40 Things I’ll Teach My Kids About Sex

There's way more to talk about than these guys!

A follow-up to my “Sex Talk” Way Outside the Box post, originally appears here at elephantjournal.com.

1. Monogamy is just one way of doing things, it’s not inherently better or healthier. Make sure you make a choice about how to structure your relationships instead of defaulting to heteronormativity or compulsory monogamy.

2. Gay and straight are over-simplified terms. Most people are somewhere in between, orientation can change—and some folks don’t even identify as male or female.

3.  It’s okay to have casual sex if you feel clear and comfortable about wanting to. If you make a mistake, you will just learn from it.

4. Slut shaming is never okay, whether coming from you, or directed toward you. There is nothing inherently wrong with having sex, enjoying sex, talking about sex, etc.

5. No sex should be emotionally damaging.

6. Consent is the one thing you must have in any intimate encounter. There is no gray area here—and it is never too late to say no.

Continue reading

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Lyla Cicero

The “Sex Talk” Way Outside the Box

Our daughters deserve to know about the rabbit!

I recently read this post on the wonderful Raising My Rainbow blog.  In it, “C.J.’s mom” talks about how she assumed her husband would be the one to talk to their boys about sex, until it became clear her gender variant son might be gay.  (Let me pause here to say that C.J.’s mom is one of my mommy and blogger heroes, and despite using her post as a jumping off point into the far reaches of my radical brain, I have nothing but utmost respect for her).

I think many of us approach the idea of talking to our kids about sex by following cultural scripts we don’t give much thought to.  If we stop and ask ourselves why, however, we may realize these scripts are not at all the best way to raise empowered, feminist children.  Why does a same-sex parent give the sex talk?  What message does that send?  Why a “sex talk” at all?  And what should be said in the talk?

I know some of you think you have many years before you answer these questions, but the truth is, we have to start when our children are learning to talk by teaching them the proper names for body parts in a casual,  natural non-shaming way.  I tell my two year-old daughter during diaper changes “I need to wipe your vulva.”  This is the very beginnings of her sex education, and my son’s as well.

So why “sex talks?”

Recently, a group of friends at a dinner party went around a talked about whether we had had a “sex talk.”  Turns out not a single person at the table had had one.  We were all basically “self-taught.”  So the fact that many folks who are parents now are thinking about and planning “sex talks” is admirable and important.

But is the “sex talk” enough?

In my opinion, if I’m planning a “sex talk” with a kid, I’ve already missed an opportunity.

Continue reading

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Lyla Cicero

Where’s My Parachute? – Lessons In Love and Loss (Undercover in the Suburbs One Year Anniversary!)

Where's My Parachute?

“Love is like plunging into the darkness toward a place that may exist.” – Marge Piercy

It took me a long time to let myself love, especially when there were penises involved.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of men now, but the first one I knew made a pretty bad impression.  As a smart, cautious girl, the most prudent way for me to avoid re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my father was to avoid men until I had had enough therapy to be able to trust myself around them.  Of course that didn’t stop me from re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my mom.

That’s right, during that time I was avoiding men, I dated plenty of women.  I didn’t call it that at the time because we dated in all respects but one… there was never any sex.  That would be too dangerous.  One can never be entirely certain a woman is not one’s dad wrapped up in the body of a red-head, tomboy.

None-the-less, these sometimes enthralling, sometimes volatile, and always heartbreakingly ambiguous relationships taught me how to love, and how not to love.  I even tried one with a man, eventually.  Still gut-wrenchingly ambiguous, of course. Finally, in my early twenties, I had to admit that I had a problem.  While these relationships were “safe” in some ways, they were mind-fucking me, badly.  Trying to shield myself from intimacy for fear of getting hurt was getting me pretty badly hurt.

So I swore them off!  If I was ever going to be really ready for love, I was going to have to go all in – “plunge into the darkness” without a parachute. But instead, I hid out.  I avoided everyone.  When I was 24, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Just before she died, my dad and I stopped speaking.  I assure you, he deserved it.

