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Friday, December 27, 2013

Danny Boy

DeDe and I worked together for one year at a local hospital in the late 90's.  We were both mammographers and since our patient load was light, we had a lot of time to talk.  She did most of the talking, about her pending divorce, her kids, her weight, her sister with multiple sclerosis.

When my best friend of almost twenty years passed away, DeDe said to me, "I can't imagine how you feel right now, because I can't imagine how I'd go on without Sally."

Sally was her best friend, a woman I met through DeDe.  She would one day be my coworker and confidant.

Last week Sally notified those who knew and worked with DeDe that she had passed away.  DeDe's friends and family met in an upstairs party room at an Italian restaurant to celebrate her life.  We released balloons in her honor, small pieces of paper attached to the ribbon with favorite memories.  I hugged Sally as the perfect orange spheres lifted up into a gray sky.  For a moment, an old pain returned, that of losing my own Deedee fifteen years ago.

A few years ago I wrote about Deedee here, a piece titled "Immortal Frog" that attempted to describe a twenty year friendship.  I wasn't satisfied with the piece, then or now.  It's hard to convey perfection or deep loss, to take a reader all the way to heaven or hell.  I will never be able to recreate that love in words, to explain it, paint it, make it real for a reader.

I thought of Deedee this afternoon while driving, which is happening a lot now, and I realized that it's because of DeDe's death.  Duh.  But today was different.  Real or imagined, I could feel my friend in the car with me, like a fullness within and without.  I could almost smell the Agree shampoo in her thick hair, see her square earthy hands, hear her high-pitched laugh.  I felt connected to something rich and old and forever.  I'm not superstitious enough to believe it was actually her, but like particular smells, our deepest loves stay with us, in high fidelity.

I thought about the laughter we shared, and not just any laughter, but the sort that becomes gasping, raking animal sounds.  On the telephone we would build up a rhythm and humor tension, and before we hung up we were barking and choking.  It was a soul orgasm.  I used to tell her, "We're adding years to our lives."

We felt immortal back then.

Fifteen years later, I feel deeply mortal.  I don't think it's an age thing.  I think it's a laughter thing.  I just don't do it like I did.  No one makes me laugh like Deedee, for whatever reason.  With her, I was home.  I've tried to find her in others, thought I had a couple of times.  But she's not out there.  There was only one.  Our friendship was perfection, the fit.  We built it, admired it openly, talked about how lucky we were.

What I missed most today was picking up the phone.  I used to be able to pick it up at any moment and call her.  But today, when one of her favorite songs, Danny Boy, came on the car radio, I wanted to share it with her.  I considered calling my sister or one of my other friends, started making up excuses, digging up words to say.  But no one else could have filled the void. 

There was no one to talk to, not the way I wanted to talk.  I have friends, and I love them, but they aren't her and today, no one else would do. 

As often happens, the thought occurred to me that maybe I might find it again, that perfect friendship fit.  Then reality hit, not hard, just a soft nudge.  Maybe it was Deedee saying, No, you won't find it again.  But that's okay.  Once upon a time, it found us.  


Did you get
what you asked for
remember now
why you sent your heart
were you asking then
for better or worse
for the up and down of
for tiny feet now
cooing, crying
mess, mayhem
were you asking
or remembering
since the heart
sees the future
as a memory
love existing
out of time
as does god
for god is
hushing doubt
its longing
only faith could carry
brought us here
to tiny feet
remember now
the vows, the dress
the unrest
the cake, champagne
to overnight
sudden, success
we, us
fade, blur
to family
but look closer, listen
to the question
we are
the answer

Monday, October 28, 2013

Birthdays & Ass Cancer

Today is Julia Robert's birthday.  And mine.  We were born during "the week of intensity" according to an astrology book I once read.  I'd have to agree with that.

I recently found a hard little bump while showering.  No, it wasn't a breast mass.  It was an ass mass.  How humiliating.  My first thought was of Farrah Fawcett and her long agonizing death, how Michael Jackson stole her thunder by dying of mysterious causes on the same day.

My second thought was that I had to see this mass up close so yes, I took a picture of it with my cell phone.  Then I Googled "anal cancer", saved and compared photos.  Then I called Dr. Gerald Bailey, a colon/rectal doctor who shares an office with...wait for it...Horace Butts.  Seriously.

