The beastie cats at the end of the path.

I have an ultrasound scan this Friday before I get the next dose of chemo. I’m not totally sure what we hope to see at this point (a smaller tumor? a not-bigger tumor? no lymph-node spreading? I’ll ask The Queen if I see her), but I know it’s a marker for if this course of treatment is working and it will probably determine future treatment.

I had a dream the other night that was so imposing it has kind of replaced my reality (SUCH crazy dreams lately! In one, I was ripping the long, thick, beautiful, golden hair off one of my former students’ scalp to glue to my own bald head. Sorry, Elyse!):

I’m lying in the darkened ultrasound room, gooped up with the ultrasound goop, my right side propped on the foam wedge, my right arm curled above my head, and the doctor is running the transducer all across my chest and into my armpit like a little boy zooming his matchbox car, and I look up at the screen where usually all you see is that strange universe of shadows and ghosts that is allegedly your insides, and instead I just see two tigers pacing the perimeter of my chest wall.

It’s not a totally unfamiliar image. If you’ve raised kids in Greensboro recently, you know about the tigers (or, as Freddy called them for a spell when he was two or three: the Beastie-Cats at the End of the Path.). They’ve probably haunted your dreams, too.

Two startlingly gorgeous 400-pounders, part Bengal part Siberian, rescued from somewhere, maybe the offspring of circus tigers?—that live tucked in the woods that abut Lawndale Ave at the Science Center.

They are one of those Greensboro surprises—like all the insanely good Vietnamese food and the view of downtown from the third-base line of the ballpark.

There are a number of wonderful but disconcerting things about the tigers—the way they hyper-fixate on stroller wheels and errant toddlers, the volume at which they both roar when the male mounts the female (not infrequently) right in front of your preschooler, how some suburban Greensboro subdivision practically backs up to their habitat, how the female keeps incessant watch from her rock lookout while the male naps in the shade, how in some spots there is basically just the equivalent of an elementary schoolyard baseball backstop between you and them.

But the most unsettling thing about the Beastie-Cats at the End of the Path is how they pace. It’s that measured, obsessive, nervous stalking you might recognize from a sleepless night before an exam or your dog during a thunderstorm. I’m headed toward the grassy spot in the corner by the fence, but then no—that’s not right—back to the rocks—but maybe that corner does need investigating—am I thirsty?—I’m going to sit down now—I can’t—I’m definitely going to the rocks!—the grass—the rocks, etc.

The Science Center keepers say the reason the tigers pace is because they are craving human contact—they were bottle-fed as babies, and they miss being close to people, which is why they like the perimeter of the enclosure so much. It’s where the people are.

I don’t know. What is this, really? It reads a little more like madness to me. As Jorie Graham, the author of one of my favorite poems—“Scirocco”—wrote decades before she was diagnosed with breast cancer: “Who is / the nervous spirit / of this world / that must go over and over / what it already knows.”

Maybe that’s not really madness though. Maybe that’s an entirely sane response to being denied human contact. Or a sane response to very many things—including worrying about scan results and treatment protocols and the future.

So, the Beastie-Cats are pacing the chest wall.

Yesterday morning—after a restorative, humanizing walk in the near-rain among many heartstoppingly beautiful blooming gardens and yards with a good friend whose dog just died—I was remembering the dream and thinking: Oh. There are tigers in the woods here, and they are a little off their rockers–but that’s just the kind of town we live in.

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