It can’t have been more than a year? two? ago that one of the kids – should I put my money on Young J or Young A? – asked me how babies came out of me. I’m one of those “need-to-know” moms of boys. I didn’t feel like having the whole uterus talk because honestly, it was a weekend morning and they would have stopped listening in a millisecond. I give my kids books to learn that stuff.
So I made a grand sweeping hand gesture from my belly, downwards. “You came out” – whoosh! – “that way.”
The question may have been repeated once or twice more, and they dug the hand motions. End of story.
This morning I went back to my beloved exercise spot. I knew I wouldn’t be joining anyone in anything remotely strenuous – just some breathing, some foam rolling, stretching. I honestly spent most of the time talking – my latest type of workout – with two students there I’ve known for a while. They were learning about my new normal. I used the back massager a little. I drank water.
But even a low-calorie workout like that one serves to reorient your mental map. Back in the space where I have focused on the body before, my brain started thinking about my body again. I was talking to K after, who is going to help me with the rap song, and suddenly it hit me, the direction my thoughts were going. (Yes, I do know they are going in every direction.)
“My melanoma showed up on my back first, right? Then, it spread to my lungs. And now it has moved up to my head. IT IS COMING OUT THAT WAY, THROUGH THE HEAD!”
I don’t know if this is a scientific, metaphysical, or simply science fictional observation, but I’m going with it.
Everything good in my life has emerged from below, heading earthwards. This thing bedeviling me now, heading the other direction. Up, through my brain -which has gotten so offended at the attack it’s working overtime to compensate – and then out my red hair, and off into a filthy province of space, where it will stay, away from me, forever.
That will work.
As will other earthbound things, like our new four-month old neighbor, Onslow.
I am learning to be grateful with every breath. With every hug. With every pink teddy bear that says BELIEVE.
Years ago in Ann Arbor, I went to a modern dance workshop with a choreographer local to Detroit and she had invented something called the “traveling technique” and she was going to teach us.
She started the class by saying her name and said, “You’re going to hate my music, but you’re going to love it.” This was at a time when the going soundtrack in modern dance classes ran towards Dead Can Dance or Enya or Medeski Martin and Wood.
We’re meeting with a home organizer this week. Eek. It has been a long time since we tackled our accumulations in earnest, the non-lucrative kind, and I’m pre-relieved to have a new way to go. I also feel we have a responsibility to the Youngs to learn to live differently. If they see us do it, maybe in 20 years they will do it too.
J pulled the trigger on getting plane tickets for June. We’ll go to Denver for a week after kids are done school and before camp. I’m feeling stirrings of excitement which I hope will not be squelched by my inability to do much except sit in the car and look at peaks. Hoping the energy level returns a bit. I’ve not exactly been an outdoorsman in my life. Right now I’d be the dead weight grandpa in the van. There is room for improvement. This week, I start eating better. More greens, more lean & mean.
How will she have the time to refocus on her health and diet, you might ask? It’s an interesting question which was just resolved about 20 minutes ago. In my bedroom.
All last week I knew I needed to come clean with my boss, A. Tell her my situation so she could help me figure out what to do, whether that was stay, leave for a while and come back, or some unknown third way (teleportation?).
A was out of town this whole past week. And now, today, with the weekend drawing to a close, I felt more anxious than ever about making sure she could hear the scoop from me, and soon. I had looked at her work schedule and it looked jammed this week. Traveling an hour each way by train wasn’t seeming like a good way to do it. I tried a cell phone I’d had for her back in January when we met up for lunch during my interview process. She had been on jury duty then, so to have lunch with her, I met her one day near the court house. We ate fried chicken. It was the best and most informal job interview lunch ever. I knew I liked her.
The cell wasn’t working earlier today. I emailed a couple of colleagues to see if they had a different phone for her. No dice. Though in a weakness, my email to one of the colleagues, S, finally had me tell her what was going on, and I shared my blog address. She was one of my favorite people at work and now I was letting her know my news in the worst way imaginable. I hope I get a chance to make that up to you soon, S.
It was a weird afternoon. I knew I’d need sleep because I am working my (annoying, chump change job) tonight, so I popped a Lorazepam, but again, it gave me only about 45 minutes of Lethe. I was up again and firing off more emails – another idea to a friend about the Kickstarter, some other stuff. I don’t remember. I kept thinking I should get up and work on the rap lyrics. J and the Youngs were out and I decided it would be the perfect time to make popcorn. I was still so addled I had to talk myself out loud through it. “There is the popcorn, good. Take down the popper and plug it in. Butter will be nice. Microwave it.” I was so, so careful. I cut the butter with a kiddie knife. I chose too small a bowl and scooped up popcorn from everywhere.
I took it to bed and waited for it to be time to have a phone call with the home organizer we want to meet. In my inimitable mania of late I led off by telling her about design thinking, what it is, how I learned it, and how I applied it to my kids’ Legos and then their bookshelves. It was almost like I was applying for a job, not trying to hire her to declutter our home. Anyways, I was happy to hear about her style (when I finally shut up) and we made a date for Wednesday.
