The John

Maureen Moynihan

© Copyright 2020 by Maureen Moynihan

Photo of bathroom door.
                          Photo by Robert Reader 

Cancer affects a family, not just a patient.  As treatment progresses, families must adjust roles and responsibilities while providing a stable and nurturing environment for children. This is easier said than done. 

It’s easier to get a turtle out of its shell than a husband out of the bathroom.

I’ve found pounding on the door while hollering “Isn’t your butt cold?” is not an effective strategy. Sliding clever notes under the bathroom door also yields poor results:

Hello! I’m the trash. Please take me out!”

Hello! I’m your dog. Please take me out!” 

Hello! I’m your wife. Please take me out!”

What irked me the most is I knew exactly what Jack was doing in there. He was RELAXING, dammit it. Worse yet, he was RELAXING between the witching hours of 5:00 P.M.-7:00P.M. I believe any parent who engages in such self-centered behavior should lose their phone privileges and be sent to bed without any supper.  

Short of striking a match to the door, dinner was the only event that inspired Jack to emerge from the bathroom.  Jack loves food. I mean he LOVES food and talks about it like a teenage girl processing her first breakup: incessantly and lacking any linguistic structure. The presentation, flavor, texture, aroma, presentation, and post-coital meal bliss all gets tossed into Jack’s culinary monologue, which usually falls on unappreciative ears. 

How did you prepare this?” Jack asked, chomping into the leg of Rotisserie Chicken fresh from the Meals-To-Go tanning bed in the deli department.

I hit it over the head with my butter churn,” I replied.

It’s probably why Jack is a natural in the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator door and just sees a recipe waving to him from the confines of the compartmentalized drawers. Measuring cups and spoons are not required tools for Jack as can intuitively “see” how much salt to add or “smell” when the bacon is about to transition from crispy to burnt.  

Cooking is not intuitive for me. A recipe must include explicit directions; preferably a video.  If domain specific vocabulary terms such as blanch or puree are in the instructions, I do not make it.  I also do not poach things, albeit an egg or an elephant. How or why I became in charge of our family dinners is beyond me. But I do enjoy a generous glass of wine while cooking.

Here’s what I think happened:

One day, in the Garden of Eden, Adam was hangry.  Having grown tired of his incessant complaining, Eve plucked an apple from a branch to shut him up. Hell, I bet she would have preferred to pick a Bud Light so he’d really be happy, but her resources were limited.  Throw in the fact that women are biologically engineered to feed humans and SHAZAM!!  Women evolved into walking Wholefoods Markets. 

Flash forward a gazillion years later...

I’m submerged in the couch, Day 2 post Chemo. My treatment plan is in full swing and I woke up that morning without eyelashes. Once again, my self-image takes a blow as I mourn the loss of another alluring feature of my femininity. I doubt if I’ll ever feel pretty again. 

Jack walks into the living room and asks, “What is for dinner?”  His words trigger a savage instinct in me; I decide that I must kill him. 

I leap from the couch, 122 pounds of flying Adriamycin, and wrap my hands around his neck. If Paclitaxel and Docetaxel hadn’t destroyed my fingernails, I probably would’ve gotten the job done.  But fortunately for Jack, they did. He whisked me off his body like a raindrop, mumbled something about cancer taking my sanity, and headed straight towards the fridge. I retreated to the bathroom because the shower is the best place to cry.  

Most cancer patients in the throes of treatment should be advised to avoid mirrors because the body presents as a battlefield, not a guardian of the soul.  I caught a glimpse of myself as I hopped in the shower and I realized that my figure no longer belonged to me; it belonged to science. On an intellectual level, I knew my reflection should be one of courage; a testimony to my decision to choose life over vanity.

Go-ahead cancer...take my breasts but you won’t take me.

Be gone with you, lymph nodes! I never much thought of you anyways.

C-ya hairstyle! Time to bury the Aqua Net and have a fresh start.

But I didn’t. I saw a female skeleton lacerated with scars and smeared with varying shades of yellow and purple bruises. It was a tapestry of ugliness. I was a hairless newborn bunny without the promise of growing more beautiful with age. No wonder my husband did not want to share a bed with me anymore.

As I let the grief pour out of my body and spiral down the bathtub drain, I enjoyed the relief of being a sick person without the pressure of acting strong.  It was just me, my cancer and the nonjudgmental warmth of the water. 

A cacophony of screeching sounds interrupted my pity party, and grew louder and stronger with each passing pitch. Even more concerning, the clamoring noise was headed right towards me, the mutilated and (very) naked creature in the shower. 

The door flung open in with a fantastic and regal sense of urgency. My children marched into the bathroom to announce:


Damn that Eve. 

Years ago, I surrendered the privilege of bathroom privacy for the comfort or remaining on the toilet seat for the entire duration of my business. I peeked from behind the curtain to see my 4th grader poking a recorder in the air while my 1st grader’s entire arm was engulfed in a bag of potato chips. 

The 4th graders got recorders today.” Julia said. “We’re going to play them at the spring concert.  I have to practice. Every day.”  To emphasize the spirit of repetition, she gave the recorder a little toot. 

Oh! That sounds exciting.” I said, and shut off the shower. I knew the conversation would continue regardless of my ability to hear. And that they had no intention of leaving the bathroom without me.

Jimmy Babarosa threw up in gym class,” Sienna reported.

Ewww!” said Julia, interrupting her practice session to contort her face in disgust.

Sounds like he had a rough day,” I said. Behind the curtain, I strategized the best route to the towel rack and determined puke is perfect topic of distraction for my getaway. I went for it.

Did they have to put the sand on the floor? Julia asked. 

Yeah!”  said Sienna. “His puke went everywhere and there were chunks of food in it.”

But I was not quick enough. They saw me.  

His mother must pack a great sandwich,” I said. The girls stared at me, their silence saying everything. I felt shame creep up my legs. Until Julia whisked it off my body and out of the room.

Ouch Mom! That looks like it hurts,” she said. 

It looks worse than it feels.” I told her. 

Did the cancer do that to you?” asked Sienna.

I nodded my head.  “It’s what I have to do to get the cancer out of my body.”

Are you always going to look that way?” she asked. 

No honey. My body will heal...but it will look a little different.” Sienna chewed on this idea as she munched on a chip.

That’s OK.,” said Julia. Recorder practice commenced again. 

Have a chip, Mom,” said Sienna. “They’re really good.”

I squatted down so she could pop a chip in my mouth.  She wrapped her little arms around me as I showered her with kisses. They saw ME, their mother, not a cancer patient.

Can we have S’ghieti for dinner?” asked Sienna.
That sounds like a great idea,” I said gobbling up the strength they gave me like Adam did that apple.

Let’s go make some dinner.”

We marched out of the bathroom as a harmonious procession of unconditional love. And the band played on. 

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