Tuesday, November 27, 2012

They're Small, But I'd Really Like To Keep Them

Dear God/Earth Mother/Supreme Being/The Force:

Hi! Remember me? I haven't been to church for a while, and I wrote a blog post about a year ago talking about my long history of not being really sure what your true nature is, but you and I both know (because you know everything, after all) that I do believe someone/something listens and responds to prayers, and that sincere pleas to whatever the guiding force in the universe is do have the power to influence that force which surrounds and binds us. So, to that effect, I want to offer up a serious plea for the health and well-being of my right breast.

Tomorrow I have my third breast MRI this year because something pesky keeps lighting up in the right one, a small area whose normality or abnormality cannot be confirmed or denied by further ultrasound or mammography. There doesn't seem to be a lump there, but when I am inside that scary, noisy, claustrophobic machine and get injected with contrast, it makes something in my right boob light up like a Christmas tree.

And while that's awfully festive to look at, I'd be lying if I said it didn't cause me mild to moderate anxiety despite reassurances from various medical professionals that it's probably not malignant. Especially since these medical professionals keep wanting to look at my right breast every three months. My girls do not really stand on their own merits, so the fact that someone wants to keep seeing them without being legally bound to do so by the bonds of marriage is a bit...troubling.

So here's the deal, God--next week when the results come back, instead of the person on the other end of the phone telling me there's an area of enhancement, I'd like to hear that the scan was normal. Pretty, pretty please with pink bras on top.

My family and I have been through a lot in 2012. I mean, a lot. I had the strength once to handle a cancer diagnosis, and if push came to shove I think I have one more in me. If that's your will. Though let me just say I'd really rather not have to, but like the chick Bono sings about in that one song, you move in mysterious ways. But I don't have another cancer diagnosis in me at this time. If this is your plan for me, I'd really rather we schedule it for a future date when I'm not still so tired, heartsick, and full of raw grief. Maybe sometime in 2046? I don't have anything planned for that year yet.

I know you're getting a lot of pleas right now, what with Sandy and the holidays and a fiscal cliff and that whole Mayan calendar thing and all. And my little (very little) area of enhancement probably isn't that important to you. But it's really, really important to me. And to a family that has already weathered some pretty big storms themselves this year.

Thanks in advance for your consideration in this matter. And might I add that your sunrises this fall have been truly outstanding. You outdid yourself, and it did not go unnoticed.


That Girl In Kentucky

And then I have to add this. We were watching Monday's The Daily Show last night, and Jon Stewart made a plea to God for peace between Israel and Hamas, and he also made a Bono/"Mysterious Ways" reference. And since that show aired before I posted this, you're probably thinking I was influenced by Jon. While I am frequently under the influence of Jon Stewart, I had not seen that yet when I wrote this, but am thinking it's proof we just might be soul mates. Call me, Jon! Maybe?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And For Dessert, Suzy Qs

I never, ever enjoyed school lunches. Occasionally I would get excited about the cafeteria's chicken noodle soup (before meal worms were spotted in a batch in middle school, and the noodle supplier changed, and my innocence was lost) or something called "Taco Boats" and, for a brief but glorious moment in high school, those little orange Mexican pizzas. But mostly my feelings for the school lunches my mother prefer I eat because she was not inclined to pack for me ranged from ambivalence to abhorrence.

Except for fifth grade, when for an extra quarter I could buy a Suzy Q every single day as a healthy side dish for my sloppy joes.

The news that the cafeteria would be selling these to anyone buying a hot lunch swept the school like a contagious rash. We all had the fever. I had an advantage, though--my doctor had recently told my mother I was still underweight from an illness years before and should be allowed to eat whatever I wanted, the higher the calorie count the better.

"Can I start buying a Suzy Q with my lunch? They cost an extra quarter."

"Here," my father said, rummaging through his loose change and handing me a stack of silver, "if they let you, go ahead and get two."

