I am putting the final touches on my memoir — the story of the four generations of women in my family who have carried the BRCA A 1 gene.
But it’s not just another book about cancer. It’s a book about life. It’s about each and every one of us, the struggles we endure and how we can not only keep, but continue to fan, the flames of hope in life’s darkest moments.
My deepest gratitude to my savvy, talented and hard-working literary agent, Jessica Faust at BookEnds, LLC who has believed in me and my writing talent all along.
The Chapter 1 you see here is from the final draft of this book. To read the remaining chapters, Jessica tells me, you’re going to have to wait for the book!
Amy Rauch Neilson
No Safe Place (Chapter 1)
I woke up face down on the ground, covered in something green and slimy. There was a clump of it in my hair, hanging down onto my forehead, another wrapped tightly around the fingers of my right hand, a third clinging to my right knee. I remember thinking that it felt like the bowl of icy, unpeeled grapes I’d once plunged my hand into at a makeshift haunted house.
I don’t know how or why that memory came to me at that moment. But there it was – the bowl, the young girl dressed like a Ghoul, a hood shrouding her face, the sounds of zombies and their screaming victims turned up so loud they hissed through the overtaxed speakers from the back of the garage. I remember how the little Ghoul grabbed my left hand and forced it into the bowl, then leaned in to me and whispered, “Gen-u-whiine Eye of Newt.”
I lay there, my nose in the soil, taking in shallow breaths, afraid to turn my head to the left or right. There was dirt on my lips and on my tongue. I could feel the grit on my teeth. I lay that way for what felt like a moment, but could easily have been an hour. Maybe longer. It was a dark, starless night, a night with no point of reference, no use, no care for time.
I was clamped by fear. Held in place like a chunk of wood in a vice, that big, old, clunky tool that sat on the edge of my Dad’s greasy basement workbench. The one that’d hold a piece of lumber to be sanded or metal to be bent. When I was a little girl, I used to test it, swinging the arm round and round to see just how tight it could get, stopping only when the arm quit mid-cycle, couldn’t budge any further.
I tried to suck in a breath. I waited. And I listened. The earth was cool and damp. The air was still. The acrid scent of decaying leaves entered my nostrils, that, along with the pungent smell of manure.
I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate. No sound. Not a Barn Owl or the buzz of a mosquito homing in on tender skin, the promise of a good meal on a humid mid-summer’s night.
I knew then that it was too quiet. There was a void. A blackness. Like time had ceased, the very life sucked out of it.
I turned my head to one side and dared to open my eyes. I reached out and began to cautiously pat the ground around me. I felt something strong, thick coming up from the earth. I followed it, running my hand up as far as I could reach, maybe a foot, maybe two. I touched another. Then another. The next one was bent, broken, lying on the ground. I moved my fingers up the strong stem to the silky, stringy top. It felt like the tassle on a graduation cap.
Corn. I was in a cornfield.
Oh my God! Not again!
My heart began pumping so hard my chest hurt and for a moment, I felt disoriented. I brushed the soggy leaves from my forehead and reached down to pull them from my right knee. Beneath them, my skin was warm and wet; sticky. Blood. I’d been bleeding. I must have fallen. Had I been running?
That’s when I heard them. Helicopter blades, slicing through the preternaturally quiet night sky like the sails of a large ship, whipping in a violent storm at sea.
Then suddenly, I was bathed in an intense white light. A spotlight. And I knew.
The enemy was in pursuit.
I squinted. The helicopter made a pass, the blades whipping up a breeze that stirred and rattled the corn husks as they rippled and swayed. Had I been spotted? Then the sound of the blades faded as the helicopter moved off into the distance.
I dragged myself into the row of corn and lay there, my legs wrapped around the stalks, face down in the dirt, my arms above my head, scarcely breathing, trying desperately to blend in. I felt the sting of a half-dozen mosquitoes dining on my arms, my legs, my neck. I willed myself not to move.
I remembered this cornfield. I remembered it all too well. The enemy had found me here once before, five Harvest moons ago.
But how? How had it found me a second time, after all these years? After all I’d done to evade it? To disguise myself? To vanquish what it was really after?
The first time, it’d taken body parts in trade for my very survival, and I’d gladly given them up. I’d fought back with all I had. It’d been taken from my body, examined, then destroyed. I’d hit it with the most toxic, targeted chemicals known. Its weakness. Its Kryptonite. There wasn’t supposed to be a second time.
I heard the copter circling back, the spotlight illuminating a wide swath in the dark of the night. It passed over me once again.
I dared look down to exam myself. I was clad in a ripped, muddied, white tank top. My chest wall, covered only in a thin, tight layer of skin, showed through. My artificial nipples made indentations in the thin, damp cotton. I was wearing a pair of boxer shorts so thread-bare that the material was nearly transparent. I’d seen them once before. Only once. Last time.
The chopper blades hovered overhead, loud and unyielding. The corn stalks stirred frantically, violently in the windstorm. Together, they sounded like a thousand metal marbles rolling down a playground slide. The enemy was closing in. I pushed my nose even further into the dirt, holding my long blonde hair tightly to my head. I held my breath. I lay perfectly still. No use. The spotlight, the enemy locked in on me.
It must be the boxer shorts. I tried to pull them down, get them off, fling them into the field. But I couldn’t even manage to wriggle them to my knees. They clung to my skin like they’d been painted on.
On the front, they were a seemingly innocent blue and white plaid. But the back. I knew what was on the back.
A bulls eye.
The chopper was circling, looking for a place to land among the cornstalks. The spotlight blinded me; the roar of the engine deafening as it closed in, ready to make its vertical descent.
It had found me. Again.
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