I’m a Canadian-American writer who currently resides in Toronto ~ but My God do I miss the sunshine of Southern California! In 2014 I was diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma & I continue to deal with complications related to it. Cake for breakfast makes everything better & vintage fashion is my joy.
I know it’s not a healthy breakfast, but I don’t care. I want a croissant or pain au chocolat, with a strong cup of coffee.
I don’t need a giant Costco bag of apples, just one perfect crisp McIntosh will do.
I want to eat eggs from the happiest of chickens, the ones who run free on a family-run farm. Yes they are more expensive, but you can taste their joy.
My afternoon snack is a piece of cake with frosting covered in sprinkles. It’s a silly cake, the kind you might make for a six year old’s birthday, but it’s what I want and it makes me smile. Yes I will crash from the sugar high and need to nap like a toddler, but it’s worth it.
I want to cook dinner like my Aunt showed me, the one who lived in Paris. Cook anything in a cast iron pan with butter and white wine and it will be like dining on the Rue Mouffetard.
Speaking of wine, I want to drink mine from mis-matched vintage glasses, the ones that are etched with swirls and trimmed in gold. And I want to drink it every night.
Before sleeping I want to massage my face with a heavy rose-scented cream. Maybe it won’t take away my wrinkles, but they will enjoy the lovely rose scent and I will too.
I will read a fashion magazine in bed. Not a book about something important. Instead I will look at beautiful clothing designed by artists who paint our bodies with fabric instead of painting canvas. This is important to me and it will help me dream of magical adventures, where I laugh and twirl and love myself and throw glitter down on everyone sleeping, so that when they wake, they exclaim, “whatever happened last night? Why is there a rainbow of glitter in our bed?”
This is what I want. I don’t care if it seems fanciful or silly or not what I should be doing. For the only thing I should be doing is living as my truest self. The doctors said I would be dead by now, that my cancer would devour me, but somehow I am still here. A mystery to them. So while I’m still here, I want it all. And I want it covered in gold sparkles.
I threw two pregnancy tests into my basket, along with a box of saltine crackers. Fearing being judged by the cashier, I added Lysol wipes, a lipstick and Vogue, as if they would magically hide the tests.
“Wow, you are too old to be buying a pregnancy test. Get your shit together,” said the check-out lady in my head.
At work I lay down in the back room on a disgusting old carpet. I felt like throwing up and my stomach looked four months pregnant. My co-worker agreed:
“Ya, you do look kinda pregnant.”
I googled “can you get pregnant with a vasectomy?” It turns out that yes you can, though rarely. It usually happens because couples have sex too soon, before the semen is sperm-free. OMG. That’s us. I’m 46 years old, my life is in shambles and I’ve only been with my partner for nine months.
Peeing on the sticks I quickly discovered that I was not pregnant – thank god – but still, I knew something was wrong. I had been having horrible panic attacks the last couple of months and something was telling me the panic was my body’s way of waving a giant red flag:
“Hellooooo! There is something fucked up with your health. Do not pass GO. Go directly to the doctor.”
Unfortunately at that time I had a horrible doctor. I knew it would be difficult to convince her that I needed an ultrasound; she always thought I was being neurotic.
An evening of googling, note-taking, and practicing my sales pitch, (including a couple of white lies that I felt were necessary to make my case), and I was ready to face her. I had found enough evidence to suggest that I might have ovarian cancer and therefore would need an ultrasound asap.
My sales pitch worked and my doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound. Yay! The ultrasound revealed a mass. Not so yay. Soon after a cat scan revealed a more detailed image, including “ascites,” – abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen causing swelling. That’s when my doctor gave me a few pamphlets and said:
“The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital will be taking over your care. Good luck.”
I met with a top gynaecological surgeon and she was fairly confident that whatever I had was not cancerous. Yay! She performed laparoscopic surgery but it didn’t go as expected. Not so yay. She discovered a freak show-looking cancer.
“This isn’t in my wheelhouse,” the gyno-surgeon said.
Okay, maybe she didn’t say that, but she definitely thought that.
A well-known gastrointestinal oncologist then took over my care. I felt like I was an appetizer being passed around that no one wanted to eat.
By this point I was thinking:
“Can we go back to when I thought I was pregnant? I’d like that option please. Just give me the damn baby, I’ll be a great mother, I promise!”
My biopsy was not routine – shocker – and took a long time. A pathologist in Vancouver had to be consulted. The final diagnosis was: Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.
What the hell is that?
Apparently it was a rare, incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
And thus began my cancer saga.
Cancer 101 Reminders: – Trust Your Gut. If I hadn’t had that ultrasound when I did I would be dead. – Be super pro-active. If it were someone you loved who was sick you would move mountains to help them. So move mountains for yourself.
***If you’re a woman: if you experience a swollen-looking abdomen, along with a sense of “fullness” for more than a few days, speak with your doctor. Women often assume these symptoms are “digestive issues,” when they are in fact symptoms of cancer, especially ovarian cancer.***
“You’ve been under the blanket for two minutes, it’s not like Xanax, it doesn’t work that fast.”
“But it’s so heavy, I feel like I can’t breathe.”
“Of course it’s heavy, it’s a weighted blanket. And you’re breathing just fine. They’ve sold millions of these, we would have heard if people were being smothered to death.”
“But we didn’t buy this blanket, your mother knit it. And your mother hates me, maybe she overweighted it. Maybe I’m dying as we speak.”
“Oh My God Laura, stop with the theatrics. My mother doesn’t hate you, she’s trying to help. She doesn’t want you to become addicted to pills, she’s worried.”
“You told me your mother doesn’t believe in anxiety. You told me she said I was just looking for attention.”
“True, she did say that, but that was like two years ago. Recently one of the ladies in her book club confided in her that she suffers from anxiety, so now she’s a believer.”
“Well I still think she judges me for it, but it was kind of her to knit the blanket.”
“Yes it was. She’s a good woman. I’m going to run a few errands and I’ll pick something up for dinner. Love you.”
