You are on page 1of 26


in the
A Young Woman’s Story of
Love, Loss, and Breast Cancer

Revised Edition

Cathy Bueti

Breastless.indd iii 2/25/09 5:42:51 PM

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information
in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that
the publisher is not engaged in rendering medical, legal, or other professional
service. If medical advice or other expert assistance is required, the services
of a competent professional should be sought.

Breastless in the City is based on real events; however, some names and other
details have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

© 2009 Cathy Bueti

Published by Kaplan Publishing, a division of Kaplan, Inc.

1 Liberty Plaza, 24th Floor
New York, NY 10006

All rights reserved. The text of this publication, or any part thereof, may not
be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from
the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bueti, Cathy.
Breastless in the city : a young woman’s story of love, loss,
and breast cancer / Cathy Bueti.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-60714-050-4
1. Bueti, Cathy--Health. 2. Breast--Cancer--Patients--New York (State)--
Biography. 3. Mastectomy--Patients--New York (State)--Biography.
4. Mastectomy--Psychological aspects. I. Title.
RC280.B8B826 2009

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN-13: 978-1-6071-4050-4

Kaplan Publishing books are available at special quantity discounts to use

for sales promotions, employee premiums, or educational purposes. Please
email our Special Sales Department to order or for more information at, or write to Kaplan Publishing, 1 Liberty Plaza,
24th Floor, New York, NY 10006.

Breastless.indd iv 1/30/09 12:17:17 PM

— To Paul, my angel in heaven —
Thank you for your love and guidance
from the other side.

— To Louie, my angel on earth —

I am grateful every day to have you in my life.
You bring peace to my soul.
You make my heart sing.
. . . .May the song never end . . . .

— To my dad —
. . . .You are now free to fly in the summer wind . . . .

Breastless.indd v 1/30/09 12:17:17 PM

Breastless.indd vi 1/30/09 12:17:18 PM
What lies behind us and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Breastless.indd vii 1/30/09 12:17:18 PM


The One Who Saved Me

I KNEW I WOULD MARRY Paul from the day we met. Back

then, in March of 1985, Paul was a football player at our
high school, and I was a shy, geeky girl who carried around a
lockerful of books to every class. My best friend, Robyn, intro-
duced us in front of his locker. She was dating a close friend
of Paul’s. I had never even been on a date, but she thought he
would be perfect for me. As I looked at him in his red-and-
white football jacket, a torn bandanna tied around his head
à la Rambo, I realized this wasn’t the first time I had seen him.
One day, when I was in sixth grade, I passed a boy as I
walked to class. When he got closer, I noticed that he averted
the left side of his face. I knew of him. He was in the grade
ahead of me, someone I felt sympathy for, because the left
side of his face was deformed. He had scars all around his eye,
which protruded from its socket. I would learn later that he was
almost totally blind in that eye and could only detect shadows
in the periphery. We exchanged a quick glance that day on the

Breastless.indd 1 1/30/09 12:17:19 PM


stairs, and I wondered why he looked so sad. Later I found out

he was born with this disfigurement, the result of a prenatal
problem in which his umbilical cord took up residence on that
side of his face and prevented it from developing. Soon after he
was born, he would undergo the first of 16 plastic surgeries to
rebuild his face.
Now I was 15, in 10th grade, and I saw someone very dif-
ferent: a handsome 17-year-old with dark brown hair, brown
eyes, a muscular build, and a sweet smile. I noticed that he still
tilted his head to the left, but his eye looked much better than
it had years ago. As Robyn arranged the details of our date,
there were butterflies in my stomach. I had a hard time mak-
ing eye contact with Paul. But I was thrilled at the prospect of
going out with him, and I had a funny feeling that I had just
met my soul mate. It didn’t make sense to me at the time — it
was as if my soul just knew.