After I lost my mom, I felt raw, exposed, and yet opened up from the pain.  I took a lot of time.  I had the twenties I’d missed out on while I’d been researching cancer treatments and battling with neuro-oncologists and brain surgeons.  I traveled around Southern Africa, to Costa Rica, and backpacked for 8 days in a remote part of Wyoming.  I waited tables… very badly.   I applied to graduate school.  I went on real dates with boys who were auditioning to have to acknowledge we were more than just friends.

Almost a year to the day after my mom died, I met Seth.  After all the drama and soul-searching, and years of tearful nights with female friends wondering if there was something wrong with me that would never be fixed, it was… easy.  I had these surreal moments where I’d look at Seth and think can this really be happening, and how long until I lose him too?   A few months before our wedding my Gram died.  We had been planning for her to walk us both down the aisle.  We were devastated.

Around that same time, my father showed up on my doorstep.  It had been three years.  He cried until he was almost sick.  He didn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I knew withholding it would hurt me more than him.  My therapist always said, “We don’t do well without our tribe.”  Why did my tribe have to be so fucked up?

Seth and I’s partnership ceremony was the most authentic, radical thing I’d ever done, and the people in my life accepted it joyfully.  It was so disorienting, I literally lost my balance.  I started having these inexplicable and quite horrible dizzy spells.  It was like my world was spinning on a different axis that my body wasn’t used to yet.  Still, I felt like I was building something, finally, instead of sifting through ruins.  I even invited my dad, and he was strangely behaved.

Getting married for me was like stepping into a strangers life.  It was the first time I felt like I wasn’t fighting like hell just to continue to exist.  Was this what it was like for “those people” I saw walking around in the world?  It finally occurred to me… I did have a parachute.  I was my parachute.  I’d gotten me here.  I’d been the one who padded my fall, got me back up, and plunged again into the darkness.

When Seth and I started talking about children, the idea that I could actually add people and not just have them be slowly stripped out off my life was intoxicating. I couldn’t change the past, but I could create a better future. Then we discovered Seth had a fertility problem.  Then we discovered I had worse one.  We were told we would never conceive.  My husband once read me a quote about your family or origin being your roots and your children being your branches.  I already felt like my roots had been cut off, and now I felt like I’d lost my branches.  The babies that would move like my mother or laugh like my Gram would never exist.

This is my life, I thought.  This is the life that happens to me.  Not the strange, surreal fairy-tale life where I meet a soul-mate, form an egalitarian partnership, and finally feel like I can be who I truly am in the world.  That was indeed some kind of fantasy.  Reality was back, and it was harsh.  My eggs were more than ten years older than I was.  It felt fitting.  I felt awfully old.  We grieved.

Then things started happening so fast I could barely catch my breath.  Just a few short months later I found myself wandering around Soho, confused and delirious, my hippie gynecologist’s words echoing in my ears – “You have a line.”  I must have sat there looking stupefied for a good half hour, while the doctor and phlebotomist tried to impress upon me that I was pregnant.  A few weeks later, we saw two yoke sacs on an ultrasound.  Twins.  “Whoo-hoo,” I heard myself cry.  Fear be damned, this was probably my only shot, and I was more than okay with a two-for-one deal.  Who knew how long this stretch of miracle would last!

This isn’t a post about loss.  It’s a post about how loss can make it hard when you don’t lose.  For eight weeks I held my breath every hour of every day.  I wasn’t just scared to miscarry.  I believed I would.  That’s what I’d been told.  When the doctor at the fertility clinic found out I was pregnant she looked at me suspiciously, like I was some kind of witch or something.  When I hit that Sunday – 12 weeks – I had that dizzy feeling again.  Can this be real, I wondered?  I was already showing.

There I was in that other woman’s life again.  Like all those pregnant women who’d made me cry inside just a few short months before.  I began to open my heart to my babies.  I could feel them kicking, hiccuping, and squirming.  At 16 weeks I was told I had a boy, but the other little stinker was hiding.  That was a long week.  Then I was told I had a girl.  I wept for joy.  I think I knew that was the closest I’d come to getting my mom back.  I saw every little body part at my twenty week ultrasound times two.