For the rest of the school year, I bought a school lunch every day, even when we were having things I absolutely hated. Even on "Chicken Two-Fer" day, where we were served little chicken sliders meant to resemble chicken White Castles. Two for/fer the price of one! One day, after biting down into one of these sandwiches onto something hard enough to make my jaw crack, I started calling them "Chicken Toothers." I know chicken don't have teeth, but I'm pretty sure one was in that sandwich just the same.

So addicted was I to my daily Suzy Q that nearly all memories from fifth grade are colored by my different experiences eating and enjoying my little chocolate-cake-and-chemically-preserved-whipped-cream treats. The afternoon I sat down at the table with aching legs and my first swallow of Suzy Q felt like someone had just used my throat to light a match--I was diagnosed with my first-ever case of strep throat that next morning. The time I had to take the Suzy Q apart and scoop out the whipped goodness inside and just eat that because my mouth was a disaster--that was the day after I tried to lick the frost off of the inside of our metal freezer, got my tongue stuck, and ripped off most of my taste buds. The time I giggled all through lunch and was nearly too excited to eat my dessert because our teacher had decided we needed to sit boy-girl for a while to curb high cafeteria noise levels, and he seated me next to my first crush--I was so giddy from love and sugar I could barely stand myself.

It was a golden time. Middle school came the next year, along with new school lunch guidelines, and my daily Suzy Qs were no more. Occasionally we got pudding pops, and on the very best days I was lucky enough to get a chocolate-vanilla-swirl one, but it was not quite the same.

The last time I tried a Suzy Q, long before Hostess's recent woes sent people rushing to snatch them up for the coming snack-cake apocalypse, they weren't quite the same, either. I wanted to taste nostalgia; instead I just tasted a bunch of artificial flavors and preservatives. Is there anything that can be re-tried as an adult that lives up to the love you had for it as a child? I don't think there is.

I was tempted on my weekend grocery trip to snag one of the last boxes of Suzy Qs off the shelves; it may have been my last chance to re-live 5th-grade school lunches and share them with my own 5th-grader.

But I chose not to. For some things are better (and healthier) to just live as memory.

Count Your Blessings Instead of Turkeys

It's here. First Thanksgiving without my mother. Because I know it will be terrible, awful, horrible, no-good, and very bad, and because I cannot duplicate her dressing, my sister and I have decided to go out to Thanksgiving dinner instead of cooking while grieving. We will be going to a semi-traditional buffet at a local Irish pub; if you have to mourn someone's absence at a major holiday, you might as well do it somewhere that has Guinness on tap.

Despite my prediction that even Guinness and pub-fries-instead-of-mashed-potatoes will not fix this upcoming fourth Thursday in November, I would be remiss not to stop and give thanks. It's been a bad year, but more than ever, I am aware that I have many, many blessing to count.

For I would be a red-hot mess right now if it weren't for the people in my life.

This year I am thankful for...

Angels disguised as oncology nurses.

The group of teachers who pitched in and bought me gift cards to restaurants to use the weeks after the funeral, so that when I was having a bad day I at least didn't have be in my kitchen.

My husband, who is the best person I know.

My daughter, without whom I wouldn't want to get out of bed most mornings.

The friends who, in my times of need, bring beer, bourbon, books, and cookie bars.

The friend who read the eulogy I didn't have the voice for at the funeral.

The friend who sang at the funeral.

The friend who put a big, metal chicken on my doorstep. (This also happens to be the friend who sang, so I am doubly thankful for her.)

Our neighbors, who treat our kid like she's one of their own.

Justin Cronin, who has written my two favorite books of the past 5 years.

Jenny Lawson, whose memoir made me laugh when I didn't think laughter was possible.

My grief counselor, who gave me her cell number and encourages me to text on bad days. It's like getting a free 5-minute session when I need it.

My students.

And finally--the dozen or so of you who will read this. Thank you for letting me know I have an audience.

I know that for so many of us Thanksgiving is just a quick pit-stop on the Polar Express, a place we stop to fuel up before the Christmas shopping and decorating season. But do take a moment to stop and give thanks especially if, like me, you are surrounded by really great people.

