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Stiff Upper Lip

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:34am
Is your stomach churning? R asked. She'd called to see how I was doing the day before getting my breast cut off due to a disease that could kill me. My stomach wasn't churning. I wasn't in turmoil. I wasn't trembling. I was calm and fairly cheerful. I haven't cried for a while. I always thought I was an easy crier. I've never thought there was anything wrong with crying. I've cried at work, on public transportation, on the street, probably in restaurants, possibly on three continents, almost-sort-of in two job interviews. But I haven't cried much lately. I remember I felt disdainful of a woman sitting outside the biopsy corridor at Fancy Hospital, holding ice (or magically-created packaged "ice") on her breast, and crying. And I'd never felt disdainful before of women crying. Or children. Or men. But I feel, I'm not going to let them see me cry. Who is "them"? Hospital staff? The world? On the other hand, I'm not consciously trying to remain calm. Or trying not to cry. I just don't feel like it. And I started today to feel there was something wrong with me for not feeling terrible. Do I have a death wish? Did I leap from denial to acceptance in one fell swoop? Do I see the diagnosis as a black-humored punch line delivered by Fate? Why else would I laugh when my friend P reminds me that a writer died of breast cancer? Is that a nervous laugh? (See Nervous Laugher below.) On the other other hand, I'm a person who's checked out from the library the only legitimate book of Holocaust humor extant--and what's more, I thought the book was funny. Not joyously funny, but dark cackly funny. It was full of satire and irony by people who were living through it. Some making fun of the Germans, some of the situation. The essence of the Jewish joke, after all, is that a smart, weak person is in a helpless situation.

So I am living a Jewish joke. My father used to say that the hypochondriac's tombstone says, I told you I was sick. All this worrying about everything, and here I am with a malignancy. Three tumors, or else one big one that's made up of three smaller ones.

Quick, a joke, which may or may not have been in that book: Two German Jews are in Paris in the late 1930s, having fled Berlin. They're sitting at a sidewalk cafe and see a group of French soldiers march by, barely in step. Ach, says one derisively, ours are so much better.

***
Will my world finally cave in on me when I wake up Wednesday night and see the bandage covering what used to be my left breast?
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