Minor alert: I rarely swear in writing, much as I love to when I speak, but in this particular post I did, just a little. I couldn’t help myself. Just so you know.
It’s not dark humor, it’s really not, just a slightly different shade of “what the Hell?” And sometimes, it’s a saving grace. Something is going to get all of us, after all. Some people get hit by a bus. When I was thirteen, a sleepy and irritable yellow jacket almost killed me. The yellow jacket was the only one that died though, that time, so that was okay. Truth – a very close friend of mine met his maker while having a cup of coffee in his underwear on April Fool’s Day. I’ve imagined that in his last moments he might have thought, “Oh, it just fucking figures…”
Once, many years ago, I was on a lovely street in Chicago at, oh, eleven or eleven thirty P.M., when a horse the size of a Studebaker went momentarily bonkers, kicked away the picturesque carriage he had hauled around all day, and galloped straight for me. Apparently I jumped inside my car just in time, although I have no recollection of it, because in that instant the only thing I could clearly see was a potential headline in some random paper saying “Woman Killed By Horse In Downtown Chicago.” I also saw my parents (still alive and kicking at the time) reading that and saying, “Oh my god, it has to be Kat, that’s just the sort of crazy-ass thing that could onlyhappen to one of our kids.”
Thus the groundwork was laid in early life for me to eventually come to a true understanding of how valuable a sense of humor can be in maintaining a sense of self in the middle of chaos. Dire things are often hilarious, and it’s the duty of those of us who are slightly unbalanced to point this out. I discovered this the first time I had breast cancer and was dealing with – I’m not kidding – a radiation tech who was a constant complainer. “If anything bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen to me,” she sighed, adding “you just don’t understand.” At the time, I was wearing a shapeless blue tablecloth that the hospital insisted on calling a “gown,” being carefully and gracelessly positioned with one arm over my head and half my torso exposed.
I said nothing. I also said nothing when she commented on how tired she always was and how awful people can be and so forth. In those weeks of my life I was falling asleep without notice at the most socially awkward moments and only waking when the cat fell off the back of the couch and landed on my head, but never mind, this woman was tired. I thought about saying quite a lot, but instead I just started fantasizing about bringing microwave burritos to the radiation sessions and putting them on my chest, saying “you know, this treatment always makes me hungry…”
I wish I’d done that.
I also wish I didn’t remember that woman’s name. I don’t recall the names of the nursing staff who were great to me, though most of them were, but I remember hers, perverse creature that I am.
Years later, while being treated by an otherwise gloriously helpful and supportive group of people at Swedish hospital in Seattle for a hugely painful Something-Or-Other that turned out to be benign and treatable, the lone member of the medical staff who turned out to be an Ogre From the Flaming Pit of Hell looked at my ultrasound and casually said, “Huh. Do you have a history of cervical cancer in your family?” Her name also sticks in my head. What the Hell. Everyone else there was great, but hers is the only name that sticks in my head. At the time I thought, “Oh man… I’m glad I’m wasted on pain killers right now, because if I weren’t loaded, that would reeeeeally suck.”
I still said nothing. When I returned to the E.R. moments later and was told by a human being that the Ogre From the Flaming Pit of Hell had jumped the gun and I didn’t have cervical cancer after all, I let it go. Besides, the orderly who wheeled me back to the E.R. sang to me the whole way, so I was happy again. Like I said, they were all wonderful except for the one whose name burrowed into my brain like a termite. Years from now, if the thing that finally takes me out is a brain tumor, at least I’ll know who to blame for it.
If any of this had happened nowadays, I’d report the names of the Ogre and the put-upon radiation tech to the hospital authorities and say “please don’t let this happen to anyone else.” At the time, though, I did no such thing. Sometimes I love getting older. I tell people things like that now. And today, if I still had to do some radiation, I’d be bringing the microwave burritos to the sessions. But I don’t need radiation this time, I don’t need chemo, I don’t need drugs to suppress estrogen either, and believe me, I’m aware and grateful of these things every minute of the day. Having a bilateral mastectomy is by no means a walk in the park, but along with my breasts, I also lost the cancer cells. Add to this that I have no trouble playing my guitar, my energy is returning, and my husband is a loving, remarkable man who possesses a twisted sense of humor similar to my own. It helps. For instance, when we first found out that I did indeed have breast cancer again even though the chances of recurrence were supposed to be less than five percent, he said, “you just had to be different, didn’t you?”
I’m so lucky. I know how lucky I am. And like I said, sometimes I love getting older. These days I usually say what I want, as long as it doesn’t gratuitously hurt people. On the morning of the surgery, for example, when the umpteenth person asked me my name, date of birth, and “what are we doing for you today?” I had the bad taste to say, “a little off the top, please.”
Life is good.