Two weeks after my committee accepted my thesis proposal, my fourteen months of living a split life came to an end. I got laid off. Because of a recession, there was a dearth of jobs available, particularly for a middle-aged woman with a scholarly turn of mind. Thinking my best hope was for an academic position, I decided to write my thesis. I wrote as if possessed. By late Autumn 1992, I was two-thirds done. At last I could see the finish line.

Suddenly, another obstacle appeared. For months, I had been concerned about a localized soreness in my left breast. For months my doctors assured me that the soreness was nothing serious. Then they. realized that it was very serious. On November 18, when I had but two and a half short chapters of my thesis yet to complete, I had surgery for breast cancer. I was so determined to get my thesis finished that, after I had been admitted to hospital and while I was awaiting surgery, I revised one of the chapters. After the surgery, I declined to have chemotherapy in part because I was afraid that six months' worth of nausea and vomiting would entail a yet another delay in the completion of my thesis, a delay from which it and I might never recover.

I finished writing my thesis in February of 1993, just before I began five weeks of radiation therapy. I submitted the final draft to my thesis committee on February 26. My supervisor and I established May 7 as the day on which I would have my final oral examination. For at least a month before the exam, I wrote and rewrote the twenty-minute presentation that I was required to give; I rehearsed my presentation in front of my computer and in front of friends. My computer hummed at me; my friends asked questions. I canvassed my thesis committee members to get ideas of other questions that might be asked. I was well prepared for almost anything.

But I was not prepared for the vagaries of a teenaged girl's life. On the evening before my exam, I picked up my daughter from her gym. We arrived home a little after nine. I prepared a quick supper, and walked the dog. I sipped a glass of wine while I read a novel on women's splitting selves. Given the impending examination, I was as relaxed as it was possible to be.

Until late in the evening, my daughter remained in her bedroom, on the phone with her boyfriend. What I did not know was that they were fighting. When she emerged at eleven o'clock she was feeling truculent, and threw a comment at me that I felt questioned my ability both to defend my thesis and to get an academic position thereafter. When I reprimanded her she began to cry. Not because of our exchange, but because of what she and her boyfriend had been saying to each other. She wept inconsolably for two hours. Finally, at one o'clock, I announced that I had to go to bed. I had a Ph.D. oral examination on the morrow, awakened in the grayness of early morning, feeling foggy-headed with fatigue. At seven o'clock, as I was just dropping back to sleep, my still teary, very weary daughter dropped a plastic sewing basket and all its contents onto the wooden floor in the room across from mine. I awoke with a start. I'd had as much rest as I was going to get.

Back Contents Next