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Vacuuming the Car

I pulled into the car wash, past the wet bays, straight to the coin op vacuum station. Three round stainless steel cylinders caught the morning sun, glorious, promising. Quarters jingled in my pocket.


I opened all four doors, flushing the inside of my filthy car with cold morning air. I could see my breath but the briskness was worth it. I hadn’t vacuumed my car for over a year, since before my diagnosis. The filth was disgusting, a year’s worth of candy wrappers, pebbles, errant buttons and screws, a marble or two, some legos, plastic spoons, dirt, an armless Barbie doll.  Stuff that had once smelled bad but whose odor had eventually dissipated. It was all going to be vacuumed clean.


Fourteen months ago, my husband found a lump on my right breast. “What’s this?” he said in the darkness of our bedroom. I put my fingers over his, pressed down on the almond-shaped lump that was hiding just beneath the softness of my skin.  


“I’ll make an appointment in the morning,” I whispered back, the air between us suddenly heavy,  somber.  


It was the moment that set wheels in motion, the moment that led us to the dreaded diagnosis.   Triple negative breast cancer is the most aggressive form out there. It spreads fast, begets a grim prognosis. Within a few days of finding the lump, our lives were sucked into a medical vortex.  Terms we had never heard of, machines we had never seen. Diagnoses I couldn’t understand, even after they were explained over and over again, gently, but with unwavering constancy.


Meanwhile, the mail piled up. And the laundry piled up. The refrigerator started to smell.  A crack in our windshield went unprepared. Our air conditioner broke. The yard needed to be mowed. And the the filth in our car mirrored the new level of chaos in our lives every time we ran out for a gallon of milk.


At the car wash, I started piling the big stuff on the leather upholstery, throwing trash into a plastic grocery bag I found on the floor.


Tentatively, I reached my hand underneath the back seat, the “black hole,” as we call it in our family because so many lost items land there mysteriously. A can of corn. Colored pencils.  Lots of crayons. And then, a tiara, emerald green and sparkly. A tiara from before the almond, before the chaos hit.


Was it really that long ago? Had it already been over a year? I remembered the brilliant green dress, the slicked back hair, the shiny belt and the little slippers, my precious Lauren all dressed up to perform a scene from the Wizard of Oz, this sparkly green tiara the crowning jewel of her labored-over costume. Sparkles showered her hair, brought out the green in her eyes, the excitement of the moment glowing on rosy cheeks. For weeks before the performance, she had pranced around the house like the tiny ballerina she is, pirouetting, tiptoeing, springing, giggling.


When the day finally came to perform, my husband bought her a pink rose, and she posed with it, smiling into the camera, grabbing her dad by the neck and pulling him close. I recall the image, two faces smooched together, hers framed in the green glow of her costume and his with the unabashed love of this little child.


Chemo is over now, as is the lumpectomy and the weeks of daily radiation. The windshield is still cracked, but the laundry is mostly caught up and the refrigerator smells reasonable.


I tossed the debris into the trash but placed the tiara on the front seat. Glitter showered the leather, more fodder for the vacuum.  


But the glitter shined, that glorious morning in the coin op vacuum stall, shined like confetti in a ticker tape parade, celebrating my recovery.


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