I have good health insurance again. I decide I will go to the dermatologist. I want to ask the dermatologist about:
- The rash on my wrist that emerges when I am stressed or have a cold.
- The weird abrasion-looking rash on my butt that I asked Nathan to take a photo of.
- The two little zits behind my ear that never go away.
- A mole check.
The scheduler tells me that we can only do one of these at a visit because the dermatologist’s time is of the essence. She says the mole check will probably take longer than everything else and I might be able to ask about the other stuff at the end of that visit. I say okay let’s do the mole check. She says okay do I want to make another appointment for each of the other things. I try to imagine having time to go to the dermatologist once a week for a month. I say no.
Before my appointment, the office calls and says my insurance ran out in July of last year. I think they have called the wrong insurance company, the North Carolina one, when I have insurance through the Washington one. I call them back to point this out, and they tell me it doesn’t matter, it’s my responsibility to figure it out, thank me for calling, they’ll see me soon, bye-bye.
I have not been to this office in six years. The only other time I went, I was newly in love with a boyfriend. I’d called the boyfriend on the phone on the way to the dermatologist. My gynecologist had noticed a mole under my belly button and referred me to the dermatologist to check it out. The boyfriend and I talked about how much we both liked that mole. He made a joke: “Tell her not to take off that mole because it’ll interfere with your sex life. I’ll write a note.” (The boyfriend was also a gynecologist.)
I think about that boyfriend and his love for the mole as I drive there this time, too. I used to work in the same office park as this dermatology office sometimes, traveling to clinics nearby to talk with people about their abnormal pap smears and seeing if they wanted to be in a study about it for the next two years. There’s a lab nearby I used to visit to pick up the leftovers from the same people’s pap smears. Working for that research study is how I met the doctor boyfriend. And it’s how I met the gynecologist who told me to get the mole checked. Driving those roads makes me feel tentative and scattered. I get lost and I’m late for my appointment.
In the waiting room, there are no magazines. I try to remember what this dermatologist is like. I search my e-mail and come across a GChat from a friend: “that dermatologist was NOT very personable.” But the message is from 10 years ago, so it’s not about today’s dermatologist. I keep reading the chat – a time capsule. It was near Thanksgiving. I had a sinus infection. I knew how to navigate the electronic medical record system and was teaching it to a co-worker. Sometimes when I dig around the archive of myself I start to feel like I’m falling through the floor. I log out. I check my Twitter feed and see a story about a new bakery opening, and I think, “We had a bakery on that road back then?”
A nurse calls me into an exam room. She asks me why I’m here. She leaves. I put on the paper dress, open to the back. I sit on the table.
The dermatologist comes in. She talks so fast! She balances her laptop on her forearm like she’s waiting tables. The dermatologist only looks up from her screen to measure the moles she took notes on six years ago. She checks the mole on my stomach against an old photo she has on file. “The color has changed,” she tells me as she presses a button to recline the exam table I’m on. I’m easing backward with a dull buzzing sound. “It’s lighter, which isn’t really a concern, but we noted it last time and you asked us to check, so I’ll just biopsy.” She puts on gloves, picks up a syringe, and says, “I’m numbing the area with lidocaine.” I feel a pinch. I wonder if I have any questions. She tells the nurse to put a band-aid on the biopsy site. Band-aid adhesive irritates my skin, but I’m trying to listen to the instructions they’re giving me, so I’ll just change it out at home. The dermatologist buzzes me back upright and says, “Okay. You’ll have your results in a couple weeks. Don’t let a scab form. Leave that bandage on for 24 hours.” I ask her to check the rash on my butt, and she says, “Oh, I noticed that. I’ll give you some cream,” and she’s gone.
I leave the dermatologist with a small plastic bag holding two tiny ointment tubes and a long sliver of paper telling me not to let a scab form on the biopsy site and to keep it covered. The slip says my mole has gone to Arkansas for analysis. I think: it’s been to Arkansas with me before. I think: it’s the first time my mole’s gone anywhere alone. I think: I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
I text my ex-boyfriend to tell him about the mole. He says, “Oh no!” He is in northern France right now on a Fulbright grant. He is sick and quarantining in his bright two-bedroom apartment there. He sends me photos of the bookshelves and tells me to come visit.
