Monday, April 27, 2015

Giving a Fuck

When I was growing up, my mother never used swear words. I don't mean "she didn't use swear words in front of us", she really just never swore. It was terribly impolite and unladylike to swear, in her opinion, and so she simply never did. Her version of road rage was remarking "Nice driving, Ace!" if someone did something stupid in traffic.

When she was 40 and I was 13, she had a mammogram when she switched to a new doctor. She was too young for it, really, but her doctor was also young and fairly fresh out of med school and wanted to be as thorough as possible. She had no family history of breast cancer and hadn't felt any lumps in her breasts, so she wasn't overly concerned until the doctor's office called her a day later and said they'd found something. A biopsy followed and one sunny day in late summer she told me it was cancer. Tiny lumps smaller than a pea were so heavily scattered through her tissue that they had to do a mastectomy. By that point her autoimmune illness was advanced enough that they didn't want to even attempt chemo or any treatment beyond surgery, so we all just had to hope it would be enough.

As you can imagine, it was hard for her. She'd been battling her health problems for over a decade by that point. In addition to the existing health problems, she was dealing with my father having yet another affair. Throwing cancer in on top of everything else was a breaking point, for her. One day she came into the living room, looked at my sister and me and announced "I can say 'fuck' now". Unbeknownst to us she had been practicing swearing. When she'd turn on the water in the bathtub in the mornings, she would swear as the sound of the water hid anything she might be saying from our ears. She finally became comfortable enough with swearing to start doing it openly - and swear she did. It was like our quiet, ladylike mother had been replaced by a foul-mouthed sailor. Her battle with cancer opened a floodgate, and through that gate poured nearly every bad word in the book, rendered in an impeccable British accent. The only words she refused to use were "Motherfucker" and "Cunt", because she felt those were perhaps a bridge too far. Everything else was fair game, though, and her expanded vocabulary was something we eventually got used to.

She survived the cancer, miraculously. Against all odds it was one of the things in life that she actually managed to beat. By the time she passed away she had been cancer-free for 20 years. Her love of swearing stayed with her, though she used the words sparingly around most people. I still remember the first time she said "fuck" in front of my husband. He was shocked by it because my mother was always so careful with her language around him. She had to be comfortable with someone before she would drop an F bomb, and over the years she and my husband became very close. Her using that word around him was a sign that she didn't see him as any different from her own flesh and blood. "Your mother said 'fuck' in front of me today!" he told me, and then followed up with "it was so awesome.."

She was a unique person, my mother. She was gentle, loving, and unfailingly polite. But she was also sarcastic, sharp tongued, and fond of playing pranks. She was a force to be reckoned with despite being damaged, despite her difficult life, despite her insecurities. She was a delicately built British lady in a flowered dress who liked to say "fuck" a lot.

I miss her every day.

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