My neighbor paid me a great compliment the other day. It helped me in a way she could not have imagined. I was mowing my lawn, you see – and another neighbor drove by and asked, in that way, shouting from her car -- "how are you" I shouted back, trying for blithe, "sweaty." She continued "Well. You. Look. Great." and I had to turn off the mower at this point because it was clear that she had kind words to unload. "How long has it been?" She smiled and frowned at the same time. "Five years," I said. "Wow." she said and wagged her head in humbled awe. "That. Is. Amazing. You are such a survivor." "Guess so, today," I said brightly, brittle. Not blithe. "Knock wood!" And I yanked the cord on my Murray as hard as I could and got back to the lawn. She drove away and I knew she felt sorry for me. Which pissed me off. I knew as I trimmed out the junipers that she was in Stop & Shop at that very moment buying fat-free pink-ribbon Yoplait. I knew as I accidentally mowed over the little hydrangea that she was so glad that she was not me. And I knew as I stepped in a giant pile of poop from the goddamn great dane from next door that she was thinking that I had to mow my own lawn because I had no man because I had one breast and even if that didn't matter to him which was unlikely I was a sketchy proposition after all five years or not but you go girl you big survivor you.
I got the shovel and scraped up the rest of the poop, which was considerable, and walked next door. And dumped it in Suzanne's driveway, by the mailbox. Like I always do. Suzanne came flying out of her house (she is one of those demented multiple pet-owning vegetarian neighbors) and got very close to my face and shrieked "you fat-ass cancer bitch!"
What? What a wacky thing to say to someone who has just dumped a pile of your dog's poop in your driveway. But it was sort of wonderful – her lack of politeness. Her frankly lunatic rage spoke her very clear fact of me – not colored by guilt or pity or curbside nicety. Not pink.
Fat-ass cancer bitch. I liked that. Well, not the fat-ass thing – I don't think she truly meant that bit, but it lends the phrase meter: fat-ass cancer bitch. There was tenacity and strength in that, at least, and quite possibly a kind of timeless, shining triumph. Like the Venus de Milo – no arms! Or Winged Victory – no head! What if the Goddess of Willendorf that fat little fertility statue had been dug out the prehistoric muck on the Danube in 1908 and had had only one breast? There is more, I think, than merely surviving. Fat ass cancer bitch.
Now there was a name I could hang my hat on.
I laughed – Suzanne's face contorted, despite the Botox – "I'm buying a slingshot, crazy lady – keep your stupid dog in your yard. But thanks. Thanks very much."
Christine Rathburn is a writer and performer in the tradition of the late monologuist Spalding Gray -- her work has been described as "compellingly honest and kick-ass." Her acclaimed one-woman show, "Reconstruction, or How I Learned to Pay Attention," an extraordinary chronicle of one woman's breast cancer odyssey, had its Boston premier in 2005 at Wheelock Family Theatre and has since been performed more than 30 times across New England. Her latest play, "Giant Women," premiered in June, 2007, at Harwich Winter Theatre and is booked for dates through 2008. Both works have been named Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant Finalists (2004 & 2006). Currently at work on her next piece, "Resistant Gray," Christine lives on Cape Cod with her splendid daughter, Marney, and the sculptor, Michael Ernst.