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He seemed born with the wisdom to know what it took to please a woman.
Portia looked at Dennis and wondered how he would react if it was his mother telling him she had breast cancer -- his mother instead of her. She knew how close he was to his mother, a fighter for unity amongst black families and single African Americans in Chicago, Illinois. Dennis telephoned his mother three to four times a week. He talked about her what seemed to Portia like every day.
Unlike his father, who hadn't telephoned, written or visited since he stomped out of the house when Dennis was only three years old, Dennis told her that his mother never hurt him, never let him down, not once betrayed his trust. She guessed his love for his mother was the reason he paid so much attention to her. He seemed born with the wisdom to know what it took to please a woman. He always gave her a back rub and ran her a tub of hot, bubble bath when she told him she was tired from spending ten grueling hours in court. When his friends rang his house and asked him to go to a game, a concert or to watch a big boxing match on TV with them, if Portia and he already had a scheduled date, he told his friends he'd catch them later. Although not an avid church-goer, he respected Portia's beliefs and spiritual principles. "I believe in God. Don't doubt that for a minute," He assured her. "Guess I'm going through a period where I don't agree with a lot that I see happening in churches. I know I have to deal with it, and I am. I'm dealing with it. I'm trusting God about this."
In the dead of winter, he shoveled Portia's BMW out of her side driveway and warmed the engine before she came outside to drive herself to church. When they socialized in large crowds and he sensed that she was feeling uncomfortable and shy, he moved close to her and told her jokes and funny stories until she laughed hard. He was warm and sincere. Clearly, she knew that he loved her even though he wasn't a man given to saying, "I love you" often.
In so many ways he was like her. He didn't wear his emotions on his sleeve. Until today, she regarded his cagd emotions as a show of strength. He was nothing like Darryl, a man she thought she would never miss . . . until today.
She was the woman who stood in front of her
bedroom mirror before the start of her menstrual cycle and vowed, "I'm gonna change.
She was the woman who stood in front of her
bedroom mirror before the start of her menstrual cycle and vowed, "I'm gonna change.
This spring, I'm gonna grow up." She had much to learn about womens health. She was a growing child in one of Chicago, Illinois' strongest black families.
Denny was walking by. He was carrying his work boots
from a corner of the living room to his bedroom closet. His pace slowed when he
heard her talking to her reflection in the mirror. He smiled at her back while he
entered her bedroom.
When he neared her side, he asked her, "Who are
you talking to, Miss?" Then he told her, "You're a good girl. Don't be so
serious. Have a little fun. It's okay to be mischievous every now and then. Your mama
and I don't make a big deal out of the playful things you do." He grinned.
"Although we would appreciate it if you would stop picking those apples off of mean
ol' Miss Barnes' tree." Though he tried not to, when he imagined Miss
Barnes banging on the front door to tell him, "Portia's done gone and done it
again! In a week, she done went and picked my tree clean!" he laughed.
"Don't be in such a hurry to grow up."
He backed away from Portia. "Don't
be in such a hurry to grow up," was the last thing he said to her before he crossed
the hall and entered his own bedroom.
Portia was ten years old then. That
spring, she did change.
She raced to the bathroom to pee one day after school. When she looked
inside her panties, she saw sprinkles of blood. She stuck her head out the bathroom door
and called for her mother. Two minutes later, her mother called Denny and sent him to the
store. It wasn't long before Portia went into her dresser and pulled out a clean pair of
cotton panties. She opened the bag Denny brought home from the store and slid a thick
sanitary napkin onto the crotch of her underwear.
Four years later, when her hips started spreading and thickening and
swinging, she chewed on her bottom lip and told her father, "Just because I'm getting
fat doesn't mean I like boys. I never liked a boy, and I never will. I don't need anybody.
I'm strong. I can take care of myself." Two years passed before she stopped telling
her father that. It was the same day she kissed Jerome Poindexter after he drove her home.
They'd gone to a movie. She was a sophomore in high school.
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Portia gazed out the window. Not one car headlight
brightened the darkness outside her window. She stared into the night and thought about
changes her body and her life endured.