Love you guys. Mean it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meditations In a Grocery Store

Friday night, grocery shopping. A collection of scenes and people.

A lady buzzes past me with her phone to her ear, carrying a basket and dropping f-bombs willy-nilly. Hey, I want to say, don't use that language in front of kids! However, no kids are anywhere in earshot. And even if there were, in all honesty, they've probably heard that word before. But I'm still annoyed. And still think that people who talk on the phone in grocery stores and roam around oblivious to whose way they're getting into are douche-y, regardless of their language. So...watch your language, douche-nozzle.


My particular grocery store just rearranged the entire store in an effort to make it "consumer-friendly." They clearly did not seek help from any librarians, who would have done a much better job grouping like items together and organizing crap so it makes sense. I should not have to go to two different aisles to get both jarred and individual snack packs of applesauce, people. I'm pretty sure they both have the same Dewey number and should thus be adjacent on the shelf.


At the meat counter I ask for a pound and a half of ground chuck. The guy puts 1.28 pounds on the scale and asks, "Is that good?" Um...no. You're like a quarter pound off. It doesn't have to be a bullseye, but it does have to be on the dartboard. He is not thrilled when I politely tell him I would like for it to be closer to 1.5, because that is what I asked you for, damnit!, and I come thisclose to being one of those annoying control-freak perfectionist women I've seen at the counter who make the guy keep adding and taking away crumbs until it is precisely the right amount down to the thousandth with no margin of human error. Just for spite. But when he grudgingly throws a chunk on and it totals 1.58, I gush a breathless "Thank you so much! That's exactly what I needed!" because I'm thinking maybe the guy just needed some positive reinforcement in converting from fractions to decimals.


There's a grumpy old man on a Hoveround who I keep almost literally running into. When we first meet we're both in front of the canned soft drinks, and his daughter asks, "What kind of soda do you want this week, Dad?", and he replies, "Just get what you want, because you always do, anyway." And she just stays calm and carries on and doesn't try to kill him, which I imaginarily high-five her for.

We meet again at the end of an aisle where I step out and he doesn't see me and almost runs me over with his Hoveround. I was taught to be polite to my elders, so I apologize and quickly navigate out of his way even though it really isn't my fault. I hear him mutter as he motors towards the dairy case, "Probably thinks it's my fault, I'm just an old guy, clearly I don't know how to drive this thing." I imaginarily high-five his daughter again, because this man cannot be a joy to deal with.

The last time we meet he and his daughter are in front of the eggs, bacon, and sausage.

"I've already been in this part of the store three times, what else could you possibly want?" he asks his daughter.

"Help me figure out what we should have for breakfast. Tell me what you like."

"What the hell does it matter, anyway? My life is miserable and isn't getting any better. You think eggs are going to make it better?"

And suddenly, I have to look away, because this is possibly the saddest thing I've ever heard a stranger say, and I feel my heart breaking for this man and his daughter. I vow to be a little kinder to the people I meet in the store, even the ones who annoy me. Maybe especially the ones who annoy me. I have no idea what's going on with these people, and if I knew, I wouldn't spend so much time getting worked up over slow walkers and people who can't find the ketchup.

Who am I kidding? I will still get worked up over this, I'll just feel a lot guiltier about it now.


Well played, Kroger. You have a big display full of Honey Grahams, marshmallows, and Hershey bars. Once s'mores have been thought, they cannot be un-thought. You darn manipulative bastards.


It's getting dark when I head into the lot. It was a warm day, but the air has become crisp and smells like fall. The store was packed, but the lot feels strangely empty. I think of how I have to rush home, throw dinner together, and make sure Jason knows he's picking the kid up from swim. I am tired and more than a little resentful that my adult life has come to this--grocery-shopping and people-watching on a Friday night.

But I think of the old man and his daughter. I am grateful that the only burden I'm carrying in this moment are some reusable cloth grocery bags; the burdens they share are far heavier.

And I know when I go home and get my chores finished, I can make s'mores.