Then one day we went to brunch with some friends.  In the bathroom I saw two tiny spots of blood.  Every little twinge I’d felt for twenty weeks had me panicked, but this was different.  This was the real deal. Then the waiting game started again.  Counting down the hours, until they became days, until they became weeks.  21 weeks – I may not get to keep them.  24 weeks – still hardly any chance I’ll get to keep them.  I remember my OBGYN giving me a stern talking to – warning me that my cervical shortening was unpredictable, and there was no guarantee I’d make it two more weeks.  28 weeks – hallelujah, I will probably get to keep them!!

My babies were born healthy and strong, almost 5 pounds each and breathing on their own, at 33.5 weeks.  We were told numerous times they were the healthiest ones in the NICU, but the reminders not to get too hopeful were everywhere.  I’ll never forget one night during their 19-day stay.  We were leaving very late with some family.  The babes were already in the step-down unit, and as we walked back through the main NICU, we could tell something was very wrong.  A huge crowd of doctors and medical personnel were huddled around a tiny little girl.  You could tell by the looks on their faces the situation was grave.  The next day, the little girl was gone.

Now take these babies home and love them.  Love them like none of this ever happened, like you weren’t told you’d never have them, like you didn’t almost lose them, like your mom didn’t call you that day from the hospital and ask you if the plumber came to the house before nonchalantly adding, “They found a brain tumor.”  Take these babies home and love them like you have no idea that every moment of life is spent walking on the edge of death- like every path toward the light hasn’t led back into the darkness.  

This post was inspired by a post called It Took Me 18 Months to Fall in Love with My Daughter.  Sure, I loved my babies from the moment they were born.  I loved them even before they were conceived.  Why else would I have grieved so hard when I’d been told they were never going to come.?  I love them so much it terrifies and sometimes paralyzes me.  On the other hand, a part of me feels like I’m letting myself love them little by little everyday as I slowly let go of my fear.

The past two years have been like a roller coaster ride back through all the things that terrify me.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve been holding my breath since they told me about that “line.”  After 9 months, I finally felt like I was getting out of survival mode.  I was doing it.  I was keeping them alive, and myself sane.  My worst fears hadn’t come to pass.  I even found myself having fun now and then.  Seth and I marveled at the two stunningly perfect lives we created.  “Our roots are a bit gnarly,” we agreed,” but our branches are spectacular.” Then it happened… another “line.”

This time I was equally thrown but for totally different reasons.  This one wasn’t planned, and I knew on some level I’d been holding back connecting emotionally with my babies.  I was already overwhelmed by trying to love more than I ever had despite all that loss-baggage.  But I’m already fucking up with the ones I’ve got, I thought to myself. Miscarrying was a major set back.  It didn’t just set me back to when my babies were born, or even when I’d been terrified of losing them.  It set me all the way back.  Back to when I was terrified to jump at all.

Suddenly, I felt completely unsafe.  Unsafe in my marriage.  Unsafe with my babies.  Maybe this was all a big mistake, and the universe knew I wasn’t supposed to have them, either?  I think on some level I believed I’d killed my baby, and I was poison.  Perhaps I thought on some level that the clarity of knowing for sure that I was dangerous and deadly would feel better than accepting the randomness of when I’d lost and when I hadn’t and when I’d been told I would but didn’t.

I wanted safety, even if it hurt.  Even if I risked destroying everything  .I spent the months after my miscarriage working together with my husband to drive our relationship to the brink, feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped with my friends, and becoming way too dependent on a friendship that I eventually also ended up nearly destroying.

In the midst of all this, I was still trying to figure out how to be queer.  I guess I always thought by time I had kids I would have found myself.  I didn’t realize finding oneself happens again and again.  If we’re lucky.