The wind shook the tree in her front yard until one of its
branches broke. While she watched the branch fall to the ground, she wondered why she fell
in love with Darryl. It went against her upbringing. Darryl was abusive. Her father, a man from generations of strong, loving African Americans,
never struck or screamed at her mother. She was so much like her father. They both were
Inside the suitcases, she was surprised to find newspaper articles and magazine clippings that centered around Chicago's Riot of 1968 and four old history books focusing on African Americans she remembered her parents reading to her and her siblings when she was a little girl.
A hard wind rattled and shook the window. Portia crossed her
arms and smiled softly. Despite her "I'm strong. I'm independent"
pledges, she was glad her father knew when she needed him. She thought about the
stories he told her during the last five months.
At the start of his stories, he was always riding a train that
moved North away from Selma, Alabama -- and nightriders, house burnings and America's
strange fruit that threatened the life of black families. She still had the two brown, tatter-edged suitcases he climbed off that
train with forty years ago.
"Here. Keep these." That's all he said at the
end of his hour long visit four months ago while he pushed the two suitcases to the back
of her living room closet. As soon as he walked away from her house and scooted behind the
steering wheel of his silver Chevy, she hurried to the closet and pulled the suitcases
out. She opened them so fast, one of the tarnished clasps broke.
Inside the suitcases, she was surprised to find newspaper articles
and magazine clippings that centered around Chicago's Riot of 1968 and four old history books focusing on African Americans she remembered her parents reading to her and her siblings when she was a
little girl. That afternoon four months ago, she scanned the newspaper articles and
magazine clippings several times. Though the print in the articles said so, she
couldn't recall her father being in jail for leading a civil rights march from the
South Side to the mayor's house. "It was hard back then." That's all she
said, her eyes misty, her brow wide, after she read the articles, their stories so cruel and hard to believe she thought she was reading pages from fiction bestsellers.
It was nothing like the living room her father described in his journal.
She dug deeper inside one of the suitcases and pulled out her
father's dusty journal. Its pages were tarnished and turned up at the edges. The first
entry read: "I've been here five weeks and every day all I've had to eat is dry toast
for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gotta get a job." She scanned down the journal and
saw an asterisk. She smiled when she read the entry next to the asterisk.
"October 12, 1945. I finally got a job at Boiling Automotive as an assembly line
She turned her cloaked back to the picture window and looked at her
living room. It was nothing like the living room her father described in his journal. She
knew she was a long way from the leaky-roof, one room flat he called home in 1945.
When she turned her gaze toward her living room's cathedral ceiling, she imagined
leaves blowing off trees and dancing to the ground outside her father's one room flat.
More than once, he told her the only furniture in the flat was a mildewed sofa that
drooped in its middle where too many people sat for too long, and a splintered rocking
chair. Yet, when he raised the window and listened to leaves crunch while Chicagoans
living on the South Side walked on them, he believed the world pushed success into all his
future days, days spent loving people in Chicago. It wasn't three years after he
started welding dashboards, radios and horn buttons inside sedans and station wagons that
he married her mama, Rebecca Armstrong.
Portia hung her head. She could still hear her father telling
her, "Time flew after your mother and I got married at Mount Zion Baptist Church in
1947. Lord, after that, it wasn't long before we stood in front of you kids reading those
thick history books on courageous African Americans. Your brothers and sisters begged us not to read those books.
We paid them no mind. We read all about Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Crispus
Attacks and Hariett Tubman to all seven of you children -- every Wednesday we did. You ate
it up. Every word. I could see your eyes begging for more while your mother
and I read from those books."
The words older than a decade, Portia still knew her father spoke the
truth. She did love to read, especially literature. She guessed the long hours she spent
reading to be a reason Darryl and her relationship fell apart. Darryl always did complain
that she didn't pay enough attention to him.
She raised then lowered her shoulders with a sigh. Despite her
loyalty and affection toward him, she told herself Darryl was right. She told herself she
didn't pay enough attention to him. She told herself she didn't know how to love a man.
Now here she was standing in front of her living room window trying to decide if she
should go to The Chronicle's Christmas party, an annual event she hadn't missed
since she bought her house ten years ago.
