Page One: Saturday
This time, I drove Bella into the pasture, so she could see the calves up close. Up ahead, a small black mound nestled in the tall grasses. I stopped the ATV and climbed down. Bella remained behind, while I edged closer through the field of gentle beasts. The momma cow mooed at her babe, but there was no response.
A tiny hand found mine; she’d found her courage. “Momma, you know cows don’t sleep lying down,” Bella said. “Is she dead?”
Her Aunt Tricia.
Her babysitter Vanessa.
Her Ompa (grandfather)
Three deaths crammed in four small years. She’s a seasoned soul.
“I don’t know.” I said. “Come on baby. Get up.”
“Get up girl,” Bella said.
Page 2: Monday
After dark, the remnants of Oma’s life in Ocala were in one last car load. She’d sold most of her furniture and walked away from the rest. We unloaded the boxes and stacked them in the room designated to be her office.
“Wow,” Oma said as she walked into her new place in Orlando. “It’s so beautiful!”
New paint… cleaned carpet…furnished…decorated… started with a desire to make all things new for her.
A few minutes later, Bella pulled on my arm. “Oma needs you Momma. Come.”
I heard the unusual sound before entering her bedroom. Her face buried in her son’s chest. “Oh Tammy!” Her arm reached for me too. Her wailing and tears made my heart ache. I realized there’s only One who can make all things new.
Page 3 Wednesday night:
“Ladies, our two members dealing with brain cancer are unable to join us tonight because they are not feeling well right now. We need to rally around them. One needs help with driving her children to where they need to be. The other needs help with food. I will send out an email tomorrow, letting you guys know the details.”
Page 4: Thursday morning
“You tested positive for a gene mutation called PALB2,” my gynecologist said. “It creates the rarer type of breast cancer, but it is also the most dangerous—the most invasive. It’s behind the Triple Negative Breast cancer that killed your sister.”
I swallowed. All the years of scolding her for diet soda. It was a gene all along.
“Identifying the gene mutation only raises your chances of getting the cancer by 9 percent, but if you flip over here…” She flipped the page. “It clearly states if a close relative such as your sister had the cancer your chances jump to 58 percent. Then, if there are other members of your family who’s had breast cancer it continues to raise your chances even higher.”
More recent, great aunt.
The gene slithers down the family tree puddling in me.
“I want you to see a specialist,” the doctor went on. “She’ll monitor you more closely, but she may recommend a full mastectomy. Do you have any questions?’
“What would you do if you were me?” I said.
“I would see the specialist without delay, and I would do whatever it is she recommends.”
Page 5: Thursday afternoon:
“Knowledge is power,” my dear friend Yvonne said on the phone. She should know, her husband battled his own cancer markers for several years. “But I’ll be honest, the flip side is there’s a heavy burden carrying that knowledge.”
I hung up.
Was it better to know or remain blissfully unaware?
I didn’t know.
Page 6: Thursday evening:
A sweaty, small boy emerges from the gym. I’m waiting outside. He smiles and approaches cautiously.
“Hi Bryson, I’m Tammy. The password is ____. Always ask whoever picks you up for the password okay? If they don’t know it, you do not get in a car with them.”
In the car, I put his address in my phone. The directions appeared, but as I turned onto the road they disappeared. This phone needs to be updated. Tried again, this phone needs to be updated.
I’m kicking myself.
“I’ll use my phone,” he said. He becomes my copilot.
Confident for little years, he told me he liked math was a number’s guy–none of my boys liked math. Raised by a single mom who had brain cancer, her tumor now dormant. Wondered if that made children mature faster?
His sister met us in the driveway, handed me a pile of sticky notes. Their mother’s normal thank you. I tend to save them. She wrote, “God is smiling. Psalms 139.” A passage about God knowing us, seeing all, knitting our inward parts in our mother’s womb, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
She didn’t know yet about the gene.
But God did.
Page 7: Thursday night
I shot Bella the look as I held out her pajamas again. She giggled and ignored. Again. Last straw.
“Get your pajamas on now!” I spat at her.
“Hey!” Jay said. “Just calm down. Bella mind your Momma.”
The burden of the knowledge hunched my shoulders. Twisted my insides making me mean.
Later, snuggling in a chair, I opened Bella’s Bible. Adam and Eve were hiding from God. He’d told them they could eat of all the trees in the garden– except that one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Something else had slithered down the tree, something with a voice, and Eve listened. Her bite cursed the world. Why? Why couldn’t you have been satisfied? Why did you have to eat the one God instructed you not to? Why did you want the burden of knowledge? There would be no cancers, no death, no brave boys without fathers.
I would have bit the apple too.
Flipping back to page One:
“Momma, go see if the baby calf is dead. We need to do something.” Bella said.
“Hold on. Let’s just watch and see.”
Suddenly, a floppy ear twitched.
A head popped up.
It looked at us.
On shaky legs it wobbled over to its mother dragging a long umbilical cord, before latching on and suckling.
“Awe, she’s so cute,” Bella smiled. “It’s okay Momma!”
Pure joy at the sight of this sticky new life.
“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’” Revelations 21:5a English Standard Version.
** Name of boy has been changed to insure privacy.