I love the sound of ski pants walking down a hallway. Swoosh, swoosh. People are up early and heading out the door. Sunscreen? Passes? Gloves? The door slams.
I skied yesterday but today I’m staying back at the rental house with my friend and her two tween daughters. I don’t know when the word tween started. I don’t like saying it but it’s certainly more concise than saying the girls are something like nine and twelve. The older one has excellent eye contact and loves to cook. The younger one wears stylish baggy jeans and doesn’t like a lot of things.
Now, I am on the couch with a coffee and Ann Patchett’s new essay collection (“I don’t like nonfiction,” the younger girl had informed me). My friend is in the kitchen with the girls, making fried rice. I am overhearing them jump from topic to topic like bees collecting pollen. First, they review the order of ingredients. “First the oil and garlic, then the crunchies, then the softies.” An Ed Sheeran song is on, and the lyric is, “I will be loving you ‘til we’re 70.” The younger daughter wonders, “Until we’re 70? Then what?” My friend responds, “Then he’ll have a midlife crisis and an affair.” They add the crunchies.
Next up is animals. “Can people be charged for murder and go to jail for killing an animal?” My friend makes a thinking sound and finally says, “I’m not sure. There are animal protection laws but it’s not the same as killing a person.” The younger girl says, “True. Probably not as long. So, like a month?” The older girl says animals are better than humans and that statement hangs in the air along with the scent of garlic and onion. My friend breaks the silence, asking the older girl how many eggs to add.
I like being around people who enjoy the company of their children. The warmth and respect my friend extends to her daughters makes the room feel cozy and safe.
The four of us eventually go for a walk just as it begins to snow. The older one only agreed to the walk if we promised “good conversation.” The younger one lets us know she doesn’t like her jacket. We walk down to the lake and stare at the mountains for a while. We talk about the movie Encanto, best friends, and boys who can’t sit still.
Later I will say to my husband about my friend. “She is such a good mom. She really listens to them and doesn’t try to change their opinions. It was really fun being with them today.” He will ask me if I shared this with her and I will say no, but I should.
I don’t retain vocabulary related to cancer. Recently someone asked me what pills I’m taking, and I needed to check the bottles. When someone asks what kind of chemotherapy I received, I need to look it up. In meetings with my oncologist, I can feel my brain reassuring me, Just write it down. Then I’ll get rid of it for you.
One explanation could be that trauma-exposed individuals sometimes fail to retain upsetting words or material. I once read this somewhere. I don’t know where.
In addition to all the scientific terminology, I reject most of the expressive terms around disease – for example, I am not on a journey – and have a particular disdain for military metaphors. If one “loses the fight” against depression, then that person becomes a loser. Speaking about my father, I once wrote, “My dad wasn’t a soldier in the fight against Alzheimer’s. He was an accountant who forgot his friends’ names.” In Silvia Vasquez-Lavado’s beautiful memoir, In the Shadow of the Mountain, she writes, “Surviving doesn’t mean you’re okay. It doesn’t mean you’re better. It just means you’re alive.”
All that said, my right boob is squeaking. And there’s a name for that.
In general, I love my fake breasts. They’re perky and squishy and, best of all, cancer free. But recently, one of them started squeaking. I first noticed it when I swim. Just as I bring my right arm over my head, I feel a rubbing sensation in my chest. It’s like the sound of bare legs on a leather couch, or rubber soles on a newly polished gym floor. Except no one else can hear it. The call is coming from inside the house.
Last week, at my cancer support group, I unmuted myself and asked, “Has anyone else felt their implant squeak?” One woman laughed and said her implant “farts” when she’s at high altitude. Another woman googled squeaky implant and said, “It’s totally a thing. You can read about it.”
Bourdonnement is a temporary condition where the implant rubs against the stretched-out pectoral muscle, causing friction. It is not dangerous, and when I emailed my plastic surgeon asking for advice, his office responded, “Yes, some women have reported this feeling.”
Upon learning that the condition was both temporary and benign, I became obsessed. This is a word I can get behind. It is fun to say and sounds like a lingerie shop or a corner store. “I’m taking my bicyclette down to the bourdonnement. Need anything?”
My French-speaking cousin says bourdonnement means buzzing (bourdon is French for bumblebee). A Greek friend texted me the following: “Bourdes means bullshit, and onnementos means that with which I am burdened and have to face. So bourdonnement must mean, Bullshit I have to deal with.”
My physical therapist is teaching me breast massage, which should help the implants settle into place. But in the meantime, I hear a whoopie cushion every time I reach for the nice wineglasses. This morning I thought I heard a mouse in the shower, and later, when I closed the trunk of my car, I was startled by the sound of a rubber duckie.
Maybe this is what it’s like to go crazy. Except instead of the voices telling me to jump out the window, they are reminding me I had cancer. What brave little soldiers.