“Love you too. Get some wine, we’re almost out.”
Laura put on her Sarah McLachlan playlist and closed her eyes. The blanket smelled really good, like lavender. Maybe Jeremy’s mother didn’t hate her after all. I mean knitting a blanket this thick was a huge undertaking. Laura decided to invite Mrs. Peters out for a girls afternoon. They would get mani pedis and then have a lovely lunch at The Row House, which was very old-school, white linen, shrimp cocktail-fancy. It would make Jeremy happy too.
She took a deep breath then slowly let it out, pulling the blanket all the way up to her chin.
But I fear I have nothing to give I have so much to lose
“I love Sarah McLachlan, she doesn’t get enough credit. I mean she created Lilith Fair for God’s sake.”
The heaviness of the blanket forced Laura to breathe slowly. It put her into a calm and somewhat meditative state. She started making a mental list of all that she was grateful for: – Jeremy – their beloved, but now dead cat Gus – her new hair style – their families and friends – of course their rent-controlled apartment – their relatively good health, not counting her anxiety – her fall Stuart Weitzman boots
“I think this crazy weighted blanket really is working. I feel peaceful, kind of tired like I’m ready for a nap. I wonder how much longer I should lie under it?”
Laura adjusted the blanket so that it went around her neck, with just her head poking out. She would make this Saturday night special. After taking a nap she would dress up in something pretty and light some candles for dinner. They would watch a Criterion film and then make love.
Laura’s breath slowed, like it does at the end of a yoga class when the instructor guides everyone into a tranquil state.
“This is better than taking pills. Then again I can’t use it in public. Imagine me dragging my weighted blanket around like Linus from Charlie Brown. Hilarious!” She giggled.
Surrendering to the blanket, Laura drifted off ~ breathing quietly like a tiny mouse. She felt cocooned in a field of lavender.
“They were out of your favorite wine, but I found another one, it’s French. Apparently it has notes of lavender, which I thought was cool.”
“I’m going to marry him,” I told my girlfriends. He smelled like home. When he hugged me I’d almost fainted from the sheer intensity of his scent. He smelled like the kind of love that inspires poets and songwriters. But God is a trickster. He created smell to mess with us. “She thinks she’s going to marry him because he smells like home!” God said laughing. “I’m just fucking with you, get it together girl, he’s not your future husband!” God tossed a handful of popcorn in his mouth and continued watching his reality show.
The following is a true story. It’s part of a new series I’m doing of 100 word real life stories.
My secret crush was standing in front of me at the toy store where I worked. He handed me a fortune cookie and left. Inside was his number. It was 1987, so I had to wait until I got home to call him; we spoke for hours. I told my parents that the boy I loved wanted me, so I would not be going away to The University of Toronto; they refused to comply. Thus began weeks of me listening to Bryan Ferry’s “Slave To Love” while sobbing. At school I dated, ate pizza with magic mushrooms and dreamed of him.
“You’ll feel like you were hit by a truck after the operation.”
“The surgery will take 9-12 hours, including administering hot chemo into your abdomen.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to save my reproductive system?”
“We’ll try, but it’s likely that it will all have to come out.”
“We will be giving you an ileostomy and it could end up being permanent. Be prepared for that.”
“Oh my God.”
“I know it’s a lot to digest. If you have any other questions please let me know. I’ll see you on the 18th.”
“Thank you Dr. Govindajan.”
I left the hospital in a daze, walking aimlessly for several blocks. A pub down the street caught my eye and I went in and grabbed a booth at the back. It was only 11:00 AM but I ordered a glass of wine. I also ordered a grilled cheese so I didn’t look like a sad alcoholic. I opened my notebook where I’d had written down everything my oncologist had just told me.
“Here’s your wine sweetie, tough morning?”
“Ya. I have cancer and I’m getting operated on in two weeks.”
“Oh I’m so sorry. My sister had cancer and she’s fine now. You’ll be okay too, don’t worry.”
“Thank you, that’s nice of you to say.”
Actually I’m probably not going to be okay because my cancer is very rare and there’s no cure and there’s not much research on it.
I started making a list of things I would need for the hospital: facial wipes, lip balm, reading glasses, secret stash of Xanax, cotton pillow case because the ones in hospitals are gross polyester, mirror, phone charger…
The grilled cheese arrived and looked delicious. I took a bite and then another. On my third bite I got that familiar feeling again, the one that had been plaguing me since I was first diagnosed with Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.
My throat is closing. I can’t breathe. I’m dying. Please someone help me.
I pushed the grilled cheese aside and grabbed my pills. As I tried to swallow one it felt like there was no room for it to go down.
Oh My God the cheese has coated my throat and now I’m choking.
Thankfully the Xanax kicked in quickly and I felt like I could breathe again, but I couldn’t eat another bite. I had already lost ten pounds and I wanted to gain weight before going into the hospital, but food had become my enemy.
After the pub I headed to a nearby department store. In the shoe department I chatted with a friendly salesperson about our favorite fall fashion trends. I bought three pairs: tall wedge booties and fringed mid-calf cowboy-ish boots, plus a cool pair of men’s style oxfords.
Where are you wearing these? You’ll be dead soon.
In the cab home I leaned back and shut my eyes. Wait, so I’m going to go through menopause all at once? Like – BAM! – I’m a crone now? Is that how it works? Why? Why is this happening?
Do I even want this operation? Like, what’s the point? With this disease I’m basically fucked, so why go through all of this? And why the hell can’t they save my female bits? Is it bececause I’m 46 and they figure I don’t need them anymore? I do need them and I want them God Damn it.
And, side note, why can’t I have a normal cancer like breast cancer? I mean Mesothelioma? Caused by exposure to asbestos as a child? What the actual fuck?
Having only been dating my boyfriend for one year I felt my diagnosis and everything it involved was just too much pressure on us. We should break up now before we became more attached. He didn’t sign up for menopause and an ileostomy bag and God knows what other complications, plus a high probability of me dying soon.
