Stepping back and growling.

I’m sorry to piggyback right on top of John’s update, but I’m processing. This is my process.

Today was like having a bad memory of a bad memory that in turn reminds you of something hard and beautiful. Today was a bad ultrasound. Or at least not a good one. But maybe I’ll start at the beginning.

It’s 2002, September, our first dog’s first trip to the coast.

We let him out of the backseat of the car, and he beelined for the beach—racing circles in the dry sand, sniffing the bite of tidal decay, knots of seaweed, rotting crab shells, a dried black purse of skate eggs.

Eventually he nosed his way to low tide’s edge, the gentle lick of Beaufort Inlet slapping the sand, and then, when the wet of seawater met the wet of nose, he froze, as though only just understanding this was not his backyard water bowl.

We watched as he planted his front paws into the uncertain earth then raised a wary head to scan his surroundings—where the ocean reached in a thousand blue directions, as massive and unknowable as sleep, as bad news.

He took two steps backward, stopped, and growled. The world was even stranger than before. Something grey like grief passed through his eyes before he turned his glance to a faltering gull and chased it.


Now it’s 2006, late August, and I’m gooped up in a darkened ultrasound room at UNC Hospital, 18 weeks pregnant with our first kid, John holding my hand, watching the tech—then a doctor who enters from a room somewhere else, then another doctor—wade again and again into the ocean of my belly, find our growing boy there—his spine curving like driftwood, his thunderous heart. It’s the strangest thing we’ve ever seen. We can’t stop watching the screen/ocean. Him.

But they’re taking too many pictures. Too many measurements. His feet. His legs. His brain. His heart. His feet again. They are not talking at all, until suddenly someone says, “Well, I guess by now you know something is not quite right.”

We didn’t exactly, but we were starting to. We’d never been there before. Something grey like grief.

Talipes equinovarus, they tell us—club foot. It sounds like something that has risen from the sea of the Dark Ages. My brain is groping through Beowolf. Ideopathic, they say. Sounds like Greek for a Shakespearean fool, but it turns out this is good news: not part of a larger, scarier complex of issues. Just the foot. The right foot.

Not the world ending, but the world shifting. The world is stranger than before. Will he walk? They are talking about surgeons and casting and braces, cutting his Achilles tendon just after birth. We have only just learned he is a he. Fixable, but a process.

Later at home on the internet, John reads me a list of people born with club feet. It’s not just the Emperor Claudius and Richard the III (who it turns out didn’t even have one—sorry Shakespeare). Troy Aikman. Kristi Yamaguchi. Mia Hamm. Freddy Sanchez—who won the batting title in 2006 for the Pirates and for whom Freddy was named.

That faltering gull—we’re chasing it. There are a number of dark days, but seven years later we’re watching him round the t-ball bases, slide into third.


Today at the scan, I’m back on the table. It’s a lot like my dream, dim and goopy, so I tell the radiologist about the tigers. “Hmmmm,” she says. She’s measuring. Then taking pictures—click clicking on the keyboard. Measuring again. Too many pictures.

“Well, I can’t say I love what I’m seeing,” she eventually says. Something grey like grief.

The tumor is still there. It is not smaller. In fact, it is bigger than they first thought. It seems to reach in a thousand directions. And, on top of that, there is another tumor a few centimeters away that has surfaced from some depth previously unseeable.

“We will need to do some more tests,” she says. “This isn’t going to be a straight line, it seems.”

OK. I feel the world shifting. I text John in the waiting room and know now his world is shifting, too. The world is even stranger than before. Still—this time I also think of the last biopsy, and the club foot room, and our dog’s mind blowing wide open on the beach. We’re taking two steps backward and growling. That’s just what we have to do.

That dog, Zilch, never really became a water dog. He was short—a beagle/corgi mix—shorter in the front than the back and stocky as a boulder. But later that afternoon he did chase a gull right out into the shallows and hardly even looked down.

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