I press the button attached to the IV attached to my arm, and the sweet burn of morphine runs through my veins. The drip, drip, drip drowns the music of newborn cries, coming from down the hall. Obstetrics, gynecology. Same wing. Same floor. The baby nursery is right next door.
Maybe I should count sheep.
One little lamb. Two little lambs. Three …
“Don’t be greedy.” My surgeon’s words on speed-dial in my brain.
“You have three healthy children.”
This is what he tells me, when he tells me my cervix has to go.
Three little lambs. Four …
The lights on the ceiling, flush mounts they’re called, look like breasts, breasts heavy with milk.
Polished nickel nipples, ready to feed.
There’s an army of ants. Yes! An army of tiny black ants climbing the wall across from my bed. I laugh. The newborns across the hall wail. Time to press the button for more morphine.
Four little lambs. Five …
My father used to call me shefele. That’s little lamb in Yiddish.
And then there was Jay. Met him in July,1976. The summer of the Bicentennial—a good sign, if you believe in those things. I was just fifteen.
Married in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was President and Sally Ride, the first woman in space. “Every Breath You Take” had just highjacked the airwaves.
Why do I feel I can’t breathe?
Seven, eight little lambs …
“Even nuns get dysplasia,” that same surgeon tells me, after he tells me I have cancer, the unruly
child of a runaway STD.
“Even nuns have affairs,” the words of my Catholic-school friend …
Nine, ten little lambs. Eleven, twelve, thirteen …
Jay and I were each other’s firsts.
I thought I was his only.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen …
The nurse comes in. I pray she won’t notice my brave six-legged friends, climbing the hospital wall.
Seventeen, eighteen …
- Jay had just ended his second affair.
Bill and Monica’s story broke that January, amidst semen stains and cigars.
Arnold had fathered his housekeeper’s child.
The year prior, Kathy Lee—and the world—found out that Frank was fucking a flight attendant.
So many men wielding their fleshy swords …
I’m afraid I’ve lost count.
I look up at the tiny soldiers. They’re busy, those ants, driven to move in their stick straight line. I wonder how they do that, march so fearlessly, black against a cold white sea.
What would it be like to be so bold, to move forward, even at the risk of being seen?
Diane Gottlieb received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction and as a member of the interview and blog teams for Lunch Ticket. Her work has appeared in Panoply and Lunch Ticket. You can also find her weekly musings at https://dianegottlieb.com.