Turns out I didn’t lose my parachute last winter at all, I was just falling faster and harder than I had in a long, long time.  The truth is it was there all along, because as close as I came to the edge, when it came down to it, I did the work I needed to do, I stuck with therapy, I held my marriage together, I was there for my kids, I realized just in time that my focus wasn’t where it needed to be, that I was acting out of terror and had lost clarity, and I started slowly, slowly pulling it together.  This blog was born a year ago today, during a time of darkness and loss, only a couple short weeks after my miscarriage.  I did give birth to something after all, this blog turns out to be Baby C.

In my first post on this blog, I talked about feeling like a snow-globe with all the parts of me shaken up, not knowing where they would land.  Motherhood will do that.  Over the past year, Undercover in the Suburbs has helped me reclaim and re-order those parts.  The truth is when we become uprooted (as we inevitably do when we become parents), when we lose ourselves for any reason, as I did last winter, when we find ourselves again, we are never quite the same.  I’ve lost a lot in my life, and sometimes it’s felt like losing myself.

Still, I feel the most fully me I’ve ever been right at this moment.  Perhaps the truth is that every path into the darkness eventually leads back to the light.  Undercover has helped me find that light.  It’s been a chance to come back home to writing, to feminism, and come home for the first time to being queer.  It’s helped me let go of damaging cultural notions of motherhood and define the role for myself.  It’s a space where all the parts of me can co-exist, peacefully for the most part.  It’s a space where I can connect with others who are travelling similar paths, and be comforted, and learn from those who’ve made different choices.  It’s a space where I can make myself more whole, recover from my losses, and thus make more room for love.  I’m still working at it.  That’s what I’ve learned.  I will always be working at it.  For me, love may always feel like plunging into the darkness, but I’ve got this parachute.  Me.  I’m the parachute.  Thank you for reading.

So what will the next year bring?  Integration.  My next step must be bringing my “real” life more in line with Lyla Cicero’s online existence.  Stay tuned this year as I work toward that integration.  Stay tuned for posts on coming farther out, honoring my inner teenage lesbian, battling mono-sexism in myself and the outside world, egalitarian/feminist/non-heteronormative parenting on a collision course with SCHOOL, and thus, the large society, and many other subjects.  

My main goal for the blog this year is to get more of you involved.  Despite the catharsis of writing these posts, the greatest joy and fulfillment I get is from reading your comments, getting your emails, and dialogue-ing with you.  I hope to get more folks reading, and more of you commenting and making your voices heard.  Undercover isn’t just for me.  It’s for anyone searching for themselves and working to create a more LGBTQQIAPK-friendly, sex-positive, identity-fluid, gender-egalitarian world.

“Opened the door, knew what was me, finally realized, parachute over me.” – Guster

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Lyla Cicero

De-Shaming Female Bodies, Reclaiming Female Power

Me, Only FIVE Months Pregnant with the Twins

I was bullied just about every day in the fifth grade, and much of sixth and seventh too.  I was bullied about everything you can imagine, and most of it made no sense whatsoever.  I was called “fish face,” and “nobody,” accused of “wearing diapers,” told I smelled, and that my pants were too short.  In junior high there was even a creative group of boys who would follow me around singing “flooooooooooood” as low as their little pre-pubescent voices could muster.  The genius thought-process behind that was that my short pants indicated I was, “waiting for a flood.”

You would think I might have taken comfort in the fact that these jabs actually had nothing to do with me.  Ok, my fashion sense wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t like they were calling me dumb or ugly or anything that would indicate a permanent flaw.  I was even a little chubby.  Now THAT was something I could have done something about… but for whatever reason, they didn’t go there.  For me, the inexplicable nature of their mockery just made it all the more maddening.  If my face didn’t look like a fish, and I didn’t “wear diapers” and I didn’t stuff my bra, as they vehemently insisted, then their viciousness was utterly beyond my control.