It was 1982. The leaves that were on the ground when Darryl spit,
"I don't love you anymore!" at her didn't show themselves when she looked out
the window. It was cold outside. The leaves were covered with snow.
It took her two hours to make up her mind, but she did drive to the
Tribune Tower and attend The Chronicle's Christmas party. The party was crowded.
She spent the night twirling and refreshing her glass of orange juice until her gaze fell
across the ebony skin of a tall, broad shouldered man's smooth face. She learned what the
man's name was by being nosy.
"Girl, Dennis is fine," a tall, slender Sista said with a
wave of her hand. Her girlfriend, equally as slim, leaned forward and clung to her every
word. "He has a nice house out by the Hub. He has a Bachelor's Degree in
Biology, and a Master's Degree in Chemistry. In fact, he's teaching a Master's level
Chemistry course at Chicago University. And, Girl, " Portia followed the
woman's gaze while it crossed over Dennis' face, shoulders and thighs. "He's
It was midnight when Portia gathered her courage and introduced herself
to Dennis. Her hands shook. Her voice cracked twice. "Hi. I'm Portia. I couldn't help
but notice you from across the room."
Dennis smiled at her nervousness.
Twenty minutes into their conversation, Portia learned that Dennis loved children,
weight lifting, running in early Saturday morning 10K road races and hiking. She learned
that he was an only child, but, he was careful to inform her, "I'm not spoiled. I
mean, yes. I was an only child, but my mother was a single parent. She worked forty hours
a week as a city college clerk. I don't think she ever made more than eight thousand
dollars a year. We didn't have a lot of luxuries."
She couldn't help but smile.
Dennis pushed fire beneath Portia's skin when he looked inside her eyes. While he
talked, Portia thought about how not once during the party did she see him fondle a glass
of liquor. She couldn't help but smile. A man drinking didn't escape her. Darryl saw to
that. After living through six screaming years of his alcohol induced rages, she vowed to
never love a man who drank again.
Dennis made her laugh. A deep, rolling chuckle raced out of his chest when he told her,
"Two years ago while I was on my way to work at the university, I was in this car
accident. Right. A cop rear-ended me. I was laid up in the hospital for two months after
that cop ran into me. Goodness, I never thought there were so many lawyers in Chicago
pulling for a Brother until that accident. I think every law firm in Chicago contacted me.
They wanted to know if I wanted to sue the city. It got so bad at one point, to throw the
lawyers off the scent of long money, I thought the hospital's medical staff was going to
have to ship me out of the state to some unknown hospital until my back healed and I got
on my feet again."
A civil court case attorney with six years experience at Courtney & Sons, a
downtown law firm, an attorney who never had fewer than four cases a month, Portia's short
Afro was turning grey. Dennis' humor worked like magic to take her thoughts away from work
-- to heal her broken heart.
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She told the lady working the box office to give her two of the best front row seats the theatre had so Dennis and she could catch "A Raisin In The Sun."
"What do you want for dinner?" Dennis called before he closed
the bathroom door. He already knew what she would answer. He knew she would either suggest
The Trudor, a steak and ale restaurant, Dales Fish and Chips, or Swanks, a jazz club that
served the best Fettuchini this side of heaven.
Portia laid the pick on her dresser and pat the top of
her Afro. "Let's go to Swanks."
The following evening, as if good food wasn't enough to
season a relationship with, after she backed her BMW out of Courtney & Sons' parking
lot at 6:00, Portia drove to the Miriam Theatre. She told the lady working the box office
to give her two of the best front row seats the theatre had so Dennis and she could catch
"A Raisin In The Sun", one of the nation's early plays that showed black families in a positive light, while it toured Chicago.
That night, Dennis wasn't at her house when she drove her BMW
up the side driveway. For that, she was glad. She raced inside her house. After she
closed the door, she went straightway to the telephone. She dialed 555-2222 and waited for
a familiar voice to answer.
"Hello?" The lady on the other line
"Hi Patty!" Portia enthused into the receiver.
"Hey Girl. I know what you want. You're spoiling
that man. It's not even a holiday." Patty clucked her tongue then she chuckled.
"What are you going to send that gorgeous man of yours now?"