It was 5 pm and time to sign on to chat for the night. I had emailed my colleague in advance to let her know what’s happening with me, because I didn’t know how I’d feel (after last fall’s chat night malaise). I started getting leery about saying all this via chat lest our boss review the transcripts.
Around 5:30 my phone dings with a text:
I couldn’t be sure, and then I knew who it was. A! My boss! The person I’d wanted to talk to all day. I tried to arrange things as quickly as possible.
To A’s infinite credit, she came. Even when I told her we’d meet in my bedroom. I stayed under the covers like an invalid, which I well and truly am. There was a chair for her. I had taken a break from chat for 20 minutes, prearranged with my colleague.
I began at the beginning – April 2013, my melanoma. I have been getting good at the condensed history. Especially in written form. What I am not yet so good at is narrating it to my very own boss, while she is sitting in a chair near my bed, in a track suit, because she just got back from Palm Springs.
I began crying almost right off. But I shook it off to talk again, and had to shake off a number of tears until I was done.
A was the best listener ever. She waited for me to compose myself. She waited until I was done. Then, she rationally went through what she thought she should do (talk to HR). She asked me what I wanted to do – take time off and come back, or leave?
Honestly until that moment, I had no answer to that. You’d think, it being the central reason I had her come talk to me in my bedroom was that I had a decision to give her. It wasn’t like that at all. But she did helpfully point out that it’s not a telecommuting job, so being there is really key. Of course. And there is one hour away by train. There is no changing that.
So, I decided it was time to stop working. I was sad. I told her how much I have enjoyed the work, the colleagues, everything. After all, I was just back to the field after seven years, and it was great to see I still had what to contribute. I still had skills. I could still connect.
It felt mildly like a breakup. Even weirder because outside the room, the family was eating dinner when we came out.
Except it was nothing at all like a breakup. A instantly and completely. became a friend. She told us of her and her partner’s upcoming baby. They live very near our house. I told her I was happy I’d get to see them around with the baby, and my kids love babies.
It started with tears, a crazy shitty story of my health, and it ended by our front door, her giving lots of high and low fives to Young A as he shrieked with laughter.
Did I win the unemployment due to illness lotto today? Yes, I did. And now count A as a friend. Goodness abounds.
Not sure why it took all these days to find it, but with this GlaxoSmithKline UK marketing literature I finally achieved immunotherapy marketing nirvana (I think the drug is Novartis’ now, for drug score keepers keeping score at home).
I don’t want another dry leaflet I have to scan for the answer I can never seem to remember (no food for one hour after or two hours before? One hour before or two hours after? Fuck it. Cancer brain. Porous.)
Now I can imagine getting the answers I need in plain, narrative, comforting language with mugs of cocoa nearby, written by (I’m guessing) an English major who long ago cast their lot with big pharma. Good on you, hope you cashed in. You just made my afternoon.
I got a whole extra hour last night, and feel like a new woman. (Also a new woman because I think the meds are changing my face in puffy, red, unfamiliar ways, and it’s been days since I felt I looked remotely presentable.)
What did it, the sleep? I was out after the kids went to bed. Met my friend S and we went to visit C, my favorite bartender down the block. He is legendary for his mojitos, and boy did I need one. I settled for the passion fruit juice that’s usually in mine. S had tamarind. It was delightfully subversive to be sitting in a temple of liquor and not drink a drop. C usually likes to share out and join us in a shot of mamajuana. Skipped that last night too, obvi.
But the salient reason for being there – talking with S (no stranger to her own medical woes in the past, and a most wonderful friend who happens to live a few doors down) and also C, who has the bartender’s gift of fading in and out of convos appropriately (never, ever intrusive), was the point for me.
I am in perpetual search of conversation these days. I could just set myself up on a bench with a sign. The people I could talk to in the course of a day. All my fave neighborhood people. People I’ve never spoken to. Crazy people (as long as they don’t smell too badly of pee). Maybe one of these days I’ll do it.
There’s a bench on our corner installed by the city a few years ago, part of a program to get old people places to sit. I don’t know who requested ours, but the day they put it in, I was out on a rainy walk with Young A (age 2), we were at a loose end for what to do. From under the dry cleaners’ awning, keeping dry, we watched the men drill holes in the sidewalk and pop the bench right in, a lovely contemporary design. Young A had to stay until the last man left. They saw his interest and one of them took a rag and wiped it up for him. He took a seat. He climbed up and stood on top. He was the very first person to sit on our beautiful new bench the city brought us.
It is Young A’s bench, forever. Things like this, and a million more, make it hard to ever think of leaving this place.
( I promised J I wouldn’t embarrass him on this blog so the last thing I did last night is censored.)
John Lurie’s paintings arrive at truths quickly. That is only one of a million reasons why I love them. Watch this space for a longer post about John, and in the meantime, look at his paintings and enjoy them. They are pure enjoyment.