It’s amazing how memory is encoded so clearly and permanently when the emotional parts of our brain, particularly those associated with fear, are engaged.  I don’t remember my fifth grade teacher’s name.  I can’t recall what my school looked like, or anything specific I learned that year.  What I can see clearly in my mind’s eye is the bathroom in which I un-wrapped a maxi pad at school for the first time.  The blue-green-gray stall.  The radiator hissing.  The open window.  The still-oppressive heat.   The door opening, and the shiver that ran up my spine as a face peeked under the stall door to inspect the sneakers of the person opening that wrapper.

I got my period early, especially for back then.  It was a week after my 11th birthday.  My mother noticed some spotting on my underwear and told me I would probably get my period soon.   Sadly she didn’t include an explanation of what that was.  She simply bought some pads and gave them to me.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I just knew I felt ashamed.

It did not help when at school that day the kids were on the war path, trying to figure out whether me or the other poor soul wearing the same sneakers was the girl who had gotten her period.  It never occurred to me at the time how curious it was that little miss tell-all, sneaker-inspector had an uncanny knowledge of the sound of a maxi pad wrapper being opened.  For her, for me, and for everyone in that class, however, the message was clear, female bodies, female sexuality, female-ness was shameful.   I was one of the first to develop physically and one of the first to experience being punished by both the girls and boys for becoming less boy-like (albeit against my will).

Last January two perfect, live, human beings were removed from my abdomen after they had been created there, nurtured, and thrived for 7 ½ months, growing from microscopic to almost 5 pounds each.  In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir suggests sexism may stem from men’s terror with the immensity of women’s power, and their tremendous discomfort with the knowledge that they were created in a women’s body and only exist as a result.  I have to wonder if those little boys and girls were communicating a cultural discomfort with women’s power, women’s bodies, and women’s sexuality.  The message was keep this hidden, experience it as shameful, rather than celebrate this, express this, experience it as powerful.  In my case, my parents’ discomfort with my going through puberty only reinforced these messages.

I think for every woman there is a moment of cognitive dissonance when your experience of the strength and power of your body and soul becomes so incredibly out of sync with these cultural messages that one has to replace that shame with awe.  I have been a feminist since high school.  I was a Women’s Studies major.  By college I was already encouraging others to embrace their sexuality and resist messages of shame.  But it is one thing to protest these messages in theory, it is another to watch a human being be lifted out of one’s abdomen.  It is another to view a sound-generated image of two tiny beings huddled together inside of one’s body, and yet another to hear those two precious hearts beating and realize holy shit… HOLY SHIT, they are ALIVE!


Twin Heads

For some women it is feeding another being with your own body.  For some, it is the pain endured through childbirth, through breastfeeding, or through painful fertility procedures.   For others, it is the moment when a 14 month-old shrieks in your ear at a decibel level that literally obliterates brain cells, while pulling your hair and scratching your face and eyes, and you respond lovingly and patiently.  For still others, it is surviving mastectomy and finding a way to still love one’s body, finishing a marathon while enduring horrible menstrual cramps, or having the courage to hold a dying friend’s hand and be present with her until the very end.

For me, it was last month.  My hormones still off balance from my miscarriage, I was standing in my shower bleeding what felt like buckets of blood and thick, bundled clots.   As I stood there thinking, ‘I will survive this,’ my mind was suddenly filled with all the other things I’d survived:  the shaming, the crippling cramps, the wishing my breasts would disappear, the infections, vulvodynia, and all the other vaginal drama, sex in all its permutations, pleasures, and confusions, carrying my mother through cancer and death, being told I would never conceive, fighting, and fighting harder, the pregnancy, three months of bed rest, childbirth, the first four months with twins, the miscarriage… and now this.

Moments later, still dripping from the shower, my hair soaked, having had time to put nothing on except a Depends adult diaper, I would pass out on my bathroom floor.  I would wake up to find my nanny and two male police officers staring at my almost-naked body, still rolling with baby fat, my breasts drooping, my stretch marks showing, sporting a grown-up sized diaper… but there would not be a shred of shame!  I was powerful.  Incredibly powerful.  I would survive this… and anything else.

