I Remember You

Sunshine hits my face and for a moment I feel like everything is right in the world.

“Girl, you better figure out your shit today. If you don’t, I’m bringing back the grey and rain.”

Excuse me? Who’s talking? There’s no one on the street except three people down the block waiting for the bus.

Like an idiot I answer the voice:

“I’m going for a walk and doing some self-reflection. Then I’ll be writing in my journal. Does that count?”

“No that doesn’t count! You gotta do more than self-reflect. And toss that damn unicorn journal. You’re lost. Your body is here, but your beautiful, vibrant essence is MIA. Find it. Life is short and frankly you’ve wasted a lot of it,”

“Alright, I get it. I’m on it. By the way, are you The Sun?” I ask the voice.

“Of course I’m The Sun, who else would I be?!”

For the love of God. I get one moment of lovely sunshine warming my face and now the actual sun is harassing me. Nice.

Staring at a tree whose pink buds are just starting to bloom, I suddenly feel like crying, but nothing happens.

Fucking anti-depressants.

Walking through the park I imagine myself twirling and dancing but I’m too self-conscious, even though there’s no one around. Wait, it’s a sunny day – why is there no one around?

“For the next half hour the park’s all yours, so use it!” The Sun bellows at me.

“Okayyyy!” I shout back.

Jesus.

I look around tentatively and then spread my arms wide and start twirling. Slowly, then faster, not whirling-dervish fast, but a joyful, awkward twirl like you might see in a Greta Gerwig film.

A 1980’s modern jazz move that I used to do in dance class pops into my head and soon I’m sailing through the air.

Oh I remember now. I remember this girl.

This girl had the kind of energy that drew people to her, she was an introverted extrovert. She needed days of solitude to recharge, but her energy force was electric and her light was dazzling. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that made others want to explore their own light.

This girl loved to laugh and she loved celebrating all of life’s beauty:

“I’ve never seen a coral Peony – my God it’s stunning!”

“Look at that handsome man wearing the 1940’s-style suit, how cool is he?!”

“Come here quick – check out the sunset. Can you believe those colors?!”

Oh yes – this girl – I know you!

I want you back. I’m so sorry I let you go. I’m so sorry I let people stomp on you. I’m so sorry I stopped believing in you.

But I’m here now and I want you to know that I’m grateful. For without you I’m just a shell of myself, like an oyster without a pearl.

I promise I won’t let anyone take you from me again.

I’ll twirl every day and leave a trail of sparkle behind me wherever I go. I will fall madly in love with myself and only those who encourage me to be radiant will be allowed in my sacred inner circle. And if anyone dares try to snuff you out again they will be sorry they ever met me.

I’m dancing for you right now – can you see me? It’s not a beautiful dance because I’m out of practice – but it’s all for you. I love you and I need you.

Please come back to me.

My entire body tingles and The Sun whispers in my ear:

“Good job girl, good job.”

I’m crying now, gorgeous gentle tears, that despite my anti-depressants have broken through. I feel like a 1960’s hippie who’s just experienced her first transcendental experience.

“Thank you,” I whisper to The Sun, “thank you.”

“The Sun Goddess,” an original painting by Wincy Xavier, At Saatchi Art.

The Edit

“What happened to our bookcase in the living room?” Jodie asked.

“I organized the books by color,” answered Lily.

“Well obviously, but why?”

“I watched this show on Netflix about organizing your home to create a calm and happy environment. I’m doing our bedroom closet next. Actually – this weekend I need you to go through your clothes and shoes and put stuff you don’t wear anymore into a bag for The Goodwill.”

Jodie debated whether it was worth arguing over this insane new obsession of Lily’s and decided against it. They had been navigating multiple rough patches lately and were long overdue for a smooth patch.

“Okay no problem,” she said, taking a sip of Cabernet.

The next day Jodie went through her side of the closet.

“You have thirty-three printed tunics,” Lily yelled from the living room. “You can probably get rid of a few of the older ones.”

Jodie didn’t say anything. Even though she was working from home because of the pandemic, a tunic over slim black pants was still her work uniform of choice and she didn’t want to part with any of them.

