I have been cheating on you. I have avoided you, betrayed you and made promises I knew I could never keep. It's time to reveal my mistress to you.
This is the introduction to my memoir.
Love to know what you think.
A Hole in my Genes: A Psychologist's Memoir About Life, Love and Breast Cancer.
By Jodie Fleming
I stood at the back screened door of my childhood family home and remembered playing the ball game rounders with my little sister Kim. We’d yell out “Koo-ee” as loud as we could – an invitation to our neighbour to come over and join in. We’d kick the ball, run and giggle in the fresh cut grass, hoping Mum would forget to call us in for our bath.The above ground swimming pool, round and inviting where I spent many days and nights swimming with Sharynn Noonan on our blow up ponies, my sister and I fighting over the orange one. Behind the pool sits the asymmetrical outdoor table and chairs that my Dad painted mission brown. Along the back fence is the well loved and used brick barbeque that my Dad would cook on, with a beer in one hand, entertaining the street with his ‘dad’ jokes on our regular neighbourhood get togethers.
Our street used to be filled with so many young families like the Noonans with their perfectly manicured lawn, and the Morrows who had like a thousand kids and reindeer footprints in their garden at Christmas. So many friends to explore the world with. As I continue to scan the yard that formed the backdrop to my early life, I find the overgrown grass plant with the long leaves that cut our hands if we touched them the wrong way. I remember standing in front of it with my pink and white diamond bathing suit when I was four years old having a photo taken. We’d pick the large, purple flowers from the Hibiscus tree making an impressive bunch to take to the nursing home when the school choir went to sing to the residents. Nana had a Hibiscus as well, but hers was pink.
My eyes then rest upon our bright green bench swing, the same colour as a tree frog. I recall fondly swinging on it when my baby sister lay on her crocheted rug under the umbrella. The Spring sun reflected off the white blanket making her seem angelic. I’d only just asked my Mum when she would be taking Kim back to the hospital. I didn’t like sharing my parents with this new baby. Luckily for me she grew into my partner in crime, my personal chef, my therapist and my best friend as we navigated our way through relationships, children and now this.
Next to the swing is the basketball ring. Hours and hours of shooting practice, rain, hail, shine. My Godmother Bernie taught us to use white sandshoe cleaner to put dots around the grass to shoot from. We’d follow each other around the circuit counting how many successful shots we’d made.
And then, the green slide where Robert Davey kissed my shoe and I kicked him out of embarrassment. He and his young family died tragically only a few years ago. How I wished I'd been kinder to him the day he chased me up the slide.
Behind the garage off to the right is our cubby house complete with functioning kitchen sink. Our special space where dreams were made and plans hatched. Sharynn, Kim and I made many plans to run away. We’d each bring some fruit and a blanket and pack it into a small brown suit-case that we’d carry one block to the playground. When it started to get cold or dark, we’d return to our safe, warm homes.
The driveway leading up to the garage forms our skating rink, initially for roller skates, then later for skateboards, pogo sticks and later still, rollerblades. Mum gave us a dress-up box. I always chose the red and white striped shirt that I’d wear as a dress with a belt. I pretended to be Oliver Newton John as we skated to Xanadu. Sometimes the stones on the driveway that tripped us over would jolt us back to reality.
Inside the garage are our bicycles. Our independence. Blessed to grow up at a time when it was safe to ride all over town and only come home when it got dark and the first street lights came on. We rode to the beach, to our friends’ houses and more often than not, to see the most important person in my life, my grandmother, Nan. Nan made everything better – the taste of hot Milo, vegemite on toast, life. I’d spend hours sitting at the foot of her chair as she watched sport on tv. The loyalty and love I felt for her, second to none, lucky to have her in my life until I turned 34.
Me and Kim were always outside, on the move, using our imaginations, developing our personalities and our resilience for later life. We were trusted and we could trust. We sucked on lollipops with sun kissed faces and breathed fresh air we didn’t even know existed. We were young and free. We were happy.
My smile fades as my mood grows somber opening my eyes and realising that my childhood has disappeared and I am all grown up, no longer naive or innocent. Things have changed. I wear perfume and makeup and own more shoes and handbags than should be allowed. Instead of my bike I choose to travel in my car because it’s faster. Work and other responsibilities stop me from playing as much sport or seeing my friends as often. And along with the playground equipment, my athletic toned muscles, tanned skin and thick hair have all changed too - disappeared. There are lines on my face now. They used to be laugh lines but lately come from frowning and wondering what has happened to my life.
I adjust the headscarf on my bald head and shiver. I can’t seem to get warm lately despite the layer upon layer of clothes I’m wearing. My skin is pale, almost grey and my face and body are swollen due to the drugs I’m forced to take. I’m tired even though I spend most of my day sleeping. Hunger taunts me competing with the constant nausea I feel. I can’t eat because my mouth is full of ulcers and yeast. I feel so alone. I miss my husband....
But still, somewhere in amongst my thoughts, I smile. I can’t wait for Summer. I still love the smell of fresh cut grass.