PAUL AND I BOTH grew up in Haverstraw, New York, a small

town in Rockland County, but I was born in the Bronx, where
my parents grew up. They had known each other since they
were about 12 years old and got married in the fall of 1968 when
my mom was 19 and my dad was 20. I was born in the sum-
mer of 1969 on July 28. My brother, Tom, came along four years
after me, and he was very different from me. I was the goodie-
goodie who did everything I was told, while Tom was always
in trouble: either rebelling or clowning around, trying to make
everyone laugh.
I was seven years old when we moved out of the Bronx and
into a town house in a development that had its own park. My

Breastless.indd 2 1/30/09 12:17:19 PM


father worked for the post office and my mom stayed home
with us in the beginning, then went to work as a secretary at
Columbia University when I was about ten. From a very young
age I felt responsible for Tom. It might have been partly because
I was the older sibling, but it also had a lot to do with all the
trouble at our home.
My father was a raging drunk. Every day, he screamed and
yelled, stumbling through the house. He told me he started
drinking when he was about 12 years old. By the time my par-
ents got married, he was a well-established alcoholic. Mom was
the one who took care of Tom and me, keeping us away from
Dad as best she could while she herself tried to dodge the daily
bullets of verbal abuse. When my mom started working week-
ends, I hated to see her leave. While she was gone, I spent the
time worrying something would happen to her.
We lived in a very small house without many places to
hide. I remember feeling afraid most of the time. Naturally, I
never invited my friends over, because I was embarrassed of
my father. Some of the best memories for me are of Mom taking
us kids to her parents’ apartment in the Bronx for the week-
end. Grandma’s was a safety zone. She always made us feel
loved with lots of hugs and kisses and “I love you”s, a welcome
change, since Mom and Dad were not very affectionate, espe-
cially my dad.
Grandma managed to distract us. She’d take Tom and me
to the Bronx Zoo or the Botanical Gardens, or pile us onto the
bus to go to Fordham Road to shop at Alexander’s, her favor-
ite department store. Sometimes we’d eat grilled cheese sand-
wiches at the counter in Woolworth’s. She was also a great

Breastless.indd 3 1/30/09 12:17:20 PM


cook and had a stash of candy in a secret cabinet. Whatever it

was, wherever we went, we always had fun with Grandma.
When my grandfather died, around the time I graduated
from high school, my grandmother lived alone for the first time
in her life. She moved closer to us after that, and I started visit-
ing her more often. I loved hearing stories about her growing
up in the Bronx, the oldest girl of ten siblings in her big Italian
family. She experienced a lot of loss, burying many siblings as
well as her parents along the way. She never got to finish school
because she had to go to work as an usher at the Apollo Theater
in Harlem to help support her family. I appreciated her wisdom,
gained from growing up during the Depression and raising two
children on a limited income, but most of all, I cherished how
safe she made me feel.
My dad signed himself into rehab when I was 12. He was
gone for a month. Since he was no longer drinking, I thought
that things would get better and my parents would be happy.
But soon after he returned, I realized that even though he wasn’t
drunk anymore, he was still depressed and very unhappy. He
became what they call a dry drunk. Even sober, he had mood
swings and lashed out.
When I was in high school, my mom started making a life
for herself that didn’t include my dad. She enrolled in night
classes at a local college. Then she filed for a divorce. It wasn’t
amicable, and my dad was very resistant, but the divorce
became final when I was in college. He moved out while my
brother and I stayed with my mom in the house where we grew
up. This was an especially confusing and unhappy time: I was

Breastless.indd 4 1/30/09 12:17:20 PM


sad that my family was breaking apart, even though our lives
together had been very difficult.

WHEN I LEFT FOR college in the fall of 1987 it was hard to leave
home. Paul and I had broken up and my family was a mess.
I decided on occupational therapy as a major knowing that I
wanted to enter a profession where I could help others. I began
to enjoy being away from home, especially when Paul and I rec-
onciled my sophomore year.
While my parents’ relationship fell apart, Paul and I became
more serious about our relationship. He had become a rock for
me, my biggest support as I dealt with the breakup of my fam-
ily. Unlike my father, he was sensitive, affectionate, and liked
to have fun.
On December 22, 1989, Paul got down on one knee in front
of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and asked me to
marry him. I was so surprised and happy, I couldn’t stop smil-
ing. I said yes loudly. I wanted to share it with the entire city.
As we began to plan our wedding, my dad was planning
his own. This was something I never thought would happen. I
didn’t want another family. I didn’t want a stepmother. It didn’t
matter who she was. But my dad got remarried in December
of 1991, only a year before Paul and I were to be married. I took
that pretty hard. Not only was it difficult for me to adjust to my
morphing family, but part of me felt as if he was stealing my
thunder. I had gotten engaged before him. And with my dad’s
marriage, it seemed as if my family was officially over. I felt lost
except when I was with Paul.

