People make you quilts when you are dying. People bring flowers to your house when you are dying. They place the daisies in a vase on your bedside, so that daisies can die with you. Daisies lose their petals as you lose your hair. People make you casseroles, and people ask for the tupperware back. The casserole develops a freezer burn, and people do not ask for the tupperware back after you have died because it is impolite. There is an unspoken etiquette to tupperware.
My grandmother is in denial, swept up by the current, drowning it its depths. She is going bankrupt. She is losing the house, losing her grasp. Her china sets are missing pieces and her husband seems to be missing his mind. One of her daughters fancies crystal meth; my grandmother chooses to ignore this and fancies crystal figurines instead. Last Christmas, my grandmother found her daughter, my aunt, sprawled out on the floor overdosed, covered in vomit, and non-responsive. Her solution was to take her daughter home, not to a hospital. My grandmother knows nothing about withdrawal, and her daughter entered a psychosis while tucked away in the upstairs of the suburban house. My grandmother is denial.
Sticky Note on the Fridge: Don’t skip Friday appointment!
Grandmothers despise death-trap cars. Grandmothers prefer cars with high-safety ratings and heated seats and big trunks for trips to Costco. And if my grandmother saw the piece of shit I was driving around, she’d need to pour a big ass glass of Chardonnay and plop some ice cubes in it and sigh that deep sigh that only passive aggressive grandmothers have mastered. She’d hoist her feet up on the ottoman like a lecture, and then she’d take a sip. My pink little 1998 Camry sat parked in the women’s clinic parking lot, the hood bungeed on, the headlight falling out of its socket, the passenger side mirror just barely dangling on by some duct tape. Pink little Camrys that have come undone are bad cross country road trip cars. They are bad get-away cars. They are terrible at almost everything, except getting flat tires, stalling in intersections, and getting to anything within a ten block radius before they overheat, which happens to include the women’s clinic. If my Grandmother saw me sitting in my car, trying to lift my hand to the door handle and walk into the metallic waiting room, let the doctor biopsy, image, and talk at me and through me about what is inside me, if she looked past the shitty car and saw that, I don’t believe she would tell me to go in. She would tell me to drive as far as I could before my car overheated. My grandmother is in denial and I am too.
There are these women who quilt. They have quilted their own tradition. They have subverted the very idea of quilt. In that, they have created the purist quilt. A quilt that is a spell. A quilt that is folklore and prophecy. A quilt that if you wrap yourself in it for long enough you are whole again. Modern Medicine. Holy Grail. These women are not just quilters or artists, they are healers.
After a double mastectomy, doctors sew chests into quilts; nipple reconstruction is patchwork on ripped fabric. My grandmother’s chest is a quilt now. I wonder how many different waiting rooms she has been in. What does it feel like to live inside years that are just one large waiting room transcending space and time? The family grieves in the corner on one side, but also in the other corner they wait for good news from the handsome doctor and somewhere in the middle is the patient, breastless and breathless from screaming. She packaged up her cancer and gifted it to me, after she was stitched and patched up. She tied a pink ribbon to it so it was pretty and acceptable. She put a pink ribbon bumper sticker on her Mercedes too. She summed up her illness as, “I had cancer.” It took her five years to say those three words to me.
There are these women who make casseroles. Some call them housewives. Casseroles are nosy neighbors. Casseroles are Monday through Wednesday night. Casseroles are warm like socks drying above the fireplace. Casseroles are for inside homes. Casseroles are scraps. Casseroles are quilts too. Nothing is wrong with a casserole making you feel safe and full. There is no shame in casserole. Do not deny the casserole. Housewives can be healers too.
My family did not let me know my grandmother was dying. They did not tell me how bad things were and how much worse they were getting. She hid her cancer from me. Doctors gave her a life expectancy. A lawyer was hired. A will was drafted. Then, suddenly, treatments began to work, surgeries began to work. That is what miracle means. My grandmother was never the grandmother who quilted or knitted baby socks or baked apple pies. She was never good with comfort. She thinks casseroles and quilts are tacky, but the aftermath of cancer flooded her home anyway. Blankets do not reduce nausea and casseroles do not make hair grow back, but they sure are good company.
I am not entirely sure you deserved a miracle.
P.S., I am not entirely sure I deserve a miracle either.
