The first time I try using the therapeutic dildo, it is so painful I think – “May the walls shrivel! Who cares?” I mention the pain to a female doctor friend. A few days later a present arrives. I love presents and tear open the package. It is a humble jar with a homemade label: “Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve.” Can you imagine the ads on mainstream TV, equal to erectile dysfunction ones? “Is your Vulva depressed, dry, and unwelcoming? Does your vagina suffer from lack of use, loss of vitality, or has it recently been irradiated? Renew your vulva now! Restore it to the vital vaginal gateway that it once was with Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve!! Best of all there are no life threatening side effects since Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve is 100% NATURAL. So no worries! When you are ready for love, so will be your Vital Vagina!”
The whole idea of the radiation was to kill replicating vaginal cells just in case they were cancerous. My private parts are decidedly un-vital, uninviting. Even with lubrication, the therapy feels like torture and I finally quit. As parts of myself are shrinking, I have been watching tadpoles thriving in the kiddy pools I bought them. They are growing new appendages. One day they have little leg buds on either side of their tails, a few days later, substantial legs with feet. They adapt to this new mode of locomotion with fervor. Their flicking tails are the last to go.
My metamorphosis into “spayed female” leaves me with a feeling of being hollowed out. Is it the loss of the protective omentum or the uterus, ovaries etc. that make me feel this way? I start to wonder which body parts are vital to keep moving forward through life.
A few years before the cancer diagnosis, I visited my mother at her Assisted Living Facility. She was eating lunch. Suddenly her eyes widened, she paused in her chewing, spit a tooth into the palm of her hand. I was overcome with dread, reminded of a recurring dream of losing all my teeth.
“Mom, we need to take you to the dentist.”
“Because your tooth just fell out.”
“So,” she says, stalwart as ever.
I ask her for the tooth and she hands it to me as though it were a discarded tissue. I clean it, put it in an envelope, and label it “Mom’s Tooth.” I do not want my mother to fall apart. Bit by bit, she does. She does not go to the dentist. She dies not long after losing the tooth. About eight months later I take my father to have a tooth pulled. When I go to pick him up, I expect to find him in a cozy carpeted waiting room. “Your father is still in there,” a young woman directs me to a large hollow green tiled room. The place seems barbaric. My father sits in the dentist’s chair as though left here alone to come out of the anesthesia. He has a bit of blood on his chin. A tray of extracting tools and bloodied gauze pads are next to him. I see his tooth on the floor and pick it up. He smiles at me as though all is well. I take the tooth home, clean it and sequester it in the envelope with my mother’s, just as their wedding rings nestle together in a velveteen box. My father dies two weeks later.
A friend of mine is interested in a new form of therapy. She offers to introduce it to me. She gently suggests that I should ask myself why I got cancer – what did it do for me, as though I had some say in the matter. She asks, “How would you characterize your relationship with your uterus?” Willing to try anything to put myself on a path of healing, I struggle for an answer. “Well, my periods were always painless, so I suppose I owe it some gratitude . . ” This seems superficial. I try to dig deeper, but come up with nothing, and now that the uterus is in Kaiser’s deep freeze, less than nothing. Did I get cancer because I neglected my uterus all these years??!!