Breastless.indd 5 1/30/09 12:17:20 PM


Our wedding was planned for the fall of 1992. We bought a

town house in Warwick, and moved in a month before the wed-
ding. Although we hadn’t planned it this way, our home was
near my father and his new wife, Jeanne. Paul and I worked
at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. I was
an occupational therapist and Paul was a respiratory therapist.
Most days we commuted to work together. I loved being able to
see him for a few minutes during the workday. We both worked
hard and saved money to pay for our own wedding.
On October 31, 1992, I had my fairy-tale wedding. It was a
cold, damp, rainy day. At first I was upset about the weather,
but that disappointment quickly faded as soon as I saw Paul
waiting for me at the end of the church aisle in his white tux-
edo and pink tie. Then I knew that nothing else mattered but
him. Even with all the turmoil between my parents, who didn’t
like to even be in the same room together, everyone behaved
well. Paul and I danced all night. It was the happiest day of
my life and the happiest I had ever seen Paul. His smile was so
big and ever-present that everyone thought he was drunk. But
neither of us drank. That day, we were just high on life.
As for my dad, I refused to dance to the traditional “Dad-
dy’s Little Girl” with him. I was certainly not “Daddy’s little
girl,” and I didn’t feel like pretending. Instead, I chose Bette
Midler’s song “The Rose” for our dance. The words were fitting
at the time, particularly the words, “and you think that love
is only for the lucky and the strong …” Neither of us thought
we were deserving of love. I think my father was surprised
that I changed things up by choosing this song. But I stuck
to my decision, and when the DJ announced our song, Dad

Breastless.indd 6 1/30/09 12:17:20 PM


accompanied me onto the dance floor and we had our father-

daughter dance.
My family grew to really love Paul. To Tom he was an older
brother, and to my parents another son. My father would tear
up when he would talk about how Paul went to him and asked
his permission to marry me. Thank God he said yes.

PAUL AND I WERE old-fashioned in some ways. We had decided

to wait for our wedding night to have sex — I mean intercourse,
because we hadn’t been total angels up until then. We were
physically intimate, but neither of us had experienced inter-
course before with anyone else. I knew it would be special, but
I was very nervous about it. A lot of that fear stemmed from
childhood traumas, especially the verbal abuse from my dad.
He repeatedly told me that I was stupid, that I was an idiot, and
he ridiculed my appearance — and my teenage hairstyles.
My father didn’t like it at all when I started dating at 15,
and became very protective of me. My mom, on the other hand,
gave me advice like, “Don’t have sex with a guy because that’s
all he wants from you and then he’ll leave.” What did that
advice do to my 15-year-old heart? It made me feel insecure
about my worth, and made me doubt whether I would ever be
able to trust a man.
I had been taken to Weight Watchers meetings when I was
only 11 years old to lose an extra 15 pounds, so I already thought
I was fat. Now I was worried about my hair and my chunky
thighs. I never thought anyone would want to have sex with
me. By the time I got married, my baggage in the sex depart-
ment was pretty damn heavy — so heavy, in fact, that on our

Breastless.indd 7 1/30/09 12:17:21 PM


wedding night I couldn’t go through with it. I was scared of the

pain, scared I wouldn’t be any good at it, scared that I didn’t
know what I was doing and that Paul would leave me. I started
crying, but Paul was so understanding that I had to wonder
what planet he was from.
Yet after a year of marriage, Paul and I still hadn’t had inter-
course. I felt I was such a disappointment to him, and I spent
a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with
me. I knew I still held on to all the fears about sex I had carried
over from high school, but I also knew that not consummating
the marriage was a way of sabotaging my wonderful relation-
ship. In other words, I felt so undeserving of Paul’s love that I
wanted to chase him away. What better way to do that than to
withhold physical affection? No guy in his right mind is going
to stay married to someone who won’t go all the way, right?
Well, as it turned out, no guy except my guy.
One night Paul and I were lying in bed kissing. He was on
his side with his head propped up against his hand. He was
shirtless, wearing only his black lounge pants, and he looked
incredibly sexy. I wondered why I just couldn’t let go. I wanted
him so badly and I had wanted him for many, many years. How
could he be lying there kissing me and smiling at me when I
was withholding from him what I wanted so desperately to
give him?
I said, “You must want to leave me already. Just divorce
me. You should be with someone who can do the intercourse
While he gently wiped my tears, Paul responded, “That’s not
why I am with you. That’s not why I married you. I love you, Cat.