Resignedly she picked out her three least favorite and threw them in a giant blue recycling bag.

Lily was at the bedroom door now:

“Thanks babe, I really appreciate you doing this. Don’t forget you have a million maxi dresses at the back of the closet.”

Lord Give Me Strength.

The maxi dress section proved to be a landmine, each dress tagged with its own memory:

Jodie had worn the black floral one on their first date to a gallery opening. After flirting over art, they had shared a bottle of wine with oysters and frites at Bistro Figaro.

On their trip to Cape Cod, where they had kissed ice cream off each other’s lips, she had worn the flaxseed linen dress almost every day.

The olive tiered maxi she had bought for their two year anniversary dinner. Though her high heels had pinched her toes, the night had still been blissful.

Suddenly Jodie was sobbing. Sitting on the carpet she was struck by how old these joyful memories were. There were no recent joyful memories. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, but it wasn’t the virus’s fault. Prior to Covid Jodie had sensed a shift in their relationship, they had become more like roommates; the romance had disappeared.

When they first started dating Jodie had made it clear that romance was important to her. She loved getting flowers, walking hand in hand and any and all sweet gestures. Obviously the pandemic was stressful, but it wasn’t an excuse to ignore your partner’s needs. Plus, they didn’t have kids – not even a cat – so they had it much easier than others.

They had time for romance.

Jodie blew her nose then took half a Xanax from her bedside table. Back at her pile she chose three dresses for The Goodwill.

“I’m finished,” she yelled, leaving the bedroom to pour herself a glass of wine.

“Oh great thanks, now I can get to work. I bought all new hangers, clear bins and labels. And of course I will color-code the closet too.”

Jodie took a large sip of wine:

“Do you color code the black? Like lightest black to darkest black?” Jodie asked.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No, just curious.”

“I don’t color code the black. Why are you drinking wine at three o’clock in the afternoon?”

“I’m self-medicating.”

“What’s wrong? Anything I can do to help?”

Jodie stared at her.

You can stop trying to fix our broken relationship by organizing our house.

“It’s just…a lot of beautiful memories came up when I went through the closet. I feel like I just gave away some of our happiest times to The Goodwill. And I’m worried that we’re not making any new happy memories.”

“You can’t put that kind of pressure on us, I mean we’re in the middle of a god damn pandemic. You’re too much of a romantic. Not everything is champagne and chocolate, sometimes it’s just peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Peanut butter sandwiches are fine, but not everyday. When was the last time we had sex? Do you even remember? Because I don’t.”

“Again with the pressure. We’re both working from home and we haven’t killed each other yet or died from COVID, so I’m scoring that as a win. We can have tons of sex once things calm down,” Lily said exasperated, walking to the bedroom to work on the closet.

Jodie took the bottle of wine and a bag of Ruffles to the living room couch. She grabbed a handful of chips and looked at them:

How do some of the chips stay perfectly intact while others get broken?

It turns out that Cabernet and Sour Cream and Onion potato chips were a thing. Like if she owned a restaurant every glass of red wine would be served with a small bowl of these chips.

Lily didn’t eat junk food of any kind. Instead she had her own shelf in their tiny pantry full of protein powders and vitamin mixes for her daily smoothies.

Jodie leaned back and tossed a few more chips in her mouth. If only her therapist hadn’t retired. What kind of a therapist retires during a pandemic?

“Come see what I’m doing,” shouted Lily from the bedroom.

Jodie sighed:

“Be there in a sec.”

She found Lily in a tweaked frenzy:

“See first you have to edit and purge – getting rid of stuff. Then it’s about containing. You can’t just have stuff loose in the closet, everything needs its own place and a label. Like your winter sweaters: they were in a messy pile on the shelf, but now they’re in this clear labeled bin, color-coded and contained.”

Leaning against the wall and sipping her wine, Jodie said:

“You know what else are messy? Feelings are messy. And feelings aren’t meant to be contained in a color-coded, labeled bin. Feelings are meant to be expressed and talked about.”

