It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.
-- Bill Watterson
I had noticed it before, but I wasn't worried. Not until David brought it to my attention one night as I stood at the sink brushing my teeth."What's that?"
"What's what? " I snapped, taking what had been a question of innocent curiosity and twisting it into some kind of accusation.
"That ." He pressed a finger against my backside. "It's, like, blue."
I turned around and twisted my head to see the spot in the mirror. "Yeah, I've seen that. It's probably ink that wandered from my tattoo."
This was one of the stories I'd invented to placate myself -- another was that the circle of skin on my butt was a burst capillary, never mind that the only thing I knew about capillaries was that in my high school text book, they had been blue.
I come from a family of hypochondriacs. To protect myself from perpetual hysteria, I developed a highly sophisticated mental survival technique: denial, manifested in the form of elaborate, pseudo-scientific explanations. But denial is flimsy protection. Hypochondria is deeply ingrained in the Sicilian DNA passed down through generations of women who, up until my mother, still believed in the evil eye.
All it takes to shatter my fragile illusion of invulnerability is a comment from another that reveals mild concern. When David uttered his next words -- calmly, almost impassively -- my anxiety-fertile blood began cultivating a plump seed of hysteria: "You should get that checked out," he said.
Though I continued to cling to my tenuous claims of tattoo ink and capillaries, I could not resist the familial urge to investigate worst-case scenarios. I hopped on the Internet and Googled "blue mole & symptoms & cancer."
Unless you are an M.D., online medical self-diagnosis is a bad idea. I once convinced myself I had chronic kidney disease because a hard-to-reach itch on my back coincided with a blister on my foot.
I clicked one of the links and scrunched my face in apprehension, as if I were watching a horror movie and the music had just taken a foreboding turn. When I opened my eyes, there it was, the first sentence I noticed, about halfway down the page: "If your mother or father developed a melanoma, your risk for this disease is almost 100 percent."
I stared at the sentence until my eyes burned. I hit the "back" button and clicked another link. A page full of graphic photos appeared -- the gory section of my horror flick. To shield myself, I reverted to my stories -- okay, so weirdly colored moles can be bad, but I bet this thing isn't even a mole . To be on the safe side, my next Google search was for local dermatologists.
Because I wanted the severity of the situation to be recognized without having to be the one to lose it, I called my mother.
"What do you mean you have a blue mole?" she shrieked over the din of grandchildren playing in the background.
"You know, it's blue," I said nonchalantly. I told myself that my mother was overreacting, but this is what I'd wanted -- hyperbolic worrying as proof of her love. Once I got a taste of it, I grew hungry for more.
"Well? When are you going to the doctor? Today? Tomorrow?"
"Next week," I said.
"What?! A whole week ? Jesus, Barb, Jesus!"
Her voice was rising. Only one more flippant comment from me was required to bring it to a crescendo: "Yeah, next week. You know, Mom, with my family history and all, chances are it's probably cancer."
"JesusMaryandJoseph! Don't say that, just don't say that!"
My job here was complete, so I ended the call with, "Don't worry, Mom. It's just a capillary. I'll call you after my appointment and let you know what the doctor said. Yes, I love you too."
A week later, I sat in a small waiting room, staring at a Moorish idol in a fish tank. Distracting myself from images I'd seen online, I imagined that the striped fish, borrowing Willem Dafoe's voice, was coaxing the fluorescent orange fish next to him, "Join me at the top of Mt. Wannahockaloogie, Shark Bait. It is there we'll find the answers we seek."
I looked up to find a young woman with a clipboard raising her brows at me. I was the only person in the waiting room. I nodded confirmation of my identity, and she led me to another room where I took a seat on an examination chair and was soon joined by the doctor -- a pleasant-looking Asian woman in her 30s that reminded me of a close friend. This helped, because the last thing I wanted to do was show my ass to a complete stranger.
The doctor glanced at the form on her clipboard and asked me to summarize what I'd written.
"I've got this blue spot... I'm sure it's nothing, but my dad has had melanoma and I figured it couldn't hurt to get it checked out," I gushed. "Oh, and there are these two moles on the back of my neck I was hoping you could just, you know, snip-snip ."
She watched me closely as I spoke, examining my skin as I chatted nervously. "And this blue mole...?"
"Well, I don't know that it's a mole, but here --" I turned around, untied my black cargos and let them slip down just enough to reveal the location of concern, which was on my upper right cheek.
"Hmmm," she said. "Okay."
In one swift move I retied my short-pants and swiveled around to face her. "No big deal, right? I'm worrying about nothing. Right?"
"Well, it is a blue nevi. They typically occur on the backside, and are not usually of concern. But you said your father has melanoma?"
"Yeah," I answered, in a near whisper. "He had a patch of it removed from his face a few years back and has found others, but thankfully they've all been taken out in time."