I'm hearing words I never wanted to hear again, ever, in my life.
I can't for the life of me remember leaving the doctor's office, but I'm sitting in my car, key in the ignition, door open, one foot on the concrete, and I can't breathe. The wound on my breast is throbbing, as if it knows that what was hidden beneath the flesh had evil intentions. I'm suddenly overcome with rage at my own body, how could it turn against me after all I've done for it, how could it? But the sobs shaking my frame, the tears running down my face, that's sheer fear.
I'm clutching a square of white paper. I know it's from Dr. Qasba's prescription pad, and I know it's not a prescription, but I don't remember what he scribbled on it until I pull myself into the car, shut the door, and flatten it out on the steering wheel in front of me.
Ah, it's a recommendation. For an oncologist. I finger the strange loops and angles of a doctor's handwriting, blinking away the final tears as I know I need to drive home. I put the paper on the seat next to me, push the emotions away for later, take a deep breath, and start the car.
I focus on driving. I turn the music up so loud that Florence is screaming to me about a bird that saw what she did and won't stop singing about it.
Elisa's Dancing is playing when I pull into the parking space, and I'm crying again. I turn the car off and sit there for a moment, letting the tears roll down as I whisper along with the melancholy tune. I'm feeling afraid again, but for an entirely different reason now. I know I have to tell Gerry.
Gerry couldn't get out of work for this appointment. She was angry at her employers, but we need the money more than I needed support, and we were so sure it was benign.
We were so sure. But we were both scared. The "C" word was never talked about, because it was just ridiculous. I'm only 27 years old. Way too young for cancer. Yet little things changed. We'd slept wrapped up in each other last night, Ginny's arms around me so tight it was like she worried I'd disappear.
Now we have to talk about it. Now I have to say it.
The apartment is empty and cold when I walk in. We'd talked about getting a cat or a dog, but we never made it to the shelter. My mind drags me to the idle wonder if we ever will, if I'll ever live to get a cat or a dog?
And I'm a mess again.
Distantly, I'm aware of the phone ringing. Was it ringing when I walked in? I sniff and wipe my eyes, sidling to the handset. The number is Gerry's cell. I reach for it instinctively, as I'd reach for her. The beep when I answer the call makes me realize I need to talk, and as soon as I talk, she'll know I'd been crying. She'll know.
"Baby?" Her voice sounds tinny. I assume she's sitting in her car in the parking garage.
"Hi," is all I can manage before my throat closes up. I need to not cry while on the phone. I need to get it together.
"I'm sorry I called," she says, "but I can't even think about work right now. I need to know if you're okay?"
I can't even speak. My knees feel weak and I need to sit down. I hurry to the couch and fold into it, pulling my legs up. The hand holding the phone to my ear is pressing it so hard that I hear the plastic creak in protest.
"Janine, are you there?" Gerry sounds on the verge of panic. I know she can hear me struggling to keep my breathing under control.
"I'm here," I say. "Gerry..."
She breaks in, "Oh my god."
We sit in respective silence. I can hear her crying on the other end of the phone, but amazingly my eyes are dry.
"I love you," I whisper into the handset.
"I'm coming," she says, and I hear her start the car. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes. I love you. I love you."
The call cuts off before I can muster any more words. I put the phone on the arm of the couch and pull a blanket over my legs, feeling strange and numb. I think about Gerry, about how we'd dance in the kitchen while cooking breakfast in our underwear. How she'd bring me dandelions and purple clover flowers and we'd clip them and put them in a crystal vase like they were a dozen long stem roses. How she'd wake me quietly during the wee morning hours with kisses along my spine, her fingertips dancing desire across my skin.
I'm calmed down a little when Gerry bursts through the door, her keys missing the side table and crashing to the floor as she shoves the door closed and hurries to my side. She crouches in front of me and I study her face, this beautiful face, with big puppy dog eyes overflowing with love and, right now, set in determination.
"Tell me what he said," Gerry says, curling her hands around mine. I'd been gripping the blanket in my lap unknowingly, and as I relaxed, blood tingled its way back into my stiff fingers.
"He said the results were..." malignant
"Did we catch it early?" I look at her, sensing her strength now, not for the first time.
"What? I... I don't... I guess so. Maybe."
Gerry stands up and sits on the couch next to me, still holding my hands.
"It's going to be okay," she says, and she sounds so positive, so certain that I will not die of breast cancer. "We're going to take care of it."
"It's worse in people who get it young," I say, because even though it happened a decade ago, I still remember the swift decline of my mother who died of the very same thing at the age of forty. I remember every terrible detail. As sure Gerry is that I will not die, I'm sure I will. Cancer is a death sentence. I crumple inside myself, leaning into my lover and her arms go around me, cradling me. "I don't want to die," I sob. "I'm not fucking ready to die."