“What is your problem? I’m working hard to create a calm and happy environment for us by organizing our home and you’re not the least bit grateful.”

“No, I’m not. Because I didn’t ask you to do this. Because this doesn’t need doing. Because this is just another example of you trying to control everything, instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Can we talk about our fucking relationship instead of color-coding the closet please?!”

“What is there to talk about? We share a lovely home, we both have successful careers, we’re healthy…”

“That’s what you have to say about our relationship? Are you kidding me?! What about the fact that you know romantic gestures are important to me, yet you haven’t bought me flowers in over a year. We don’t hold hands anymore, we don’t make love anymore…”

“Honestly, you are so immature. The new variant is kicking our ass, Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin might blow up the world. Meanwhile you’re talking about us not holding hands? You’re acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a forty-two year old woman.”

Lily turned her back on Jodie and continued organizing their closet. Jodie watched as she used a sharpie to make a label:

“Sweatshirts.”

Back in the kitchen Jodie rinsed out her wine glass. Then she took one of their insulated food bags and filled it with cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, berries and coffee.

Taking a black sharpie from Lily’s bag of supplies in the hallway and a large-sized pad of paper from their office, she started printing words in giant block letters:

I LOVE YOU
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP
IS NOT MEETING MY NEEDS.
IF PUTIN IS
GOING TO BLOW
US ALL UP
THEN I NEED
SOME ROMANCE
& JOY BEFORE
I DIE.

She put the papers in order and attached a paper clip. Grabbing a clear bin off the floor, she put the papers inside, then labeled the bin:

CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATES

Jodie gathered up two cloth masks, her charger, phone, laptop and purse, then ordered an Uber to drive her to the train station.

Two and a half hours later Jodie was at her grandmother’s country house. It was a shabby-chic oasis which her grandmother had left to her in her will – and it was Jodie’s favorite place on earth.

If Lily decided that their relationship was more important than color-coding t-shirts, then she would know where Jodie was.

If not, Jodie would be sad, but she would be okay. And she would live bin-free in the country. Maybe she would even get a cat.

Art by Hiroki_takeda1223 on Instagram

I See You

“I can’t do this anymore, I’ve made such a mess of my life.”

“You can do this and you will. And never mind a little mess, life is messy, big deal.”

“Wait a second, who are you? Are you a ghost? Am I dreaming? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that sleeping pill.”

“I am you. I am your other half.”

“I thought that was for lovers. Like you find your other half and then you live happily ever after.”

“No, not at all. Finding your other half is about becoming your truest, most beautiful, most whole self.”

“I’m not sure I understand. I’m not sure I even believe you exist.”

“Whether you believe it or not it’s true. I’m here and I see you. You are glorious and you are worthy. But first, you must let me in.”

“How? Do we need to perform a ceremony?”

“Of course not, you’ve watched too many movies. You let me in by believing for one minute – just one minute – that you are deserving. One minute every day focus on that. It won’t be easy. It sounds easy, but it won’t be easy.”

“And then what?”

“And then one day you’ll realize that what felt like a crazy homework assignment no longer feels crazy. And when it no longer feels crazy is when I – your other half – have joined you on this messy, colorful, most divine journey called life.”

“This is kind of a lot to take in.”

“I know. But what do you have to lose? You put trust into that eight step skincare routine you do every night, so the least you can do is give me a chance.”

“True. Alright, well, even though I’m doubting my sanity right now, I’ll try. Because honestly, what good is great skin if I’m living such an empty life.”

“All those fancy serums wasted.”

“When does this start?”

“Now. I’m going to disappear and I’ll reappear if you complete your assignment.”

“It’s kinda like spiritual homework.”

“It’s exactly like spiritual homework.”

Illustration from The Origin of Love (from “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”)
Notebook by Cactico

Marissa

“Open the box,” said Henry.

“You bought me something?”

“It seemed like you needed a little pick me up. Last night you were saying the pandemic was making you feel hopeless. I thought this would help.”

The box was the color of brown craft paper and it was tied with natural twine ribbon. It smelled like patchouli.

