Sunday, May 9, 2021

15th Mother's Day

I've been a mother for 15 years. But I had only been a mother for 4 years when I started writing this. And only for 7 years when I started writing this all over again. Back when I began writing this blog, I did it for a few reasons: to make it easier to talk about what was happening, and as a way to leave a long love letter to my kids if I were to die before they were old enough to remember me.


They have never read this blog nor expressed any interest in reading it. My daughter has articulated that she doesn't want to read about herself when she was younger. Behind that, I hear that she has no reason to need to read about ME when I was younger--when I was 34, or when I was 38 reminiscing about being 16, or anything else in between. She is too focused on being frustrated with me for the mother I am now, which is exactly what I said I wanted on day one of writing this--I wanted to live long enough for my kids to be pissed off at me for something other than dying.


And here we are. Lenny is about to start learning how to drive. She's the size I was when I graduated from high school. Augie's getting braces. His voice hasn't  changed, but everything else has.


So much has happened, but the main thing, the thing that was most often left unsaid, hasn't happened, not yet.


Years ago, when Augie was 4 and I was going through my second cancer, he let us know in a roundabout way that he thought I had cancer because I had him. He thought only women got cancer, because only women had babies. He might have been right about what caused my cancer--we will never know that, but pregnancy could have induced it. That's the reason I was told never to get pregnant again. On Mother's Day, I will always remember how I wanted to have a third child until a fertility specialist told me: "I guess you need to think about this: If things don't go well, do you want to leave your husband with two children or three to raise on his own?"


It wasn't a fair question. But it was the right one.


That second child had to be reassured that what happened to me was not his fault. And that even if it was, it was worth it. I told him that. I cried, in my fast, absent fashion, about the burden he had been carrying in his four year old bones. I have lived for 11 years past learning I had an aggressive form of cancer, and so have my kids. That knowledge is in the background of our family all the time, every day, like being redheads and yelling too much.


I worry about what it has done to them.


I try not to. I try to just focus on our lives, their growing up. I listen to my son talk to one of his baseball teammates about a game they used to play at camp, his camp, he explained, that isn't like other ones. It's a camp for kids who have a parent who had cancer. Oh, one of your parents had cancer?


"Yeah my mom had breast cancer, twice. Once I was like 5. The other time, I think that happened before I was even born."


And then they went off to warm up.


These burdens we carry. What is it we wish for them? That they don't carry them too. That something amazing might happen along the way.


That the burden would be so far in the background, they wouldn't even remember. And of course, no one remembers something that happened when they were 11 months old. But who could have guessed that it was possible that they wouldn't remember the stories either, that the guilt over being the "cause" would just be erased and transposed onto that other time, before they even existed.


Who  could have guessed? Someday, it would just be an offhand comment in the dugout in a conversation about playing mafia with college boys.


On my best days, I think maybe I did teach them that. There was this thing that happened. Damn, it's dusty out here. Grab your bat. Let's go.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


I haven't written here in a year, and prior to that it was another year. I can't count the days the way I used to for these blogpost titles. I'm not sure the days mean anything or that time is relevant for anyone in the same way after a year of quarantine. A year that most people thought would be two weeks, that us trauma informed people assumed would be 4-5 months. Even we underestimated. I have been wanting to write but unable to do so. I feel out of thoughts, out of touch, outside of myself. And so I asked facebook friends for writing prompts. I got a bunch of suggestions, several of which inspired me to write what I am going to write now, which will be some kind of mishmash of 


 genocide and pop culture 


how has the pandemic changed things for your family


why does the question why fire people up 


And I'm going to do this by talking about something obvious: The movie Bourne Identity.

People who read this blog might remember that my kids go (or went, before covid took this lifeline away from them) to Camp Kesem, a camp for kids of cancer survivors. At Kesem, you take on a new identity. You have a name that you only use there, and no one calls you by your given name. My kids names are--wait, no, I'm not going to tell you that. You aren't in the club. As a parent, I was asked to give myself a Kesem name in the past, and I was stumped, so Gabe named me:  Bourne.

Why? (Doesn't that question rankle). He said it was for the scene in the movie when the assassins are targeting each other and the dying one looks at Bourne and says "Look at what they make you give." To my husband, somehow, that was me. Look at what they make you give! We are married because I took it as it was intended, as a compliment. We couldn't be married if both things weren't true.

