JUST AS I AM

By John Thomas Tuft

Betty closed the door and approached the mirror with dread. Maybe if she didn’t look herself in the eye it would change things. Maybe if she just washed her face, brushed her hair, put on a touch of make-up and smiled, this would all go away. Maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t felt what she thought she did. Maybe if she didn’t look herself in the eye in the mirror, the sense of panic would pass, it was all a silly mistake. She could cancel her visit to The Breast Center and the discomfort sure to follow. It was all an honest mistake. After all, she was certainly healthy looking. She ran a few times a week, watched what she ate, loved her children—she’d do anything for them—and her husband, despite all his obvious faults and annoying habits. Her only vice was chocolate, and as everybody knows, that’s not really a vice. More like a necessity for good and right living.

As she drove through streets, strangely missing their usual traffic, she barely noticed the empty restaurants and shuttered businesses. Life was already changing too rapidly, maybe she could wait until later, put this off until things got back to normal. Maybe…she looked in the rearview mirror and scolded herself, “I’m tired of maybes.” The classic oldies-that-your-kids-can’t-stand music station on the radio blared “Cause” by Rodriguez, and the phrase “…but the sweetest kiss I ever got was the one I never tasted…” brought tears to her eyes, but she stopped them with a sigh, “Damn music.” Next thing she knew, though, she was singing along to “…and I make sixteen solid half-hour friendships every evening…” She shook her head at her reflection, muttering, “Welcome to the new world.”

She parked the car and headed into the imposing medical arts building. The doors of the elevator opened onto the third floor and after checking in she took a seat and looked around. Patients were doing their best to stay six feet apart like some sort of life-sized game of tic tac toe. She noticed a man watching her from across the way. He had a close-trimmed white beard and the corners of his blue eyes crinkled when he smiled. “You know, they only let the special ones in,” he said. Betty looked away, then back. “Are you waiting for your wife?” He shook his head and touched his chest. “Nope, it’s on me.  That’s how I know.” He smiled. “I don’t know how you ladies do it. That machine squishes down hard!” She gave him a questioning look. “Yep, nice sized mass. Right about here,” he indicated his right breast.

“I’m sorry. What did they do?” asked Betty. “A little nip and tuck,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “A biopsy. Don’t worry yourself none, they take good care of you.” She noticed the other women nearby rolling their eyes. He went on, “I’m here today for my results.” Betty studied him a moment. “I hope everything is all right.” He spread his hands out in front of him. “The way I figure it, it ain’t about where you been. Or where you’re going. It’s about who you are. Right now. Being a ‘just as I am’ person.” Betty caught herself biting a fingernail. “Aren’t you worried?” He folded his hands and leaned toward her. “I don’t want to be sick, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t want to be spending all my energy chasing some ghost around inside my body. But nobody sitting here in this room wants that, either. Whether it be this or some invisible virus.  We’ve all got better things to be doin’!”

He looked at her closely. “You haven’t told anybody, have you.” It was a statement, not a question. He looked her in the eye. “You don’t even want to look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t be afraid of who you’ll see in there.” He sat back and smiled again, patted his belly. “Being a just as I am person doesn’t mean being like me, my friend. It means seeing everybody else the way you want them to see you. Right now. Right here.” The door opened and one of the tech’s in pink scrubs came out. “Reverend, you ready?” He stood up and took a step toward Betty. “It’s always for all the marbles. Every day. Today is for all the marbles.” He turned to follow the tech. “For every one of us.”

After Betty finished her appointment, she rode the elevator back to the ground floor, the little ice pack soothing the irritation of the invasion. She noticed an older woman sitting alone on the bench outside the door to a neurologist’s office. As Betty passed the frail woman looked up. “Excuse me,” she said. Betty stopped in front of her. “I don’t mean to bother you. It’s just…” Betty gently urged her, “No bother, dear.” The woman reached out a hopeful hand. “Could I trouble you and ask you for a hug? Please?”

As she drove home, Betty flipped on the radio. Andy Grammer sang ‘Don’t Give Up On Me’ to her: “…even when nobody else believes, I’m not going down that easily…So don’t give up on me…even when they say there’s nothing left, even when I’m down to my last breath…I will fight for you…”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.