Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 473: KatyDid 36

OK, I'm jumping the gun a bit, but assuming I don't get hit by the proverbial bus, I will turn 36 tomorrow, and tomorrow will actually probably come before I finish writing this blog. So I've reached another birthday. I've always felt that it was appropriate for my birthday to last about a week, but somewhere down the line, as an adult, you kind of lose the privilege of excessive birthday celebrations. Unless, of course, you have cancer at a young age, in which case you get to have whatever the hell kind of celebration you want. Last year I joked that we would have a huge party for my birthday, because no one would feel like they could say no to the cancer girl, at least not when she was in the middle of chemo.

I was right.

My mom had to put up with at least 50 people at her house last year. Gabe and I made the decision years ago that we would always dress up for our parties, no matter what other people did, so there I was in my little black dress, fancy shoes, with my bald head shining. I turned 35 four days after I finished my last round of AC chemo, and my best friend from high school was in town to help for that chemo round. People still made food for us three times a week, and the chemo gods smiled on me for my birthday party, and actually allowed me to stomach some pizza and cake. The party was great, and then there were impromptu fireworks right outside the window after most people had gone home. I felt loved, and lucky to have gotten to 35. I also felt like complete shit, physically, and had just come out of one of my short-lived cancer-related depressions; it's hard for me to remember why I was so down, but it seems like there were enough reasons, so let's just leave it at that.

I realize that by saying what I just said, I've proved that while I might have aged another year, I'm still Katy, keeping it real in cyberspace. But that's the truth. And damn, what a difference a year makes. This year I guess we just didn't want to be bored, since we decided to throw a party three days after we moved into our new house. I will have you know that it is one of my superpowers to make a home look lived in within 48 hours of moving. And with my mom's help, that's exactly what happened. Gabe came home from work on Friday with the kids in tow and was completely shocked at how everything was put together. I warned people there would be boxes everywhere; I think the three boxes (outside of some stuff in the basement) I didn't unpack were all in our unfinished master bathroom. I had even put stuff back on the walls.

I feel like our family situation is so different from a year ago, and it's not just that we live in this big sprawling house that is so far removed from Gabe and my understanding of reality. Gabe was out mowing our huge front yard yesterday morning with his nerdy battery-powered environmental mower, figuring out the best strategy to get down the sloping hill, and I wondered how many people just assumed he was the lawn guy. I think about how this house has so many things I've always wanted--a huge front porch to sit out on, with enough space for a swing; a room I could turn into my own personal library (that's where I'm sitting right now, writing this blog, listening to these incredibly loud crickets); a landing where I can sit and read a book underneath some huge windows that cast so much light down that it's hard to see; a second floor laundry room (we just had this constructed, along with the bathroom--what an absolutely frigging brilliant idea, I swear); a breakfast nook with a window seat. What a great house.

And I made it ours very quickly, but that's not the only thing. We didn't even move Augie's crib to the new house; he got to a new room, with a new big boy bed. I decided to put it in the middle of the room and I didn't give him a bed rail. He has been fine--sleeping well, doing funny things like "cuddling" a ceramic picture frame holding a picture of himself when he was a baby. And Lenny loves her new room, complete with her own mommy-style reading area. Gabe gets the whole basement to himself, and I honestly plan to never venture down there if I can help it.

So here is this house, which now is the Jacob-Sterritt house, the place where there's a party a few days after we move in. And people came, though not as many--maybe 40, including kids--which isn't surprising given the late notice and the amount of hair on my head, and general health I can claim. And after last night, I feel like we might be those people, the ones who have parties, where people go to hang out. That was a nice overall thought, but I was also excited about other things: I could eat, and drink even, and wear tall shoes and give tours and go through the whole night without any "moments" and generally feel like a normal hostess.

On the other hand, there's always something to remind me in the middle of it all, some second when I find myself clutching my boob because it hurts like hell out of nowhere (lifting boxes, maybe?) or when I'm telling what I still contend is a funny story about wanting to strangle Gabe for his illogical choices of where to move certain things, so I had to move them all again. Some of this was pedestrian: why are there child gates for the third floor the basement? Why is there bathroom stuff in the living room? And by God, what were you thinking when you looked above our refrigerator, where we've placed our wine rack (we now have 19 bottles of wine, I believe, since most people brought a bottle, so I guess we have to have a wine tasting party sometime) and decided to put next to wig boxes?

