A Million Pieces

“So, Janet, how have you been feeling since our last session?”

“Broken.”

“In what way?”

“In what way do I feel broken? You know, like in the typical broken way. Like if you imagine a vase dropping to the floor and shattering into a million pieces. And then maybe imagine trying to bend down and pick up the pieces, but in doing so you cut both your hands and feet on the ceramic shards. So now you’re sitting on the floor surrounded by pieces of your favorite flea market vintage vase and you’re bleeding. The blood is staining the ceramic shards so that instead of their pale oatmeal color they are turning a light rose shade. And as you’re sitting there in pain, both because you lost your favorite vase and because you now have cuts – and because you feel broken – you realize that you actually like the light rose color. So you think about just continuing to sit on the floor and allowing your blood to stain all the pieces of the vase. Because this rose color, it’s so much prettier.”

“I see. Well, that doesn’t sound too good.

“Nope.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard about the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi? The art of putting broken pieces of pottery back together with gold? It’s built on the idea that in embracing imperfections you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Does that idea resonate with you at all?”

“No.”

“Why do you think it doesn’t resonate with you?”

“Well, first of all I don’t have any gold to repair the vase with. Second of all, I’m kind of like bleeding out on the floor, so I don’t really have the energy to repair anything.”

“I understand. I’m very concerned about you feeling broken. Are you having any suicidal thoughts?”

“You mean like taking the broken ceramic pieces and plunging them into my neck or heart?”

“Yes. Or, any other type of suicidal thoughts.”

“Not really. I’m too drained from feeling broken to take any action, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Okay. Remember in our last session I asked you to keep a Joy Journal? Have you written down any moments of joy from the last two weeks?”

“Let me check…My favorite bakery gave me an extra cupcake, so like I paid for one but got two. I don’t know if that qualifies, but I did write it down.”

“Good. What else?”

“I discovered an affordable eye cream that works just as well as the expensive one I was using.”

“Very good. What else?”

“I saw a very pretty red bird on the bush outside my house.”

“A cardinal?”

“What?”

“Was the bird a cardinal?”

“I don’t know. It was just a pretty red bird.”

“Excellent. What else?”

“That’s it.”

“Nothing else?”

“No. I mean as I told you at the beginning of the session I’ve been feeling broken. So my life hasn’t exactly been joy-packed.”

“Yes, totally makes sense. Listen Janet I have an idea, if you’re open to it.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s pick up all the broken pieces, one at a time. And you name each piece – for instance grief or loneliness – then we’ll explore the emotions that come up for you.”

“I’m open to that. I mean we’re going to be picking up like a bazillion pieces, but okay. I just have one request.”

“What is it?”

“The Joy Journal has got to go.”

Dr. Finkelstein smiled.

A Simple Life

“Why do you have to bring such chaos into our lives? I feel like everything you do is complicated and noisy.”

“First of all, thank you so much. What a lovely thing to say – that I bring chaos into our lives. Second of all, I bring color into our lives, not chaos, there’s a big difference.”

“Well then you need to tone down the color, maybe add a little beige to it. I just want to live a simple, quiet life.”

“A simple, quiet life? What does that even mean?”

“It means the fire alarm always goes off when you cook. It means when you have your girlfriends over for wine and cheese it turns into an insane eighties dance party and you get mad at me for not joining in. It means you make super random decisions like you’re suddenly going to bake pot brownies, but then you don’t measure properly and the marijuana sends you into a paranoia spiral. A simple, quiet life is the opposite of all that.”

“Wow, okay, well…. The pot brownies were an innocent mistake – you know I’m partially dyslexic, I messed up the numbers. The fire alarm is because I like to try new recipes and sometimes they don’t go exactly as planned. What are we gonna do, eat baked salmon every night? And you should have joined our dance party, we were having fun. Remember fun?”

“You exhaust me.”

“Well you bore me!”

Amy put on her big chunky heeled boots and stomped loudly out of the house. Half an hour later she was back with three bags of groceries. She turned on her Spotify 80’s Hits Mix and started cooking.

“Guess what,” she yelled,

“I’m cooking without a recipe, so get ready for more chaos!”

She took a sip of Pinot Noir and twirled around the kitchen, using the spatula as a microphone to sing along with The Go Go’s:

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

An hour later:

“Dinner is served – even though I’m still pissed.”

Dave joined her at the table. The kitchen looked like a gang of toddlers had trashed it, but he didn’t say anything. At least the fire alarm hadn’t gone off.

“Tonight’s menu features Thai chicken and coconut rice.”

“Smells good. Thanks for making dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“This is actually really really good.”

“Take out actually and I’ll happily accept the compliment.”

“This is really really good.”

“Thanks. It love it,” Amy said, taking a giant bite.

“I didn’t mean what I said earlier, or maybe I meant some of it, I don’t know. But I love you. It’s just this fucking pandemic. We’re with each other 24/7, it’s not normal.”

“Preach!” said Amy, raising her glass in the air. “The other day you were so irritating that I was about to hop a plane – Covid be damned – to somewhere sunny where there are cabana boys and umbrella drinks.”

They continued eating in silence.

“Maybe we should take a mini-break,” said Amy.

“But where would we go? The U.S. border is closed. And anyways, I don’t feel safe flying yet.”

“No, I meant take a break from each other.”

