The Middle Place
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For Kelly Corrigan, family is everything. At thirty-six, she had a marriage that worked, two funny, active kids, and a weekly newspaper column. But even as a thriving adult, Kelly still saw herself as the daughter of garrulous Irish-American charmer George Corrigan. She was living deep within what she calls the Middle Place--"that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap"--comfortably wedged between her adult duties and her parents' care. But Kelly is abruptly shoved into coming-of-age when she finds a lump in her breast--and gets the diagnosis no one wants to hear. When George, too, learns that he has late-stage cancer, it is Kelly's turn to take care of the man who had always taken care of her--and to show us a woman who finally takes the leap and grows up.
Kerlin. Other than all the math, fifth grade boyfriends weren’t much trouble. John and I barely talked and were not expected to hold hands. Kissing was years off. But if either of my brothers were to come upon a careless doodle—like KC + JT, 2gether, 4ever, 6cess—well, that could ruin my life. Consequently, my notebooks were covered with patches of deep, black scribbles. I started middle school feeling optimistic. My class was made up of the graduates of three local elementary schools,
like hers in the city. She looks about fifty. Her IV bag is bulging; she has hours to go. She keeps glancing over at me and smiling, like she wants to talk, like the people on planes who want to make friends in the air. Her skin is pale and gray even though it’s August and her eyebrows are gone. She’s a regular. Maybe she knows something I should know, like home remedies for nausea. Or maybe she’ll try to foist something on me, like soy milk or knitting, or Jesus. “Is this your first day?” she
I’m here.” I lay her down and tuck a white Egyptian cotton blanket around her funny little body. She sighs. One last shiver. A rustle. Silence. Oh God, look. I made someone all better. I try to get back to sleep but am caught in the between place, gravity pulling my body into the mattress while my subconscious drags my mind from one thought to the next. I imagine that I am strapped to a conveyor belt, on my side, in my usual sleeping position. The belt chugs along against my will…first a shot,
traveled almost everywhere, told me that Nepal was the best place he’d ever been. I went because I was still single and wanted to avoid another set of dateless holidays. And I went because a girl I knew came home from Nepal fifteen pounds thinner. (Apparently, “it just fell off.”) Nepal, about the same size as Arkansas but with ten times the people, started for me in Kathmandu, with the bikes, dogs, potters, and weavers, the locals selling rugs, spices, brass Buddhas, and tiny transistor radios
in urology. “Because if the radiation and chemo don’t work, the only option he’ll have is surgery.” GT is silent but Edward can’t stand it anymore. “Kelly, we need to focus on the lumpectomy. That’s why we’re here.” Laura nods at Edward and explains to us that her first goal today is to remove and biopsy my lymph nodes, as many as it takes to be sure that there is no cancer there. There are about thirty in all; Laura estimates she’ll take five to ten. “Job number two is to find the last pearl