There is a lump in my breast. My left breast. My left breast has a lump. I wonder if it was her left breast too. It is much bigger than a benign side effect of birth control. It grows by the month, possibly by the second. A doctor said she cannot feel all of its edges. I asked if that was bad. She said that it was not good. Not good is bad. Not good sounds like malignant when I am topless in an examination room. Malignant sounds like expensive when I do not have health insurance. I would like to know what people bring you when you are lying to yourself about maybe dying. Freezer burnt casserole as a big “fuck you” for skipping your biopsy appointment?
I would also like to know what you are supposed to bring your grandmother’s daughter when she is lying to herself about definitely-almost-dying. Freezer burnt casserole is not quite a big enough “fuck you” for overdosing. Freezer burnt casserole does not scream, “What about your kids?” Freezer burnt casserole is more of a passive aggressive grandmother.
Sticky Note on the Fridge: Reschedule Appointment!
My grandmother’s breast cancer is a wig in her closet. It is her not getting in the water post-surgery. It is a quilt wrapped around her chest, filling, but not quite filling, the hole left there. It is Tanqueray and Chardonnay. It is a waiting room. It is dates circled on a calendar. It is three months left. It is shame. My cancer is maybe cancer. It is in my left breast, but maybe just in my head. My maybe cancer is displaced, homeless.
Home becomes intangible when the body becomes overrun by malignant cells multiplying and spreading, and when the home becomes overrun with casseroles multiplying like cells and filling up the chest freezer. I need a home, but when I lose my breasts my partner will look at me differently. When I lose my ovaries in a preventive oophorectomy, my partner will look at me differently. My grandfather looked at my grandmother differently. When I lose my ability to bear children, maybe that’ll be for the best because one day their partners would look at them the way he’s looking at me right now. Maybe I’d be cramming casseroles into their freezers and telling the neighbors to come back later and hiding my grief by knitting quilts. Maybe quilts will become Kleenex. Maybe I would drown in quilts and denial. At least if I find my daughter overdosed and matted to a persian rug, I would take her to the hospital. It is a myth that if an unmarried girl puts the last stitch into a quilt, she will never marry. Girls who have quilts for chests will never marry.
Recipe for Casserole
4 cups scraps of flesh, peeled and sliced
2 cups self esteem, chopped
2 cups milk, powder formula
1 cup frozen eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
I sold my pink car because it reminded me of my grandmother’s disapproval, skipped doctor’s appointments, and it was unsafe in almost every way. I got $400 cash, which still doesn’t pay for a lump to be biopsied. It doesn’t even cover rent. Grandmothers in bankruptcy cannot disapprove of Camry’s or meth addictions. She is in bankruptcy because she was selfish. Her daughter did meth because she was selfish. She did not support my young and naive pregnant mother because she was selfish. Like Gods, selfish grandmothers cannot disapprove of their own creations.
I like this arrangement we have. As long as I don’t go to my appointment, I can’t be dying. I can stay maybe dying, and you can stay right where you are. My skin will tuck you in at night and keep you cozy.
If I bought back my car, if I went on a cross-country quest, I could find the holy grail of quilts. I could search in Gee’s Bend, Alabama and Paducah, Kentucky. I could wrap myself in the quilt held together by threads of tenderness and scraps of devotion. I could be saved. I could return home. I would go to my appointment. I would let them stab through my skin with their needles and steal the blood out of my veins. But I’m not going to Gee’s Bend or Paducah. A single person does not hold the quilt that heals the scars, dries the tears, and removes the lumps that rest on our pillow hearts. Or maybe a grey-haired widow does hold this quilt, tucked away in plain sight, but I will not find her. My car lies scattered in a junkyard, scrapped for pink parts. What happens to the scrapped pink parts of my chest after a mastectomy? Do I give them to my partner with an apology note attached? Scrapped pink parts aren’t just from my Camry, they are from my body. Can I sew them into a quilt? Can I sew them back onto my chest? I can quilt myself into a casserole. I can feed my family this way. I can keep them full after I’ve lost the parts of me that spell mother, the parts of me that spell woman. I can keep them warm after I’ve lost the skin they used to burrow into like winter-time bunnies. I can tuck them in tight like skin and tissue around a tumor in a chest. But will my eggs get freezer burn if I decide to save them for later in the doctor’s chest freezer? Will I get freezer burn if my family decides to stuff me into the chest freezer?
Sticky Note on the Fridge: Clean Out the Freezer
Sophia Coen creates genre hybrids out of Lawrence, Kansas. She studies creative writing and English Education at the University of Kansas. Her work has appeared in Grimoire Magazine. Her work focuses on the nostalgia and murkiness tied to childhood and femininity, while subverting the norms of nonfiction. Photo by sheri silver (Unsplash).