ira Glass, and GW Parkway

drive into DC: December 1, 2012

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