The Life-Long List of Lies that I’ve Told You
By Michele Finn Johnson
ace for the Cure, 2008. I write your name on my pink dedication bib, use extra safety pins to clamp you to the back of my tee shirt. ‘Mom—Michelina, Stage 4 and Kicking Butt!’ I think of you when I write the word ‘Butt’; I want to write ‘Ass’ but I know you would object to the curse. I line up at the back of the pack. We’re underdogs, you and I, and if I finish this puny 5K course with fewer than twenty 80-year-olds blowing past me, it will be an improvement over prior years. Slow and steady is better
, you always counsel, except we both know I always take another path. The race gun goes off. I feel your pink bib crinkle on my back as I run. If you can do chemo, I can do this. But it’s all I can do to run without crying—the women with ‘Survivor’ tees, bald women, spikey-haired women, the ribbon of bras strung across the park fence, men and women dressed in pink flamingo costumes, fuchsia tutus—it’s stunning, the pure joy of it all to think that some people will actually survive this disease, and then I think of you and about Stage 4, how no one’s put a Julian calendar on this thing, that lump on your breast that you didn’t want to mention, didn’t believe was more than a cyst; and now that lump’s shot out satellite cells; that lump can’t be stopped; that lump I commandment-breaking hate with every step of this joyous race. I finish and fly home to you with pictures. Me in the race tee shirt; the backside of me; your dedication bib. I wait for your reaction, thinking you’ll smile, but instead you frown and point at the photo. What is Stage 4
? you ask. I freeze. I see the oncologist by your bedside after surgery, explaining everything. Stage 4. No cure.
You must have been loopy from anesthesia. But that was six months ago. No one’s talked to you about this? You’ve never asked? Your chemo eyes are cloudy and the whole of you is frail. You might as well be seven-years-old and asking me if Santa Claus is real. Stage 4 is the best stage
, I say, and you smile. I add this to the life-long list of lies that I’ve told you, certain I will burn in hell. And then I can’t resist. And you’re kicking its ass
! You swat my butt with the tiniest of slaps. Your mouth opens in delight.