Marissa hated the scent of patchouli. It reminded her of a faux hippie girl named Star who had stolen her boyfriend during sophomore year of college.

She opened the box and there lay a gray stone with the word HOPE inscribed on it.

Oh God.

“The salesgirl said you just hold the rock in your hand, focusing your mind on things that bring you joy while massaging it.”

Jesus.

“Wow, well…this is pretty cool. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m going on a run now, wanna Netflix at 9?”

“Okay.”

Henry kissed Marissa on the tip of her nose.

When he left the house in his olive Lulu Lemon running shorts, Marissa called her best friend Nica.

“Henry gave me a rock that says HOPE.”

“Oh my god, those gray ones right? The ones that say things like LOVE and GRATITUDE. Are they even real rocks? I’m sorry, that gift couldn’t be less you.”

“I know. And I feel like a horrible person because I don’t feel grateful. Whenever Henry buys me a gift I feel like it shows that he doesn’t really know me, like he doesn’t pay attention to who I truly am and that feels so shitty.”

“I totally get it. Like last Christmas when he bought you plaid, flannel pajamas – I wanted to strangle him.”

“Oh I forgot about those. I ended up wearing them all winter because what am I going to do? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”

“Marissa, maybe you need to hurt his feelings. Maybe you need to scream ‘this is who I am! I need you to really see me.’ Feeling seen is all most of us want anyways.”

“You’re right. Why are you so damn wise? What are you and Jen up to tonight?”

“It’s date night, so we’re trying out that new Mexican restaurant downtown. Hopefully the tables will be spaced out. I’m not comfortable eating inside restaurants yet, but Jen really wants to go and we’re vaccinated, so…”

“You’ll be fine. Have fun and give my love to Jen.”

“Will do. Enjoy your rock tonight.”

“Very funny.”

Marissa put the HOPE rock on her desk in her office, then took a shower and applied a charcoal mask.

“What happened to your face?” asked Henry dripping sweat on their bedroom floor.

“It’s a charcoal face mask, it helps to clear out the pores.”

“You know that’s all bullshit right? None of that stuff actually works. It’s just skincare companies taking advantage of womens’ insecurities,” Henry said as he peeled off his drenched running gear.

Please stop talking.

“Do you mind not taking off your sweaty running clothes in the bedroom? It smells up the whole space,” Marissa said from her side of the bed where she was relaxing.

“You’re in a mood tonight.”

Marissa couldn’t stand the smell so she went downstairs, grabbing a washcloth and towel from the linen closet on her way. When it was time she wiped off the mask with the warm cloth, then followed with a splash of cold water. She dried her skin and inspected herself in the hallway mirror. Her pores looked smaller and clearer and she felt good. What the hell does Henry know about charcoal face masks anyway?

She poured herself a glass of Pinot Noir and settled on the couch with her new book, “H is for Henrietta.”

“Are you going to read that whole series about witches?”

“Yep.”

“I don’t understand what you like about those books.”

“I don’t understand what you like about the war books you read.”

“Where’s your HOPE rock? Aren’t you keeping it with you?”

“Um no, it’s on my desk.”

“Well you can always grab it if you need it.”

“I will, thanks.”

“Do you want to watch that new documentary about the opioid crisis?”

“Not really, life is upsetting enough right now.”

Who is this man? What is wrong with him? Why did I marry him?

Henry poured himself a glass of wine and sat down on the couch.

“What about Justin Theroux’s new show on Apple TV?”

“Okay.”

A quarter of the way through the first episode, Marissa asked:

“Why didn’t we try harder to have children? I feel like we gave up too soon.”

“Can we just watch the show and discuss this later. Not that there’s anything to discuss, we’re better off not having kids – the world is a disaster.”

Marissa got up and opened another bottle of wine, even though the first one was still half full.

“That’s a really expensive bottle, why are you opening it?” Henry asked, his voice tinged with irritation.

“Because we’re living in a fucking pandemic that’s never going to end so why not drink the good stuff?!”

“You’re spiralling. You need your HOPE rock.”

