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Places in the Bone

Places in the Bone: A Memoir

Carol Dine
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Places in the Bone
    Book Description:

    In a series of unflinching vignettes laced with heartbreak and often with humor,Places in the Bonegives an unforgettable account of loss and survival, childhood secrets banished from memory, and the power of language to retrieve the missing parts of oneself and one's past. Woven together with unmistakable lyricism, Carol Dine's narrative moves back and forth in time and place-from the childhood bedroom that fills her with fear, to a hospital room after her surgery for breast cancer, to an adobe hut in a New Mexico artists' colony where she escapes and finds her voice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4108-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Text
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. The Tape in the Drawer
    (pp. 1-2)

    On the day of my father’s funeral, my mother passes out the audio cassettes he had recorded. “This is from Daddy,” she says, handing me an envelope. I can see the silhouette of the tape. Alone in my apartment, I turn it on. In the background, the air mattress sighs beneath my father.

    “Ca-rol,” my father begins, dividing my name the way he did when he yelled. But now his voice is like watery soup. “I’m leaving a tape for you to listen to after I’m gone. We haven’t seen eye to eye for intermittent times,” he says formally, as...

  6. The Locked Box
    (pp. 3-5)

    I come upon letters and poems typed on parchment paper, journals scribbled in notebooks twenty years ago. I offered up so much to my father: my innocence, my safety, my voice. But I saved the words. I gave away my books, my clothing, my only child. But I moved the writings with me from place to place. I stored them in the bottom of my armoire, in the hall closet. I locked them in a metal box so they could not be stolen, so they would not burn.

    I wrote what I was not ready to know, documented what happened...

  7. Bad Girls
    (pp. 6-25)

    Oak Terrace. I’m eleven; my sister, Lee, is six. My parents decide they want an oil portrait of us to hang in the living room. They hire an artist, Mrs. Lepler. My mother tells me Mrs. Lepler doesn’t want anyone to know she’s a German Jew. But I can tell by the guttural way she talks. “You’re the spitting image of your father,” she says, positioning me for the photograph she uses to paint from.

    In the portrait, my sister is wearing a lemony dress with a lacy collar. She’s perched on a bench, holding a letter from my father;...

  8. The Woman in My Poem
    (pp. 26-43)

    I leave my husband and my three-year-old son, and I move to an apartment in Cambridge a few blocks away. One night, there is a tremendous storm. I’m in the pantry when the moon and lightning shine across the wooden walls. I touch myself. Is someone watching through the kitchen window? Then there is a heat in my body that won’t go away. I walk to the mirror. My face has broken out in a rash. I’m trembling. I stretch out on my bed and begin to write poems. For forty-eight hours, I write without sleep.

    If I shave off...

  9. Treatments
    (pp. 44-57)

    I’m thirty-six. In the shower, I lather my breasts and make deep circles in the skin with my fingertips, the way I was instructed by the doctor. Just above my left nipple, I feel something irregular, hard.

    “I’m sure it’s another cyst,” Dr. Herman says after examining me. As a precaution, he sends me for a mammogram in the medical building where my father has an office. I lower my head as I walk down the hall past Father’s door. Do I smell his pipe tobacco?

    In Radiology, the technician squeezes my breasts between the black metal plates. I think...

  10. Sisters
    (pp. 58-68)

    My mother, Emma, and her twin sister, Evelyn, both married doctors. In an old home movie taken at my mother’s engagement party, both sisters are dressed in long chiffon gowns with puffy sleeves. Their dark thick hair is curled under, pageboy style; smiling into the camera, they have a lot of teeth. The man who would be my father is standing beside my uncle-to-be. They are both six feet tall, wearing army uniforms decorated with colored bars. In the next frame, the couples are dancing cheek to cheek. You can’t really tell the twins or the couples apart.

    Two eggs,...

  11. Reconstruction
    (pp. 69-79)

    Dr. Herman’s office. Five years after my first breast cancer,

    Dr. Herman biopsies a suspicious area, a pimple actually, on my right breast. I cannot recall our conversation the day he tells me that my cancer has recurred, that I need a mastectomy. I cannot record a terror that I have forgotten. A terror as numbed as skin before it is taken.

    Three weeks before I’m scheduled for the procedure, my mother and I meet with a plastic surgeon. Behind his oversized desk, Dr. Levin thumbs through my medical record. I pretend I am in Hollywood, not Boston. I’m Cher,...

  12. The Mahogany Box
    (pp. 80-89)

    Oak Terrace. On the bed my father died in fourteen years ago, my mother piles up sections of the Sunday newspaper she hasn’t read. Other than that, except for Father’s missing valet stand and his black medical bag, the room is like it was when he was alive. The matching lime-green bedspreads are the same, the twin beds connected by an oak headboard.

