the toughening started early, as the youngest of five children~four of them girls. her parents were hoping to add one more boy to the mix, see, and her mother, so disappointed by the announcement ~ "it's another girl!" ~ allegedly was despondent.
i'm not saying the child was subesquently neglected, but if she didn't finish the bottle quick enough, her mom gave the rest to the dog. her hand-me-downs came from a pack of javelinas. and on cold swim team mornings, she was the child voted most likely to test the water temperature.
somewhere along the way her mother told her, "you'll never be pretty, so you better be smart." nice, huh?
unfortunately, my wife believed it. and even though she grew up to be quite lovely, she's always seen herself as the ugly duckling. she also turned out to be a biomedical engineer, so at least her mom was half-right.
mrs. spaceneedl grew up in the arizona desert at a time when sun exposure was maximized and sunscreen was unheard of. years of cumulative skin damage eventually manifested itself as a series of basal cell carcinomas. on her arm, her back, her shoulder, and her face (three times).
off to the dermatologist she'd go, for assorted cryosurgeries, excisions and grafts, endured matter-of-factly.
sidebar: we've been together a long time-~26 years, if you can imagine~further proof of her courage. the years have been good, mostly, with enough bad to make us appreciate the difference. the missus has stoically dealt with adult-onset asthma. a thrice-broken tailbone. four miscarriages. the loss of her mom to cancer. three primary cancers for her dad.
there's more, but you get the idea.
last week she went in to have another basal cell growth removed from her nose. it was supposed to be a relatively quick procedure...excision, a couple sutures, a few uncomfortable days. no big deal.
turns out, it was more complicated.
the growth was larger than expected, so the doctor had to remove more tissue from a place where there isn't much excess to begin with. this meant that the fix was more involved, as well. there were a couple graft options, one of which was invasive and barbaric-sounding. the other was no picnic, either, but seemed slightly less horrific.
she came out of the hospital with a large white wrap on her nose, swollen cheeks, and eyes just starting to blacken. so much for the minor procedure.
this morning it was time to change the bandages.
"i dreamed there were just three little Xs on my nose," she said, "and i thought, 'wow, that's not so bad after all.'"
standing at the mirror, i told her, "this is not the time to assess how it looks. two months from now you can make an assessment. this morning is as bad as it's going to be. from here on it gets nothing but better."
she paused, then peeled back the gauze. her nose was criss-crossed with stiches and red, raw-looking tissue. it looked intensely painful, and you could see her calculating how ugly it'd make her by her mom's standard.
after a few quiet moments, she cried.
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