Tribute to Thelma Rosalie Palmer
I looked down at the angry red scar that ran nearly diagonally across what once was my right breast. Carefully almost reverently my left hand caressed the raised stitches that the doctor said would be removed in a few weeks. I was one of the lucky few. The surgeon removed the entire cancerous growth along with all my breast tissue. Bonus point: I did not require chemotherapy or radiation so at least I would get to keep my beautiful salt & pepper mane.
Once the swelling and redness had subsided the plastic surgeon explained to me I’d be a good candidate for reconstructive surgery. But in my musings I had already dismissed that option. I’d rather wear my mastectomy scar as an Amazonian badge of courage and honor. I was a Warrior Woman much like the mythical females immortalized in Greek literature.
This sacrificial scarification symbolized strength and endurance. The will, no, the need to go and move forward in life. As for the pain, it’s not so bad, not nearly as bad as when my ex pummeled me bloody and broken with his fists when I failed to obey some order known or unknown. This operation was not an intolerable as the bi-weekly rapes to which I was subjected.
Even now in the years since he left me on Thanksgiving Day 2007 I’ve considered taking lovers, even had a few imaginary ones but the nightmare replays itself again and again in my head. When I see an erect penis, a face appears right at the head, above the shaft. His face. The face of my tormentor. Sexual intercourse with him and forever more in my mind became associated with the lower bodily functions. It’s as though men blow their nose, defecate and vomit upon you in succession. No pleasure. Only pain and moral/emotional degradation. You can never forgive him and worst of all you can never forgive yourself for allowing this to happen. But I’m free now. This scar will protect me from further encounters. My greatest desire is to never be violated again.
I went to the weekly meetings of breast cancer survivors. But nothing will assuage the survivors’ guilt. Guilt that I had lived but my favorite aunt, Thelma Palmer Varner had not.
Aunt Thelma had married and divorced early in her life. Childless she devoted her spare time to her beloved nieces and nephews, especially the children of her only brother, Edward, myself and my brother Stephen. I spent many an enjoyable weekend at her apartment in Co-op City, The Bronx. Aunt Thelma was the fun aunt. We laughed; joked, played games. She took me shopping and told the most hilarious stories.
Aunt Thelma died of breast cancer. Carcinoma of the right breast read her death certificate. But I attributed her untimely death at age 62 to religious ignorance and blind obedience to error. Aunt Thelma a former AME turned Catholic got involved with the Church of Christ Science, better known as Christian Scientists. Mary Baker Eddy. They are neither Christians nor scientists. Christian Scientists claim all illness and sickness is an illusion, doctors are unnecessary and all appearance of sickness can be worked out through “science”. Visiting a doctor when you are in pain or have serious symptoms is considered “a lack of faith in Ms. Eddy’s principles”. Mary Baker Eddy’s principles of Christian Science are false and ultimately dangerous if followed to the letter.
Aunt Thelma died a slow, painful, agonizing death in one of their “hospitals” in Westchester County. At her funeral one of their so-called ministers to whom Aunt Thelma had paid money for prayer actually had the nerve, audacity and gall to attend the services. If I had not been consumed with grief and wanting to be respectful of other family members I would have beat the woman to death. To this day I hope God assigns a special place in Hell for all Christian Science ministers and pastors. May their reading rooms be vandalized then burned to ashes in memory of their many mislead victims.
Wait my scar is throbbing. It’s speaking to me. This mutilated chest. My war wound.
I’ve decided once the area has completely healed to answer the scar’s calling and decorate my mangled bosom with a full color tattoo of Aunt Thelma and I costumed as Amazon Warrior Women intertwined eternally.
Thelma Rosalie Palmer Varner
1922 – 1985
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