So seeing as how I’m hoping to someday trick someone into publishing that book of mine, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs, cancer ones in particular. That’s how I ended up reading The Middle Place. And that’s when I decided all hope was lost for me and Lymphomania because HOLY FUCK THAT LADY CAN WRITE.
He shakes his head and clears his throat. And then he starts. Slowly. The kind of think you don’t interrupt for fear that even lifting your head off the pillow will make the words dissolve back into the shapeless puddle of feeling where they were born.
I’m not going to lie. The book was even harder to read than I thought it might be. At several different points I had to stop reading and watch a few episodes of Raising Hope until I could stop crying and those cold, dark memories faded away again. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the poignant comments of loved ones or emotional outbursts that really tore me apart. It was her cool, impartial observations.
“You gonna leave the girls here with Ark? Ark you okay with that?” my dad asks, which of course Edward is, because you can have anything you want when you have cancer, especially in the beginning.
Those cool observations seem to run in the family. Like here, where Corrigan asks about her mother’s brother Tommy, who had died a slow and painful death from brain cancer at only forty-three:
When I asked my mom if Tommy’s death was hard on her, she said, “Oh I don’t know,” like she had never been asked that and really, what right did she have to consider herself? “I guess I figured God had worked things out as best he could.” Then she paused and I almost cut in with another question when she said, “But later, I’d be playing bridge or tennis and it would feel like something fell out of me, and then I would think – oh Tommy.”
I swear I felt my heart all right out of me when I read that. It still gets me.
(And because I’m a big believer in saying nice things when you think them – Thom, I’m grateful for you. Even if you’re an ass hat. Often. The ass hat part, not the grateful part. That goes for all my brothers. The grateful part…and the ass hat part. The end.)
(And no, I don’t think I’m that hormonal. Back off, fuckers. Ahem.)
If it’s cool with y’all, I’d prefer to just skip over the section on birthing her kid where she compares the pain to “…being stabbed repeatedly with a long, thick knife.” *vomit*
I love Corrigan’s relationship to her family. She has two loud yet endearing brothers that add some comic relief to the book, and her mother is stoic and strong. But the star of the book? It’s her father, Greenie.
Shortly after Corrigan is diagnosed with breast cancer, her adorable father is diagnosed with bladder cancer. Greenie is probably my favorite character. He’s supposed to be. He’s clearly Corrigan’s favorite character, too. And who can blame her? Here she talks about the first time she introduced her father to her then boyfriend and future husband:
After lunch, I was finally alone with my dad. “So, isn’t he just the greatest? I mean, is he just so smart, so together, so handsome?”
But my dad seemed to think that his notable resume and good breeding were relatively inconsequential. He just said, “Aw, Lovey, the way he looks at you…I just love the way he looks at you.”
(Yeah. Um. Dad? Hi. I’m grateful for you, too. And you’re hardly ever an ass hat. High fives. And can you slap Mom on the ass for me while you’re at it?)
I’m genuinely curious to know if other readers, ones that aren’t cancer survivors, were as moved by this book as I was. Did any of you kids read it? Is it just a little PTSD talking here?
I kind of doubt it, honestly. And that last word is why. Honestly. That’s how this book is written – honestly. And everyone is drawn to honesty, don’t you think? (Ok, not politicians. Also not Charlie Sheen. Or the makers of Spanx and push-up bras. And some art directors. Oh, never mind.)
But I will concede that maybe I’m drawn to certain passages more than others because of my experiences. Like this one, just moments after she completed her last round of radiation and all her treatment:
I feel like a newly discharged soldier, a kid was drafted suddenly and shown things she can’t forget and then paraded around town on the back of a shiny convertible waving to the crowd of admirers who don’t know the half of it. I wear the uniform, I show my scars, I nod through the hero talk. Other vets repel me, and then, just as regularly, they fortify me. Among them, I am completely real, not a cancer ambassador, not a patient representative, not “an inspiration.”
So, read it? I think? It’s beautiful. It’s even funny. Really funny. But it’s hard, too. Then again, sometimes the best parts of life are hard.
And yes…that’s what she said.