Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Undertoad

For months now he’s been sitting there; perched on my shoulder, in a manner that would suggest he deserves some kind of reverence. Settled just at the edge of my peripheral vision, I can only make out the dark contour of his menacing little form. We don’t talk to each other, that was a mutual decision from the beginning, it has always been enough just to acknowledge each others presence. Lately though, he has been incessantly intrusive, making his presence known at the most inopportune times and all too often sending me into emotional tailspins of panic and sadness. He is malevolent and sinister; a dark angel if you will. He is my UNDERTOAD* and he constantly reminds me to stay present as he patiently waits to show me the exit if I falter.

I first noticed his inflated audacity during my last assessment, about a week and a half ago. As a personal rule, I try not to socialize too much with the other patients in the chemotherapy room. It’s not that I’m unfriendly; I just don’t want to hear about anyone else’s drama right now, I have enough of my own to deal with. Also, it has been my experience that parallels can be drawn between chemotherapy and giving birth, in that everyone wants to tell you their nightmare stories. Anyway, during my visit there was an elderly woman sitting in the chair beside me. I gave her one of my “hi there, sorry to see you’re in this predicament too, I don’t want to talk about it” smiles, and then proceeded to bury my nose in the novel I brought with me.

“You’re so young.”

Hmm, clearly she didn’t read the entire message of my smile. “Yeah” I replied, sympathetic to my own case.

“What kind of cancer do you have?”

“Breast cancer”, my answer accompanied by a “that’s enough conversation, thanks” smile.

“That’s what I had the first time”

OH GOD, make her stop. I could feel panic begin to rise in me, alarm bells and whistles going off in my head.

“That was three years ago, now it’s in my liver and bones”

Is she for real!? SHUT UP. I am not having this conversation. Make her stop, please.

I couldn’t get to my car fast enough before the tears came, that’s when I caught a glimpse of white over my shoulder, the twisted grin of the Undertoad.

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon. Coady is LIFE at its best. He has turned into this rolly-polly whirlwind of happiness. He squeals with delight and spends his day relishing the new sounds he can make with his mouth. He’s crawling around at a rapid pace, eating whatever he can get his hands on and laughing his head off. He is in LOVE with his Dad and the feeling is mutual. I melt watching the two of them speak to each other in their own love language.

Oddly enough, during these times when I’m fixated on the wonderful perfection of my tiny family, my shoulders fall away from my neck and I’m able to breathe deeply; as if a weight has been lifted. Perhaps the weight of someone who got tired of waiting.

*The undertoad is a brilliant concept created by John Irving(one of my favorite authors) in his book The World According to Garp. In the book, the youngest child, Walt, is constantly being warned to "watch out for the undertow" while playing in the surf, but he mishears the word as Under Toad:
Garp...realized that all these years Walt had
been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore,
waiting to suck him under and drag him out to
sea. The terrible Under Toad.
The undertoad, then becomes the family symbol for any impending stress or disaster. Great image!