I wondered about the whole dying with dignity thing. Oregon had recently made it legal for individuals to choose to end their lives when they were sick and suffering and since I was an American Citizen I reasoned I could move there. But what if you wanted to end your life before you got to the sick and suffering part. Like kind of preemptively end your life? That should be allowed too.
I could go the straight suicide route. I had just filled my prescription for Xanax and it was surely enough to kill me. The problem is I would have to do it immediately before I had another panic attack. The more panic attacks I had the more Xanax I used up, which would not leave me with enough pills to end my life.
Back at home I continued thinking through my Xanax plan. One of the many issues with it was that knowing me I would have a panic attack while trying to swallow all the pills.
A panic attack while trying to kill myself. Ridiculous.
The other complication with my plan was that it would devastate my family, boyfriend and close friends. I didn’t want to hurt them, but I also didn’t want to be forced to live through this nightmare. Suddenly I felt resentful of them. Now, because of them, I was going to have to endure a horrendous surgery with some weird hot chemo poured into my stomach, making my abdomen a poisonous soup. Then I would wake up sweating from hot flashes with a stoma spewing waste into a bag attached to my tummy.
Not fucking fair!
Within minutes the rage I felt turned to sadness, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t scream or cry or do anything to get the emotions out. They were all trapped in my chest. I lay in bed for an hour not moving, my 100 pound dog Leroy lay with me, his giant head on my stomach.
I could not leave Leroy that’s for sure. I had dragged him with me all the way from Los Angeles to Toronto and he considered himself my husband. Though he tolerated my boyfriend, he would have preferred to have me all back to himself. During my marriage Leroy had saved me. Though I had rescued him, he had emotionally rescued me and I was forever grateful.
It was time for Leroy’s mid-day walk. I put on his fall sweater – blue hand knit with a giant red crab design – and we went out in the sunny, cool air. We ambled along and he scored half a croissant out of a bush. Having previously lived on the streets of LA, he was adept at sourcing food.
“Do you know how much I love you?” I asked him. I kissed his beautiful brindled head as he licked the last of the buttery croisssant off his lips.
Three women were walking towards us on the opposite sidewalk. They were dressed in black abayas, but the woman in the middle was wearing the most beautiful sparkly one – it looked like silver metallic sparkly stars. I waved to them and they waved back, the one wearing the sparkles flashing me the peace sign.
In that moment I realized that I would go through with the wretched operation and scary tummy chemo soup.
I didn’t want to, but I would.
I hated my lack of options, but I would.
I was mad as hell at God and the Universe, but I would.
I didn’t know if my relationship could survive it, but I would.
I had no idea how life could possibly go on after this all, but I would.
I would because there was a woman wearing a sparkly metallic abaya flashing me the peace sign and for some reason I took that as a sign. I would.
“Did you have a nice time with your father? I like your hair that way, you look pretty.”
“You’re not supposed to give me compliments about my looks, remember? That’s old-school parenting.”
For the love of God.
“Dad took me to that vintage store I’ve been wanting to check out and bought me some rad stuff. Then we went out to lunch with Marie, I like her, she’s cool.”
Who the fuck is Marie?
“Wash those clothes, you never know what could be on them.”
“You’re kidding, right? They’re already clean mom. Anyway, Marie is getting me a pair of jeans from the denim company she works for. Their jeans are made in a really nice, eco-friendly factory right here in LA, not like a sweatshop in Bangladesh.”
“I bet they are. I bet their workers have health insurance and paid sick days and proper lunch breaks and good air conditioning in their work rooms.”
“Mom, chill. Marie is cool. Be happy Dad is not dating a 21 year old actress hyphenate, because he totally could be. All my friends say he’s a silver fox.”
A silver fucking fox.
“We’re having vegetarian lasagna tonight. Does that meet your current eating standards?”
“I actually started eating meat again this weekend.”
“Marie said I don’t have the right blood type to be vegetarian. She said that to maximize my health and well-being I should be eating free range chicken, grass-fed beef and non-farmed salmon five times a week. But lasagna is fine too.”
“Okay then, well I’m going to maximize my health by drinking a glass of wine right now. Go do your homework.”
“I’m not ten. You don’t need to tell me to do my homework. And by the way, I’m getting like almost straight A’s, so maybe just take it down a notch Laurie.”
She did not just call me Laurie. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Jessie went to her bedroom, grabbing a bag of caramel popcorn off the kitchen counter on her way.
Laurie popped the lasagna in the oven then poured herself a glass of Chardonnay. In the livingroom she watched an old episode of Scandal for the tenth time. There was something soothing about watching the show over and over again. Olivia Pope wouldn’t be dealing with a ridiculous teenager and someone named Marie. Olivia Pope would “handle it,” and then go have sex with Jake, or the President, or both.
Maximize her health and well-being. Go fuck yourself Marie. How is it that Mike is introducing Jessie to the woman he’s dating? Does that mean he’s in a serious relationship?”
Laurie texted him: “Hi. Jessie had a nice time with you and Marie. R u two in a serious relationship? Pls keep me in the loop. Thx.”
Jessie came to dinner wearing a black Joy Division t-shirt.
“So that’s one of the vintage pieces your dad bought you? Do you know the lead singer committed suicide? There’s a documentary about the band if you’re interested. He suffered from horrible depression.”
“Good lasagna mom,” said Jessie, ignoring her mom’s comments.
“Thanks, I’m glad you approve.”
“Mom, I don’t want you to freak out or anything, but I got the feeling that dad and Marie are really a thing. Like really together. I’m just giving you a head’s up.”
“That’s sweet of you, but don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I want your father to be happy – I’m glad he’s met someone.”
Wow. That was fast Mike. We’ve been divorced for less than nine months and you’re already in a serious relationship.
Later that evening Mike texted back:
“Hi. Yes, Marie and I are together, we’ve been dating exclusively for five months, I was going to tell you. She wants us all to get together for dinner. Can you do Friday night? I’ll have my assistant book us a table. Thx.”
Five months? Dinner together?
After throwing in a load of laundry Laurie went out by the pool to smoke a cigarette from her secret stash.