Seriously. Hundreds of dollars worth of synthetic hair--plus my real hair to boot-- sitting on top of our damn refrigerator. I was about to lose my mind. But I didn't, for the most part--I just gave Gabe a tremendous amount of shit about that one. I was feeling well enough to give him shit, to stay up, to eat, to see my birthday in the more traditional context, where I think I am getting old at this point. Don't get me wrong--I don't think 36 is actually old, I just think a lot about how much time has passed, and how half a lifetime ago I was still an adult, and how strange that is. I see all these kids starting high school, or going away to college, and I think about how time just seemed to be looming ahead of me at those points in my life, how everything was such a promise, even when everything was always kind of hard, because my life was always a real life, filled with difficult things, even then. But time, that seemed to always be there.

And now...who knows? I feel like it's utterly impossible that I could die from breast cancer, I feel that it is entirely surreal that I ever had breast cancer at all. Who is that lady smiling over her birthday candles, with her bald head? Well, that's me, that looks just like me, what of it? What's funny is that I think that all tragedy must manifest itself in some kind of dreamlike way, because when I think about other terrible things that have happened, that's how they all play out in my mind: my car accident and the subsequent realization that I could no longer walk; the viscous process of being robbed at gunpoint on the green line; the party I attended when I was 15, when I learned the hard way how to fight off three boys who were much bigger than me; the day my daughter had an allergic reaction to rice cereal when she was four months old and we were in the middle of the north woods and I thought she would stop breathing; and so many others, of which this whole damn cancer thing is just a piece. To me, it is all surreal. It seems obvious that I would get out of these situations, that I would live through them and come back to myself. It doesn't even occur to me that other options were really possible, not REALLY, not me, right--not me?

And yet, these moments, or months, depending on the circumstances, are surreal because they actually did happen, and the outcome absolutely could have been horrific, and yet...I'm still me, I'm still here. And some others aren't, or they are here, but their lives have inexorably changed, for the worse, due to the experience. What about me? Have I changed, will 36 bring in a different Katy? Is cancer just that thing that led to a chic haircut, or will I be looking back at all of this when I'm 37 thinking, whoa, that's surreal, that was back when I thought my cancer was gone?

Who knows. I appreciate birthdays these days, but like I said, I always did. I always assumed that my husband or boyfriend would indulge me during my whole birthday week. We just kept it to ourselves. Now I get to give myself a shout out, tell other people about it, and throw a crazy chaotic party right in the midst of all these changes with my house, my career, my life.

I just think about things a little differently now. When people talk about being afraid of turning 40, my first thought goes like this: 40! That would be a trip! My kids would be 10 and 7...that's better! I think about 50: the kids would have reached their maturity, Gabe and I would've been together for almost half of our lives...that would be better, it would be ok to go then. I think about getting old and I still hope I get to do it. But these thoughts are not at all macabre, they just are. Things happen, you roll it into your life, make it a part of the pontification rotation. When October 11, 2009 rolled around, other people posted on facebook about their daily activities and I wrote: 25 years later, still walkin. People who knew me as a child knew exactly what I meant.

And those who have been regular readers of this blog know what I mean. You say 36, I say 16 months out. You say happy birthday, I say hallelujah. You say what a beautiful home, I say, yeah, I know, I'm glad they have this to fall back on. You say this is good cake, I say Jesus Christ it is good, I can taste every bit of it, there's not a part of me that feels sick, that is defying me right now. That's what I say in the end I guess--right now, that's what I've got, right now.

Where are you right now, those who are still reading this? Happy with your place, I hope, content. Here's where I am: I'm looking at all these books around me about urban studies, racial politics, genocide, and poetry, wondering how I ever had a date in my life, and there's a picture on the desk of my daughter with her Magnum PI poster, one of me with a paper crown on my bald head, holding my deviously-smiling son on my last birthday, another of me at the dawn of my professional life when I could wear a suit, hold an orange juice, and still look glamorous, and there are way too many shoes in the closet, and I'm writing a blog while my husband falls asleep on the guest bed in this room because he wanted to be near me while I was writing, and it all seems to fit, this puzzle that's my life. You say happy 36, I say why not? It might as well be. Good night.


  1. I love you.
    Here's to a thousand more.

  2. Happy Birthday AND Hallelujah!!!

  3. As always, a very inspirational post. And happy belated birthday (and hallelujah!) :-).