I was haphazardly re-applying eyeliner in the ladies room at Washington Dulles when I heard a small voice beside me; “What happened to your arm?”
Usually when people ask me about the violet line extending from the middle of my hand toward my elbow, I freeze. I could lie (“It was a shark! With really even teeth!”), dismiss (“Long story, no big deal”), defend (“Do you always ask people personal questions in the bathroom?) or answer straight.
It was the worst walking in Wal-Mart in December of 2011, limping and slinged with a large cast… every two aisles some unassuming yet intrusive older man would say ‘What, did you get into a car accident?” or “I bet the other guy looks worse, hardy-har-har!” I should be accustomed to the invasion now – it’s even more awkward when people purposefully don’t mention it until it becomes A THING, that I have to EXPLAIN. Can’t win for losing, basically.
As I worked through my response in just a second, I saw the small voice’s owner out of the corner of my eye. Pivoting on my left foot and inclining my head down, I contemplated the pig-tailed blonde human in front of me. She couldn’t have been more than six, tops, (WHERE WAS HER MOTHER? The mama bear -who i keep buried under boxes of movie trivia- clamored for attention), wore glasses too big for her face and a pink Dora the Explorer top.
My pseudo-niece, Lucy, adores Dora. I didn’t understand, when I was holding her three days out of the hospital, worried I would drop her, that she’d turn into this talkative, curious little girl who pirouettes on command (finishing with a loud “Ta-Da!” and wave of her arms). Few notice, I think, that I hoot and holler way more than the average aunt. Clapping with one hand doesn’t make enough noise for me, since my clapping ran off with my left radius.
I leaned down to the little one, eyeliner in hand, and decided to be honest. “I had a bone tumor in my wrist.” She stared at me for a moment, and I could see her eyes grow larger as she decided how she would respond. In that brief moment, I decided to be dismissive and nonchalant, thinking my truth wasn’t something really appropriate for someone so small. “It’s ok now though, I’m fine. It didn’t even really hurt.” I couldn’t help but lie, looking at Dora-lite. I needed to lie just a little.
Dora-lite, whose eyes had stilled, stepped forward a tiny half step, maybe because she wanted to make sure I could hear her. (There were some loud ladies two sinks over complaining about the size of the bathroom and how most of the restaurants were closed already).
“My friend Billy has a tumor in his brain,” she whispered.
I stepped back, I couldn’t help it. As my hip brushed the front of the sink my mind started working again, harder and faster than before.
“That’s tough, kid. I’m sure he’s going to be just fine though.” I lied. Or I didn’t. And I think that, if things go badly, years from now she’ll hate me for that lie.
She nodded, turned on her heel and walked out the bathroom without casting a backward glance. I turned back to the sink and turned the water on and watched the water splash on my slightly shaking hands, just for a second.