Breastless.indd 8 1/30/09 12:17:21 PM


I always have and always will, no matter what.” I looked in his

eyes, wondering why he loved me so much. I wanted love and
happiness so badly — here it was staring me in the face and all
I could do was push it away. Then Paul pulled me close, wiped
away some more of my tears, cupped my face in his hands, and
kissed me. At that moment I vowed I would start to open up to
him and let myself be happy for the first time in my life. Little
did I know I would never have that chance.

ON SUNDAY NIGHTS, as Italian tradition dictates, we usually

had dinner at his parents’ house.
“Are you ready to head down to your mom’s?” I asked one
Sunday night.
“You know what, Cat? I think we should just stay home
today,” he said with a coy look.
“What, are you crazy? Your mom will have a fit!” But I was
pleasantly surprised at the suggestion.
“I don’t care. And she’ll be fine. I just want to spend today
with you. Alone. Just us.” He said this with a cute smile that
made me weak in the knees.
“Really? Are you sure?” I asked with butterflies in my
He wanted to spend the evening alone with me. We ordered
Chinese takeout — sesame chicken, pork fried rice, and egg
rolls. I’d always eat the greasy fried outside of the egg roll,
and Paul would eat the filling. As usual, Paul let me pick the
movie. I knew right away: Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise. I’d had
a major crush on Tom ever since his Top Gun days, and Paul
was letting me watch my “boyfriend.” Only a month before,

Breastless.indd 9 1/30/09 12:17:21 PM


we had returned from a vacation in Jamaica that my thought-

ful husband had planned, where we climbed the Dunns River
Falls. He knew that I loved the scene in Cocktail where Tom
and Elisabeth Shue make love under the same waterfalls, and I
was overwhelmed at all his romantic gestures. We settled in on
the couch and started the movie. Just having him all to myself
made it a special night, and I didn’t want it to end.
As I looked at him sitting on the couch in his white crew
neck T-shirt that nicely showed off his summer tan and mus-
cular build, I asked him, “What would you do without me?”
“I would never be able to live without you,” he responded.
“Yes, you would. You would meet someone wonderful and
get married again.”
“Only if they were just like you.”
“Well, if anything ever happened to you I wouldn’t be able
to live. I would kill myself!” I said, in a serious tone.
He cracked a sweet smile and said, “No you wouldn’t, Cat.
You would be okay. You would get married again. Besides, I
would want that for you.”
Trying to shake off the horror of the thought, I changed the
subject. “Okay, so are you coming up to bed with me?”
“Yes, my sweetness. I’ll be up in a few minutes,” he responded.
I felt my heart melt every time he called me that. His eyes were
filled with love and I could feel it.

PAUL AND I AWOKE the next morning, on September 5, 1994, in

our favorite spooning position. It was Monday, Labor Day, the
unofficial end of summer and just a little more than a month
before our second wedding anniversary. Late summer was


Breastless.indd 10 1/30/09 12:17:21 PM


always one of my favorite times of year: still hot, but with a

hint of autumn in the air.
When I heard the alarm go off at 6:00, I didn’t want Paul to
move. I felt safe, wrapped in his arms, and was basking in the
moment. Suddenly he jumped out of bed and rushed into the
shower as if he was late, even though he was only driving to
his mom’s house to pick up his younger brother, Louie. He was
helping with some painting at our house.
I stayed in bed, watching him as he got dressed and dashed
uneasily from one end of the room to the other. As he ran back
and forth, I felt like I was watching a tennis match. Was he
worried about something? This behavior was out of character.
I was the worrywart, not Paul. He was the calm one, always
ready with a hug to soothe my fears and keep me grounded.
“What are you rushing around for? Is everything all right?”
I asked.
He snapped back, “I’m fine!” His mood made me uncom-
fortable, a feeling that would stay with me the entire day. He
left the bedroom and flew downstairs, and I heard him clang-
ing around in the kitchen. What could be wrong with him?
Hadn’t we had a great night?
I was still trying to savor the last moments of calm, but
gradually I got pissed at his attitude, so I got up, put on my
robe, and went downstairs. I stopped on the bottom step. Paul
was sitting on the couch, putting on his sneakers and Giants
baseball cap.
“Hey, are you sure you are okay?” I said, confused.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he snapped again. Now I was starting to
feel scared.


