I am looking at a dark, pear shaped planet. That’s how I describe my mammogram image to Mike this morning. A mesh of lighted corridors lead, eventually, to a colony settled in the north east.

“Plymouth Rock?” He asks.

“Jersey Shore,” I correct his idea of both the location and the intensity.

“The Situation…” He texts me.

I remind him, and me, that it’s likely nothing more than a Snooki.

There is no history of cancer-of-the-anything in my family.  When my benign ovarian tumor was removed two years ago,  I was tested for the BRCA mutations – just in case.  I’m clean.  This was routine; no reason to worry.

On three occasions in the last two years I’ve sat down for dinner with girlfriends.  They’ve waited until our drinks are ordered to tell me, as if reading from the same script, “I don’t want you to freak out, but I have breast cancer.”

Only now that each of them is safely on this side of their different treatments,  has it occurred to me to wonder why they’d worry about me freaking out.  That’s not me.  Is it?

Probably no.  On Valentines day I accompanied another friend to her biopsy.  Her routine, then follow up mammogram and ultrasound indicated it might be a good idea to get a closer look at one area.   I held her hand and rubbed her back until I was kicked out of the room for the procedure.  See, I am not the freaker-outer.

It wasn’t losing her breasts that scared her,  she tearily confided.  It was her hair.  She shored up her own courage by deciding that, if worse came to worse, she’d get bright, rainbow mermaid hair before it all fell out.

The next morning, as fate would have it, I was scheduled for my annual mammogram.  I said a little prayer to the gods of radiology for my friend and they were answered.   It was benign.  But I bet, and this is just between you and me, now that the idea of mermaid hair has grabbed her she won’t wait until tragedy.  Perspective, once found,  can be a real bitch to shake.  Once we’ve realized that there are no points for self-denial just for the sake of self-denial, there is no end to what a woman might do for herself.

A week later, it is my turn in the hot seat.   There was a spot on my right breast. I found myself sitting in a waiting room appointed in the most annoying shade of pink, skipping ahead in my mind and wondering about my hair.  I’d shave it,  I decided, and send it to a wig maker.  I could still wear my own hair, right?  Or maybe I’d just stay bald.  There’s so much beauty in loss.

In this manner, I’ve already found my perspective.   My summer in Italy is my friend’s mermaid hair.  It’s the thing I am doing when I literally have nothing left to lose; the thing I wonder why I waited so long to stop making excuses not to do.  It’s the thing,  I suddenly worry, that a breast cancer diagnosis could really muck up right now.

I am not a freaker-outer, and to continue not being a freaker-outer, I stop thinking about that and  strike up conversations with the four other women sitting with me in our front-opening hospital gowns.  One had pain and a lump she was getting checked out.  The others had been called back, like me, because of a shadow on a routine image.  The conversations between us were frank and open and if we’d been left in that room ten more minutes…well, I don’t think it’s that far fetched that we might have pulled out our boobs for comparison.  Sisterhood, I’ve found, is only ever born of perspective – and we were all there this morning to get some of that, one way or another.

Once finished with my ultrasound, the radiologist said he saw no reason for a biopsy.  I cleaned up and dressed.  On my way to check out, I looked into the unoccupied room with the mammography machine and said another little prayer to the radiology gods.  Please, don’t let these women wait too long to find their mermaid hair.

Pillow Talk

From an actual conversation in bed tonight:

“I read an interesting penis article today. ”

“Here we go.”  Two seconds ago he thought we were finished talking and I would let him fall asleep now. 

“Did you know in outer space your lower extremities don’t exist? ”

“Beg pardon?”

“There’s no up or down,  like Ender figured out in the arena at battle school.”

“Serena, there was no mention of a penis in Ender’s Game.”  His tone is something close to accusation of blasphemy. 

“Correct.   And that would be a story, not an article.”  I’m a stickler for semantics. “So if there’s no up or down, there’s no lower extremities.”

“Was this article about disappearing space penises?”

I don’t know where he comes up with this stuff.

“Not exactly.  The article was about how penises shrink in outer space because there is no gravity to help draw blood to the area.”

“Are you stalking NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly again?”

“It’s not stalking if he’s on the space station and literally photographing his location every forty-five minutes.”  I might sound too defensive.   “But no. I wasn’t thinking of Kelly’s penis.  You made this weird.”


“But it made me think – if gravity isn’t helping your blood get to the completely equal extremities, it’s all dependant on your heart.”


“Your heart has to pump extra hard to get blood all the way to your toes because they’re so far away now.  That would be a big strain on cardiac output.”


