The adult who is old

The room is smaller than she had anticipated and more full up, the large machine in the centre purring like a cat, its cavernous belly open and looming, just the right size to swallow a person up. There are several trolleys to one side: cluttered, laden; sporting plastic tubing, oversized headphones, pale blue gowns and disposable shower caps. She has never seen so many strange things together in one place and wonders at their employment, knowing in only a short while she will find out.

She notices there are no blankets, and that the belly of the machine looks cold. She hopes she will not have to strip, removing layers that hide what she no longer likes. Age having denied her body of beauty, she finds shedding her clothes humiliating, everything spilling out. She wishes they provided different gowns for different things – some thicker, some thinner; some longer, some shorter – to bestow dignity and concealment where such generosity could be afforded. She wishes too that she hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so that her stomach was flatter and her breasts less pronounced. She knows she is worrying about stupid things; focusing on the minutiae for fear of what the matter at hand entails, placing all of her anger and all of her fear onto what sits above in order to avoid what lies beneath: futile attempts at self-management, personal therapy gone array.

She spins the ring on her finger: a shining star she bought for luck; thumbs the bulb of carnelian balled in her fist, drawing upon its power to balance her energy and ground her feet. She imagines roots growing downwards into the earth, straightening her spine to better resemble a trunk. She tells herself she is strong, resilient, capable of weathering worse than this, drawing her attention back to why she is here, remembering how far she has come. She can do this; get through and rise above. Other people she knows have done so; some who are weaker. It is not a big deal, a complicated procedure. There is nothing to be scared of, nothing to fear. She is not going to die or disappear. Everything she is fighting is in her head: false, imagined, etc. It’s just anxiety and fear. It isn’t real. It cannot kill her. She fights it everyday, and everyday she survives.


The physicians voice breaks into her trance – lifting her out of her reverie, forcing her body to land. She shuffles her feet, moving a bit to steady herself.

“Yes,” she lies: false positive. “All set.”

She forces a smile, wishing she had the courage to tell the truth, to explain that she is terrified of tight spaces, hospitals, loud noises, machines, large metal objects and not being in complete control. But she doesn’t and she can’t because just behind her eyes there are tears: inopportune and inconvenient; her inner child clamouring to come out. As ever, her timing is perfect. She wonders why she doesn’t better-pick her moments: like when she is walking on the beach, swimming in the sea, listening to music, sitting and reading… Times when she is peaceful, centred, happy and resilient. She battles love and hate, fight and flight, strength and weakness: trapped between polarities, wondering what her therapist would say; failing to arrive at a conclusion. Each of her answers addressing different needs, reaching out to protect different parts: she is pulled – this way, that way; up, down… until she feels that she is broken, attached to a million separate pieces of the same single shell.

The adult who is old and wise puts her foot down. The mother who is emotionally unavailable tells her: “grow up!”. The child who is small and vulnerable retreats taking the tears and the pieces with her, pushing them back into the bag on her back already overflowing with things she has been advised to forget.

She stops herself, aware that she is being carried away by her inner world and that her projecture isn’t helping. She will be the mother: capable, distant, cold and strong; a woman who can survive anything. She doesn’t have emotions and fears, like everyone else. Frozen, a damsel in distress: she never woke up.

Feeling better, she addresses the physician with a smile – resolved and confident, ready to face whatever life throws up – and receives a gown and cap, along with directions to a screened-off space. Walking towards it, her body erect, she is acutely aware that the next thirty minutes could change her life and that with knowledge there is no turning back. For just as with actions: what’s done is done; with revelations: what’s revealed is forever more glaringly evident and impossible to push back. Pondering whether ignorance is better than truth, she ties the gown at the back, a final gesture to seal her fate.

Rebecca L. Atherton

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