A year ago, I cleared out my garage, and the recesses of my heart, to make room for some months-old baby goats. As the goats were transferred from the dog carrier to garage on adoption day, they were dubious of their new surroundings. (A garage and a wire fence wrap-around, were not on their bucket list of places to stay, no doubt.) They made mental notes of any security weaknesses that could be leveraged as a means for escape. Captivity and confinement could be tossed aside as soon as they had a good plan. Frequent sidelong glances towards my dog Gobo and I added to their arsenal of tactical information.
Their plan to spring from “150th street” seemed to recede from consciousness around day four. The nipple-clad coke bottles delivering warm goat’s milk helped their newly manufactured brain cells erase everything but hunger signals and giant question marks. Thoughts of return to Cumberland and reunification with the clan had all but disappeared.
I know that goats aren’t like us. They don’t go over and over events to make sense of it all. They don’t comb their story for nuggets of wisdom. They don’t characterize real events as as “pivotal points” in their story. But if they did…
Their story changed as the days flew by. The theme and context had broadened with the passage of time. The expanding time-line provided more story content, increasing the complexity, but the accuracy as well. Details and characters were fleshed out more completely. The garage wasn’t prison after all. And I wasn’t the enemy.
I delivered the “goods” twice daily. The twin kids would climb over each other to get to one of two bottles offered. Once engaged, they produced a 3-minute duet of staccato sucking noises. If Leo was the first to finish his, he’d shove Orion out of the way and latch onto his bottle for the drizzle of remaining milk. Their “jailer” became someone to love, and under the woozy influence of rich goat’s milk, the inside of the garage took on a glowing, friendly look. Less prison cell, more beloved childhood home. Leo, who wouldn’t have anything to do with me on adoption day, would now climb onto my lap and gaze dreamily into my eyes. Stockholm syndrome.
The passage of time can radically alter a story. A new place becomes home, hardship fades from memory, brains rewire and trauma becomes a gift. I fall in love with two small livestock sentients. Time provides a greater story context that broadens the goats’ understanding of “this prison” and the “woman who runs it.”
Can we outmaneuver time? Albert Einstein concluded in his later years that the past, present, and future all existed simultaneously. And the most highly recognized physicists since Einstein have made even more dramatic advances towards a timeless perspective of the universe. In the study of Quantum Mechanics, our focus can change any event, even one that has already occurred.
Months before the goats arrived, I received the news of a Malignant Melanoma diagnosis from a doctor at a hospital that I had only visited before on one other occasion–to have a mole removed from my right lower leg. I walked into his office expecting to leave with my stitches removed and tumor-less relief as the parting theme. Instead, I walked away with a fuzzy head, a few sketchy notes, and the stitches still in my leg, an open chapter and signpost for the next surgery.
The surgeon delivered a story of spreading cancer cells that was so frightening and contrary to expectation, that following a day of stunned inaction, I stepped treatment pre-production up to a dizzying speed. I could only think of one thing–to seek the most expert advice I could find, and follow it. The news, delivered by a medical doctor with the sound logic of the medical world, reduced my once broad spectrum of possible solutions to any health problem to just “Medicine.” Medicine offered the only solution.
My memory offers a few sketchy details: one of these is a visit with a Twin Cities surgeon who could do a second surgery to get every last cancer cell and biopsy cells from adjacent lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread.
That was the visit in which the friend with me asked: “what happens if she doesn’t have this surgery?” The answer, “then the Cancer will come back” seemed to be missing the word “could.” It will come back. Not could, but would.
The absence of a single word (and it’s forced certainty) made me wonder what else might be missing. There seemed to be an absence of the context that time (or a good rewrite) would provide. The context that would shift the word “will”–to “could”–and “could”–to “won’t.” I wanted to live in the story of “the cancer won’t come back.” A warm glowy home instead of a prison.
Eventually, the context-deficient story received an edit. I added my own “inner expert” to the cast of characters. I avoided the surgery and followed my heart. I read book after book, reigniting, in me, what panic had erased. Trust in my own ability to heal.
I worked with diet first, and then looked into the most personal part of my story, now thrown into greater relief. After reading up on type-Cs, Cancer-prone people, I concluded that my back story, too, needed an edit. Prison bars were in every chapter. How did I write such a lopsided narrative?
As my writing teacher Carolyn Wedin recently pointed out, a personal story is never really finished. The state of becoming lacks resolution. But we can’t wait until the end of our story to tell it, or to make sense of it. For now, assignment of structure—any structure—would have to do.
Walls of a garage change from “prison” to “home” with a slight change in story structure. It was literary structure that had the means to favor a person, opinion, or even an outcome. The slant. The writers I admire are slant wizards who can lift the story out of its chronological order, broaden the focus with several steps back, or increase the time taken into account so that just the right ending comes into view. Following this wizardry as best I could, I rewrote my own, real story.
Four months before learning about the Melanoma, I gave a presentation at a brain injury conference. I talked to other professionals about my recovery from a traumatic brain injury I had sustained five years before. The last Power Point slide held an affirmation I had written about the malleability of reality, with just a hint of how goats, garages, and scary cancer news might shift and change: “In each moment of every day, my state of being reflects a reality in which nothing is missing. My happily ever after is now.”