by Angeli Adeen
When I was fifteen, my insides started turning to stone.
It came on gradually. At first, I noticed it only when I peed – an odd feeling, in a deep place where I used to feel nothing.
As months went by, my lower abdomen started turning hard, little by little. I was vaguely puzzled by this. I thought of the petrified forests of Arizona, formed when trees died in rivers and then, as ages passed, minerals got deposited where the organic wood and bark had been.
Something like that was happening in me. Deep down inside I was being transformed, one cell at a time, to rock.
You might wonder why I didn’t tell my parents. Well, my father and I were not close – in fact, we barely spoke to each other. My mother was intrusive, always acting as if my body were her possession. Being private and easily embarrassed, I was repelled by the thought of going to her.
So I ignored it. It was probably nothing, anyway. I was a teenager and was changing all over in subtle ways, growing breasts and hair and hips. Maybe my increasingly rock-solid lower abdomen was normal.
One night during a sleepover, my best friend and I were watching TV while lying on our stomachs on her wooden floor. I could feel my stony innards pressing inside me uncomfortably.
I asked her, “Hey…does your stomach ever feel, I don’t know, kinda hard?”
She thought for a while. “Well, yeah – If I do lots of sit-ups I can make it get hard.”
“Oh,” I said. I did sit-ups sometimes, but I knew that my stealthily petrifying abdomen was not a six-pack.
Mostly, though, I didn’t think about it.
After all, it didn’t hurt. It crept through me so slowly I got used to it. And I wasn’t a hypochondriac (somebody who is unduly preoccupied with personal health and believes that illness is nearly always present or imminent).
I was sixteen; what could go wrong? So I did what I had always done. I went to school, I did my homework, while I slowly turned to stone. I slept, biked, swam, ate Cheerios.
In the fall of my junior year, I went out for a sports team and needed a physical. I wasn’t even thinking about my petrified abdomen when the doctor put hands on me. But he did a double-take.
I blushed. Not knowing what to say, I pretended I didn’t know what he meant. He prodded at me, putting his hands and fingers where I didn’t want them. It felt like being raped.
He asked me if I had a boyfriend.
“No,” I mumbled. My face was on fire.
He brought my mother into the room. “She has a mass in her pelvis,” he told her. “It’s the size of a five or six month pregnancy.”
They stared at me. “Angeli,” whispered my mother, “has there been a boy?”
I couldn’t speak.
The truth is, there had been a group of boys – two summers before when I was away at camp. I hadn’t quite had sex with them, and I knew I couldn’t be pregnant from two-year-old liaisons.
But what if? What if there was an old rotting fetus inside me? Could a sperm have gotten in somehow? Could a fetus have grown out of what I’d done at camp – a night I tried never to think about?
It could have grown partway and then died in there, and had been festering in me all this time.
I had felt my abdomen getting hard. How could I have been so unbelievably dumb that I hadn’t realized the only thing it could mean?
My mother was still staring at me. I was like a butterfly on a pin, skewered down the middle. I couldn’t even stammer out an answer.
I was sent to the local hospital for a pelvic ultrasound. My mother drove. Her face was pinched and gray.
As it turned out, it was not a two-year-old decaying fetus, made manifest to slut-shame me. It was a whole different thing.
“It’s the size of a cantaloupe,” said the specialist who was going to take it out.
He was addressing my mother, not me. They acted like I was invisible. He held out his hands to demonstrate, as if a weighty cantaloupe were suspended between them.
“It’s been growing a long time. I don’t know how she could have failed to notice it.” He glared at me. He seemed annoyed.
“Is it cancer?” my mother wailed. “Will she ever have children? Oh, my God!”
I wanted to squeeze her mouth shut. I was cool and distantly interested (a cantaloupe-sized tumor! Well, that certainly made more sense than a petrified forest!).
But my mother was a neurotic mess. I despised her noise and drama, the overbearing stickiness of her emoting. You would think she was the one with the tumor.
Driving home that day, my mother hissed at me, “How could you not have known it was there? You did know, didn’t you! You knew and you didn’t tell me!”
I had betrayed her; that’s what she meant.
All these months, under my clothes and under the blanket at night, I had grown a lush dark secret in my body and had kept her from knowing.
I was her youngest child and only girl. Maybe she had thought, up until that moment, that there was no part of me she didn’t own.
She spent all day on the phone, calling everyone she knew to discuss my intimate body parts and her terror.
Loathing her, I stayed in my room. Eventually she barged in and clutched at me. “Don’t be scared,” she quavered. “He said it’s not likely to be cancer. Are you scared? You must be terrified!”
Possibly she was looking in a mirror when she said this, since I was obviously not the least bit terrified. I truly didn’t give a damn. I mostly just wanted her to get her hands off me.
Surgery was scheduled and the tumor was removed.
The operation was difficult because my mother had begged the surgeon to spare the involved ovary if possible. (She was concerned about my childbearing potential, something I had zero interest in).
The surgeon inadvertently punctured the cantaloupe while trying to peel it off the ovary.
Later he described it to my mother, in front of me. “Full of mucus,” he laughed. “Disgusting. Oozed all over everything. I nearly lost my lunch!”
My mother, always eager to please a doctor, guffawed loudly. “Almost lost your lunch, oh, how funny!”
I gritted my teeth in rage as the two assholes joked about me. About my body, naked and inert on a table. Disgusting. Ha, ha.
The tumor turned out to be benign – a mucinous cystadenoma.
The funny thing was, about a year later it all started again.
Once again my insides started turning to stone.
And once again I did nothing as months went by.
Finally, a day came that I felt burning pain down in my pelvis. I stood up at work – eighteen years old and doing a summer temp job – and announced that I had to see a doctor.
I called my pediatrician, told him the mass had returned, asked him to refer me for an ultrasound at the local hospital, took a bus to the hospital, got the ultrasound, had my suspicions confirmed.
That night at dinner I informed my mother how I’d spent the day. “The tumor has grown back. I had an ultrasound today. I’ll need a ride to the surgeon’s office next week.”
She gaped at me and started wailing. What did I mean, what had I done, why oh why had I gone on my own without telling her anything?
I sat at the table. I felt like a grown woman – inviolable, as hard and cold as stone.
I shrugged and stared her down.