"You aren't allowed to die," Gerry says. "I won't let you."
"I'm so afraid, Gerry. I'm going to have to shave my head." The absurdity of my own train of thought suddenly hits me and I go from weepy to giggly in moments.
"You've got too much spunk to let this kill you, Janine," she says, and I can hear a smile in her voice. Her arms around me are calming, and I want so badly to just believe her every word, but I'm just so damn afraid. I sniffle, snuggling into Gerry, feeling my heart slow its anxious tattoo.
"I love you," I sigh, finally lifting my head to give a tentative smile to the woman I love. She smiles back, but I can see tears standing in her eyes. I sit up and lean toward her, and she always knows what I'm thinking—she closes her eyes and I kiss each eyelid as the salty tears slide down her cheeks.
When I'm leaning back, she stops me, her hands on my upper arms, keeping me in an awkward position between kneeling and sitting. Our eyes meet and I know she's going to kiss me, but I'm in no way prepared for the intensity. I can taste the bitter sadness shared between us, and my heart aches but I put my hands on her head and crush her lips to mine.
My heart beats, defiant against my previous submission to death. I breathe, and she's loving me, and I'm alive.
She leans back and I fall on top of her. I'm hyper-aware of every way our bodies touch, and I want to be closer to her. Gerry is the oxygen I need to burn. Our kisses are getting deeper. "Please," I whisper. I want to live.
Gerry moves us. Somehow, we manage to get into the bedroom while still kissing and never breaking the physical bond. Gerry sits on the bed in front of me and pulls me close, her arms wrapping around my waist, her face nuzzling my belly. I run my fingers through her short, soft hair, smiling at her sigh of contentment. When she pulls away, there's a different, patient look on her face. I understand when she raises her hands and starts to unbutton my blouse.
The incision in my right breast is covered with gauze, taped there half-under my bra and over the stitches. I unhook the bra and let it fall to the floor. I feel, irrationally, betrayed by my breasts and fight an urge to cover them with my arms.
"You're beautiful," Gerry breathes, planting little kisses down the curve of my side, her fingertips tracing the edge of my jeans. I shiver.
Gerry pulls her own shirt off—the plain white Polo she wears for work—and throws it aside. She keeps the sports bra on but shimmies out of her pants. I smile because she's wearing the joke underwear I got for her on Valentine's Day: white boxers with little red hearts all over. Like in cartoons.
She scoots back on the bed. "Get undressed and come here."
I slide out of my jeans and panties and crawl onto the bed, moving gingerly. The motion causes my wound to ache.
I forget about the pain when Gerry starts kissing me again. She leans back against the wall and pulls me between her legs, not quite on my back, not quite on my side. Her warmth is contagious, and like an ignition switch I'm on again, tingling and hungry for her, hungry for life. Her hand slides down my belly, slipping between my legs to tease my lower lips. I know I'm on fire, clinging to her. She bends her neck and kisses my face, my ears, my neck, all while featherlight touches tickle the skin on my sides, back, hips.
Gerry eases herself from beneath me, laying me on the pillows as she creates a trail of kisses from my collarbone to my hip. My fingers grasp at her, unwilling for her to be so far away, but any protest dies on my lips when I feel her kisses land on my sex. My legs open for her.
She's inserted herself between my thighs, but all her attention is diverted. My legs are getting nibbled, licked, kissed, and my core is burning, teased. I whimper and she only smiles up at me. It's when I'm starting to squirm that she finally dips down and sucks on my puffy outer lips. I'm exploding with sensation. A heady gasp overcomes me. Ginny splits me open with two fingers and tickles my clit with the very tip of her tongue. My hips jump off the bed, but she keeps up with them, adjusting her position as she slowly slides a finger inside me.
I come faster than I'd ever come before. My climax shakes me, takes my breath away, blots out my vision. I'm dizzy. I crash down, instantly alert, and I reach down and pull her face up to mine. I need to kiss her—I need the oxygen—I need the life. I suck on her tongue and pull her hips down between my legs, holding her close with my ankles on her thighs, my arms wrapped around her shoulders. I could kiss Gerry for eternity. Her body pressed against mine, I can feel her heart beating, I can smell her sex mingled with my own.
Gerry maneuvers a hand between us, sliding inside me again, pushing deeper, harder. We share breaths and we're one body and we're alive, so alive.
We make love until we're both exhausted. I lay in Gerry's arms, panting softly, satiated, unable to wipe the goofy grin off my face.
"You're not going to die," Gerry whispers into my hair.
"I'm alive," I say, holding her, holding me.