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The Handless Maiden & The Indigo Gown

(Breast Health Experience From a Mythopoetic Perspective)

I was here already, last week. Parking B, elevator, 6th floor, waiting room, changing room: shirt and bra off, dark blue gown, opened on the front. It was my first mammogram. In and out, easy.

The gown is indigo dark blue, 100% cotton, a perfect fit. It had me at Indigo. Last month I went to an art retreat, five days in a cabin near the lake, and marveled at the Indigo dyeing process. The richness of the color, its endless variations, the earthy smell of the dyeing vat, the call for profoundness and nourishment. Indigo is the color of depth.

I did not return the gown, and I put it in my purse instead of dropping it in the bin.

In and out, easy.

Except that I am here again. Today, I will not steal the gown, I promise the gods of the hospital in the changing room. I will put it back in the bin. This time, I have to wait afterward while my second mammogram images are examined right away. I am in a different room. It feels like an upgrade: it is more spacious, with big windows facing the park and magnificent trees. I feel that I am advancing toward something, through something. There is a clear progression of spaces and events. I watch people come out of their cars in the parking lot below, and I wonder if they are here for themselves or to visit someone. If they are in the known or the unknown. I also think of all the women who have been here before me, in this waiting room, with all the fears and questions. I want to hug them all.

We are now four of us here: different ages, different ethnicities, and different backgrounds. There is a thread, delicate and fragile, and at the same time solid and invisible, that connects us together. And we all wear that same gown. Somehow, despite all our differences in age and shape and stories, it fits each of us perfectly. Indigo - a call for depth.

I am stepping into a new circle, a new community people belong to without ever wanting to be in it.

And there, the familiar muffled sound.

There is a story nearby.

I feel her coming, quietly - approaching me with her arms full.

The nurse calls my name, I step outside the door, and she says, " we need to do an ultrasound. Just wait here; someone will come for you." My brain pauses, but my lips are moving, and I hear myself say, from a place out of reach: "does this mean...?" "Oh no! she exclaims too loud and too fast. We just want to check."

I come back into the waiting room until I am called into the dark space of the ultrasound room. It lasts for a while. It is quiet. The nurse leaves, and I am by myself again.


Now the story explodes, like a runner out of breath arriving first at the finishing line, relieved. She spills all her gifts at my feet. Baskets and boxes piled up on the grey linoleum floor.

What is behind your house? she asks.

My heart races, my soul is fed: at least one thing I know. At last, one clear thing. I know that story: it is The Handless Maiden.

What is behind your house?

The story starts with a starving family, and the father striking a deal with a shadow figure who promises endless bounty and treasures in exchange for whatever is behind the man's house at this exact moment.

Of course! says the father, after thinking for just a second - it is such an easy transaction.

He comes back home happy and full of hope for himself and his family and asks his wife where their daughter is. "As usual, she answers, she is swinging under the apple tree, behind the house."

It is a story of involuntary sacrifice, of a maiden who draws circles of protection around herself, of the loss of her hands - severed from her body, of a community of women in the woods, and growing her hands back.

Growing her hands back.

It is a story of initiations.

A knock on the door pulls me out of the woods and brings me back to the hospital room. Three people come in. I can tell I am advancing again: the presence of three people, not one anymore, shows another progression. They talk to me with a smile and a compassionate look in their eyes. They are careful with their language - the result of years working at a breast center. They have a peculiar combination of caring and being distant, repeating words for the thousandth time in their career, knowing what can potentially be next. The room is flooded with caution.

We just want to check, they say. Here are the names of breast surgeons; you will make an appointment with one of them to schedule a biopsy. Right now, there's nothing terrible. But we need to be sure.

I wonder who is "we".

Until I see it: the father, the shadow figure, the daughter.

A bargain is struck.

What is behind your house?

I am into the woods again, sensing the rich leaf litter under my bare feet, not knowing yet if I will lose my hands or another part of my body, or a part of my heart. I belong to the story now, ancient and full of the beauty of creation, full of the initiatory moment that makes everything new.

Wrapped in Indigo, I am moving toward depth.


Find the story of the Handless Maiden in the wonderful book Smokehole by Martin Shaw at Cista Mystica Press.

1 comment

1 commentaire

31 mai 2022

beautiful, thank you

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