This ex-boyfriend is my favorite person I used to date. Sometimes when I think of people I’ve dated, I feel glad that I don’t have to know them anymore. Once, I forgot all about a man almost as soon as I broke up with him, his very existence wiped from my brain until, as I was hurrying toward a new lover in a bar, he leapt out of the crowd and intercepted me, embarrassing me with his grin, shouting my name. I ducked out from under his embrace and haven’t seen him since.
I have a box of bandages that Anne brought me back from a trip to LA. I must have been saving them for just this occasion. The bandages are all the same size, perfect squares, and the adhesive doesn’t irritate my skin. Each bandage has a drawing of a Japanese children’s character, Anpanman. Anpanman has a cheery red circle for a nose, and looking at him makes me think of Anne thinking of me. I hadn’t heard of Anpanman before she gave me these bandages.
I go on a walk with Nathan and tell him I miss my mole, and I cry. I tell him it was the only thing I liked about my body anymore, which feels mostly true. He says he is sorry, he says maybe it’ll come back. I tell him I want it to come back, but what if that means it’s cancer. Secretly, even if it’s cancer, I want it back. Quietly and to myself I am startled by how willing I would be to trade years of my life to love my body a little more.
At bedtime, I’m restless. I think the biopsy site hurts, but I kind of like the feeling. It’s one in the morning and I go to water my plants. I notice my geranium has a mushy stem, and when I go to prune it, a putrid brown liquid comes out. I have had this geranium for five years. I got it when I was living in New Mexico from the abandoned, liquidated Super K Mart garden center. My cat, Molly, had just had a health scare. I’d gotten Molly when she was eleven years old, and she was seventeen at the time, and she’d stopped eating, and I was so afraid she was dying. The vet had ordered an ultrasound and biopsied a spot on her liver, which was both necrotic and inconclusive. On the drive home, I sobbed and told her that I would never be ready for her to die. I told her if she was ready, she needed to tell me, and I would let her go, but I’d never be ready. When we got home, she started eating. The vet called and said her health problem could just be from an overactive thyroid. The geranium I got during that time propagates really easily, just pinch off a leaf and stick it in water and roots appear within a day or so. It blooms a near-neon reddish pink. Molly lived to be twenty years old. Anne and I call the geranium and its children “the Molly geranium.”
- “brown liquid in geranium stem”
- “sad mole is gone”
- “Blackleg is a disease of young plants and cuttings that is pretty much unmistakable. . . . The stem of the geranium rots, starting out as a brown water-soaked rot at the base of the stem which turns black and spreads up the stem resulting in a rapid demise.. . . . Once blackleg takes hold, the cutting must be immediately removed and destroyed.”
- “Moles probably are determined before a person is born. Most appear during the first 20 years of life, although some may not appear until later.”
- “The typical life cycle of the common mole takes about 50 years.”
I wash some scissors in very hot water and take the Molly geranium outside. The night is still and quiet. I fill a brand-new pot with brand-new soil. I check the stem for a safe place to cut, away from the blackleg. I’m suspicious of all the roots, the entire plant. I snip all of the Molly geranium’s leaves off in little clusters. I put the new cuttings in water in a window far from my other plants. I beg them to live. I walk the original geranium’s body through the backyard, down into a bamboo grove, and over our fence into the woods where Bird hunts. I don’t think I have it in me to destroy a plant.
When Molly was alive, I would sometimes dream that there were two of her, two Mollys, but I’d only ever seen one at a time. When one Molly was home with me, the other would be in the world, hanging out in the sun or wandering the neighborhood at night. In the dream, I’d come home to find the two Mollys curled up with each other, resting. This was a marvel every time I dreamt it because the real Molly hated every other animal she ever met, especially other cats. I think about this the morning after the mole removal when I wake up and let Bird out onto the porch. Past the new pot full of new dirt, on a small table, there’s a potted, thriving Molly geranium I forgot about, and it’s starting to bloom.
The dermatologist said not to let the biopsy site scab, but I don’t know how to keep a biopsy site from scabbing. I take off the bandage before I shower. Sometimes I use micellar water to clean it before bed. I always put Vaseline over the wound and put a new Anpanman on top. I don’t get a scab at all, just a shiny, angry pink circle below my belly button. I feel relieved when I notice a tiny mole in the center of the new skin.
BRITTANY PRICE is a harm reductionist who lives in Durham, North Carolina. She writes in Night School Bar’s pay-what-you-can arts and humanities workshops.