Portia grinned at the receiver. "Can I get an assortment
of tulips, lilacs or yellow carnations? And, oh," she dug through the mouth of
her purse for her gold Master Card. "I want the gift card to read -- Dennis, you mean
so much to me. I love you with all my heart -- Portia."
Patty, owner of Tiffany's Flowers, a small shop that wired and shipped
floral arrangements across the country answered, "You got it."
Portia hung up the telephone and waited for Dennis to come through the
front door. She didn't have to wait long. She was sitting at her dining room table sipping
hot, apple cinnamon tea when he pushed his key inside the lock in her front door.
"Hey, Baby," he called out before he crossed the living room
floor and reached her side.
"Hey," Portia called back. "If you're not too tired, do
you want to read some of Countee Cullen's poetry later tonight? I admire his talent. He's a writer who had the talent to author some of finest fiction bestsellers. We can order Chinese and
eat while I read."
Dennis kissed her mouth with longing before he answered, "Yes. I'd
The moon shined in the sky. Portia closed the book of poetry, placed it on a corner of
her nightstand then told Dennis to 'roll over'. She climbed atop his stomach and reached
to the nightstand. She grabbed a bottle of coconut oil. After she kissed Dennis' mouth,
she saturated her fingers with the lubricant. She leaned across his long, trim body. She
pushed and pulled her fingers over his thighs, stomach, back and chest. His chest hair
slid between her fingers. She didn't stop moving her hands over his body until the ends of
her fingers tingled, his shoulders and neck were free of tension, and the scent of oil
billowed from her bed covers to the ceiling. "I love you," came away from her
mouth before she tucked her shoulders into his and fell into a deep sleep.
Outside her bedroom window, the tree in her front yard budded. Tucked inside Dennis'
love, she dreamed herself inside a lacy, white wedding gown. She smiled into the night
when she dreamed the long aisle of Mount Zion Baptist Church into view. She slept long and
The only thing she had left to do before she became Dennis' wife was to visit her
physician, Dr. Kirnan. She had to have her blood drawn to complete the medical portion of
her wedding license. Since her annual check-up was only one month away, earlier in the day
when she telephoned Dr. Kirnan's office, she told Kathy, the receptionist to, "Oh,
just go ahead and put me down for a pap and a breast exam too when I come in to have my
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Encouraging those with or who know someone who's lived wit breast cancer!
Portia was outside crying when her aunt walked through her parents' front door.
Portia placed her purple straw clutch purse on the
bureau. Her Aunt Lillian gave her the purse Thursday for her 28th birthday. She scanned
the top of the bureau. She hoped to find a note from Dennis. She smiled when she thought
about how she had been her Aunt Lillian's favorite niece since she was two years old.
It was her Aunt Lillian who pulled her atop her lap and sang, in a broken,
alto voice, "Hush brown sugar. Don't you cry. Auntie Lillie's gonna buy you a diamond
ring. And if the check she buys it with bounces, she's gonna take that ugly ring back to
the store and buy you a pack of bubble gum. The kind wrapped in paper with cartoons on
If uncertainty weren't filling her thoughts, Portia would laugh at the
words to the song her Aunt Lillian sang to her twenty-three years ago. She was visiting
Portia's parents' with her gold-toothed boyfriend.
Portia was outside crying when her aunt walked through her parents' front
door. She'd fallen and busted her knees. But that wasn't the reason she cried. Tears came
away from her eyes and "huh-huh-huh" came away from her heaving breasts because
she lost her favorite doll. It was a black china doll. Its hair was shiny and curly --
just like Portia's. Its eyes were dark brown and big -- just like Portia's. Its mouth was
small and more pink than red -- just like Portia's. Its face always wore a grin. It was a
happy doll just like Portia was a happy little black girl -- happy until she lost her
pretty, black china doll.
As soon as she saw her aunt's car, she raced inside the house. She ran to
her crying, "I-I-I lost Sister. I-I-I lost my Sister doll." She didn't grin
again until her aunt sang her the fixed-up version of Hush Little Baby. Two days later
when her aunt drove to her parents' house with a new gold-toothed man at her side, Portia
laughed and jumped. Her aunt kissed her forehead and pushed a brand new black china doll
inside her arms.