Breastless.indd 11 1/30/09 12:17:22 PM


“Do you have the house key?” I asked, reminding him I

might not be home when he got back because I had a therapy
appointment at 11:00. I hoped Paul and Louie would be back
before I left.
“Yes, of course I do!” he said, breezing by without seeming
to notice me.
Before I could get another word in he added, “Hey, Cat,
do you think you can at least take out the garbage for me
“Of course I can,” I said, wondering where the hell that
came from.
With that, he said, “’Bye,” and rushed out the door.
As I stood on that bottom step, I realized that neither of us
had said, “I love you.”

I HEADED BACK UPSTAIRS to take a shower, noticing it was later

than I’d thought. I felt uneasy. I wanted to call Paul. I wanted

to know that he was okay. I dressed quickly. I’ll never forget
the outfit I wore that day: a navy blue short-sleeved shirt with
black horizontal stripes and a pair of black capri pants with a
drawstring that were just a little too long for my five-foot-one-
inch frame. I put on my black slip-ons and hurried downstairs
to do my makeup and hair. My hair was permed, came just to
my shoulders, and was layered on top with bangs. Yes, I was
stuck in the ’80s. I put on eyeliner and mascara, usually the
only makeup I used. I put in my contacts, which I got for my
wedding day so I wouldn’t have to walk down the aisle with
glasses on, and then I took one last look in the mirror. I frowned
at my reflection, and wondered how Paul could have married


Breastless.indd 12 1/30/09 12:17:22 PM


me. He was the only one who had ever told me I was pretty, and
he said it all the time.
It was pushing 10:00 a.m. I had a fleeting thought that Paul
and Louie should have been back by then, but I figured they
had stayed at their mom’s for breakfast and lost track of time.
Part of me wanted to wait for them, but I knew that if I did,
I’d be late for my appointment. I’ll probably pass them on the
road, I thought, since I would be taking the same route. I gath-
ered my stuff, ran out the front door, and got into my black
1993 Toyota Camry, my first brand-new car. I loved that car;
it was tan inside and had gold lettering on the outside, which
was very cutting edge for 1994. Every time I turned on the radio
and saw the antenna go up from the rear of the trunk, I’d think,
How cool is that? I pulled out of our development onto Route
17A and looked up at the sky. Not a cloud.
Route 17A in Greenwood Lake is a mountainous road, full
of twists and turns. I hated that road; it was just dangerous.
But I was used to navigating it because it was my daily route
to work. It was Labor Day and still pretty early, so I didn’t
expect to hit much traffic. I had just begun my descent down
the mountain when I heard sirens behind me. I pulled over to
let an ambulance by. I watched it fly down the road and got a
terrible feeling. My stomach felt like it had dropped to my feet
and a voice in my head said, I know that ambulance is for Paul
and Louie. This voice scared the hell out of me. I always worried
about losing Paul, especially when he was out driving, and the
worry seemed much more real when I thought of how strange
he had been that morning. Then a more rational voice said, No,
Paul and Louie are just stuck in traffic from the accident. With


Breastless.indd 13 1/30/09 12:17:22 PM


the two competing voices flip-flopping in my head, I drove on.

