Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Day 413: Heavy Sigh
Most of the time, I am simply amazed at all the bullshit that happened over the last year. I say that because it's a rare moment indeed when the whole thing doesn't seem real, when my life is that cliche: "it must have been a bad dream." Life is just so normal most of the time that I am beginning to understand why that can throw so many cancer survivors for a loop. My kids are having meltdowns at the pool and I'm pulling them aside, alternating between being a hard ass and trying to be nurturing (not necessarily my forte), and they're whining about pizza and I look up at the sky to assess the possibility of a storm and I adjust the tie on my bikini top and then I see my radiation tattoo and I think, huh, look at that. There's a sign of that whole cancer thing, right there in front of me. I almost forgot.
Almost. I think what's actually happened is that I have blended into the world so well--I look relatively normal, I feel extremely healthy, and I'm not regularly terrified or grieving anymore--that when cancer hits me, it hits me hard, because I don't see it coming.
I don't realize how much it's with me, I guess. While I don't cry at regular intervals anymore, I do get emotional at times that don't make any sense, even to me. Recently I realized that I've been having strange sentimental feelings when I'm around teenagers--especially teenage boys. Now don't take that the wrong way--let me explain. A few weeks ago, I went to see a friend's daughter off to her prom, along with a huge number of her family and friends. I brought the kids, and besides Augie's inability to be quiet, forcing us to leave early, it was a fun occasion. I felt very happy for the girl and her family. But then, just the other day, I got choked up (not that anyone could see--I know how to be tough and keep it to myself) hearing one of the teenage boys who coaches the rowing team talk about his prom.
What the hell was my problem? Is this one of those harbingers of middle age (I don't think I'm middle aged yet, am I?), when you get nostalgic about your youth and try to live vicariously? Was I having some kind of flashback to my own prom (or proms--I went to two; I think I went to 8 formal dances in high school...)? A few weeks ago I went out with some old friends and we were talking about our senior prom. Every single one of us lamented the fact that at our school at the time, you were required to go in a boy-girl pair to prom. You couldn't pay half and go alone, and you couldn't just go with your girlfriends, even though we all said that's what we really wanted to do. You just want to wear the dress and dance, right? You're graduating, you don't have a boyfriend anymore, you just want to leave it all alone. Ironically, whatever the intention of the school at the time, that policy just basically put a bunch of kids in sexual situations that should have been avoided when we would have been happy to be PG about the whole thing.
But I still got the dress I wanted--my mom and I went to the Jessica McClintock store, because I had seen this dress somewhere else and knew I wanted it. I didn't have a date yet, but I didn't care. The dress cost $98, which seemed like such a fortune (that's actually $8 more than my wedding dress cost--11 years later). There we were on the mag mile, and I felt so out of place around all the snazzily dressed, north shore daughters. I will always remember how another girl who was there with her father monopolized one of the few dressing rooms forever, whining in a spoiled voice the whole time so her dad would do her bidding. I tried on one dress--the black and white one in the picture, in two different sizes. I was trying to decide which size to get, when the girl saw me talking to my mom and told me she wanted that dress. She actually demanded to try it on--while I was wearing it. She looked at the sizes, told me that I was skinny so I should buy the smaller one so she could have the other one that would fit her better. I quietly went back in the dressing room, looked at my mom, and said, I'm going to get this one, right? That's right, she said, taking the bigger size up to the counter. Take that, honey.
I also had a fun experience the day of the senior prom when the clueless white lady doing my hair--all I wanted was a french twist--completely screwed it up by actually teasing it. I had long red ringlets (as evidenced by this picture taken at my high school graduation--I'm also amazed at my prominent, 17-year old booty), and she TEASED my hair. WTF? She said to me: It's so curly, I don't know what to do with it, and she asked me to leave. I was crying, thinking my senior prom was ruined, when my best friend saw me on the street. She grabbed me and made her hairdresser cancel his appointment with his own mother so he could help me. He did this masterpiece with my hair--some crazy Victorian updo that held up with a few bobby-pins and three spritzes of hairspray the whole night. The entire salon took pictures and he put me in his portfolio. My eventual date was the guy I dated for most of my sophomore year, and I don't think I let him touch my hair even when we were in the hotel room afterwards. It was like a work of art, not to be defiled.