“Sounds great. Looking forward to it!” she texted back to him.
“Why did you say sounds great and looking forward to it?! You cannot go to that dinner alone, we need to find you a date,” said her oldest friend Molly the next day.
“No, that would make it worse. It would make me seem desperate and sad and I’m not desperate and sad, I just wasn’t prepared for a ‘Marie’ yet” answered Laurie, checking on the non-farmed salmon.
“Gotta go. Jessie just got home and tonight she’s bringing a friend with her. This morning she actually told me what to wear and asked me to “act normal,” at dinner. Love you.”
“Oh Lordy. Love you too girl.”
Laurie had followed her daughter’s instructions and worn her high-waisted jeans with her hippie blouse tucked in and her large gold hoops. She had even put on mascara and lip gloss. Last time Jessie had a friend over she had been more than just a friend, so she was expecting the same this time.
“Hi mom, we’re home and I brought an extra guest!” yelled Jessie from the hallway.
“All good!” Laurie answered as she set another place and added more salad to the bowl.
As she put out an assortment of drinks for the kids to choose from, she poured herself a glass of wine.
“I’ll take one of those too if you don’t mind,” said a deep voice.
Who. The. Fuck. Is. That?
The most handsome, swoon-worthy man was standing in her kitchen doorway. What was her daughter up to? She wanted to strangle her, kind of.
“I’m Daniel, Emily’s father. Sorry the girls sprung this on you. They’re such operators.”
Laurie handed him a glass of wine, glad that she had put on mascara and lip gloss.
“Not a problem. I should have known something was up when Jessie told me what to wear for dinner,” she said laughing.”
“Can I do anything to help?” Daniel asked.
“Thanks but everything’s done. Let’s go outside for a few minutes and relax.”
From the cupboard Laurie grabbed a bag of Salt N’ Vinegar chips:
“These go really well with wine.”
“I like the unicorn pool floatie,” Daniel said.
“Me too. Jessie is mortified by it, but she’s mortified by most of what I do and say, so you know…” said Laurie crunching on a chip.
“God these chips are good,” said Daniel with salt stuck to his upper lip.
Those lips. Wow. Stop staring Laurie, you freak.
“Is it wrong to say I hate teenagers? I just want to fast forward to the college years or whatever this generation is going to do instead of college. I can’t take it.”
“I know, it’s brutal. Jessie has started referring to me as Laurie.”
Daniel laughed hard, almost spitting out his wine.
The laughter and chatter continued until the oven alarm went off and they went inside for dinner.
“So girls, how was school today?” asked Laurie.
“The usual,” answered Jessie.
“I love the usual,” said Daniel, digging into his salad.
Jessie took a selfie of Emily and her.
“No phones at the table,” Laurie said. “Also, are you two a couple?” She could feel Daniel hiding his smile.
“No. We’re trying to make Emily’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah, jealous” said Jessie.
“Got it. Well hope it works.”
“Are you guys ready for your science test tomorrow?”
“Of course we are Dad,” answered Emily, rolling her eyes.
“Just two more years,” whispered Laurie to Daniel. He tilted his head and smiled at her.
Laurie caught Jessie sneaking a photo of her and Daniel.
“What are you doing? I told you, no phones at the dinner table. Stop it already.”
After dinner Daniel and Laurie cleaned up and continued chatting:
“Thanks again for dinner, it was delicious. And sorry about the ambush…”
“It was my pleasure. I had a lovely time.”
“I would love to bring you out to dinner, no teenagers, just us. Are you free Saturday?”
I’m free right now. Kiss me. Please kiss me.
“I would love that.”
Later that evening as Laurie was finishing some editing work, Jessie stopped by her office. Leaning against her mother’s desk with a popsicle in her mouth, she said:
“Did you like Emily’s dad? Isn’t he cute? I thought he was your type.”
“You are quite the little trickster,” said Laurie, grabbing Jessie into a playful bear hug.
“I knew you would like him,” Jessie said, giggling like a little girl. “I just knew it!”
“You are an amazing young woman, you know that? Don’t ever forget it” said Laurie, kissing the top of her head.
Friday night, at Fia in Santa Monica, Laurie and Jessie met Mike and Marie for dinner. Marie had that effortlessly slouchy-chic look: a satin slip dress under a belter cardigan and vaguely western ankle-boots.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Marie said as she extended her hand.
“Likewise,” answered Laurie smiling.
“I ordered you a Chardonnay,” Mike said kissing her cheek.
A tray of drinks and appetizers arrived and they all raised their glasses.
“To getting to know each other,” Marie exclaimed.
They clinked glasses and Laurie took a long sip.
“Dad, I wanna show you something,” Jessie leaned into him so he could better see her phone screen.
“So, I hear you work for an eco-friendly denim company, that sounds really interesting.”
“It is. It kind of combines my two passions: fashion and the environment.”
“Who’s this?” Mike asked Laurie as he was looking at Jessie’s photos.
Laurie looked as Jessie flipped the screen to show her.
“Oh that’s Daniel, Emily’s father. They were over for dinner the other night.”
“Mom is going on a date with him tomorrow night,” said Jessie proudly.
Why can’t I get just one kiss? Why can’t I get just one kiss? There may be some things that I wouldn’t miss But I look at your pants and I need a kiss
“I love your earrings.”
“Thanks. I got them at Le Chateau.”
Why can’t I get just one screw? Why can’t I get just one screw? Believe me, I know what to do But something won’t let me make love to you
“Why do the guys always play this song at every party?”
“They think it makes them cool.”
“Do you think Ed likes me? I thought he did, but now he’s totally ignoring me.”
“Ed is failing French and he’s like barely even cute. You are better than Ed.”
“Okay, okay, thx Jess.”
“Is it just me, or are there no cute guys here? Like not even one.”
“I know, it’s like being at school but with booze. We need new people.”
“I feel like shit, I think it’s these wine coolers. I might throw up.”
“Oh no! Want me to come with you to the bathroom?”
“No, it’s okay. I’m just gonna lie down in Emma’s bedroom for awhile.”