Finished with the search, Portia frowned. The bureau top was bare.
Exhaustion sent one side of her face down when she pushed her left shoe
off. She spent too much of her day walking. Hard corns on the outside of her smallest toes
caught in her stockings. A raw ache stabbed the sides of her feet. She stopped moving and
Her house keys clanged when they hit the top of the bureau. They fell next
to her purse. Two tickets she purchased for Dennis and her to attend Saturday evenings
Earth, Wind and Fire concert spilled out of the mouth of the purse. She leaned forward and
rested her elbows against the top edge of the bureau. The afternoon having sent a crisis
into her life, she hoped she hadn't purchased the tickets too soon.
She turned a pink telephone message in her hand. She stared at the numbers
scribbled across its front. She didn't stop looking at the numbers until she pulled one of
her dining room chairs away from the table and sat down. She picked up the telephone and
"Yes." She crossed her legs and pulled on her blouse collar.
"Is Dr. Kirnan there?"
A long sigh went out of the nurse's mouth. "Who is this?"
"Oh. Portia." The nurse's voice went up. "Portia
"Ye-Yes." Portia pulled the receiver closer to her ear.
"Hi, Linda. Ah -- I had tests performed nearly three weeks ago. Dr. Kirnan left me a
message at work that my results were in. He said it was very important. I was at lunch
when he called."
"Hang on. Let me get your medical record out of the file. Besides Dr.
K, I'm here all by myself. Kathy went to get us something to eat."
Portia ran her fingers through her hair. She blinked hard twice.
"Late night tonight, huh?"
"Yea. I'm covering the phones while Kathy's away. You know answering
telephones isn't my repertoire."
As you know, after we discovered the lump in your left breast approximately three weeks ago, I scheduled you for a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy.
Portia twisted the collar of her blouse and chuckled dryly.
"You home from court already?"
Portia swung her shoeless foot across the floor. "I don't go to court
every day. I left the firm early today." She ran her hand back and forth across her
"Aren't you getting married soon?"
After she wiped sweat off her forehead,
Portia chuckled. She thought about the time when the firm discussed changing HMO carriers.
She refused to switch doctors. If she had to pay monthly health care expenses out of her
own pocketbook to keep Dr. Kirnan as her primary physician, she would. After being his
patient since the day she was born, she knew no other doctor's office would embrace her
with warmth and friendship the way Dr.Kirnan and his staff did.
her throat. "I'm waiting on my test results."
Portia's medical record out of the file. She scanned it before she returned her attention
to the telephone. Her eyes ballooned. She pulled the receiver against her mouth and
said, "Portia. Hold on. Let me get Dr. Kirnan. He's in the back office going through
stiffened her spine and chewed on her bottom lip. "What-does-it-say?"
"Now you know I can't tell you that.
But, you know whatever your record says, we're going to take good care of you."
She read Dr. Kirnan's scribble hurriedly. "Like you told me, it says here that
Dr. Kirnan wants to talk with you today. Let me buzz him and let him know
you're on the line."
twirled her blouse collar between two of her fingers until she heard Dr. Kirnan's
deep voice cross the wire.
Moving to the back of
the dining room chair, Portia arched her brow and pulled the receiver closer to her
mouth. "Hello, Dr. Kirnan."
After he placed a chart on his
desk, Dr. Kirnan smiled. "Hey, kid. I'm glad you returned my call. Thank you.
How was work?"
Portia stiffened her upper lip. "Okay."
"Good Well." Dr. Kirnan
ran his hand across his brow and sighed. "Portia, I have good news and bad news.
What do you say we start with the bad news so we can work steadily up to the
She cleared her throat before
she answered, "Sure."
"As yo--Are you
paused and gave Linda a nod of thank you for placing Portia's medical record in front
of him on his desk. "As you know, after we discovered the lump in your left breast
approximately three weeks ago, I scheduled you for a mammogram, an ultrasound and a
biopsy. We've covered a lot of bases. The bad news is, the lump is malignant. It's the
size of a bean. The good news is, we can work to heal your body using a local treatment.