Friday, November 9, 2012

So Raise Your Glass

Saturday is my favorite night of the year. More loved than Halloween and Christmas and my birthday and the UK v. U of L game. It's the annual Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraiser in which participants sample beer, wine, and liquor from all over the world while touring a giant aquarium.

Looking at fish is awesome. Looking at fish after a few glasses of wine is awesomer. And looking at fish after wine and celebrating another cancer-free year while giving money to the organization that supports your flavor of cancer is the awesomest.

Even though it was not easy finding a sitter this year, and even though going means the kid doesn't get to participate in both days of a big swim meet, I would not miss this event for anything. I started going as a way to say "F-U" to my own lymphoma and to honor my two friends who have had leukemia.

This year, I will go knowing that leukemia took my mother from me. So this time it's personal.

One of my favorite memories of my mom, one from those dark days when she was in the hospital just diagnosed, was when her young doctor asked her if she had been a drinker. She was a little hard of hearing and looked to me to answer his question.

"She drinks a little bit, a glass of wine here and there on special occasions."

"Looking back," my mother said, "I should have had a lot more."

So one glass of wine will be for her. Another for my friend Missy, and one for my friend Robyn. Don't worry, you guys, they're not full glasses, and I'll be there for like 4 hours, and I'm not driving, so I'll be fine. Unless the Milagro tequila guy is there, and then chances are I won't be fine.

Being a lymphoma survivor sucks. Loving and losing people to leukemia is hell.

On this one night of the year, though, I celebrate that I have come out on the other side. It never makes it easier or worth it that I got sick, and then got treatment that made me sicker, and then watched my own mother go through it nine years later.

But clinking glasses with my husband and two of my best friends, surrounded by hundreds of people who are lending support to the cause...I at least know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


There I was, showering at our family rec center after a Friday-night workout, basking in the afterglow of making myself exercise when I really wanted to be home watching an old episode of The X-Files and drinking a Magic Hat #9. I turned off the water, reached an arm out to the towel hook...

...and realized I left my towel out in the common area of the women's changing room when I stopped to get my clean clothes out of the locker. Motherlover.

I had a few options:

1. Run out of my private shower room nekkid and wet and not only offend my own modest sensibilities but also any poor woman or girl-child who happened to be minding her own business out in the locker room;

2. Beckon one of the 8-and-under girls who just finished swim practice and ask her to fetch my towel and bring it to the old naked lady in the shower, which would probably get my teaching license revoked;

3. Put my clean post-workout clothes on over top of my sopping skin long enough to retrieve my towel and make them effectively unwearable and make my drive home and trip to our favorite pizza joint kind of awful;

4. Throw on my scrungy workout gear, which was just...GROSS, and wander out both wet and sort of disgusting and cancelling out the cleanliness of my shower just to get the flipping towel I can't believe I forgot in the flipping first place.

I went with 4. And still got strange looks from onlookers. And wanted to get another shower but didn't have time because Ainsley was getting out of swim practice herself in five minutes. So really it was a great start to the weekend and set a tone of vulnerability that lasted through Sunday.

Because is there a more vulnerable feeling in the world than being wet and nude and separated from your towel in a place that's not your home? I am not sure there is.

I know there isn't a life lesson or poignant thought in this but tomorrow is election day and we all need to read something that isn't political commentary or fear mongering or "Your guy sucks and if he wins America will collapse into itself and land headfirst into the tenth circle of hell." Did the thought of me stranded naked in a public shower take your mind off Obama/Romney for just a minute? Yes? You're welcome. Now go vote.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It Tapped Me On The Shoulder And Said, "Boo."

Thanks to Stephen King, I was convinced that I would die an early, tragic death. And possibly come back from the grave.

I read my first Stephen King novel in 7th grade at the urging of my best friend Denise, and even though that damn rabid dog heightened the fear I already felt when big, unleashed canines sauntered in my direction, upon completing Cujo I immediately put myself on the public library's waiting list for the novel that had started it all for my friend: Pet Sematary.

I devoured that book in three days flat, coming home after school and shooing off Guiding Light and homework so that I could get to the final, grim conclusion.

