When you were smaller, you sat on your mother’s bed while she curled her long brown hair in the bathroom mirror, and your voice swelled as you told her what you learned in school that day. You must have been in elementary school, because learning still seemed cool. You rambled on about how whales have blubber to keep them warm, and told Mommy it would be okay because her blubber would keep her warm in the winter, too.
You wonder now if she still remembers that conversation, and you hope to God she doesn’t because even though it only lasted a second, you can still see the hurt flood her eyes as the words rolled off your tongue. You’ve never regretted saying anything so immediately in your life, even though you were so young you probably didn’t even know what regret was or the true impact that misspoken words could have. But you saw her face crumple before bouncing back, before her smile returned without reaching her eyes.
Now you stand, watching her looking at her reflection in that same bathroom mirror. She doesn’t need a curling iron now. Her tufts of soft new hair are bending all on their own. The doctors call them ‘cancer curls,’ and your grandma tries to convince your mom that it looks cute. You know she hates it.
Her chest is a patchwork quilt, dotted with scars and tiny needle pricks where the doctors poked holes in her armor, reaching for the cancer but taking her femininity along with it. You look at her and you see strength, but all she sees are flaws to cover up with bulky turtleneck sweaters and decorative hats.
It’s been a year since chemo now, and the marks on her mind hurt more than the scars on her body. She doesn’t need breasts to be beautiful. She never did. But when you look into her eyes, they remind you of that day when you were little.
If you could, you’d lend her your own eyes. Maybe then she could see herself the way you do.