I still had a lead weight in the pit of my stomach, but I tried to
squelch the voice that was making me panic.
As I began to climb the next hill, I saw a cop turning every-
one around at a roadblock. I wanted to roll down my window
and ask about the make of the car in the accident, but some-
thing stopped me from asking. Maybe it was because I wasn’t
ready to hear the truth. I just waved to the policeman and
turned around.
Now it was about 10:15 and I had to backtrack over the
mountain. This meant I would have to take the thruway to my
appointment, and I knew that would take at least an hour and
make me late. I hoped my therapist wouldn’t be upset. At this
point I didn’t even want to go because I was so worried. Although
I didn’t really believe it, I kept telling myself he was fine.
When I finally got to my appointment, 15 minutes late, my
therapist’s big brown eyes were full of disappointment. Although
we had been working together for only a few months she could
tell I was distracted. The second I sat down I began to shake my
legs as I twirled a few strands of hair around my index finger.
“So, can you tell me why you are so late today? And you
seem shaky, is there something wrong?” she asked in a paren-
tal tone.
“I feel crazy for even admitting this,” I said, “and I’m sure
you don’t like the term crazy, but on my way here I had to take
a detour due to an accident that closed down one of the roads.
I’m afraid Paul was in that accident. He should have been home
before I left to come here.” My body was shaking, as if talking
about it aloud made it true.


Breastless.indd 14 1/30/09 12:17:22 PM


My therapist spent the rest of the session trying to convince

me not to worry, while I tried to get her to feel my concern and
help me understand where it was coming from. I didn’t know it
then, but I was right in the middle of a premonition.
For a few months I was still on the fence about seeing
the therapist but had a lot of issues to deal with from being
a child of an alcoholic, or “COA.” I had never accepted my
parents’ divorce or my father’s remarriage and new baby girl.
But through it all, Paul was the one who held me together, the
only one who I felt truly loved me. He was like an angel sent
to save me when I was a teenager. He was everything to me.
The sessions were helpful in showing me that I had spent way
too much time feeling as though I didn’t deserve to be loved
by him, and that I had missed fully experiencing the love he
showered on me.
Finally the session was over. I couldn’t stand it another sec-
ond. I just wanted to get home to see if Paul was there. He just
had to be. As I was leaving, my therapist told me not to worry.
Everything would be fine. I looked at her and prayed she was
right. Then I ran out to the car.
I headed straight home but took the long way, not want-
ing to end up in traffic from the accident. All I thought about
was how I needed to see Paul’s car parked in front of our town
house. The relief would be enormous, but as I thought about it,
I was shaking. I tried to distract myself with the radio, which
wasn’t working. All I could think about was what I would do if
Paul was dead. If it had been the cell-phone age, I would have
made at least a dozen calls to his phone.


Breastless.indd 15 1/30/09 12:17:22 PM


As I got closer, the shaking got worse. I tried to convince

myself that Paul and Louie were fine and that I would see Paul’s
car in front of the house. As I approached the turn into our
development, I began murmuring over and over, “Please, God,
let them be there, let them be okay. Please, God.” That became
my mantra. My palms were sweating. My stomach was churn-
ing. As I approached my house, my heart sank. Paul’s car was
not there. Instead, a police car was parked out front. I started
to feel as though I was watching a movie: there was a sense of
disbelief and yet at the same time I knew Paul was gone. It was
my worst fear coming true.
I pulled up behind the cruiser, stepped out of my car, and
slowly walked up to the police car. An officer was sitting in the
driver’s seat with his window rolled down. He didn’t see me
coming. I said, “My name is Cathy Lisanti. You’re here for me,
aren’t you?” The officer looked stunned. He stepped out of the
car. “Yes ma’am, I am. Your husband has been in an accident.
Can we go inside?”

AT THIS POINT, everything started to move in slow motion. I

fumbled to find my house key, and my hand shook as I opened
the door. I walked into the kitchen and saw I had ten messages
on my answering machine. Wondering who in the world would
have called that many times, I hit play and found that all ten
messages were from my mother-in-law, pleading with Paul
to call her when he arrived home. Maybe she’d had the same
bad feeling I had that morning. She would lose both her sons
that day.


