“Please g-d, find me,” I think to myself, though I know that g-d is already near and always has been. I release some sort of anguish that lies inside of me until I sound like an injured animal. I am alone, in my car, crisp fall pieces of the season tapping against my windshield and thick red trees still adorned with leaves despite the fact that it is almost Thanksgiving. I live in a beautiful wooded area of Massachusetts and cows with long brown streaks greet me through the setting sun; I see one meandering slowly down to a stream for a drink of water. On the next corner a beautiful wooden fence (so New England) stands between me and three gorgeous horses who are always wiling about eating grass without a care in the world (every time I see them it makes me want to go horseback riding again overlooking the Tetons standing grandly in Jackson Hole, in the lush green hills of Cong Ireland or through coffee plantations in Costa Rica with my Mom. This all makes me think about the richness of life, the travels, the different cultures, the experiences that I carry with me. It makes me think about taking a breath and being alive).
The tears brim in my eyes for what feels like forever, and I admonish them not to fall, though I know it is way too late for that. They feel hot and tired, just like my body. And when do I release them I feel a great sense of relief, as if this batch of tears has been brewing like an overdone tea kettle that has been whistling longingly asking for me to finally let it go.
I wonder what it will be like to be alone. I think about a box of wrapping paper that sits on my top shelf in my front hall closet; ribbons all tangled up together and bows of different colors situated perfectly and soft pieces of felt and markers and cards and things that I do not use. Because of where the box is every time I hang up my coat I see it and think of it. I long to use it, but I am not really the “crafty type,” and now with things like Amazon I hardly ever wrap gifts to give in person anymore. I love this box because pretty things make me happy, the thought of giving gifts makes me happy, but it mostly sits alone on that top shelf in the closet where the only other guests are old hats and an umbrella that we never use.
I wonder if this is what it will feel like after I am gone. If I will feel beautiful, but not really needed anymore. Saved for posterity, but still, dusty and distant. I wonder if heaven is what I think it is (somehow everything is white like in the movies) and I wonder if those I leave behind will ever be OK.
It is too painful to talk to my loved ones about, the crushing fear of death, or how it will end. If this will be it, or if it will be many years from now. I cannot fathom how I could ever leave behind my husband, parents, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and friends.
So I talk to strangers. I tell them how tired I am. How I’m being treated for cancer and when the woman applying my lip gloss in Blue Mercury asks me why I need a “pick-me-up” (because what better what to say fuck you cancer than a new lip gloss), I tell her that I have cancer. Why would I do this? The words just slip out quickly and I long to pick them back up again, but they’re out there now spilled all over her beautiful make-up free floor and there is nothing that I can do about it. “What stage?” she asks, and I get ready for a drama-filled face before I say, “4.” Yup, there it is. Her eyebrows raise and her mouth frowns and she looks me in the eye and says, “I’m so sorry.” Her genuine compassion touches me, but I feel the need to tell her that I’m not gone yet, that I’ve actually had Stage IV cancer for years now. Somehow telling people that legitimizes my space in the world. Like, “I’m here. I’ve been here. I will continue to be here.”
She says that anytime I want my makeup done for a “pick-me-up” she can come to me, or I can come back into the store. I wonder if this is using my “cancer card” but I don’t get anything for free, so I don’t think so.
I go into Magic Beans a few hours beforehand (maybe this is why I needed the new lip gloss today) to buy a baby present for the woman who cuts my hair. I argue with myself all the way to my haircut appointment today. “You don’t really need to buy a baby present,” I think to myself. After all, we’re not friends per se. We’re friendly because she cuts my hair and she’s very sweet. But she’s been cutting my hair now for about two years and she does a great job. I want to do something nice for her, I’m glad that she’s returned to work. So I go into Magic Beans and pick out a lovie/teether and as it’s being wrapped in paper with puffy white clouds on it (so good for a baby, I don’t know why, maybe because babies are so soft and squishy like those clouds) I see a pregnant couple shopping for strollers.
I give the baby present to the woman cutting my hair and she loves it and tells me all about the things her two month old is doing now, giggling in his sleep, sleeping for 5 hours in a row, smiling. She shows me a picture on her phone and says it’s the best thing in the world.
I’ve brought this upon myself. Magic beans, the lovie, the gift wrap.
I wonder how I can live in a world where– according to others– I’ll never get “the best thing.”
She can tell something is up and asks how I’m feeling. I tell her, since she’s been out on maternity leave, that I have taken leave from work, they’ve found more tumors, and I’m now in treatment again. I hear myself say “I’m so tired,” and I finally turn my face up to look in the mirror (I’ve been trying to avoid mirrors lately) and as she cuts my wet hair I see it in my eyes. The fatigue. The fear. The gremlins.
I ask my inner-ally to stop by for a visit, I really need her right about now. She always visits me on a beach, and so that is where we connect. I tell her that I’m scared: What if the treatment isn’t working, how can I know? I’m so tired which I think means my body must be working pretty hard at fighting this cancer. That gives me hope. (Being fatigued is a common side-effect of cancer and most treatments and it fazes nobody at Dana-Farber when you tell them that you sleep at least 10 hours a day now). I feel a little bit sad because I can really only do one thing a day now without needing a nap. I’m also somewhat worried about going back to work with such little energy, but I’m also scared not to work (what would that mean? I cannot let this cancer define me but yet it is such a huge part of my life. I struggle continuously with this).
We talk, for a long time, my inner-ally and I. And in the end I finally drain my tears until it feels like there is nothing left. I imagine the tears that I have just shed inside of my body, pouring over my liver and the tumors, washing them away.
I imagine what my life would have been like without cancer.
But I can’t.
All I can see is that unused box on the top shelf. The puffy white clouds. The tea kettle begging for relief.
All I can do now is wait until the next collection of tears build up and wash over me, like the waves at the beach where my inner-ally lives. Like where my hope lives.
And where, I remind myself, I live too.