Oh the memories. But I digress. None of this is what was making me wistful. I actually wasn't thinking about my own prom or teenage years at all until I started writing this and those two memories came back to me, making me laugh at the absurdity. It was something else entirely, and I felt so stupid about the whole thing until I realized what it was.
The thing is, I really don't know any teenage boys. I know a bunch of girls--babysitters, friends' daughters and nieces, my cousin. No boys though. And I think teenagers as a whole are very neat. I'm sure some are a royal pain in the ass, and my memories of being a teenage girl remind me that teenage boys can be horrible, even predatory. But for the most part, they're not like that. These kids are finding out who they are, and they're excited about everything and the world seems so romantic as they have the whole of it before them. At the same time, many of them have lives that are like mine was, and they very much live in the real world and work hard and have tough times at home. But there's still that aspect of becoming yourself that is so apparent. It's especially neat to see boys who are respectful of women, who are funny and thoughtful and well-spoken. It makes me want to meet their parents and say, nice work.
Hearing about a boy going to prom, thinking about him taking pictures with his parents, just made my heart catch in my throat. It's ridiculous, but deep down, every time I see one of these young men, I get this sinking feeling that I will never see my own son grow up, that I won't know what he looks like when his cheeks thin out and he starts to style his insane curly red hair and he learns to be shy and nervous around all the older girls who love him so much right now due to his cuteness. I fear that I will be nothing but a face in a photograph to him, a story his father told him, the phantom author of this strange little blog. Lenny is old enough that I can imagine what she will look like, what her personality will be like, when she's a teenager. Lenny, at least, could remember me if I don't make it out of this mess. That doesn't make the idea of not seeing her grow up any easier, of course. But I'm just saying--what about my boy, the kid who gets insanely jealous every time Gabe gives me a kiss, who holds his arms up to me so I can grab him and hold him, who can't go to sleep if he knows I'm in the house unless I put him to bed? Will I ever know what it's like to look up at him because he's taller than me? Will I get to wait through the years when he's embarrassed to be around me and get to the point where he likes my company again?
Or will he always resent that mother who left him, who did the one thing Dr. Spock said a child could never forgive in a parent, who died?
I mean, look at these kids! I know I'm biased, but damn they're cute. And funny. And a little crazy. And smart as hell. I have such an ache thinking about what they'll be like when they're older. It's hard to imagine, especially with Augie. And I definitely can't picture it with me. Will I get to be middle-aged? Will I get to be old? What will I look like, how will I be? I feel like a little girl, asking these questions, and I realize that one of the lasting effects of cancer for me is this wish: Could I have a time machine that simultaneously stops time and speeds it up? Could I find a way to look into the future without trying to get there too soon?
Frigging breast cancer, man, turning this practical woman (someone once called me "ultra-sane"), this cynical and happy go lucky at the same time girl, into a sappy idiot come summertime. As I said at the beginning, heavy sigh.
And I say heavy sigh because this is buried in me, it's not something I dwell on at all, but it's there underneath all the rest of my mundane life all the same. Everything about me--almost--is back to "normal," if I ever qualified for that term. My energy, appetite, sexuality, cycles, it's all back. The hair isn't, not like it used to be, but that's half chemo's fault and half my fault as I refuse to let it grow out. There's got to be something to remind me that all is not as it was, right?
But something else is there. It's deep in the real sense of the word, it's down there at the core--that fear, that longing. I heard once that clinical depression is simply the removal of the defense mechanism that all humans have that allows them not to think too deeply about death. I am not depressed at all, and my defense mechanism seems to be working pretty damn well as I go about my business every day. But every once in a while it falls away, and I see it--what could have happened to me if I hadn't been so aggressive in taking care of that lump, what still might happen to me no matter what I've done to fight it, what will ultimately happen to me, and to everyone, someday.
I could get more sentimental than I am apt to do, but the wistfulness has passed and I am re-entering the land of the old Katy. I'm thinking about Gladiator, that insanely violent movie that I actually really enjoy. And no, I'm not thinking about myself as a warrior or making some ludicrous comparison between cancer and slavery. I'm not thinking about Russel Crowe's vision of heaven. I'm thinking about Djimon Hounsou's line as he contemplates death and seeing loved ones in the afterlife. After I get over my strange emotions, whenever they hit me, it's what I repeat to myself inside my head. We're all going that way, me included, and cancer doesn't change that, though it might speed up the process. We're all going.
"But not yet. Not yet."