“What?”

“Don’t get upset, just listen for a second. Relationships are suffering in the pandemic and divorce rates are skyrocketing. We don’t have kids, we don’t even have a cat. So why don’t we take advantage of that flexibility and try living ‘together but apart’ for a few months. It’s actually a very popular trend, it started way before the pandemic. Even The New York Times wrote an article on the phenomenon – lots of couples are living separately and they’re really happy.”

Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“No. No way. That sounds like a one-way ticket to divorce.”

“Why don’t you read up on it first before you say no. It has nothing to do with divorcing. You could have more of the simple quiet life that you like and I could be…me.”

“This is just your pandemic stress talking. Let’s keep things as they are, I don’t want to rock the boat.”

“Well maybe the boat needs to be rocked. Maybe the boat needs to be fucking flipped over!” cried Amy.

“This is what I was talking about earlier – everything is always chaotic with you. You’re suggesting a major life change in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s complete insanity.”

“Fine. Do you mind cleaning up?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.”

Amy went to the living room, took her laptop and googled “Caribbean destinations that Canadians are allowed to visit” and scrolled through the covid rules and regulations. Then she booked a hotel and flight, leaving in one week and staying for two weeks.

Yes, I’ll be on a plane, probably a crowded one. So yes, I’m taking a chance. But our boat needs to be rocked. And I need a cabana boy and an umbrella drink like yesterday.

Roxie

“Beautiful girl, I love you so much. Give me a kiss.”

“Why do you only talk like that to our dog?”

“What?”

“You never call me beautiful. You never tell me you love me and I can’t remember the last time we kissed.”

“You’re being ridiculous. And you’re making Roxie anxious with your weird energy. See how her ears are pointed back? That means she’s worried.”

“Oh Sweet Jesus.”

“It’s okay Roxie, come here. There you go, belly rubs solve everything.”

“And tonight, like every other night, she’ll lie between us – horizontally – separating us so we can’t cuddle.”

“Since when do you like cuddling? You always say that you can’t sleep in my arms, that you need space.”

“I can’t sleep in your arms because I get too hot. But it would be nice to cuddle before going to sleep. You know, like a normal couple.”

“We are a normal couple. Roxie’s eyes are bulging out, the tone of this conversation is upsetting her.”

“Holy fuckety fuck. She’s a dog. I love her, you know I do. But why can’t she sleep in her dog bed? The one in the corner that cost a bazillion dollars.”

“She’s a rescue dog and rescue dogs need extra affection.”

“Do you want out of this marriage?”

“What? No, of course not. Don’t be so dramatic. And don’t raise your voice, you’re scaring Roxie.

“She has you wrapped around her little paws.”

“Roxie, come here, it’s okay. Let’s all just calm down and I’ll turn off the light.”

“I can’t take this.”

“You can’t take what?”

“Your primary relationship is with our dog, not me. You love our dog more than you love me. You engage with our dog more than with me. You show affection to our dog more than with me. Our dog has a better wardrobe than me for God’s sake.”

“I think you’re having one of those hormonal imbalance meltdowns. Why don’t you take a Xanax and we’ll go to sleep. Roxie are you warm enough? Let me just pull this blanket up over you.”

“I just can’t…”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting dressed.”

“It’s eleven thirty, why are you getting dressed?”

“Because I don’t want to drive over to Sheila’s house wearing a nightgown.”

“You’re acting crazy.”

“Actually I’m fully rational and I’m – what’s that saying? – ‘leaning into my power.’ Maybe tomorrow you can take your four-legged wife to her favorite dog park, the one across town. That will give me time to pack my bags.”

“What? Don’t joke about things like that, it’s not funny. We would both be devastated if you left.”

“Actually you might not even notice I’m gone. And Roxie will be ecstatic to have you all to yourself.”

“What if I buy you the wardrobe of your dreams? Will that help?”

“What?”

“You said earlier that Roxie had a better wardrobe than you. So what if I gave you my credit card and you could buy all that Net-A-Porter stuff that I see you coveting on Instagram. Like those black boots with the weird chunky soles.”

“So let me get this straight: your takeaway from everything I just said is, that you think I would be happier in our relationship if I had a wardrobe as nice as Roxie’s?”

“Well, yes. It would be a tangible symbol of my love for you.”

“Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“Just like an all-around wow.”

“Well…”

“How much?”

“What do you mean how much?”

“How much would I get to put on your credit card for my new wardrobe?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand.”

“You’re negotiating with me?”

“You’re a lawyer, you would negotiate too. Plus, you make a ton of money.”

“Fine. It’s a deal. Five thousand dollars to prove that I love you as much as I love Roxie.”

“Okay then.”

“Thank God. Roxie has calmed down, she can tell that things are better between us.”

“I bet she can, she’s an Empath that Roxie.”

“Actually you’re right, she is an Empath. My sweet little girl.”

(Photo: iStock, NY Times article by Jen A. Miller, March 13th, 2018)

A Field Of Lavender

Photo: BECOZI on You Tube

“This isn’t working, I still feel anxious.”

“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.”

“Laura?”

“Laura?! Wake up Laura!”

Love Scent

“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.

Chemo Soup

“You’ll feel like you were hit by a truck after the operation.”

“Jesus.”

“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.”

“Oh no.”

“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.

✌️