The soil of a man's heart is stonier; a man grows what he can and tends it.

I was haunted by this book. So haunted that I dare not pick up another Stephen King for a few months. I was haunted by Victor Pascow. And Church. And Gage. And Timmy Baterman and Rachel and the Wendigo.

But mostly I was haunted by the dream.

To this day it remains the clearest, most vivid dream I have ever had. So real did it seem that when I woke I leaped out my bed, felt my limbs to make sure they were, indeed, intact, and burst into tears of relief that I had lived to see another sunny day.

In the dream, I found myself walking across my side yard at night. I felt dew on my feet and looked down to see that I was wearing a frilly, ruffled pink dress that looked very unlike me; pantyhose; no shoes. I went to my own front door and instead of opening it, knocked quietly.

My mother answered. But she was not happy to see me.

"Oh, you're not supposed to be here. This isn't right."

But she let me in anyway, and before I could ask her why I wasn't supposed to be here, I saw my reflection in the gold-veined full-wall mirror of our living room:

I wasn't supposed to be there because I was very clearly dead.

My face was overly-rouged but still a lifeless white. The first stages of rot discolored my lips and created soft hollows below my cheekbones. I realized my teeth were loose in their sockets. I could even smell a cloying, sweet smell that I knew was decay. I had walked out of my own grave, still in a young girl's funeral attire. Right down to a lack of shoes.

In the dream I listened to my broken-hearted mother tell me about my funeral, and how all my friends were there, and how so many people cried. She told me she didn't know how she would go on without me.

"But I know you're not supposed to be here like this, and I know you have to go," she said, over and over.

Finally I raised myself up and went to my front door, where I could not see other houses, or lights, or cars. I only saw darkness. And very sadly, not wanting to leave, I walked into it.

And then I woke up. For days, even weeks after, I was certain of one thing: I was going to die. Soon.

I grieved for myself. It's not easy to be 13 and perfectly healthy and still know you're going to die. I hadn't realized until that moment that death really was final; I thought if I died young I could be an angel watching over my family, or be reincarnated like Audrey Rose in the TV movie. It destroyed me that in the dream I just walked out the door into nothingness.

I wrote up a last will and testament and tucked it into a dresser drawer. I didn't have much of worth, but I decided to leave my treasured hardback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to Denise; her choices in literature had just changed my life, the least I could do was return the favor. I hugged my family and friends a lot just in case I never saw them again. I cried after watching TV sitcoms that made me laugh because I would really, really miss laughing.

Yeah, I was sort of a mess.

Mom was no dummy and knew something was going on after catching me wipe tears away after The Cosby Show.

"What's the matter with you? Are you on drugs?"

"No, but I think I'm going to die."

The floodgates opened, and while Mom patiently listened, I started with Pet Sematary and ended with my own rotten corpse sitting on her couch in a dream that didn't feel remotely like a dream. After listening, and handing me tissues, and rubbing my back when I sobbed too hard to speak, she gave me sage words of wisdom:

"That sounds like you just got too wrapped up in that crazy old book. Don't read those things if they're going to do that to you. But just in case it means something, you better make sure your life is in order. You still accept Jesus as your savior, right?"

I rolled my eyes, because dying or not, I was still a 13-year-old. And I just realized I was mostly being an idiot.

I eventually went on to read many more Stephen Kings, and later some Anne Rices, and Thomas Harrises, and watched many horror movies in between. Nothing ever led to quite the nervous breakdown Pet Sematary did.

A couple of years ago, my library's copy of Pet Sematary wandered out and I had to order a new one. As I got the book ready for the shelves, I flipped through the pages, reading the highlights. I got to Gage's funeral, and could take no more. I was a parent at that time; the greatest horror was no longer my own death, but the death of my child. I made a mental note to never, ever allow myself to browse that book again. The nightmares I could face this time would be much worse than seeing my own zombified face in my mother's living room mirror.

Sometimes, dead is better.

Happy belated Halloween, y'all.