“Don’t choke on your puke! That’s how rock stars always die.”
“I’m not going to choke on my vomit for God’s sake. I’m just lying down for a bit and if I don’t feel better I’m outta here.”
“K. I’m gonna check out the backyard scene.”
Emma’s bedroom and bathroom were on the third floor – like her own little dusty rose, wall-to-wall carpeted apartment. Jessie tried throwing up the disgusting Strawberry coolers but nothing happened, so she went into Emma’s bedroom and lay down on the peach-quilted bed.
The bedroom was huge: two single beds, a desk, a long curvy dresser, a Pier One Papasan chair and a vanity table covered with makeup and perfume bottles.
She looked at Emma’s clock radio: 10:45 pm.
“If I don’t feel better in fifteen minutes I’m going home,” she said out loud.
Jessie stared at the ceiling. There was a beautiful crystal chandelier, softly-lit, creating a romantic vibe.
“She even has a dimmer for her light? Jesus.”
She looked again at the bedside table: gold ornate Kleenex box, 2 Swatch watches, one red, one cobalt blue. The newest Cosmopolitan magazine and a heart-shape framed photo of Emma and her beloved, but now dead, cat Gus.
“God I feel nauseas. Maybe I just need to eat something. Did I even have dinner?”
She thought back to earlier in the night. They had all ordered pizza, but Jessie had only eaten a few bites because it was covered in ham and pineapple.
She tried on the cobalt Swatch, it looked good.
A soft knock sounded:
“Jessie, you okay in there?”
“I’m fine Jen, don’t worry, I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“No, it’s Derek, not Jen” said Derek as he opened the door.
“Oh hi Derek, sorry, I thought you were Jen. What are you doing upstairs?”
“I heard Jen talking about you not feeling well, so I figured someone better check on you.”
“Oh thanks, I’m okay. I didn’t eat enough dinner because the pizza was disgusting and then I drank those wine coolers…”
“Wine coolers are never a good idea,” said Derek, sitting down on the bed.
She sighed, “I know.”
“Those football dudes from Sherwood Collegiate just got here and they’re fucking idiots. Who even invited them?”
“I think Sharon whatsername did, she’s into one of them.”
“Sharon smells, like she always smells like baked apples,” said Derek as he lay down next to Jessie. “I mean what? Does her mother bake pies all day? It’s weird.”
“Well, there are worse things to smell like, right?” said Jessie.
“True!” laughed Derek
“I can’t forget to take off this watch before I leave, it’s Emma’s. Can you imagine if I accidentally stole it? Christ.”
“Emma’s too muscular, she’s built like a rugby player,” said Derek.
“I think she’s really beautiful. Like if I were a guy I would totally be into her.”
Jessie started to sit up.
“I feel gross. I’m going home.”
Derek took Jessie by the wrist, the one with the Swatch and lay her back down on the bed.
“Come on, just hang out here with me for a little while.”
“Fine, but for like 5 min max.”
“So, are you and Mike still dating?”
“Mike? No, that’s way way over. I think he’s dating that fake goth girl Chrissy.”
“Oh well, his loss. You’re gorgeous and she wears black lipstick. I mean what’s his problem?”
“Derek, just to warn you, I could literally throw up any minute and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”
“I’m willing to take the chance.”
“Were you and Mike serious?”
“Well, we weren’t not serious, like we only dated each other. At least I think we only dated each other. At least I only dated him.”
Laughing, Derek said, “you’re funny,” then rolled over on his side and pressed himself up against her.
“Are you insane? I literally just told you I feel like barfing and you want me to kiss you? No.”
He slid his hand up her sweater. It was her new Esprit sweater, dark grey with lime green lighting bolts on it.
“Derek, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but just stop it. I don’t want to fool around.”
“Relax, relax, it’s just a kiss,” he said as he pulled his hand off her chest and kissed her.
“Stop, it. I don’t want to.”
Derek started pulling down her black tights.
“Have you lost your mind? Did you smoke too much hash? Get off of me right now or I’ll scream.”
“No one will hear you.”
“Take a chill pill. We’re just fooling around, that’s what people do at parties.”
Derek had lighting-fast undressing skills and before Jessie knew it her tights were halfway down her legs. Her pale thighs exposed and the bottom half of her legs still covered in opaque black. She was wearing her favorite ankle-boots, the ones that looked like Madonna’s in the Lucky Star video.
“Stop. You’re hurting me.”
“I’m not hurting you. God, I didn’t realize you were so uptight. No wonder Mike left you for Chrissy.”
Jessie tried willing herself to throw up. If she barfed, Derek would surely stop.
“Dear God, please help me puke so that Derek gets off of me.”
Derek was now yanking her underwear down.
“I thought you liked Andrea Henderson? She likes you too you know.”
“I know she likes me. I’m going out with her tomorrow night.”
He managed to get her underwear pulled down while he simultaneously unzipped his jeans. All the while he was holding her down with one surprisingly strong arm.
“Please stop Derek. I don’t want to have sex with you. We can do something else. How about I go down on you?”
Jessie had no desire to go down on Derek but thought it was worth a try, it would buy her some time.
“Come on, you know this is better.”
He continued kissing her, mostly on her neck and strangely they were soft kisses. They were everything that his deep, painful thrusts were not.
Out of the corner of her eye Jessie saw a flash of cobalt from her wrist. She focused on it. She thought of the Swatch magazine ad she’d recently seen in Mademoiselle magazine. It was a color wheel of Swatch Watches, every shade of the rainbow. The fluorescent green one had been her favorite. The cobalt blue was nice though, it was a bright cobalt.
Derek rolled off her.
“That was amazing.”
He turned to her and kissed her on the mouth, a long, deep kiss like they were a happy girlfriend and boyfriend couple.
“I’ll see you downstairs Jess.”
As he zipped up and closed the door behind him, Jessie took off the cobalt Swatch and placed it on the bedside table. She slowly pulled up her underwear and her tights. Easing herself off the bed, she made sure to plump the pillow and smooth out the wrinkles on the quilt, like a hotel maid would do.