I've had every disease and cancer imaginable.  In my mind.  But this time felt different, like every time does.  Still, while you're convinced you may have ass cancer, you think about how things will go.  I wondered what my hair would be like when or if it returned after chemotherapy.  I nonchalantly asked my hair dresser about her cancer patients' hair and she said, "Their hair is never the same.  It's coarse and thinner.  So sad."

My vanity kicked in and I panicked.  I'd age thirty years after all the stress, chemicals, radiation and weight loss.  I'd be suddenly old.  With ass cancer. 

The day of my appointment with Dr. Bailey, I packed an extra pair of socks.  I badly needed a pedicure and didn't want him to see my dry heels.  Where were my priorities?  He'd be looking at my anus and I was worried about my feet?

Anyway, as I drove in gridlocked traffic to the Houston, Texas medical center, I watched trailers of Farrah Fawcett's Playboy video, All of Me. I'd never seen the video but heard about how ditzy she'd seemed during filming.  She had a beautiful body though, at fifty, no less.  In one scene she covers her entire naked body in brown paint and rolls gleefully on a giant canvas.  She bounces on the canvas, her painted butt leaving a chain of brown smeared ovals.  This was a few years before her cancer diagnosis and I wondered if, as she created this legacy on canvas of her rear end, her cancer was already growing.

I drove up eleven stories in the parking garage before finally finding a spot.  I'd worn my favorite orange shirt and brought my journalI was prepared to chronicle the beginning of my cancer journey.

Wanda the nurse took my blood pressure not long after I arrived on the 23rd floor of the Smith Towers building. She sat me in an office to wait for Dr. Bailey.  There was nothing in his office except a desk, three chairs, and a creepy painting on the floor (a red, faceless, naked human perched atop a sand-colored staircase leading to an infinite ocean).  There was also a drawing hung on the wall, an image of a 19th century doctor sitting beside a dying little girl, her distraught mother weeping, her head down on a wooden table.

In addition to a computer on Dr. Bailey's L-shaped desk, there was a telephone and a book titled The ASCRS Textbook of Colon & Rectal Surgery.  A fake ivy sat beside the window.

Because the office was so bare, I suspected he had either just moved in or was soon to move out.  That, or he just didn't care.

Maybe he was depressed, or young and fresh out of residency.  Or maybe he was older and bounced from job to job in an attempt to stay ahead of a dark past.

When Dr. Bailey entered, I immediately asked, "Is this really your office?"

It wasn't, thankfully, and he promised to show me his real office after the exam.  Then I told him I had pictures to show him, certain I was one of his rare proactive patients.  "Do many patients take pictures of their masses?"

"You'd be surprised," he answered while typing something into his computer, eyebrows raised.  He was an older man, white hair and enough wrinkles that I trusted him.  I stood with my cell phone to show him the pictures, enlarging the image with my thumb and forefinger when necessary.  He thanked me, cool and calm, then looked back at his computer screen and began to type again.  I was just another asshole, but that was okay.  He seemed intelligent, experienced, and had a far less depressing office somewhere.

In the exam room Wanda asked me to kneel on what looked like a church kneeler.  "You don't have to take your clothes off, just kneel, pull your pants down and bend over."

I waited for her to leave the room so I could have some privacy, but she just stood there.  Apparently, Dr. Bailey was outside the room and ready to get started.  So I quickly moved to the gray vinyl kneeler, got on my knees, and pulled my pants down mid-thigh.  I immediately thought of Sister Christian at Holy Name Catholic School, her long thick paddle, the thwack of the wood against my plaid uniform.

Wanda covered me with something the size of a Bounty paper towel.  It fell to the floor just as Dr. Bailey walked in.  He joined Wanda behind me, which made me feel like anyone would feel with their pants down and two strangers standing behind them.  Then I felt the warmth of a bright light just before I heard the sound of air being pumped into me.  It felt like a tire up  my butt.

"It looks healthy in here," said Dr. Bailey, the first human to thoroughly investigate my interior terminus.  "I think you have a little hemorrhoid with a blood clot.  I'm really not worried.  Just take a few hot baths and it'll be gone."

I was still bent over, my arms and face resting on gray vinyl in this gray-walled room.  But I was seeing color again, even as the doctor scraped my little bump for biopsy.  "I guess I can stop Googling Farrah Fawcett now," I said.

"Yes, you can."