But Bourne Identity is something else to me. I didn't even realize what until effective therapy over the last few years. As someone who multiple therapists have said DEFINITELY has complex PTSD, like the kind caused by so many different types of trauma including multiple different types of physical trauma which changed my brain chemistry, I never until recently understood my own life, hobbies and preferences for what they were. Ask Gabe and he will tell you that for as long as we've known each other, when I am really anxious, have too much insomnia, am agitated or too angry, there is one surefire way for me to calm down: I watch Bourne Identity.

It puts me to sleep like a soothing lullaby. After 25 minutes I feel right with the world. I can sense the physical change in my body.


There's that question again. It does rankle. For years I thought, ok I'm just weird, does it matter? While Gabe is sick of seeing the first 30 minutes of Bourne for the 200th time, he's used to it, we figured it out, stop asking me! Why does it matter why? Why did I want to watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with my ex-boyfriend the day after I had a gun at my head during a robbery on the green line? Why did I call him and not my current boyfriend, who was robbed right along with me?

Because he didn't know me well and he might've asked me why, and I knew my ex would not.

So why? What is it about the movie? There are others that can suffice in a pinch: The first hunger games (the only one that works that has a woman lead). The Fugitive. The first 20 minutes of Casino Royale. But nothing like Bourne.

I love to watch him leave.

I love to watch him escape over and over. I love how he never even runs. He just walks away. I love that he does real things that you would need to do to get out of his absurd situations. He rips a map off a wall. He steals a guy's phone. He blows up his own car. He asks how the car handles before he drives like a maniac, not because he won't do it anyway, but so he knows what to expect. I love how he does everything alone. How he knows no one is coming. No one is going to save him. The system isn't going to work. No one is getting punished unless he does it himself. And so, his escape plans work. He escapes and keeps escaping and it soothes me like normal people's chamomile.

And therapist one had told me "it's hard for you because you lack the illusions most of us use to get through daily life. The illusions that it will be ok. That people make the right choices. That we won't die."

And therapist two told me "of course you love that movie. you need to regulate yourself by matching what you see with how you feel inside. you were hyper-vigilant for so many years that watching something or experiencing something calm made you MORE anxious. Seeing violence and chaos and then someone walking away from it is soothing to you, that makes sense."

Which brings me to "genocide and pop culture." Why, you ask? And isn't that the question. If you read this blog, you know that I have a whole library of genocide studies. And that is not an exaggeration. You might recall that when I was in the hospital with a heart problem from chemo, a friend sent me a book about reconciliation policies in help me feel better. That I used to read books about the Armenian genocide or Pol Pot's regime...on the beach. My library goes way beyond genocide and slavery though, as I love to read about acute disasters also--the Peshtigo fire that killed 2,000,the AIDS crisis, the triangle shirtwaist factory fire that killed all the workers inside, the children's blizzard where kids died walking home from school in Nebraska because the temperature dropped so severely they literally froze to death in their tracks.

I'm morbid, you're thinking. I'm depressing. I'm a glutton for punishment.

No, no, no. It's the trauma-informed life talking. It's the book version of Bourne.

I read about these things because they happened, because they're real. Because in so many cases, in almost all cases, no one came, no one helped, even when we rewrite history to pretend they did, what really happened is people suffered and died and a few lucky people made it out. It HELPS me to understand that there is nothing UNIQUE about the ways people are terrible, the ways people deny suffering and take the side of evil over and over, not even because they agree with it, but because they are lazy or disinterested or distracted or because they think someone else is coming to fix it. When I read about disasters I get fascinated by the dumb-luck nature of how people survive. It is always a combination of someone realizing "we are going to die here, this is real, no one is coming" and becoming singularly focused on surviving AT THE SAME TIME that they have some crazy kind of luck. It is never just one. It is always both. I also love to recognize that the good things that happen in societies almost always happen as a result of complete moral failures that led to disaster and mass death. I mean, we have building codes because people died without them. We have a set of internationally recognized human rights because most societies, especially this one, would happily function without them, causing endless suffering and death. Most of the time, no one comes when you need them to--but later? Later they feel bad, and they do stuff. It helps me to see how that works, and to think--how could this be different? What if someone did the thing that needed to be What if we didn't wait?