Breastless.indd 16 1/30/09 12:17:23 PM


Before he would tell me what I already knew, the officer

asked me if there was anyone in my family I could call. I told
him my father lived only a street away. He told me I should
call him.
I said, “My husband’s dead, isn’t he?”
He looked at me as though he was about to lie. His eyes did
not meet mine. In a frustratingly calm tone he replied, “You
really should call your father, ma’am, and ask him to come over
here.” He was handling me with kid gloves, as if I were walking
a tightrope that was ready to snap. I was so pissed: Just tell me
the truth, you coward!
I remember saying over and over to him that my husband
was dead. I walked over to the kitchen counter and held on to
it. My legs started to feel like jelly. I kept saying to the officer,
“This feels like it’s not happening. This can’t be happening!”
“I understand, ma’am,” was his only response.
I numbly dialed my dad’s phone number. I called him first
because he lived nearby. I was surprised when he answered the
phone because he and his new wife, Jeanne, were supposed to
be attending a Labor Day barbecue. But when I told my dad
what was going on, he said “Okay, I’ll be right there.”
A few minutes later I heard the door open and then slam
loudly. My father rushed into the living room and immediately
went over to talk to the officer. I couldn’t hear what they were
saying. I was just standing there, alone, in the kitchen gripping
the counter for dear life. I felt like I might faint as everything
started to look cloudy and sounds became muffled.
Dad beckoned me over. “Cathy, come here. We have to go to
the hospital.” He looked at me somberly.


Breastless.indd 17 1/30/09 12:17:23 PM


“Why won’t he tell me that Paul is dead? I know he is dead!”

I responded, staring at the officer, who was heading for the door.
“We just have to go. Right now,” was all my dad would say.
He drove like a maniac to the hospital, which was only five min-
utes away. I felt like a zombie. I wasn’t crying; I was in shock.
We screeched into a parking space by the emergency room,
jumped out of the car, and ran inside. It was like everything
I had seen in the movies: as I walked past the nurse’s desk, a
group of nurses stared and whispered, and one of them actu-
ally pointed at me.
My father and I were ushered into an office, where we sat
and waited for what seemed like forever. There was no doctor
available to speak with me and the nurse didn’t give any indi-
cation of my husband’s status. I assumed we were waiting for
a doctor, but the nursing director came in and sat down at the
desk in front of us. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say.
All I wanted was to see my husband. She asked me whether I
wanted to see him, and of course I said yes.
I thought we were headed for Paul’s room. Instead, she led
us down a long hallway until we reached an imposing metal
door. All the while, she did not say a word, and my father and
I were too much in shock to ask any questions. We stopped
at the door and at that moment my father and I exchanged a
knowing look.
He said, “You don’t have to go in there. I’ll go for you.”
I gulped back the tears. “If I don’t go in, I won’t believe this
is real.”
The door was made of stainless steel with a big handle.
Inside, all I saw was a sea of metal drawers with little labels.


Breastless.indd 18 1/30/09 12:17:23 PM


I was shaking as I watched the nurse matter-of-factly pull open

the drawer with my last name on it, and there was Paul, wearing
only underwear and a toe tag. His body still looked so strong.
His face looked peaceful, except for a trickle of blood from his
temple to his cheek. His hands, all bruised on the knuckles, were
crossed on his belly. I put my hand on his chest, then jerked
away. It was ice cold — a stark contrast to the sweet warmth of
his body that morning.
I began crying as I thought about how painful the end must
have been for him. I wondered about his last thoughts and
how he felt in his last moments. Then it started to hit me that
I would never again feel his body against mine, feel his hands
stroke my hair, or hear him whisper, “I love you” in my ear. I had
just said good-bye to him a few hours ago at our house. How
could this be happening? We were planning to spend the next
50 years of our lives together. But just like that, he was gone.
I didn’t want to leave. It was as if I were waiting for him to
wake up. I felt rooted to the floor. Or I wished I had been in the
car with him so I would be dead too, because I couldn’t see any
way of surviving the rest of my life without him. We were there
only a few minutes when the nurse said it was time to leave.
I cried as my father led me toward the door. I looked back at
Paul, thinking that the next time I saw him he would be in his
coffin. And then I would never see him again.
My father and I walked back to his car without speaking.
The only sounds were our footsteps on the asphalt and Dad
opening the car doors. Once in the car, I began crying uncon-
trollably. “What am I gonna do now? How am I gonna be okay
on my own? What the hell am I gonna do?” Dad said nothing.


Breastless.indd 19 1/30/09 12:17:23 PM


But he was there, right beside me. For most of my life when I
was growing up, he was drinking and was never really there for
me. At that moment, he was.


Breastless.indd 20 1/30/09 12:17:24 PM

You might also like