At Emma’s vanity table she fixed her hair and sprayed her neck where Derek had been kissing her – with a bottle of Beautiful. Looking closely at each of Emma’s seven lipsticks, she finally decided on Maybelline’s “Iced Berry,” which she applied with her fingers. She took a final look around the pretty bedroom and shut the door behind her.
She decided to go pee because she’d once read that peeing after sex prevented infections.
Downstairs she made a beeline for the study, where she found her black purse and vintage leopard print coat under a massive pile.
“Jessie, are you leaving? Did you throw up? I met this cute guy named Trevor, he’s in Grade 11 at Wrightly High. You look super pale, are you okay?”
“Can you call me a cab? I need to get some air.”
“Ya I’ll call now.”
Jessie was already on her way outside.
“It’ll be here in five minutes or less. Want me to wait with you? You look bad. I mean not ugly bad, just like sick bad.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine. Call me tomorrow and let me know what happens with Trevor, k?”
“K. Hope you feel better,” Jen said as she hugged Jessie.
Outside Jessie fished a cigarette out of her purse. Though she didn’t smoke regularly, she always liked to have a pack on her. She inhaled deeply and tried exhaling like the movie stars did in the late night classic films that she sometimes watched.
As her cab pulled up Derek poked his head out the front door:
“Just wanted to make sure you were getting home safely. Have a good weekend Jess.”
Jessie stared at him, tossed her cigarette on the sidewalk and got in the cab.
This story was inspired by a sexual assault I experienced in high school.
The first day Emily slept until 3:00, walked to Sunset and bought an ice cream cone from Icy Rush. Back home, with caramel still glossing her lips, she flopped on her bed, not waking until 10:00 pm. After microwaving a frozen burrito, Emily watched reruns of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” the episodes where they still looked human.
Day Two Emily woke at 1:00, threw on old Levis cut-offs, a white tank, Birkenstocks and a vintage kimono. She Ubered over to Figaro Bistrot, (she didn’t trust herself to drive yet, the exhaustion was only just now beginning to seep out from her body). Sitting on the sidewalk patio, Emily ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a Croque Monsieur with frites and then settled in to people watch from behind her scratched Ray Bans.
“That’s an insane kimono. LOVE.” said the woman sitting next to her.
“Thanks, I love it too. It was a gift from a Costume Designer I worked for,” answered Emily as she stabbed frites with her fork.
The woman was on her way out and they waved goodbye.
“Thank God,” thought Emily, “I don’t have the energy for an actual conversation.” Before leaving the bistrot she bought several desserts to go, then got into a yellow Uber sedan.
“Hideous,” thought Emily. She despised yellow cars. Only vintage Volkswagen Bugs like the one Goldie Hawn drove in Foul Play should be yellow.
Once home Emily answered a bunch of texts and emails then grabbed the desserts and headed over to her neighbor Jim’s house. She actually had five neighbors: the six of them each lived in tiny one-bedroom casitas, sharing a main courtyard filled with aloe vera and jade succulents. Jim was a writer who had recently – finally – sold his first screenplay. Emily had been on location when she heard the exciting news, so she hadn’t been able to properly congratulate him and celebrate.
“Jim, you there? I come bearing sweets and a rad vintage Metallica t-shirt that I scored for you.”
Jim opened the door,
“Holy shit balls, you’re back!”
He grabbed forks for them and they settled on lounge chairs in the courtyard, passing the box of desserts back and forth.
“Jesus, these are delicious, thx Em. And I love my t-shirt, I think it might actually be a collectors item. Where did u find it?”
“Toronto. I was there shooting the new Lily Collins movie. It’s a cool city, but I barely made it through filming. I was so exhausted that my whole system went out of whack: I felt really depressed, no energy and I started getting anxiety attacks when eating. It was actually really scary.”
“Oh God Em, I’m sorry. You’ve been going from project to project, working ludicrous hours – it’s not sustainable. I’ve been worried about you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that, I really do. My Doctor says I’m suffering from burn-out. She wants me to take a few months off, she’s writing me some kind of note. It’s ridiculous though, what am I going to do, give a doctor’s note to my wardrobe union? Plus, I’m due to start working on a new series in two weeks, it’s filming in LA thank God. But enough about my stupid health drama, I want to hear all about your screenplay selling, tell me everything!”
After her visit with Jim, Emily slept until 8:30. She had just enough time to grab a ride-share and bike over to the Vista Theatre where they were playing “The Maltese Falcon,” a classic which she’d never seen. Emily settled into a back row seat and ripped open her Red Vines, jamming a whole piece in her mouth.
It was an especially beautiful evening, so Emily decided to walk home even though she was tired. As she made her way east on Sunset towards Echo Park, she spied the cutest couple holding hands. They were dressed in a very i-D Magazine mash-up of 80’s preppy/70’s punk. She was tempted to speed up so she could eavesdrop on their conversation, but she was distracted by a well-dressed elderly couple drinking expresso at a rickety cafe table. She stopped for a moment to take a few sips from her water bottle, leaning against a mural-ed wall. On the street in front of her were two young blond women kissing. It felt as if their kisses were sending off little rays of love into the universe.
She was about to start walking again when she felt wobbly. Was it anxiety? Maybe she needed to call an Uber. She sat down beneath the Mi Familia mural and took a few deep breaths. But it didn’t feel like the anxiety she had recently experienced. What was it then? Why was she sitting on the dirty street like a homeless waif feeling wobbly?
Suddenly she felt like a character in a scene from a movie she might have worked on. As a wardrobe shopper Emily would have shopped her character’s whole look, from her floral underwear to the vintage kimono. It had always been Emily’s dream to work in the film industry. She loved storytelling and the role that clothing played in it. But when did Emily get to write her own story? When was there even time for her to live her own story?
