I stood in the hallway of my home, my eyes fixed on the light switch. I balled my hands. Released. Balled my hands. Released. Then reached out, but quickly drew my hand back, putting it behind my back, and holding it captive with the other.
My eyes flicked to the clock: 7:26. I had to leave in the next four minutes to make it to work on time. So much preparation had led up to this day; it could not, it would not, be all in vain.
I had allowed extra time this morning for “bathroom checking”. Breast cancer had taken my mother fourteen months ago, and I lived in mortal fear that the disease was already inside me, curled grotesquely in on itself, choosing when it would luxuriously rise, stretch, and open its mouth to devour my insides.
This morning, like so many others, I had thought I felt a new area of concern during my daily self-imposed exam. Then a lymph node I had been monitoring felt more palpable on my neck. My thoughts spiraled: I bet I do have cancer, and it’s probably metastasized already. Is that how metastasis works? Will it scurry from my breast to my neck? Maybe just check that place one more time and find some peace, reassure myself it’s really not bigger. I lost ten minutes in this endeavor, proving to myself that I was likely okay, but that was still better than most mornings. All was not lost.
Usually by this time I was in the car with my father, who had been driving me to work each morning for over a year. It was the only way I had found to be able to make it to work on time. Sometimes he honked; other times he came in and physically guided me out of the house, depending on the severity of the morning symptoms. Oh, my father. The man who, when my mother had gotten caught late at work and I started my period, had walked boldly up to the drugstore counter with two different types of tampons and asked which one would offer the most protection for his daughter.
I considered calling him now. Not for a ride, but just a pep talk, some reassurance. That would cause the clear path to work to become even more muddled, though. The bathroom checking and now this light switch ordeal was already threatening to upset the order I had so carefully constructed just last night.
A typical morning unfurled in my mind and lay before me in a series of disjointed, frustrating starts and stops. Today, however, was the first day of spring. It was my metaphorical rebirth. Sure, I could wait until tomorrow or next week or next month to try, but the meaning would not be the same. I wanted to look at today and say, “There! There! There is where it all changed.”
I looked at my feet; I felt my mind transmit the order to my feet to move. Next was my purse. Grab it. Don’t stop. Keep walking. Out the door, to the car, in the car. Did I turn the heater off? Think, think, think. Even if I didn’t, it will kick off if it falls over. Start the car.
I’m in the car! The car, however, could present its own set of nightmarish battles. The thumps. I can’t stop this morning. There’s no time. I turned the radio up in hopes that it would muffle any sounds reverberating up through the tires.
The first few minutes were uneventful. Taking several deep breaths, I removed a hand, first one and then the other, to wipe the sweat from both. I was distracted only momentarily, and then heard the thud. Fool! I hadn’t kept my eye on the road. I didn’t know what I had run over. It could be anything from a benign pothole to a small child. That’s when I felt it. The heaviness, that old familiar beast, circled twice and settled in my chest.
I should go back. When I watched the news tonight, there’d be a report of a hit-and-run. I pictured a small child, blonde haired, laid out in a white casket with a weeping mother nearby. My foot hovered over the brake. If I stopped, that was it. But could I do it? Could I go all day without knowing? I could stop. Go back. Quickly inspect the road. Get confirmation on exactly what I had hit. I had been distracted and couldn’t register exactly how big the thump had been. What if it truly was a child?
Unlikely. Illogical. What if? What if? “What if” was my daily bane, my nightly nemesis. “What if” crowed unceasingly at me every morning and slithered into bed with me at night, rubbing the length of its coldness along my body and causing me to shiver underneath the weighted blanket.
Keep driving. Keep driving. Take a glance around. Note five things about my current surroundings: Verdant trees, with leaves awakening from their season slumber. The darker trunk that bespoke strength, dappled by sunlight. A crimson tulip planted by a mailbox, only one, maybe a gift from a child on Mother’s Day. A blue sky with a swath of white, as if a little girl or boy had decided to paint with the whole palm instead of just a finger. Dandelions, with their soft, fuzzy brightness that so many loathed, but I loved. Spring!
I’m still driving! There! The parking lot. I glanced at the clock. There was time to walk in, grab a cup of coffee, and be seated at my desk. On time! All by myself!
I did a mental check as I parked. There was no weight in my chest. It was okay that I hadn’t inspected the place on my breast one more time. Wasn’t it? Switching the light switch on and off didn’t make a difference on whether my father lived or not. Did it? It wasn’t a child I hit. Right?
Yes, it was. No, it did not. Totally illogical to think it was a child.
I entered to find a bouquet of flowers waiting on my desk with a short note: They don’t sell dandelions at the florist, so these will have to do. Happy First Day of Spring!
My father knew well the significance of this day.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Maris approaching. Even the first kiss of spring could not chase away the ever-present scowl on my co-worker’s face.
“You know, Tesa,” she began. “It would be great if you could not just get here on time, but even a little early. There’s actually a lot to be done before the official work day even starts.” She crossed her arms heavily, as if to emphasize the point.
Small steps. Celebrate the victories. Push, but not too hard. Be truthful when appropriate. And I wanted someone, anyone, even Maris, to share in my immediate joy!
“I’m sure you’re right, Maris. You see, the thing is, I’ve had crippling anxiety that has escalated my OCD to a nearly unbearable level. Today was my first day driving myself to work in over a year. My goal was to make it to work on time. By myself. And I did!”
“Oh. Well. Okay. I didn’t know.” Maris unfolded her arms and brought them down to hang awkwardly at her sides. As I noticed her fingers twitch and wondered briefly what demons rode to work with Maris each morning, an idea bloomed in my mind.
“Hey, Maris. Would you maybe want to grab a drink after work? Just hang out for a while? I haven’t been able to do that after work for a long time because of. . .well, you know, the whole not driving thing.”
I braced myself for a resounding “No”, a disdainful shake of the head, but neither of these emerged from Maris. Instead, I saw, if not a smile, at least a brief, fleeting disappearance of the scowl.
“Okay. Yeah. I guess that would be okay. Yes.” Maris clasped her hands in front of her. “I’ll check with you after work.” She turned to leave and then paused. “And Tesa? That was pretty impressive. Doing that. Driving here. By yourself after all that time.”
I smiled. Yes. Yes, it was.