The Wolves in the Walls

One of Neil Gaiman’s beautiful and terrifying books is called The Wolves in the Walls. In it, Lucy is sure that she hears wolves in the walls. She tells her mother, and her mother says “Oh, it’s not. But if it was…it would be all over.” Lucy inquires what’s “it?” and mom just says “IT.”

I think it’s a great story. I found it at the public library when my own children were small and I remember thinking…this is either a nightmare waiting to happen, or it will resonate. They loved it. The lessons of this book are part belief, trust, catastrophizing, and realizing that our imagination and anticipation is worse than the real thing. I mean…there really are wolves in the walls in the story. But it has a happy ending…of sorts.

I used to be an Olympic athlete at catastrophizing. I can slip back into those well worn synapses at the snap of my fingers. I have to actively remind myself to stay present to focus on what’s really happening rather than imagine the wolves in the walls. Imagining what COULD happen is usually much worse than what really happens. However, please trust your intuition. No one believes Lucy, they negate her worries and tell her it’s nothing, maybe mice. She is right all along, and ends up being the one that saves the day. None of it is as bad as anyone thinks it will be.

What are the “wolves” of daily life? They are the things that perhaps scare us, or our shadow selves, the parts we keep hidden behind our walls. When the hidden wolves come into the light of day they are far less scary than any of the inhabitants of the house expect them to be.

And it’s not all over. Not by a long shot.

I’m wrestling with my wolves today. I have one more radiation treatment left, but today at school I was RAW. Emotions were high.

I posted the newspaper. I invited journal writing but students wanted to talk. We held a circle. I had them sanitize hands and we passed around a stuffed animal as a talking stick. We talked for 35 minutes about what happened yesterday. I explained that many people were angry about the election. And that yesterday the senators and representatives–which are elected by us to represent us, including 3 from Montana–were in Washington, D.C. to certify the electoral college votes from the election. I explained that the President held a rally and told his supporters to protest and march. So they did. I explained that it is our constitutional right to protest and to speak our minds. But that it is not okay to use violence against others.

We went around in a circle, over and over. More came up, challenging and thoughtful and insightful things were said. Many are sad that one woman died yesterday, a protester, due to the violence. One asked “Why are the people hiding under chairs?”

I reminded the child about active shooter drills we do in school. How to be safe if someone bad is trying to get into our school. I told them that for my generation we never had to do active shooter drills. We had our own things that were hard, but we didn’t have that. I explained that the congresspeople have to do those drills, too. And that yesterday they had a real one happen.

The children asked if there were weapons. They asked “aren’t there RULES???”

I said, yes. There are rules. It is illegal to carry weapons onto any Federal property unless you are Federal police. I explained that the last time anyone invaded the Capitol building it was in 1812, around 40 years after the REVOLUTIONARY WAR. It was the British. Not our own country people. And over 200 years ago.

I can’t take a modest shot and still show how bad it is. Under my arm is no good. Under my breast is dismal.

It was a good talk, but deeply emotionally exhausting for me. I was in emotional pain having to have this talk. Later it hit my body.

After lunch I was having massive pain on my cancer side and stepped out when an assistant came in to do her math groups. I went to the bathroom and removed all my clothes covering my top half and rubbed cream all over myself. My armpit and the creases under my breast are filled with scars from radiation and now small blisters on my bra line. I put cream on several times a day. I do all that I can do. I wear soft sports bras with barely any fabric touching me and cotton. And yet the wolves are coming out, anyway.

Tomorrow is the last treatment, and it is likely to get worse still before it gets better. I ring the bell tomorrow out of my own choice. I ring it also knowing that this is not the end of my cancer journey. It’s just the last time I have to get radiation on my right breast.

We can do hard things. We are doing them right this very minute.


Leave a Reply