It helps me to read these things because I always want to be the one to say that trauma is real. That people don't get over it. That the bad guys don't get punished.  That people could make decisions that would make the outcome better...but so often, they don't. That they will blame people for saying the things I just said. That it could happen anywhere. At any time. In any society. That suffering isn't just real but is COMMON. That not all trauma is the same. But it is trauma. That many people are more afraid of trauma and people who have experienced it than they are of anything else. That people will separate themselves from people who talk about the "negative stuff." As long as I read it and I know it and I recognize it I will not be one of those people who I have been hurt by so many times--who dismiss or trivialize it.

And, sometimes, or many times, it helps. In real life. In situations that aren't comparable. It helps to be the first to say "this is fucked up and won't get better and no one is coming." Because it helps me make decisions, to not get paralyzed. Enter COVID, and quarantine. And all the conversations and all the decisions, all the people telling me Katy, why are you doing this now? Just wait. It will get better. This school closure is temporary. (Gabe and I knew when it happened the kids would never go back last year. Two weeks? Society is lying to you, friends.) My own husband got mad at me several times for pessimism and decision making he thought was rash...until he thanked me profusely months later. People told me my daughter was fine, she's a great kid! Of course she's a great kid! That didn't mean she was fine. Why do people think you can't be resilient and depressed, a trooper who isn't fine? I could see it. Early. I wasn't interested in telling her she was resilient or dismissing her issues or saying it was a phase or she'd get over it or that she needed to learn a lesson or maybe failing would be a good slap in the face. NO ONE WAS COMING. No one but me. After all the trauma I've been through, after all the things that had happened by the time I was her age, after an adolescence where I never felt young, a childhood where I was so often not a kid, I can't tell you how much it HELPS to finally hear her say things about what is going on with her, even when she is screaming in my face about it. That is how I know that doing all the things I did, no matter how much people rolled their eyes at me like I was some helicopter parent of a special little snowflake (ah, empathy, that ghost), it worked. Name it! Say it.

Admit it's happening.  Ignore all the people who will tell you your hard time isn't hard enough, even as they've been hanging out with their extended families and podding with their BFFs inside while you can't do that, your mom is the cancer mom, who wants to be the one putting her at risk? And you can't have the illusions, you know both that people die from things they shouldn't die from AND that when you're at risk of dying you have to live your life. The pandemic doesn't mean life stops. Life doesn't stop for cancer either, or war. It doesn't mean that "little things" don't matter. They DO matter. All the time. When I had an aggressive form of cancer, there was no "all that matters is surviving." I still had to do all the things. I still couldn't stand tripping over my husband's big ass shoes. Life was big and it was small. It was impossible and it was easy. I had to change everything on a dime, but that's what you do. I had already done that so many times, it came naturally.


Throughout history, people have gotten through trauma in one way and one way only: by DOING something, with other people. Isolation has never healed. And when it is JUST you, no one ALLOWS you to isolate. When I was the only one at risk of dying from germs, the world cared not one bit. Smile, Katy! Keep doing all the things! I said once that cancer changed everything about my life while I remained the same exact person doing the same exact things. How do you walk around as if the world could kill you at any moment? Well, you take some precautions. And then you walk around.  You might have trouble talking to people though. You might never really tell them how you feel, what happened to you, how it is. You might expect them to dismiss you if you say you aren't FINE. You might expect them to think you are a bitch who COMPLAINS. So you retreat and do your thing.

You don't just walk. You rip the map off the wall first.

You meet someone, or at least two someones really, who won't pity you. Who won't ask you to change your response to all the traumas. Who will just not drink around you, for instance, because he figured out early on you hated him when he was drunk and so instead of asking you to FIX yourself, instead of asking WHY you don't like drunk men, he just, you know, stopped drinking. Forever. Without saying anything. Who will just ask ok you still can't sleep? working out didn't work, sex didn't work, bourbon didn't work? God fine, ok, I know what will work.

Does it matter why it works? Well, actually, it does. That is the nature of why. It matters. But not in that moment. WHY doesn't always matter WHEN. In that moment what matters is that someone was there, someone acknowledged, someone didn't tell you to get over it or that you were damaged or that that was the wrong way to cope.

He just queued up Bourne Identity to lull you to sleep.