Seeing the three couples – the hand-holders, the smartly-dressed seniors and the two blondes – had penetrated something within Emily. Something very fragile that she had been keeping buried within her, without even knowing she was, without even knowing what it was, had been punctured. She felt like she was bleeding out. Bleeding out invisibly on Sunset Boulevard – now there’s a screenplay idea for Jim.
She looked down on the grimy pavement, smeared with God knows what and realized she was not having an anxiety attack – she was having a loneliness attack. “But is that even a thing?” asked the rational side of Emily’s brain. “Can a person be so deeply lonely that their body manifests a physical reaction?” “Yes,” she said out loud, “Yes it can.”
Emily wondered if her Doctor would write her a second note:
Dear Wardrobe Union: Your highly esteemed member & wardrobe shopper Emily Jenkins, is suffering from a life threatening case of loneliness. As you probably know, but perhaps you don’t think about, as a wardrobe shopper Emily works primarily on her own. She spends her days in malls, boutiques and costume houses, with almost no opportunities to meet available straight men. I have written Emily a prescription which requires you to provide her with one hour a day of exposure to at least three men. These men must be emotionally mature, ready for a relationship and politically left-leaning. Thank You. Sincerely, Doctor Govindarajan.
Emily laughed at the idea of the letter, got up and continued walking home. She’d forgotten how long a walk it was, but she needed – as Taylor Swift said – to shake it off. So she walked and walked and walked. Tears started falling and she let them do their thing, not wiping them away. Soon she started sniffling and within a few minutes she was full on sobbing, the ugly variety, with snot and tears mixing together, forming a kind of sadness facial.
“Senorita, estas bien?” asked an older woman.
“Si, yo soy bien, gracias,” answered Emily in her best Spanish.
“God, I must look like a woman having a nervous breakdown,” she thought.
Emily broke out into a slow jog, not ideal in Birkenstocks, until she made it home. Inside she quickly locked the door, as if she could keep additional loneliness from entering if she locked it fast enough.
She considered taking a shower since she was sweaty, snotty and tear-stained, but then decided against it. “Fuck it,” she thought, “let’s see if this snotty, tear-stained sadness facial makes my skin all glow-y in the morning. You never know.” She took off her clothes, letting them drop on the floor, got under her favorite linen sheets and was asleep within a minute.
And in the morning Emily’s skin was glow-y. She was lonely, but radiant as hell.
Mae dropped off her boss’s lunch in the usual place: in her office, on the lucite coffee table, in front of the greige velvet sofa. It was one of those frightfully uncomfortable modern sofas, like you were literally paying $10,000 to get back pain. Her boss’s lunch was always the same: Nicoise Salad, plain iced coffee & half a vanilla cupcake. The restaurant, “Lola’s,” knew Mae and they knew her boss and they always cut the cupcake in half before putting it in its plastic, planet-killing container. Then they gave Mae the other half which she would eat on her way back to work.
Mae ate her own lunch three floors down in a tiny, empty office that had one of those really good office chairs and a small desk. Mae had stumbled upon this perfect, private oasis when she accidentally took the elevator to the wrong level. The entire floor was inexplicably vacant, though occasionally a tall janitor would walk by and they would wave to each other. Mae loved the quiet. In fact this secret lunchroom was Mae’s favorite thing about her job.
As she munched her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, (layered with plain Lay’s chips – the only way to eat a PB & J), she pondered her future. She was 25 years old and she had no real life plan. She didn’t even have a Pinterest board for inspiration. No “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” quotes, no “Bucket List Travel Destinations,” no “Dream Weddings.”
As Mae fixated on her lack of a life plan, she started perspiring, one of those cold sweats. Her heart starting beating quickly and a wave of dizziness swooshed over her. She lay down on the carpet and placed her cold Diet Coke can on her forehead.
“OMG I’m going to die here in my secret lunch spot and my body will be found by the tall janitor. And all anyone will say, is, ‘she was that 25 year old girl with no life plan.’”
She moved the cold can to her wrists and then to her neck. She started feeling better, but decided to stay lying down for a few more minutes. As she rested with her Diet Coke can on her left temple, she realized that in fact she was not a complete loser. Being 25 and not having a life plan was not that bad. Being 35 and not having a life plan would be bad, really bad. Like you’d basically be a failure. But Mae still had time to get her shit together. Her first step would be to start a Pinterest “Life Inspiration” board this weekend.
“R we still on for tonight?” she texted her friends Becky and Nicole.
Mae got up and tidied her lunch area. She always made sure to keep it spotless and take her trash with her. Back at her cubicle, which was stationed right outside her boss’s office, she started answering emails and checking phone messages.
“Coming,” Mae called out, as she grabbed her iPad.
“I have a dinner right after work. Totally forgot about it. Fucking Carolyn Rosenhip. Can’t stand her, but she’s the wife of a good client, so I have to go. I usually keep an extra outfit here, but it’s at the cleaners. You need to pick it up – corner of Queen and John. And I need a gift. I want a box of those chocolates from that local shop that was written up in the New York Times; their chocolates look like colorful little balls. Get me their most beautiful box. Also, my bronzer has vanished. The only one I like is by MAC. Buy me two – it’s called, ‘Finely Spun Golden.’ You know what, get yourself a bronzer too, you look a little pale.”
“Oh that’s so generous of you, but it’s okay, pale is kind of my look.”
“I’m not saying you have to Kardashian yourself, but a little bronzer, just a touch would do you some good. I can’t have my assistant looking 90’s heroin-chic. I’ll text you if I think of anything else.”
“Okay, I’ll be back soon.”
Getting to do errands for her boss was Mae’s second favorite thing about her job. While other assistants grumbled about errand-running being “beneath them,” Mae thought of it as a perk. She loved getting out of the office and going shopping. Then Mae had a horrible thought: what if the fact that she thought of errand-running as a perk, was actually an indicator that Mae had no ambition? A person with no ambition would also be someone with no Life Plan. Fuck. Mae would have to discuss the issue with her girls tonight.
After picking up the swanky dress and knee-length jacket with embellishment from the cleaners, she headed to MAC. There she met the most beautiful makeup artist named Sammi.
