Thursday, March 7, 2019

SOL19 Slice #7 Response to sickness

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL19)
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for the month of March 2019.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Since my mother's death in October, my mind has been sifting through all kinds of memories of my childhood years. This is a story of me learning to advocate for myself...

It was 1975, I was fourteen, and it was the spring of my sophomore year of high school. My Dad, an engineer in the Navy, was gone on sea trials (one month?). My Mom was stressed and anxious, as she always was when Dad was gone. I woke up one morning with my left breast hurting and what appeared to be a red, itchy, rash-like spot. I knew NOT to mention it to Mom...I wasn’t about to mention it to her. Or anyone. The thing was, she and I were the only females in the house; there really wasn't anyone else to ask or share about this personal issue. The day passed, with the pain continuing, and me trying to put it out of my mind. 
The next day, I woke up to much worse pain... and there was a slight swelling, as well.  I decided I had better tell my Mom. I waited until she was in her bedroom, so that I might speak to her all alone. I remember barely having the courage to speak to her, finally whispering that I had to ask her about something kind of private. I squeaked out the words, Would you look at my breast?  It is red and hurting.” She immediately looked at me with disgust. She admonished me for speaking about this - No, I will not look at your breast! Shame on you!" She went on to explain that women’s bodies have changes that happen throughout the month and I simply had to leave it alone. I remember being kind of stunned – but, she had to know more than me, right? Perhaps she was right? Maybe this was just a side effect of my menstrual period? So, I ignored it as best I could, though it weighed heavily on my mind all day, literally and figuratively, with the pain steadily increasing. I had a long, uncomfortable day at school.
The third day was so much worse – I could hardly put my left breast into my bra. The swelling was the size of a golf ball, the area was blistering red and warm. I started to cry, first thing in the morning, as I looked down at it. I didn't see how I could even go to school. I went into her bedroom and I insisted she come into her bathroom with me. 
I remember saying, “I’m sorry, Mom, but you must look at this!  You must!” 
She admonished, “This is ridiculous, Maureen Alice! You are always so dramatic!” She was really pissed at me, her lips tightly closed, her head shaking ‘no,’ but she followed me into her bathroom. 
I took off my shirt and undid my bra, facing my petulant, irritated, annoyed mother, who took one glance and immediately burst into tears, declaring, “What did you do to yourself! Holy Mother of God, be with us now!” she cried out. “What are we going to do?! Oh, dear Jesus, help us please!”
Through tears, I responded, Mom, I didn’t do anything to myself – it just happened, and it really, really hurts. What do I do?” 

I'll spare you the story of finally seeing a doctor* turns out that I had a breast abscess – inexplicable, no cause or reason.  Just what my body did.
Honestly, it was years before I realized how screwed up this whole interaction with my mother was. Yes, this is the role of the child with a mentally ill parent; the child takes on the adult role because the adult simply cannot cope.

*maybe this should be tomorrow's slice? hmmm.


  1. I can’t imagine how much that hurt, both the breast abscess and your mother’s reaction.

  2. It was painful, and yet I helped me to see the enormity of my mother's mental struggles, to begin to stand strong apart from her - if that makes any sense at all.