“I hate that rock! You should know that I would hate that rock, you’ve been with me for ten years. I feel like a cardboard cut-out wife that you just project things onto. Like you think your wife should like HOPE rocks and plaid pajamas and rock climbing and Patagonia and cheap wine and fake diamond stud earrings and being childless and being pet-less. But I’m not that person. Why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to see me?”

“Just because it’s a pandemic doesn’t give you the right to lose your shit. Get it together. And if you don’t like something, speak the hell up. How am I supposed to know that you don’t like Patagonia jackets?”

“Because I read British, French and American Vogue magazine every month. Because I’ve dressed beautifully every day of the pandemic instead of wearing sweatpants. That’s why you should know.”

“I can’t talk with you when you’re this emotional. If you want to calm down and have a rational discussion after the show is over that’s fine, otherwise I’m putting the headphones on.”

“Put them on then. I’ll read my witch novel and maybe I’ll find a spell that I can cast to turn YOU into a freaking HOPE rock.”

And hour later Marissa was in bed, still reading “H is for Henrietta” and still fuming.

Henry came into the bedroom and lay down.

“I had a vasectomy when I was 28. I’m sorry. I never wanted children.”

What?

Marissa felt her face morph into “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

“When we were first dating you told me you wanted two kids.”

“I lied; I was in love with you.”

Marissa opened her bedside table drawer and took half a sedative.

“You shouldn’t take a pill, you’ve had wine, you – “

Marissa shot Henry a death stare.

“Okay let’s just go to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning when we’re fresh. We can’t let this pandemic tear us apart. I just read an article about how Covid stress is causing the divorce rate to skyrocket.”

Marissa didn’t answer. Applying her favorite Dr. Haushka lip balm in the dark, she was thinking about the time she told Henry that she liked the names Olive and Ryder for their children and how he had agreed enthusiastically.

“I know I just told you something shocking and you have every right to hate me right now. But just know that I lied because I was scared of losing you. I love you Marissa. I’m just as in love with you now as I was ten years ago. And I’m sorry about the HOPE rock.”

Marissa applied more lip balm.

“I know we’re childless, but we don’t have to be pet-less.”

Marissa was starting to dose off, her mind tranquil like it had been glazed with marshmallow fluff.

“We could adopt a cat.”

I Want It All

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.

https://butternutbakeryblog.com/funfetti-cake/

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.

Finding Urethra

“Let’s have you pee in a bed pan today!” My nurse exclaimed with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favorite band.

I had been in the hospital for almost four weeks, (to treat Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare cancer), peeing through a catheter the entire time. I was game to try going on my own, but I was weak and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to pull myself up on the bed. My nurse took out my catheter then helped me into an awkward position, crouched above a cardboard pan.

The pan looked like a larger version of those biodegradable herb pots, with my vulva like an alien spacecraft hovering above the brown pebbled earth.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” said my nurse, leaving the room.

I looked out the window at the falling snow. No urine was exiting my body. “I command you to pee!” I said in a theatrical voice to an empty room. Nada. Not a drop. I was sweating and wanted to lie down, the position required too much strength to hold.

The succulent-crystal gurus say, “Ask The Universe – with love and gratitude – for what you need. Then visualize having what you need – and poof! – you will manifest it.” So I asked the universe to help me pee, in what I hoped was a loving and grateful manner. Then I visualized a long river-like flow of urine exiting my body – swoosh! I paused, ears tilted, in full manifestation mode. Nothing. Maybe the universe was busy helping people with more serious problems, like those living in war torn countries. I couldn’t blame the universe, I’d do the same thing if I had magical powers & everyone was hounding me for help.

I was sure I was due for another blast of Hydromorphone. After two surgeries and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in the abdomen and swished around), I was ablaze with pain. I buzzed the nurse’s station:

“Hi. I can’t pee. Nothing is coming out. Also, I think I’m due for more painkillers.” My nurse responded, “be patient, keep trying, it’ll come. And no, you’re not due for more pain meds yet.”

I stared gloomily at my crotch. “I know you’re in there, come out come out wherever you are!” Still nothing. I tried reaching for my water cup and fell into the pan.

