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Knitting Fiction

Chapter 05: Deborah, The Long Silk Road

Published on: March 10, 2024

 Deborah buys the yarn on the day of her diagnosis. It is the most expensive yarn she has ever bought; even wholesale and un-dyed, it is $150 for ten skeins; and that's not even counting the cost of shipping to Alaska. But the cost must be borne because it is the perfect yarn for her project. To Deborah, this does not feel like a matter of choice. The project has wound itself around her mind with unbreakable, non-biodegradable, synthetic yarn and pulls her into it. Any addicted person—be it cocaine, wine, or fiber—any addicted person, knows the feeling. Deborah is locked in to her expensive camel & silk yarn. If she were connected to biofeedback technology we would see her elevated pulse, blood pressure and dilated pupils. Deborah feels compelled. She pushes SEND and a moment later hears Wool2Dye4’s order confirmation ding. If she were still connected to biofeedback technology we would see her vital signs quiet down. The decision has been made. It’s done. Her yearning is quenched. Her yarn is on its way. 

She sets her laptop aside and pulls her recliner’s side lever and allows the chair to raise her legs and lean her back. No longer a young woman, Deborah is closer to 80 than 70, and it’s been an exhausting week. Freed from her yarn entanglement, she allowed her mind to drift back through the week. First, waiting in dread for the day of the biopsy. Then when that day finally did drag itself on to her calendar, she was in such an anxious haze that she found it difficult to find her own way, let alone follow the instructions of others. She had remembered not to wear deodorant or perfume or body lotion on that day. But the drive to the hospital was somehow disappeared. If Deborah were to rely solely on her memory—she’d have to conclude that she’d never actually made the drive. Once arrived, she discovered that since her last visit the hospital had grown several outcroppings and add-ons, each with its own parking garage. She managed to choose the right one.

     She walked long halls, drawn to wildlife photography hanging every ten feet, each one double matted, with matching wide oak frames, she made a note to herself to return on a low stress day so that she could take her time in this hospital art gallery. More hallways, with occasional large wooden doors and bronze plaques, listing various body parts—kidneys, eyes, breasts. Deborah entered the door with the breast plaque. The waiting room was clean, spacious, and polite. Along the back wall was a bank of admission desks. Her insurance paperwork was already completed and waiting for her signature. She barely had time to be seated, let alone take out her knitting, before her name was called. 

     Deborah followed a perfectly coiffed young woman with a large name tag bearing her first name in black capital letters. More halls. A maize of halls. Although she tried to pay attention to their path through the hallways, Deborah knew she would not be able to find her way out. Once in her little change room, she was able to follow instructions and undress her top half. But she had to try three times before she could put the hospital robe on backwards. The gown needed to open in the front. She’s spent a life time placing protective barriers between her breasts and the world, and now the gown needed to be open in front.

     Outside the change room was a wall of lockers. She chose one with a dangling key, placed her clothes and  backpack inside, closed the door and slid the bracelet with the key onto her wrist. The next waiting area had only five chairs, along with magazines on a table and racks of information about breast cancer and its various treatments. Two other women, Deborah guessed them to be on either side of 70, were already waiting. No eye contact was made. All of them waited with one protective hand holding together the front opening of her robe. 

     When it was Deborah’s turn she lay down on her right side on the operating table as instructed. Two nurses fussed around her left breast like it was a separate being, an alien, an infant alien, unknown and potentially dangerous. It was propped, draped in white, cleansed and anesthetized. One of the nurses called out a name over the intercom. Deborah deep breathed, pictured shaded ponds in deep woods, and talked to herself as though she were a child, You can do this. You’re okay. You can do this. A man with the required expertise entered the room. Did he introduce himself? Probably. While simultaneously monitoring a screen and studying her breast he pushed a long needle into her breast and threaded it down and deep. He took his time, then removed the needle, along with its tumor sample and left the room. Did he say “goodbye?” Probably. While the nurses returned to fussing over the now-injured infant alien in their care, Deborah wondered about the Breast-Man. Did they keep him in a closeted room until his name was called? Maybe he threw darts while he waited? And then he’d be off to another little room, another little breast, another plunge and thread and reposition of the needle. Deborah imagined him at home in the evenings making love to his wife. Was he the kind of man who fondled, sucked, nipple-turned or perhaps even bit his lover’s breast? Or did he maybe ask her to keep her bra on during lovemaking? The nurses snapped Deborah back into the room. The biopsy was completed. She could leave. 

      She was already walking past the little waiting room, now with three different women, all in their backwards hospital gowns—when it came to her. She understood what the nurses had said. It’s over. Biopsy over. Next step. Next step changing room, she was her own coach. Back into her clothes. Gown in the clothes hamper. She had just started down the hall in the direction she believed she’d come in, when another perfectly coiffed young woman with a strong name tag appeared and led Deborah through the maize and out to the original bank of front desks. She opened the wooden front door and before stepping into the hall, turned and took one more look at the feng shuied waiting room with its bank of admission desks. As she left the room she mouthed her old stand-by freedom poem, first memorized in adolescence. 

     Afoot and light hearted I take to the open road. 

     The brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 

     And low as I come to the crest of the hill, the sun on its heights, has risen. 

     The dew on the grass is shinning and white is the mist on the vale. 

     Like a lark on the wing of the dawn I sing. 

     Like a guiltless one freed from his prison. 