I'm going to give you some therapies we can use to rid your body of this tumor. Although
I'm your physician, this is your body we are talking about. I want you to take at least a
week to make a decision. You tell me what form of treatment you prefer. We can talk for as
long as you want. I'll answer every question you have. For every question I can't answer,
I'll find an answer and get back to you right away. All right?"
She answered with silence.
To which he responded, "Portia? You all right?"
Nodding in quick jerks, she whispered, "Yes. Yes. Yes, I'm all right.
"You don't have to be, especially now. But if you are -- I'll continue."
She nodded again. "Go ahead."
When she returned the receiver to its cradle, she placed her head between her hands.
Her face tightened and loosened in spasms. The room felt hot. She thought about opening a
window or going outside. As soon as she stood, the front door opened.
Taking long strides, she went into the living room. At the edge of the living room, she
chewed on her bottom lip and walked toward the first man in her life outside her father
she knew beyond her fears, beyond each of her doubts, loved her -- her.
Dennis smiled across the living room at her. "Hi."
A yellow knit shirt clung to his arms. The pair of loose fitting jeans and the pair of
blue and white sneakers he wore told her that he stopped off at home before he came to see
her. She smiled hard. "Hi."
"How did everything go today?"
She extended her arms and created a T out of the top portion of her body. "Okay.
How was your day? How did your students do on their exams?" She let out a deep
breath, dropped her arms to her sides and examined the lines crossing his forehead.
He narrowed his brow. "I was going to ask you that."
She stepped back. She cautioned herself to smile. She knew a smile would camouflage her
rising anger. "Can't I ask how your students did on the exam without something being
wrong with me?"
His gaze traveled above her crossed arms. He looked at her with intent. "I think
the results of your biopsy and blood work is more important. I mean. Didn't you tell me
Dr. Kirnan was supposed to call you with the results today?"
She threw her head back and worked a scowl all around her mouth. Her arms went against
her breasts so hard, it startled her. "I might have said that. I don't remember every
thing I say."
He nodded before he let out a deep breath. "Portia, why are you acting like
there's nothing to talk about? Why are you putting off facing this?"
Uncrossing her arms and digging the scowl into her face until her brow furrowed, Portia
turned her back against his stare. She walked to the right of the house's front door
toward her bedroom. Then, with a click of her heel, she jerked her shoulders to the left
and stomped toward the kitchen. Dennis followed her.
The saloon-style kitchen door swished on their brackets when she pushed them. Near the
edge of her glass top kitchen table, she slowed her steps. She listened to her low-heeled
dress shoe click tip-tip-tap across the linoleum floor.
A second later, she pressed her palms down on the kitchen table and turned. She stood
gape-eyed while she faced the counter that separated the stove and the refrigerator. She
pulled her other low-heeled dress show off. She watched the shoe tumble to its side.
Dennis crossed the floor and shortened the distance that separated them. "There
you go chewing on your lip."
She glared at him and slapped the table. "You know I'm angry, don't you?" She
clenched her teeth. "You think you know everything about me."
"No. No. I don't think I know everything about you. You're too deep a woman, too
interesting a woman, for me or anyone to be able to know everything about you." He
shook his head from side to side as if he was trying to cut her rage in half. "I do
know you're hurting."
She thought her arms crossed all on their own. "You take pride in knowing me
He raised his hand and turned its palm toward her. "No, Portia. Now. Come
"No." She stepped back and threw her right hand down to her side. Two warm
tears came away from her eyes. They took their time getting down her face.
"Come on. Stop."
Every thing around her moved slow, almost stopped. The confession seemed more a half death than a spoken, a shared, truth.
She dragged her feet across the floor until the crown of her head reached below the
bottom of Dennis' chin. "That was Dr. Kirnan's office! My test results are in! You
can forget about how special you always say I am because I'm so different from everybody
else! How I do and say what I want, not what I think everybody wants me to do or say!
Forget it! Forget it! Not even ten minutes ago, I found out that I'm a one in eight
American woman." She threw her head back. "That's right. I have breast
cancer!" That said, more words came to her than she thought she had room for on her
tongue -- angry, loud words -- soaked in pain. "I've had the malignant tumor in my
left breast for ten years!"
