Next, at my mammogram, the way the all-female staff tippy-toed around me, as if I were a hand grenade with the pin already pulled, as if I were a nineteenth-century hysteric who had to be babied and pampered! This assumption that menopause has left me unreasonable, hormonal, bereft. As if this brain, this identity I’ve been burnishing for decades, educating, understanding and explaining is a thin curtain over achthonic swamp of rage. These assumptions begin to enrage me. I want to be a “cool customer” like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. But their tender treatment of me as a feral beast, or someone for whom the pretense that a mammogram is a day at the spa—a flower, a mint, a thank you note on an intricate glass plate in the dressing room—that this might work is what angers me. Not that having a mammogram is an unwelcome reminder that time will march on, cancer may strike, that or something else, and that my unique collection of cells will cease to exist. As if my temporary presence on this planet somehow adorns it. That is what many women in my age group appear to believe. Such reminders of my mortality don’t bother me. They are what they are. We can all stand to be reminded once in a while.
But I know it doesn’t matter why I get angry at this point. It will be interpreted as a menopausal hormone storm. Any righteous anger felt by any woman at any point in her life can be written off as hormonal—teenaged, pregnancy, PMS, perimenopause, menopause—then total irrelevance. Ageism will take over from sexism as need be.
I should probably get a few of the basic facts down right away—after all, what’s the point in hiding anything any more? Everyone suspects the worst anyway.
1. I am married. This is both true and significant at the same time as it is highly beside the point.
2. I have a 14-year-old son. He is tall and handsome, intelligent and a good student, and he won’t wear deoderant. I just keep the door to his room closed at all times. It’s a funk fair in there.
3. I’m a writer.
4. I’ve never been hungry. I’ve never been unable to find a job if I needed one. Luckily, I’m not looking now.
5. I am both blessed and saddled with a large extended family that both requires and expects my help. I was fine with all that, I had the time and the energy, until my son was born and then their expectations of what I should be doing for my nuclear family began to interfere with my ability to keep helping them (put on a big show for Christmas, say) and that made me realize they wanted me to be a more perfect mother to their grandchildren than they had been to me or my husband. Well, make a choice. I can be your good daughter, or I can be a good mother. I don’t have that super gene (that you don’t have either). Just because you expect me to take up your slack doesn’t mean I have to do it. I’m in the sandwiched generation.