I’m not entirely sure what a ‘hackle’ is, but anytime the words “your mother” come out of the mouth of Carol, my Disney-esque stepmother, mine rise to the occasion. I can feel them, right there on the back of my neck.
“What kind of cancer did your mother have? Do you remember?”
I froze in the midst of setting the table for our oh-so-festive-family-4th. Shit. I looked around the quiet room. My husband was outside at the grill, my dad was nowhere to be found. My stepsister was texting like a madwoman – something I never thought I’d see. And Carol was lying on the sofa, lost in her own delusions where having conversations such as this were a casual thing that held no cause for the kind of discomfort that sends one running for the Immodium AD.
There are times when my smart-assyness is more appropriate than others. This wasn’t one of those times. The best thing to do is answer quickly, and steer her on to a new subject.
Truly what I wanted to say in my typical biting manner was I barely know, being we weren’t allowed to ever see ‘our mother’ during those years when she was sick. What kind of cancer did she have? You. You were her cancer.
Silence may be golden, but sometimes it’s just a sharp chunk of tarnish and rust.
Then came more questions. Of course, she only ever asks me these things. Never my brother, and never in front of him. My parents divorced when I was one, he was five. Shortly after, we landed at my dad’s when he married Carol. From that moment on, my mother had to fight for every day she ever had with us. It wasn’t ever my dad wearing the pants in this new marriage, and thirty-five years later Carol still keeps a skirt on him.
Twisted little mind-benders, like we weren’t allowed to spend Mother’s Day with her, because it was “too close to your sister’s birthday.” But Father’s Day we were sent over. If ‘wtf’ had been a popular phrase back then, it’d have been the most consistent slang to ever come out of my mouth.
So, any little tidbit we knew about Mom’s illness was scavenged for, as if we were attic mice eavesdropping whenever we could on the Big People. Not that my brother and I bonded in any way over this. He had precious little use for his little sister, now as much as then.
I wonder why Curious Carol is now asking about my mom. She’s had some health problems as of late, coincidentally in her stomach. I wonder if she sees the irony in that as I do. Wouldn’t be the first time that karma has come home to roost with her.
It’s funny that someone just commented to me that I seem happy, grounded. Content with who I am.
Guess this blows that theory all to hell. I’m not walking around carrying this anger every minute of the day anymore, but do have my moments. I’m allowed. Survivors are afforded certain rights that others may not understand.
Cancer comes in many forms.
My name is Kymberlie, and I am a survivor.
ABBA - The Winner Takes It All© Kymberlie Ingalls,
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