Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Day 1,668: An Ode to ChemoBrain

It's national poetry month and I'm supposed to be writing a poem a day. But I've never done what I am "supposed" to do, so I wrote the following, which isn't so much of a poem as it is one of the only things I've ever been able to say about the chemobrain that crept up on me and then exploded on me and then left me just like that. I had chemobrain whiplash. So I wrote a little something about that. I haven't had much of a mind for writing this blog lately--it's been almost five years, folks. Five. Maybe I'm just trying to wrap my non-chemo brain around that. Cheers to poetry.


by Katy Jacob

Post-it notes replaced my memory.
I had multitasking down to a science,
but science had other ideas for me.
I didn’t see it coming.
I don’t remember when I could no longer read,
but that’s the whole point—I don’t remember.
Memory was one of my best things.
Losing a best thing makes you feel lost.
For a time, I tried to replace it with something
that seemed adequate but was actually worse than nothing,
the way all rebounding love affairs are.

I couldn’t bring myself to number them
or use bullet points or dashes.
I wrote horizontally and haphazardly out of defiance
against the clean, vertical columns that
oncologists assured me would help.
I wrote lists of names and lists of lists.

And, I had my affairs in secret, kept the children’s
and young adult books hidden from the public eye
ashamed not of enjoying their content,
but of being reduced to tolerating their lesser natures.
At 38, I was meant for sophisticated lovers,
not hard bodies who cut to the quick
and didn’t mind if I needed to read
the same passage again and again and again.
I was supposed to have wisdom to impart,
but I couldn’t remember what it was.

Then, it happened. I had another first time.
More than 20 years later, it was just like I remembered:
Easy and surprising and fun and all-encompassing.
It was something I must have always known how to do
and could never, ever forget. How is it possible to forget?
I became addicted, which is so much different than love.
I read books like nothing else mattered,
like there wasn’t work to do or kids to raise
or actual love to get lost in.
Every book I finished, every name or task I kept in my head
was a conquest I didn’t tire of owning.
I couldn’t get enough.

We all have moments we recognize for being what they are.
I was stealing passages of a novel (or is the right word devouring? Deflowering?)
when I should have been doing something else,
and the sun was cold but bright on the wood of my desk.
The sunbeam picked up flecks of pastel
that were hidden underneath my laptop.
I dug them out, and there were so many of them.
Words upon words, messy and juvenile.
I couldn’t help but smile, close the book, get back to work.
My exes were teaching me a lesson.

Once, everything I needed to know
was written haphazardly on stacks of paper
stuck together with safety adhesive.
Once, the world was that small, that finite.
That’s how all good love affairs leave us:
with the most important words
imprinted forever in muted shades
as the memories we’d like to keep.
Our very best things, messy and frantic
in their stubborn squares of yellow, pink, and blue.