“You know what this means?”  I feel a baby sob welling in my chest.


“I probably can’t ever go to space.”

:::::: Really loud snore :::::

I didn’t actually have any ideations of space travel; at least, not since 4th grade when Chad Brewer laughed at me and told me girls couldn’t be astronauts.  And right this minute,  I’m losing sleep for the second time in my life over this. 

I hope somebody is snoring in that butt hole Chad Brewer’s face tonight,  too.

Who is a good boy?

In hind site,  nothing about today’s dogastrophe was unpredictable, except maybe the lifetime ban from the pet store.  Did not see that coming when I left the house this morning.

Last week I stopped in to buy a replacement bottle of Woody’s special, $30 medicated shampoo.  Instead of the clear, lavender gel I was expecting at the doggy boutique today, I squirted something that looked and smelled like Johnson’s Baby Lotion all down Woody’s back.  In big, purple letters, the bottle confirmed my mistake.  I bought conditioner, not shampoo.

I swear to you,  I didn’t even know they made dog conditioner.

I used the gentlest shampoo the shop offers, and followed up with a thorough rub down and rinse with this new conditioner.  At least he’ll still get the antibacterial, anti-allergy, anti-yeast, soothing medication, I figured.  I just hoped the shampoo didn’t set off a new skin allergy.  When we were finished, Woody left the beauty shop smelling fine and as soft as a freshly laundered baby bunny – which would terrify him if they ever crossed paths.  He has an exceptionally low prey drive.

Per our bath day ritual,  we walked down to the Mediterranean restaurant on the corner,  where I ordered Woody a plate of lamb.  We sat on the patio while he did tricks to earn every bite.   The patrons always enjoy the Woody show,  and he loves the attention almost as much as he does the people food.

Still feeling frisky from his bath,  I kept him with me while running errands, eventually stopping at the pet store to buy the correct shampoo on the way home.

Woody loves this store, and in his advanced age and new found calm, I bet I could walk him around off leash.

Well,  I would have.  I’d have been dead wrong, but the outcome wouldn’t have been drastically different.

The one exception to his low prey drive is birds.   I’ve watched him grab them right out of the air in our back yard.  Madi employed him, regrettably, to help get a stuck bird out of her bedroom.   Effective, but disgusting, as he vomited the poor starling onto her carpet.

Today,  hunger wasn’t a contributing factor –  his belly was full of lamb.  I think it was just a case of the after bath friskies, combined with,  obviously noticing for the first time,  the pet store’s delectable selection of Parakeets.  It was the perfect storm, really.

My mindless stroll to the grooming aisle was interrupted by a bark, a painful tug, and then sudden slackening of his leash.  I looked up to see Woody in his signature trick, reaching for the sky.  The full weight of a normally sedentary weimaraner fell against the middle case in a stack of glass bird tanks.  It, and the one above crashed to the floor.  

Woody forged into the broken glass, bird bedding, and feathers to pluck himself a chew toy from the flock; a beautiful Carolina Blue one.

The employees outnumbered the customers at that time by about 2.5 to 1, but everybody appeared at the scene of the crime in time to watch Woody take his first chomp of Tweety.  When the bird squeaked, I knew he was done for.   Woody mistook his cry for help and I said aloud, “Oh my God!  He’s going for the squeaker!”

Each little birdy plea egged him on to chomp again until the guy I’m pretty sure was the manager told me to Get. That. Dog. Out.  Now.

I tugged at Woody’s scruff – his collar lay broken at the other end of the leash I was still holding.  It was then that he seemed to come out of his adrenaline trance.  He stood, head cocked in confusion, with the front end of a feebly struggling parakeet hanging from the left side of his mouth.

I was probably in shock, too.  “Do you want him to leave the bird?”

I think he told me to take it, but I wasn’t fully processing everything yet.  I grabbed the top of Woody’s snout and told him to leave it.

He did.   Begrudgingly.

I took him to my car and rolled down the back windows in silence.  I do not know what you say to a dog who just ate an innocent parakeet in public.  With no way to clip him to his car harness, I hoped for the best and went back inside to ask if I could help clean up.

No.  I could not.

Could I at least pay for the bird?

Yes.  Most certainly.

I was still dragging the broken collar on the end of Woody’s leash, I realized.

Can I just go look for a new collar, real quick?


As I was paying for the ABC bird and Woody’s bright,  new collar, the presumed manager came to me to officially excommunicate my dog from the good graces of the pet store.

Sitting on the back deck, thinking I should really have a word with him about today’s events, but still unable to fathom what that word would be I suddenly realized – I forgot to get the shampoo.