     As backward I gaze through the valley and see no one on my trail.”

She has always found the line, “no one on my trail,” to be loaded with the thrill of escape and freedom. Deborah knew there was no one on her trail. None of the efficient, name tagged employees of the breast cancer industry would follow her home. She also knew she would return to them, but on her own terms. She would wait another two days for the oncology appointment in which she would learn the outcome of the dart-thrower’s biopsy. 

     Deborah leans forward in her easy chair. Thwarting gravity and stiff shoulder joints she reaches around to her back and under her shirt to unhook her bra. She leans back and sighs as her injured left breast is released. She notes the pain in her breast as she reaches up and removes the decorative hair clip and places the clip on the side table. Then in movements rehearsed since menstruation, she simultaneously removes the hair squeegee from her right wrist, and subdues her long hair, manipulating it until it is wound up with the squeegee into a bun. Controlling her hair, is Deborah’s rolling up her sleeves. Her signal that it’s time to settle down and go to work.

     She nods as she contemplates her yarn decision. Camel and silk. She imagines the Bactrian camel, with its long guard hair against the cold of high mountain passes. With two humps against desert dehydration. And yes, with it’s soft under-fiber used for centuries to clothe the various peoples of the steppes. A resilient animal—the camel, she thinks. If ever I needed a camel’s resiliency, it’s now. She imagines a, 2000 year, 4000 mile, long line of camels, heavily laden with treasure, and patiently making their way along the Silk Road, from dynasty to empire. She considers the camel. A plodder, she thinks. One foot in front of the other. But not the kind of plodder who keeps her head down and watching the ground. No, the camel-plodder holds her head up high so that she can be open to the world through which she travels. One foot in front of the other. A step at a time. She plods. I need me some of that camel’s plodding power, she says to herself. I need to hold my head up. And plod. Plod. For decades one of Deborah’s mantras has been,“To get somewhere. Anywhere. A person has to leave where she is.” I am definitely leaving where I am. For better or worse, I am leaving where I am.     

     Deborah feels attached to the various of God’s Creatures that provide the fiber on which she builds her life. It was silk that set the camels to plodding. The Silk Road was the way to move China’s silk to India, Korea, Nepal, Japan, and then the West. As a fiber artist, Deborah understands and appreciates silk. She adds extra silk to the heels and toes of the socks she knits, to prevent them from wearing out. She uses it to add the quality of drape to sweaters and shawls. Each time she uses silk, she pays a moment of silent homage to the silk worm. She can’t help herself. She understands that, as a mobile creature, the worm has the capacity to experience aversive stimuli. Like humans, the silk worm uses suffering as a cue to move out of danger. True, the worm does not suffer like people suffer, because it does not have the neurology to support consciousness. It did not volunteer to give its life for art. It does not understand that its death will add to the good. It is a dumb length of neurons, trapped and suffering while it is boiled to death inside its own cocoon.

     Deborah understands that her road, like all roads, turns out to be less open than she had imagined when she was her teenager self and first memorizing her poem. After all, if her path was totally open, she could choose not to have cancer. I can’t choose not to have cancer, she says to herself. But I can choose if and how I participate in the treatment. She experiences this choice as both a curse and gift. Unlike the silkworm she is free to leave the hot cocoon of her suffering. Unlike the silkworm she must willingly give her body over to the suffering in order to continue living. Deborah already knows what she is going to do. She will sign on the dotted line to participate in a barbarous punishment.  Made all the worse because it will be not be administered by Ed Gein, which would at least be grounded in reality. Instead her punishment would be wielded by people who are efficient and kind. People who are so well-meaning that they wear their names out front and clear in large capital letters. There’s something off, Deborah thinks to herself. Things are not as they appear to be. These workers, and even the patients, in the Breast Cancer Industry seem unaware of the faint odor that wafts through now and again. It is not exactly the odor of rotting flesh. It is exactly the odor of perfume trying to mask the odor of rotting flesh. Deborah has smelled the perfume-rot each time she has interacted with the Breast Cancer Industry. She got a whiff of it when she had her mammogram, repeat mammogram, and biopsy. She has named the perfume Brave New World. Because, to Deborah, there is a truth that permeates behind the scenes. Although the scenes are different she recognizes it as the same old truth. It’s a truth she has known since menstruation. She calls it the “fuck women” truth. She works it out in her mind, following the complicated design and color changes until she can see into the pattern. This entire breast cancer industry, which incentivizes the development of breast cancer science, creates jobs, makes money, and yes, saves lives—this entire industry is based on a lie; it misses the point. The point is preventing breast cancer, not treating it. If even a quarter of the unimaginable trove of human resources was directed toward prevention the problem would be solved. The mantra that women have more cancer now because they live longer, Deborah knows to be bullshit. She thinks back to the last four generations of women in her family, most of them living deep into their 80s. More than a few living to be 100. Yet none of these women had breast cancer. Not ever. Not one. And now both Deborah and her sister have it. She follows the strands. She marks the pattern. She is being thrown into the meat grinder of the breast cancer industry because she has been poisoned. She’s been eating, drinking, breathing, soaking in carcinogens all of her life. This realization makes Deborah angry. Her next realization makes her even more angry. If cancer was breeding in men’s balls instead of women’s breasts, you bet your booty we’d be directing our human ingenuity into prevention. Deborah is very angry indeed. 

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