Dr. Bailey's actual office was full of credentials, family photos and owl figurines.  I'd liked him immediately, even in the dreary first office, but now I adored him.  I figured he was old enough to be retired by the time I was old enough to really worry about ass cancer.  Therefore this was the last time we would see each other under these particular circumstances.  It wasn't a sad thought, just one of those stops you know you'll never make again.  Then he said, "You know, you'll need a colonoscopy when you turn fifty next year."

Another reminder that I'm getting, we're all getting, older.

Even so, I am especially grateful on this birthday to know that now is not the time to die.  I will not have to shamefully explain to anyone where my cancer was, lose my hair or age thirty years in six weeks, not yet at least.  I can plan for another year, schedule that colonoscopy, celebrate not having yet another illness.  This gratitude is best described in the following poem, which is about all bliss.  Enjoy, and live fully.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Julia.

The feeling is an acoustic guitar and a wooden porch, a crisp spring blue and nowhere to be.

It's a hammock swaying in the steady center of the world.

The mood is lavender in a breeze, laughter like dandelion puffs caught in playful currents.

It's a road without stops, a giant gulp of air, a birthday cake two hundred stories high.

Your heart is wrapped in other hearts, clear skies and eternities.

You were born today.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Field (Autism)

In the dream I dig away endless fields of dandelions.

A voice asks who you'd be without them.

I picture a future where the weeds never were, where you marry and grow a son to love as I have.

I meet you there, a future never planted and you're taller than I imagined, stronger than your father, and you tell me not to worry, to make healing tea from forgotten flowers, to dance as the weightless pappus born to trust.

You say a single flower can set another hundred free.

I hold you in the middle of the golden lion's teeth, priest's crowns leaning with invisible winds, then I wake in your blue room, toy trains and cars scattered, your small hand in mine in the only field we know.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Babes of 2013

It's 8:49 AM on the first day of the new year.

The year looked modern at first, that two thousand in front of the thirteen.  But then I imagined what people thought of the new year when it was 1913.  How modern did they they feel?  What will 2113 feel like?

I just don't believe we're the big shits we think we are.  We're just ego fat, overly proud.  And this is dangerous.

I woke up this morning thinking about Korea, that their missiles can reach us.  I thought of Kennedy and Cuba.  I thought about the newly approved tax increase on the "wealthiest Americans" and what Obama's agenda must look like.  I'd just woken from a dream about holding a baby boy, my grandchild in the dream, and trying to explain to a stranger how I obtained the child and why he had tattoos all over his forehead -- green snakes and red paisleys, vines and leaves and tiny dots.

Baby new year?  Who knows.

Today means black-eyed peas, though no one will eat them beyond the obligatory one bite.  We just want luck, that's all.  Dumb tradition, but aren't they all?  Sweet and dumb.  What I should really be doing is making out my Will.  I started filling out paperwork over a year ago then stopped.  I suppose it was disturbing, giving away my stuff while I'm still alive, planning my burial and such.  But it has to be done.

But not today.  Maybe next week, or the week after.  I'll get to it.  I promise myself this.  And my tattooed grandchild.

I'll be babysitting my actual grandchild tomorrow, my first, a little girl.  Her mother goes back to work and the nanny is already leaving town for four days.  So I'll have two month old baby London for three days this week, and we'll see what I can remember about infants.  It's only been five years since my youngest was born, but I'm getting old and can't remember much, or maybe I've blocked out the horrors.  It's hard to say.  I think I'm resting on my laurels, looking back at my work -- four kids -- and feeling like the big shit I'm not.  What if my kids were within an inch of their lives all along, and I just got lucky?  Or they did.  But they didn't know to wish for it, eat peas for it, or that they were small and vulnerable.  I don't think any of us are aware of how vulnerable we are until much later on, when we're remembering all the times we drove a little tipsy or slept with the guy whose name we couldn't remember or that time we missed death by a mere micrometer.

We never know exactly how lucky we are, or when that luck will run out.

I had a thought last night, just after midnight while New York was cleaning up all the confetti in Times Square.  I imagined living in a war zone.  I imagined what other humans consider normal, not natural but normal.  A normal nightmare.  I imagined what the bombs must sound like, how much cortisol rushes through a targeted population daily.  I imagined being hungry, vulnerable, dirty.  Homeless.

It took a while to fall asleep but I did, even as a few fireworks continued in the night, illegal here but they happen anyway.  It was like the fourth of July, the brand new year, the beginning of what will seem old one day.  Those in 2113 won't remember me, will never know I existed, though I fell asleep thinking of them.  And wondering about luck.