What’s the most important thing, I think, as I stress out to prepare for my class. Well, I can’t take credit for the question. The rain clouds just broke apart, scattered by a wind, and that wind swayed the wind chimes. Bent over a student’s work, I mean slouched, bent, crouched as if ready to pounce – the cormorant pose as my friend Jo calls it, or maybe the vulture – the chime chimed, I looked up, out past it to a radiance: diamonds winked from the chokecherry tree. Its leaves deep maroon, drops of this morning’s rain dangled among them. Light glinted off the still-wet leaves – a chandelier, a candelabra, the wind setting it to glittering. And the question was just there. What’s the most important thing?
This was a different voice than the one that’s been whispering like a pusher in my ear. I straightened up, looked for my journal, not there, so I came to the blog write it out. Why is just after I e-mailed a fellow cancer survivor on the Cape that my fear’s subsiding, why is it right after that, the fear rears up, in full force, like a gust? “No you don’t,” it says, shaking its shaggy head and laughing low in its throat. “Remember the pathology report? The cancer was small but aggressive. Only a dumb ass wouldn’t be scared. Why don’t you read up on that, on the Internet, if you don’t believe me.” So I do, that obsessive googling madness, and the next thing you know I’m in a straight jacket, the cormorant’s wrapped me tight in its wings, and pretty soon my back aches.
Like someone pursued by bees, I grab my jacket and head out the door. I go to the greenhouse. I fill a basket with yellow tomatoes. I eat a couple, and like the crazy person I become when I’m thick in the fear, I hiss, “Fuck you cancer. FUCK. YOU.” If I were on a New York City street, people would give me a wide berth, or maybe even toss me a coin. I pick and pick, tomatoes plunk plunk into the bucket, a few cucumbers too, and then out to the garden, broccoli, yellow squash, snap peas, carrots. Take that, you asshole. (Why did I have that coffee? Maybe it’s acidifying my body, a nice cancer-loving acid-bath, what’s wrong with me? Why not just green tea???) I eat carrots, mud and all, munch peas like a rabbit, and on my way back to the house, I pluck service berries off the bush, stuff them in my mouth, Take that too, you prick.
This anger at it all, sudden and fierce. And totally irrational. No target for it.
Then the wind chime. And the sun. What really matters? Will my stress prepare me to teach the ultimate class tonight in the nature essay? Will it extend my life? The tree outside my window sparkles like it's sprouting crystals instead of berries. A few birch leaves skitter to the ground. My feisty Steller’s jay neighbor lands on the railing and shrieks at me: “More walnuts! Now!” I shrug the cormorant off my back. I straighten up in my chair, push my shoulders back, thrust my chest out, breath into my pectoral the way my massage therapist told me to. I eat more snap peas and drink big glasses of water and pop my Arimidex. Take that, scum.
Who am I railing at anyway? It’s not cancer I fight. That’s a shadow demon, not anything real in my body at this moment. I curse at the black crouching bird latched onto my back with its sharp black talons.
I think the insults just make it madder, but damn, it feels good to say, to scream even, sometimes, to chase it out the door with a broom. The only true way to fight back though, I know, is more glints of leaves, more tomatoes bursting their own kind of diamonds on my tongue, more wind on skin. More aliveness.
And something, something, to wake me up, to jangle that question in my ear, to jangle it loud enough so I can hear it above the hiss of fear: What’s the most important thing? Right now? Today?