So when my daughter begins to bleed, you better believe we will celebrate her power and her strength, not because my son is not powerful or special – it is not an either or thing – but because my daughter is.  Her body holds the power of the entire universe, every cell in every living thing on this planet.  And you better believe when I send her off to school that day I will tell her to hold her head high.  It won’t matter whether she tells anyone at school what’s happened or not.  What will matter is that she holds onto her power, and shields herself from shame.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero


Three days before Christmas a doctor I had just met removed my dead baby from my body.

The procedure was short and painless… too painless.

I had known I was “pregnant” for exactly one month when I was told the baby had no heartbeat and hadn’t grown in almost two weeks.

One month.  Long enough to go from a state of panic, denial, and disbelief, to having re-organized my whole life and my whole heart around being a mother of three.

My baby would have been born in July, 18 months after her twin brother and sister.  I had had the strong feeling that she was a girl.

What had seemed impossible, three children in one bedroom and an au pair in my tiny house, had become routine, along with plans to finish the basement, and gearing up for more sleepless nights.

I found out she had died on a Sunday night from an ER doctor.  My husband was crying, but I felt numb.  I could finally exhale, having an answer about why I was bleeding, but this left me completely empty.

Yes, she was still in there, but the future with her in it had died.

My mind became lost in my first pregnancy – imaging the pain of this happening then lessened the blow.  Without a baby, and believing as I had that I couldn’t conceive, I could only imagine it would have been utter devastation.

But still, I felt lost, afloat, obsessed with determining what to focus my mind on without all that planning to do.  What had I thought about before her?

The next day my little O wouldn’t take her late morning bottle.  I couldn’t figure out why, but then I saw something shiny in her mouth.  My instincts kicked in fast, I swooped my finger in hard and with precision, and removed the object, a jagged, hard piece of plastic.  When I saw the blood on her little mouth I broke down.

The next few days I was full of terror.  The house felt like mine field.  I only felt calm behind the wheel in my parked car with the babes strapped into their car seats.

I had been told I would never have a baby.  What if O and J had been a mistake?  What if some kind of cosmic policing agency had found out that I’d gotten away with something?  Would they too be taken from me?  Paralyzed, all I could do was stare at them and cry at the slightest hint they were in danger.  I hated being alone with them, felt like they were safer with anyone but me.

Saturday came and it was Christmas Eve.  For 48 hours straight I ate until I was sick and in pain.  Guests were a distraction, but underneath was a gnawing sense of dread.

I felt sad, for sure.  Felt like every loss in my life was bearing down on me (as I sometimes did during the holidays anyway).

But I also felt relief, in so many strange forms.  I kept having this flash like I had just barely avoided some kind of accident.  I had the strong feeling that I’d almost lost everything, Seth, the babies, and felt every moment like a giant sigh of relief.

My therapist said I was relieved because I did avoid something potentially damaging to me and my family… the pregnancy.  The truth was we were not prepared financially or psychologically for another baby.  We were still reeling from the transition of having had twins after experiencing infertility and me being on bed rest three months.

But this was a burdensome kind of relief.  If only I could un-know the baby, and go back to life before.

But I did know.  I knew I hadn’t wanted her, and then I had wanted her, and I’d not wanted and wanted her all at the same time.  Now that she was gone I felt I had just barely escaped with what was left of my life, and yet I felt that she had been ripped away so cruelly.

The family picture of four that once felt just right now felt empty.  She will always be missing from that picture, no matter how much better off we might be without her.

So I guess most of all the loss I feel is for the innocence of not knowing…  the July I would have had, full of chaos and joy, my babies at 18 months, my arms not feeling empty without her.

Now whatever joy I feel in the attention and time I have for my babies, whatever time I find for myself, whatever pleasure in mothering two, and only two, will be partially because she never got to be.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

High Speed Chase Versus Brain Tumor

In spring, 2003, there was a high speed chase heading north up the interstate out of Durham, North Carolina.   My mother and I had been driving south all day and were about an hour outside of Durham when it passed.  It was the longest line of police vehicles I’d ever seen, several minutes of them, following single file behind a beat-up, unassuming little car.  It was still close enough to Sept. 11 that such incidents elicited not only curiosity and concern but an eerie sense of foreboding.