“So, we’ve got the two bronzers for your boss, what else can I help you with. Do you want to try one of our new lip stains? I think Raspberry Smash would look really good on you,” he said.
“Actually ya, that would be great, I need a new lip color, but put that on a separate bill. Also…my boss wants to buy me a bronzer, in fact she insisted on it. She said she didn’t want an assistant who looked 90’s heroin-chic.”
“She did NOT say that. First of all, that whole early 90’s vibe was a dope look. Plus, what kind of boss forces you to wear bronzer? Pretty sure that’s not even legal.”
“I know, right? But I have to get one and I have to be wearing it when I get back to work.”
“I can’t even…but let’s keep it positive. I’m trying to change my energy vibration because I’m becoming a Light-Worker. It’s important that I always stay in the light and not put negative energy or words out into the universe.” Mae had absolutely no idea what a Light-Worker was, but she nodded knowingly.
“We’ll do a highlighter for you instead of a bronzer, your boss won’t know the difference and I think you’ll dig the look. You’ll need a brush too, which your boss will buy. I’ll get you sorted, don’t worry” assured Sammi.
Mae left MAC feeling amazing. She felt happier and prettier and kind of bouncier – like a fairy or good witch had sprinkled joy-dust all over her. In Mae’s eyes Sammi was already a Light-Worker and she felt lucky to have met him.
Her Uber driver was not very chatty, so she spent the ride over to Persephone’s Chocolates people watching on Queen Street West. There were so many colorful characters, including a gorgeous Goth Girl wearing a long black lace dress and black Granny boots. Mae wondered if Goth Girl was only allowed to date other Goths. What were the Goth rules? What if she fell madly in love with an Adidas sweatsuit-wearing person? Would the other Goths shun her? Would she be kicked out of their scene? So many questions she would never know the answers to.
The chocolate shop was heaven. Each chocolate ball looked like an expressionistic painting, as if Monet had breezed in and quietly spray-painted them all. This is why Mae liked doing errands for her boss: she got to peak inside a high-end world, often filled with great beauty, like the chocolates.
The store manager was excited about Mae’s boss buying a gift. Whitley Communications was highly regarded both in Toronto and across North America, famous for re-branding dying companies.
Using his own communications savvy, the store manager put two small boxes of chocolates into an elegant bag, one for Mae’s boss and one for Mae, sliding his business card beneath the ribbon on each box:
“Anytime your boss needs a special gift, or if you have a large corporate event, I look forward to assisting you. Please send my best and thank you to Mrs. Blackwell.”
“I will. Thank you so much.”
On her ride back to the office Mae was suddenly tired. She opened the window, leaned her head against its edge, closed her eyes and let the wind scatter her L’Oreal Rose-Gold highlights. The rest of the afternoon was chaotic, so Mae’s tiredness had nowhere to go but away.
“I told you a little bronzer would look good, huge improvement. Huge. Now I have a very chic-looking assistant.”
By the time Mrs. Blackwell swished out of the office to her dinner, Mae barely had time to freshen up and catch the streetcar. Thursday nights the girls always met up at their favorite Mexican hangout, “Rosalita’s.” The vibe was flea market-chic meets old school Mexican grandmother’s house, with all eighties music.
Nicole and Becky were already seated with their margaritas, chips and salsa and a drink for Mae.
The three of them had been friends since junior high and knew each other inside out. Occasionally they fought like sisters, but mostly they were just there for each other. They were there for the un-important stuff like, “what should I wear on this date,” and they were there for the important stuff like, “can you sit with me while I pee on this stick? I think I might be pregnant.”
Becky was complaining about her new girlfriend, Violet, whom she’d only been dating a month.
“You have an epically long list of grievances against your girlfriend and it’s only been one month. I say move on or lighten up,” said Nicole in her usual super direct way.
“I agree with Nicole. And to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Violet – she’s too agro with her veganism. Last week she ripped me to shreds for ordering a pepperoni pizza on movie night. And we were at my apartment! Who does that?”
“You girls are a total delight tonight,” said Becky, glaring at them.
“Listen, I need to ask you something,” said Mae as The Smith’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ played in the background.
“Que paso?” Nicole asked
“Do I need more of a Life Plan? I know we’re only 25, but like should I be doing more for my future? Am I just floating along too casually?”
“Yes, you are. You’re acting like my mom did when she was our age and she’s a Generation X-er.” said Nicole flatly
“You do need to get more on it girl, 25 is the new 30,’ said Becky.
“OMG. I can’t believe you two have been thinking of me as a slacker character from Singles. When were you going to tell me?”
Their second round of margaritas arrived with their usual dinner, The Taco Platter, which they always shared.
“Listen, calm down,” said Becky. “We just thought that you were figuring things out.”
“But I thought that’s what our twenties were for – figuring things out,” said Mae trying to keep her voice calm.
“Once a week Becky volunteers at her local shelter. She’s also taking an on-line class in Social Work at U of T. And she sells a curated selection of early 90’s fashion on Depop. That’s all in addition to her regular job. She’s making things happen for herself, moving things forward,” said Nicole before devouring her fish taco.
Mae took a long sip of her margarita, this conversation was not going as anticipated.
“Nicole is prepping for grad school, researching schools, starting to fill out applications. Plus she has her weekly internship and ‘Wellness With Nicole’ is blowing up on IG – she’s got 10,000 followers!” said Becky approvingly as she scooped up guacamole with a chip.
“But what are you doing other than work?” asked Nicole looking her straight in the eyes.
Mae stalled for a moment by taking a long sip of her margarita.
“Well, I’ve been keeping this a bit of a secret because I feared being judged, but the truth is…I’m training to become a Light-Worker.”
Other than the sounds of crunching tacos, the slurping of margaritas and The Smiths playing in the background, there was complete silence for about ten seconds. Then, Nicole said firmly:
“Ok then, well you’ve already got a Life Plan, you’re totally fine. You’re becoming a Light-Worker. You’re working towards your future, that’s great news.”
“I feel like the beef tacos are a little too spicy tonight,” said Becky.”