Gaining Visibility(3)

By: Pamela Hearon

As the doctors completed their work, she turned up the volume on the Fond Memories playlist in her mind. Listening to the music had become so habitual, she no longer needed a device—simply switched it on and off at will.

She pressed the rewind button until she was once again in the backseat of her parents’ powder blue convertible, racing down the highway on a summer night. A hot wind slapped her cheeks while a gazillion stars danced in her view, and her voice blended with her mom’s and dad’s and The Crew-Cuts on the cassette player in a rousing rendition of “Sh-Boom.”

Three repeat plays and the doctors were done.

An hour later, she stepped into the sunlight with the playlist Survivor running through her head along with a new mantra:

Invisible maybe, but not dying.

For the first time since being diagnosed, after five million tears, four panic attacks, three surgeries, two years, and one divorce, Julia left the hospital with her designer breasts and her head held high . . . in that order.

* * *

“Hold on a second, sweetie. Mosquitoes are eating me alive.”

Julia lit the citronella candle, hoping it would keep away the pests long enough to finish the telephone conversation with Melissa without having to move inside. The temperature on the deck was balmy and perfect, but the pesky insects seemed more plentiful than usual for western Kentucky in late May.

“You ought to see them up here, Mom. They’re like the size of bats.”

“I’ve heard Alaska grows them big, but that’s sort of an advantage, isn’t it?” Julia pulled the phone away from her ear long enough to smash one of the creatures who’d chosen her right pinkie for his dining option. “They can’t sneak up on you.” Wondering if perhaps the mosquitoes were coming up through the cracks between the wooden slats of the decking, she set the candle down by her feet. “Anyway . . . where was I?”

“Your tats, which, I might add, is totally weird for me to say.”

That brought a chuckle. “I’ll bet.” Julia waved her hand to direct the smoke from the candle toward her legs. “So, no, like I was saying, the tattooing didn’t hurt at all. I could feel vibration but no pain.”

Her daughter’s snort was draped in sarcasm. “Wish I could say that. The one on my lower back wasn’t too bad—”

“You mean the freedom banner you rushed out to get the day after your dad and I left you at college?”

“Yeah, that one.” A little sheepishness accompanied the tone, but Julia could still hear the smile that hung on the fringes. “It wasn’t bad at all, but the one on my ankle—ghah! Halfway through, I seriously considered stopping him. But I figured it would look stupid to have a charm bracelet that only went part of the way around.”

“Well, it is pretty.” Julia admitted that only grudgingly. “But two’s enough, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Mom. Two’s enough. Or it was until today.” The laugh that came over the line was throaty and mature, reminding Julia that her precious daughter was an adult now—all grown up and living three time zones away. “Since you have two, I may have to get another one. Can’t be bested on tats by my mom.”

“To the world, you’ll always be ahead by two because nobody but me will ever see mine.”

“You don’t know that.” Before Julia could wonder if her child was making commentary about her nonexistent sex life, Melissa added, “The doctor might want to use photos of you on his Web site. You know . . . to show how good he is.”

“I can’t see that happening.” Julia cringed at the thought of her scars bared to the world. Frank’s reaction to them still haunted her.

“Well, you never know.”

A long, uncharacteristic pause ensued, and Julia kept quiet . . . waiting. Conversation came easily between them, so pauses were signals. Whatever was on her daughter’s tongue right then bore some weight.

A sigh. Julia braced herself.

“Dad came for a visit last week.”

The apologetic tone took a swipe at Julia’s gut. She and Frank worked hard to keep their daughter from feeling that she had to take sides. Julia forced a smile onto her lips, hoping it would give a lift to her voice—or, at least, take the bite out of it. “Was it a surprise? I didn’t know he was planning a visit.”

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