My nurse appeared, “don’t worry sweetie, your bladder is just waking up from a long sleep, we’ll try again tomorrow.”

She helped me lie down and inserted a new catheter and we chatted about her weekend plans. I loved my nurse, I loved all of my nurses – they were like athletic shoe-wearing angels tending to me with care and quiet confidence.

“I’ll see about your pain meds” she said, as she handed me a damp towel for my sweating brow.

After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to a Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength, gaining weight and learning to walk again. My left femoral nerve had conked out during surgery, (from being splayed out for so long on the operating table) and I had awoken to find that I couldn’t move my leg.

The nurses at the rehab hospital were hardcore, they were like the Marine Corp of Nurses. They immediately took out my catheter and started “bladder training.” They seemed confident that I would be peeing in no time.

I was instructed to try peeing on my own every two hours. I would slowly make my way over to the bathroom using my walker, trying my best to avoid looking at my emaciated body in the mirror. Sitting on the toilet with the sink water running, I would wait five minutes, then get up and do my haunted girl shuffle back to bed.

Bladder training required waiting six hours before being allowed to have a catheter inserted to void the urine. In between physiotherapy, sleeping and doing my laps around the floor, my bladder would fill up to the brim; it was horrible. At this point I was no longer on pain meds, but I would often sneak a Xanax from my private stash just so that I didn’t completely lose it.

The nurses were required to scan my bladder to see how much urine I was retaining before they were allowed to insert a catheter to drain me. A catheter, in this case a long rubbery one which looked like a hose, was lubed up then inserted into my urethra. The urine would then drain out into the brown organic pan – it was called doing an “in and out.”

Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped a bomb: “you’ll be going home very soon and your bladder nerves are still not working. So today I’m going to start teaching you how to do your own in and outs.” Dear God, have mercy on me please.

Thus began a brief chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptible slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. Maybe I’m in the minority or I missed a crucial health class back in high school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. So I used a mirror to watch the nurse and at night, under my blankets, I examined myself by the light of my cellphone.

I had an irrational fear of doing the procedure on my own. It’s like all my anxiety about having cancer was projected onto this one procedure and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever master the skill. I envisioned myself at home, swollen like a balloon with unreleased urine, until one day I just exploded, spraying pee everywhere.

But like anything in life, when your back is against the wall and you have no other options, you figure things out. One day, having finally located my elusive urethra, I successfully performed my own in and out! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling everyone on my floor my good news. I celebrated by eating an extra cup of ice cream (side note: the little hospital ice cream cups are, unlike all other hospital food, strangely delicious).

A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of tiny, clear catheters, lube, a giant splint on my leg, a walker, crutches and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. Then, one day, while sitting on the toilet, I suddenly heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine! The universe had finally granted me my wish.

Author’s Note:
My bladder nerves only partially woke up; I still have to self-catheterize twice a day. This is what the little catheters, aka, pee sticks, look like:

Skinny Jeans

It was my first time trying on skinny jeans and I was excited. My legs are stocky, inherited from my mom’s side of the family who were all strong Irish farmers. As a teenager I had yearned for my dad’s long, pole-style legs and had even asked my parents if I could get my legs stretched (I had read somewhere that a lengthening machine existed).

At forty-six years old I had long ago accepted by body, but when I slipped into a pair of size 24 skinny jeans and saw my legs looking strangely slim, suddenly my insecure teenage self reappeared and she was ecstatic. Yet the reason they looked slender was because I had lost weight due to cancer. I was newly diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare, incurable form of abdominal cancer and I was in denial. “I’ll take them,” I told the shopgirl. And though I’m ashamed to admit it, for the next few weeks I actually liked how I looked. How sick is that? Speaking of sick, during this same period I did not feel well: I had difficulty eating, major nausea and twice daily panic attacks where I felt like my throat was closing.

My cancer “de-bulking” surgery was eight hours long and included the removal of my reproductive organs, a section of my small intestine and my primary tumour which I had named Maude. It also included a treatment called HIPEC, which is essentially hot chemotherapy poured directly into the abdomen while the patient is still on the operating table, aka a chemo bath.