On the next several overpasses groups of onlookers were still lingering.  They had gathered to watch the chase go by, like some kind of morbid, high-speed parade.

Over the next few hours we pieced together the story from gas station convenience store clerks, snippets of news stories on country radio stations, and the late-night MRI technician at Duke University Medical Center.  A sense of suspense was hovering over everything that evening like a delicate drape.  Mom was having a nighttime MRI so we could discuss the results the next day at The Brain Tumor Center.  Our bimonthly drives south had become routine, as routine as a terminal illness can be.  We even had a favorite local hotel, breakfast joint, and wooded trail where we liked to go walking.

As I sat there that night in the empty waiting room, the drone of the television footage was comforting in its repetitiveness.  There was no one there but the technician and me.  “They let the kid go, but he’s still got the woman” he had told us when we entered, assuming our knowledge of and interest in the story.  As he and I watched the coverage, the usual knots were forming in my stomach.  I was fearing the worst, but hoping for the best, hoping I would be able to read the MRI myself as soon as it was done and confirm mom’s new neurological deficits were due to “necrosis” (brain cells damaged by radiation) and not new tumor growth.  I was 25.

The technician and I both stood up as the intensity of the news coverage picked up.  The car had stumbled to a halt having driven over police spikes meant to pop its tires.  The suspense, the sick feelings of anticipation blended together in my gut; a young woman kidnapped by her boyfriend, a middle-aged woman lying inside a metal machine, both waiting for an answer from death.  For a moment I wished I was the one who had gotten to take a valium and was laying there drugged, lulled to sleep by the clinking, clanking MRI noises.  Instead, I was awaiting the verdict of some scorned, abusive lover with a gun, who was leading his captor into the woods on the side of I-85.

I’ll never forget mom’s face as she emerged from that test. “Did he kill the girl?” She was desperate, hurried, as if her own fate lay in the balance.  As if maybe survival might be contagious.  I wanted to disappear.  Anything not have to tell her that all those cops and all those onlookers and everyone within a 50 mile radius watching, waiting, and hoping, some praying, hadn’t been enough.  Anything not to have to remind her that the bullet was already there, in her brain, but there would be no suspense, no high-speed drama, no spectators on overpasses, no late-night television coverage, no whispers among coworkers for updates as she spent the next months walking quietly into the woods to face her listless executioner.

I would still try, I would try harder than I’d tried at anything.  I would read, advocate, research, network… I would still chase that beautiful, hopeful word… survival, with everything I had.  I would do it for her, it was literally the last thing I could do.  And she would fight, and hope and plan for “long-term survival.”  She would do it for me.  But she knew, we both knew, it wouldn’t be enough.

A few months later, on a dark October night, I stood over my mother’s hospital bed and she looked at me with those wide “you’re the mom now” eyes.  “The tumor crossed the midline,” I said simply.  Those five words should have been the cruelest in the English language.  What Duke had missed, our home town doc and I could see clearly on the latest MRI, and when I pressed him, our doctor at Duke had no choice but to confirm it.  It wouldn’t be long now.  And yet, when I think back, “Yes mom, he killed her,” was the harder thing to say.

Maybe because human cruelty is so much more maddening when you see up close how cruel life is all on its own.  When mom was diagnosed a few months after September 11, I remember thinking how different it was.  Rather than immediate, blinding and world-changing, it was slow, heavy, like a ringing one can’t hear but only feel in ones bones.  But quick or slow, after the carnage is over, the feeling is the same, wandering through your life like a familiar West Village neighborhood; disoriented, unable to find your way, unable to even be sure you are real without that twin tower, taken-for-granted reminder.   The ringing gets louder and louder, until finally… it stops, and they’re gone, ripped from the landscape of your life like a giant tower… but there is no one at all to blame.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012-2013 Lyla Cicero