    Mother hasn’t replaced the photographs either. On the tall dresser that was my father’s, beside my sister’s engagement picture, are close-ups of Father and me; both our faces are somewhat distorted. Mother’s Bachrach wedding portrait hangs over...

  13. Talking to God
    (pp. 90-98)

    A week after my mastectomy, I’m invited to Susan’s for Passover. Sitting at the Seder table on this holiday, Jews are supposed to recline as they did in ancient times as a sign of freedom. I do the opposite. I try to sit up straight. I will be free in a few days, when the surgeon takes off my bandage and removes the stitches. Surreptitiously, I pull at my bra. My new breast will be shaped like the egg on the Seder plate.

    We begin to read a list of God’s deeds for which we should be grateful: “Had he...

  14. Exile
    (pp. 99-113)

    Sheraton Plaza Hotel, Boston. Looking at my wedding photographs, at first glance I cannot tell the difference between my father, who walks me down the aisle, and my ex-husband, who walks me back. Both men are tall. They part their dark hair on the left side. My husband’s hair is thicker than my father’s. My father’s lips are fuller than my husband’s. Both men hold the muscles in their smiles tight. In the double exposure of one photograph, I’m reflected in the mirror on the door of the bridal suite. It looks as if I’m going in and leaving at...

  15. Dear Mother
    (pp. 114-119)

    Oak Terrace. Heat wave. There’s no air-conditioning in my apartment, so I’m sleeping in my former room. My parents’ bedroom door is open. I can hear a talk show on their radio.

    “Who wants to listen to those nuts,” my father says. He turns off the radio.

    “I was listening,” my mother says.

    Then my mother knocks on my open door.

    “Are you still awake?”

    “Yes, I can’t get to sleep.”

    “Why? It’s cool here,” she says, sitting down on the edge of my bed.

    “I can’t sleep in this house, this bed.”

    Her voice picks up. “You were never...

  16. Places in the Bone
    (pp. 120-143)

    Atlantic Ocean. Before I met Philip, an accomplished sailor, my only experience sailing had been in the swan boats in Boston’s Public Gardens. This afternoon, in his thirty-foot yacht, we’re sailing through the Cape Cod Canal. A storm approaches. The jib sheet’s loose. “Dammit, trim the line,” Philip orders. My hands pull the rope.If you can be with a man on the ocean, you can be with him anywhere.

    The wind picks up. Above the wind, he yells, “I’ll show you how to steer. I have to go below to check the charts.” Now I’m alone behind the wheel....

  17. A Chain of Women
    (pp. 144-155)

    I find drops of blood shaped like teardrops on my underpants.

    Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Raymond examines me. She feels a large polyp on my uterus and orders an ultrasound. “Nothing to be alarmed about,” she assures me. I’ve heard these words too many times before. This time, the test shows no evidence of cancer. But because the polyp can turn malignant, Dr. Raymond tells me it has to be removed. She says I’m also at risk for cervical cancer as a result of Tamoxifen, the anti-estrogen hormone I’ve been taking since my metastasis.

    “You’ll be under anesthesia anyway, so...

  18. Lovers and Sons
    (pp. 156-167)

    Lynn, Massachusetts. I leave the desert for my new studio apartment at the back of a majestic white Victorian. The apartment was originally the servants’ quarters; on the hallway wall, traces of the dumbwaiter. This artsy space is also safe: My landlord is a state trooper.

    Everything in its place. The computer on top of the desk in a corner of the kitchen—my new office. In the living room, the white-striped canvas couch that converts to a bed. Decorating the couch, the red wool pillow I brought back from Taos. Woven on the front, the torso of a woman...

  19. In Remission
    (pp. 168-173)

    I have been in remission for three years.

    How do you live with the uncertainty? If you’re a writer, you write about death. You stare it down.

    I begin a new project, working with Andrew Xenios’s photographs of the mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico. The mummies were bodies of the indigent buried in the church cemetery; unclaimed by relatives, they were exhumed and placed against the wall of the catacombs, where Andy took the photographs. Preserved by the Mexican soil, the mummies look more human than skeletal: a woman, whose features resemble mine, crosses her hands over her breasts; her belly...

  20. The Lighthouse
    (pp. 174-175)

    I live alone in my garden apartment. Outside my window are two tall elms with intertwining leaves. On my porch, the pink and coral impatiens I planted this spring spill from clay pots. Sometimes when it rains, though miles away, I smell the ocean. Sometimes at dusk I imagine hearing Jenny’s meows.

    Awhile ago, I made a pact with God:If you let me have this book, I won’t ask for a man. In my experience, it has not been possible to have it all. On some dark nights, I despair over the wrong choices I’ve made as my father’s...

  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 176-176)