Mayday on Long Island
I have just walked into my apartment after having been out an hour to run errands and I cannot stop crying. An hour ago my mother left here, only she was here to tell me that she has cancer. She said that it’ll be okay, comforting me even though she is the one that the doctors say is sick, and I feel like a little kid again, unable to process the world without her filtering it for me. I started crying when she walked in because I knew that something was wrong- I knew that something was wrong the moment she told me that she needed to come over and talk. I feel special that I was the first one she came to, though her Riverhead home and mine up-island are equidistant from the doctor’s office. I tried not to cry in front of her, knowing that someone had to be strong in this. She knew this too and, as always, decided wordlessly that it was going to be her. To this day, this day that will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life, the only time I’ve ever seen her really cry was at my father’s funeral, when half the town was gathered to celebrate the man we barely knew in his final years. That is why I am so angry. I am so incredibly furious because even though she said it’s okay, and even though it is just Stage 0 breast cancer, whatever that means, she is my second sick parent. I watched my father turn from a man to a patient to a corpse in his hospital bed, a hospital bed so like the one my mother was in when giving birth to me and so like the ones they used to work around when they were employees and the hospital was called Central Suffolk. I watched him as he was unable to do anything for himself and I am absolutely livid at the thought of the most important person in my life going through anything near that. When she first told me she was going to come talk to me, I thought that someone had died. My grandmother had had another heart attack or my great aunt had had another stroke. Now I wish that someone had died. I wonder if that is terrible of me. I wish that anyone, myself included, was sick instead of her. I wish that I believed in god like I was raised to so I could pray or place blame or both. I wish that I hadn’t cried in front of her. I am especially angry with the companies who see dollar signs in her cancerous cells, who cash in with every pill she takes and every surgery she is going to have to endure. I think being angry at the universe would have more of an impact than being angry with these companies because in this country, they are bigger than everything. I am angry with the companies who pretend that their food is healthy, or that at least it is delicious enough for the health of them not to matter. I hate every manufacturer of death that she has encountered on a daily basis without even knowing it. She, like most of consumers I know, had no idea that aside from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, her food was packing enough chemical warfare to send her cells into the battle that could be so fatal. She didn’t know that her car and her cellphone and the air she breathes are so filled with toxins that the rest of us are lucky to not be taken ill. I told her that she needs to eat healthily from now on but I’m sure, even as a nurse, she thinks of healthy as what she is told is healthy. I’m sure that when she arrives home today all she will want to do is bury herself in the very foods that have hurt her, because that’s exactly what I want to do right now. I want to drown in the delicacies that are carcinogens and be dead to the world for a while. I don’t think I can. I’m trying to write so that I feel better but the words are making me feel worse because making them into a solid document makes it into a solid experience rather than an all too vivid dream that I will hopefully wake from any second now. I keep pinching myself but when I open my eyes I’m still looking at the same room with the same dried tears tightening the skin on my cheeks and I still feel like part of me is dying, which in a way I suppose it is. And I wonder how I can escape the diagnosis that my mother has received, if I can feed myself enough or starve myself enough or avoid enough to ever be safe, because if it’s in the air and the food and the water, where am I supposed to go? My mother’s day and those that face her, my day and those I dread, the bad news that will plague millions of men and women and their families and their friends and every single person they know will soon be compounded into the soulless, simple headlines that I used to nonchalantly read: Long Island has the Highest Cancer Rate in the United States. We are dying.