Monday, April 29, 2019

Check up

I’ve been meaning to change the oil in my car for months. For so many months, in fact, that I’ve now reached the point in the calendar when I should be getting the NEXT oil change. The check engine light came during the evening, so I drove exactly ten miles under the speed limit for the whole drive home. I wake up an hour and a half early the next day to stop by Jiffy Lube on my way to work.

I’m groggier than usual as I stumble out of the shower. I lift my arms to apply deodorant and notice a dark spot on the bottom of my right breast. I lift my skin to look closer. Slightly rough. Irregular shape. A mole? A dry patch? It’s small, a scaly spot of brown. How long has that been there? I don’t often notice the underside of my breasts.

I rub sunscreen onto my face, brush on mascara. If I have breast cancer, maybe I’ll just have one breast cut off. An Amazon woman. I’ll learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. I’ll wear bikinis that show off my survival and pose for empowering nude photos, a clean thick scar across my chest.

It’s probably nothing.

I blow dry my hair. Glance at the moles and freckles that dot my skin. What if this is the time that it’s not nothing?

I don’t have time for this.

At Jiffy Lube, they remind me that I’m overdue for a transmission service, a radiator flush, and an air filter replacement. They also recommend a headlight cleaning and new wiper blades. I tell the woman at the counter that I’ll get new wiper blades if she gives me $10 off. She agrees.

Yes, I know I have an oil leak. Yes, I know about the check engine light.

In the lobby, I open my phone and Google “dry scaly patch on breast.” The results are what I expected. A mixed bag of internet diagnostic horror and benign skin conditions. Planned Parenthood does breast exams, right? Friday. It will have to be Friday.

Maybe I should go to the University of Utah. A full mammogram, instead of just an exam. Huntsman Cancer Center is right there.

Just in case. I make a mental note to check if they take my insurance.

I feel an oppressive sense of calm about my mortality this week. I was almost hit by a car on Monday. Not that my car was almost hit by another car. My person, scurrying through the crosswalk after hearing the crunch of metal and shatter of tail lights, a white Suburban hurtling towards me. Sitting on a curb and filling out paperwork, a plastic clipboard that a police officer handed me resting on my knees. Date. Time. Cross streets.

I imagine my breasts being pressed between two plates, flashes of light in an office. Waiting.

* * * * *

My check engine light is still on. So it wasn’t the oil. Somewhere else in this complex system, something is wrong. I feel like I should know what it is. But it takes years of training to make a diagnosis. You have to rely on the expertise of others. Maybe it’s a $15 filter, a $50 repair, a benign anomaly.

And maybe this is it. The transmission shot, the radiator cracked, some piston beyond repair. Days in the shop, thousands of dollars sunk into this goddamn thing that’s absolutely necessary for me to navigate my life.

Either way, it will have to wait until next week.

* * * * *

University of Utah only does mammograms if a doctor requests it. Planned Parenthood can’t fit me in until the week after next. By this time, the check engine light has turned off in my car, and I’m hoping it’s a sign that all is well elsewhere. I sit in the exam room of the clinic for forty-five minutes, wearing a pink paper vest, and reading a book, telling myself that everything is fine.

The nurse practitioner makes polite conversation as she presses and wiggles into each breast, up, down, around. Her gloved hand takes a moment to examine the dry scaly patch that brought me here.

Everything looks perfectly fine.

She tells me to visit a dermatologist if it gets bigger or darker, and answers my questions about long-term Zoloft use and fertility, and I put on my shirt and walk back to my car.

* * * * *

After the car accident on Monday, I sat on the curb and watched the tow truck pull up. The woman from the vehicle at fault stood watching next to me, answered her phone when it rang. A short, polite conversation. Thank you. Have a nice day. She sighed. “Well, the good news is that I don’t have cancer.” We all laughed. “At least that’s one good thing today.”

When I finally got to the theatre that night, two hours after the accident, I sat down and was suddenly flooded with what had just happened. It was so close. I’m only 33. It feels wildly unfair, beyond acceptance that my life would end at 33. I sat, shaking, breathing.

Feeling the weight of my chest rise and fall.

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