Dennis stepped back. "Ten years?"
"Most tumors don't grow just-like-that, Dennis! It takes years for a lump to form
in a woman's breast." She chewed on her bottom lip. "And I thought I was saving
my life all those times I examined my breasts after I took a shower."
Dennis' brow went up. "What?"
"Ten years, Dennis. What! Are you deaf? I said it usually takes years for cancer
to grow into the size lump a woman can feel. Most lumps don't even show up on mammograms
as soon as they form."
"How do you know all of this?"
She chewed her bottom lip. "Dr. Kirnan just told me." She raised her hands.
When they came down, her face washed with tears. Every thing around her moved slow, almost
stopped. The confession seemed more a half death than a spoken, a shared, truth. Hearing
her voice run, loud and rocky, she cautioned herself not to deliver a jeremiad.
"Dr. Kirnan said I have a lump the size of a bean. Since I've already had a
mammogram, an ultrasound and biopsy, I told Dr. Kirnan to go ahead and schedule me for a
lumpectomy. He wanted me to wait and think about it, but I said 'no'. Dr. Kirnan thinks
the surgery coupled with radiation treatments will rid my body of cancer."
Dennis' eyes ballooned. "What is a lumpectomy?"
Portia talked through clenched teeth. "They remove the tumor, not the entire
breast!" She turned her back to him. "Do I have to explain all this to you! I
just found out myself!"
Dennis folded his arms and sighed. "I'm asking because I care." Then he
narrowed his brow and raised his voice. "Are you sure this lumpectomy will cure you?
I mean, what if it doesn't get it all?"
Moving as slowly as a doll on a china stand, she turned and faced him. "Who are
you? You're going to tell me what I need? I don't want a doctor cutting my whole breast
away from me! Not too many doctors perform lumpectomies, but Dr. Kirnan told me he's
fairly certain it'll work." She tossed her hands into the air. "I'm taking the
chance." Then she tightened her brow and stared down the bridge of her nose at
Dennis. "And cure." She chuckled dryly. "Cure? Cure. Cure! There ain't no
cure!" She raised her voice until veins at the sides of her head pumped. "And
I'm not going to Atlantic City with you this summer! I'm not walking behind all those
pretty women in their little bikinis while they sashay in front of you men." She
shook her head. "No. Un-un. Not after I've been cut on."
"And don't you go calling your mother and asking her a bunch of stupid questions.
She never had breast cancer. She can't tell you how I feel."
"And don't hang around me pretending that you really love me when all you do is
feel sorry for me either. Go on." She shooed him away from her with the side of her
hand. "Go on. Go get yourself one of those fine women. Go get yourself a woman who
doesn't have to be cut on, a woman who doesn't have to live the rest of her life knowing
she has breast cancer."
"Please! Would you--"
"Don't think you have to stay with me. I can manage just fine without you. I don't
need a man in my life. You don't have to love me if you don't want to." Her gaze
rolled down to her blouse collar, to her hands, to her knees, to her feet, to the floor.
When her gaze climbed again to Dennis' brow, tears wetting her face slowed. "What am
I crying about? It's always something with me. I get one good thing and lose another. It's
always been that way with me." Her throat tightened. She swallowed hard. "Every
time I think I'm going to break up, break into a million little pieces, somebody rescues
me -- and all that happens is . . ." She spread her hands. Her shoulders heaved.
"I get knocked down again."
Dennis' shoulders went up. "Come here. I love you. Let me hold you."
She pushed back, out of the reach of his extended arms. "That's the most you can
do? You can't cry? You can't grieve with me?"
"Portia, you know we've talked about this before. We've known about this since you
had your annual check-up -- what? Three weeks ago. You'll beat this. We both know that.
Early detection can only help. It's better that you found out now rather than two years
from now. You've done the right thing. You'll beat this. This isn't going to last
"That changes things?" She took another step backwards. "It's so like
you to think knowledge changes every thing!"
He softened his voice. Tears pooled in his eyes. "Come on. Portia, I love you. You
know I'm not going anywhere. We belong together. Nothing's gonna change that."
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