After several days in the ICU, I was moved to the step-down unit. It was there, ablaze with pain and high on narcotics, that I made a decision: I had suffered enough. I would run away from the hospital and fly to Oregon where I had read they had passed legislation that allowed patients to “die with dignity.” But such an escape would be impossible without my skinny jeans.

“I need my clothes,” I whispered in a raspy voice to my partner. Not wanting to upset me, but suspicious of my intentions, he retrieved my hospital bag and put it next to me on the bed. I pawed at it in a drugged-out frenzy, then passed out.

I awoke to a large tiger staring at me from across the room. And someone had brought their dog to work: “I can’t believe they let animals in the hospital!” I said to myself, horrified. My great escape would have to wait, the hospital needed me; I had to keep watch over the creatures infiltrating the building.

Also, I had a new friend whom I had become very attached to and I didn’t want to leave her. A nurse’s assistant had been placed in my room to guard me, since in my delusional state I had made several attempts to get out of bed (while attached to multiple tubes and monitors). Not understanding that she was there to keep an eye on my crazy self, I thought I had my own private nurse-friend and I adored her.

Due to a myriad of complications, I spent two months in two different hospitals. At the second one, a rehab hospital, the nurse weighed me: the scale read 94 pounds, I usually weigh 120. I had lost a great deal of muscle mass; my legs were emaciated, atrophied sticks and my bum was pancake-flat. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror, it was too upsetting. I begged God to help me gain back the weight, promising never to complain about my thick legs again.

In retrospect I think my early fixation on my legs was simply my way of avoiding the intense emotions that were surfacing. I was scared of dying, who wouldn’t be? But what really troubled me was the idea of hurting those I loved. I was blessed with a partner, family, friends and a one-eyed elderly street dog who all loved me. I didn’t want to cause them pain.

Now, two and a half years later, I am back up to 120 pounds and I’m as stocky as ever. I am extremely lucky to be alive, many people with Mesothelioma don’t live more than a year after diagnosis. And though I’m grateful, I’m also aware that I’m living on borrowed time. So now I wear skinny jeans as often as possible. It’s my way of giving cancer the middle finger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crazy Room

This morning as I was tidying up, I briefly entered our laundry room/office which is our “crazy room.” I think most of us have one of these, or the equivalent – a crazy closet, drawer or cupboard. It’s the place where everything you don’t want to deal with goes to die. And I found myself thinking that the crazy room is very similar to that space in our psyche where we dump all of our emotional crap that we can’t deal with at the moment.

I keep telling my partner, “we need to deal with that room, it’s out of control.” And it’s true, it is out of control. For someone like me, who likes keeping the house clean and organized, the room makes me anxious. But the crazy room is actually more representative of my true emotional state than the rest of the tidy house. The crazy room has unopened boxes, piles of cords and computer stuff, unfolded clean sheets, my partner’s plaid shirts hanging from an IKEA shelf like little headless Grunge creatures, a dead plant, my ileostomy supplies (thank you cancer), a giant box of small catheter tubes (again, thank you cancer) and various other randomness.

And just like I side-step and avoid the issues that I don’t want to deal with, I also breeze right past the dead plant – sitting on the floor – to put in a load of laundry. Why not just pick up the plant and put it out in the green bin? That is what an emotionally healthy person would do, I think to myself as I breeze out of the room again. But somehow that damn dead plant and the rest of the crazy room has come to symbolize all the ways in which I am emotionally stuck, frozen, paralyzed.

I am extremely lucky in that I can afford to see a therapist, it’s a luxury many needy people don’t have. So in a sense I have an ’emotional cleaning lady’ who helps me clean up my personal crazy room twice a month. And yet, somehow, it seems no matter how hard I try, my crazy room never gets completely cleaned. Just as my cleaning lady and I finish cleaning one area of the room, another area beckons for attention. Its boxes need unpacking, its cords need untangling and its damn plant needs to be thrown out!