December, such as it is in Southern California, is a minefield of hazy, dreamy, tainted memories and a sense of my hope and potential being lost. It was early in December 2009 when I underwent radioactive iodine treatment. It was the last time I ever saw Dr. Overinvolved. I was so happy. I was barely 30 years old and I had, in my mind, this wonderful doctor at my side who wanted to protect me, was reliable, and thought I was special. I had this other man in my life, though far away, who adored me, who made me feel good, made me laugh, who cared about me. I had colleagues I genuinely liked who genuinely liked me. The future seemed bright. I had completed treatment. I was young, bright, and full of energy.
Tori Amos had just released a seasonal album of reworked standards and hymns , part Christmas, part winter solstice, and I listened non-stop. Candle: Coventry Carol, invoked a dark sense of safety with threat lurking under the surface. The song itself harkens back to the Massacre of the Innocents from the Gospel of Matthew. Traditionally sung by the mothers of the lost male infants, I always felt myself physically entwined in a complicated slow dance, hands clasped, movements deliberate and lingering. Star of Wonder was the soaring of my heart at all of these men bringing me to life. Finally, I had their approval. I was real. I was good enough. As the lyrics go, “Some say we have been in exile. What we need is solar fire.” I was no longer in exile. I was allowed to come home, into the minds and fantasies and lives of these men. Reborn. The Tori version refers to Three Kings, and the third, well, would be the original misogynist at the root of my story: my father, who hated me, abused me and ignored me until I became pretty.
Every December I take out the Midwinter Graces CD and play it nonstop in my car, driving around with a grin, my mind filled with those dreamy, shadowy recollections of that month in 2009. Today, as I repeated the ritual for a sixth year, I realized this was not a happy activity. That the dreamy memories were tainted and that hazy state where I am consumed by memories of being in the basement of the clinic with Dr. Overinvolved was a trauma response, not an enjoyable, fond trip down memory lane.
It was on the back of this revelation that I finally understood the only thing keeping me grounded was my cancer, my permanent reliance on prescription medicine, my non-negotiable need for health insurance. The straight life, as I call it, where I go to work each day in an office and reduce every possible risk to my financial life, has made me so risk adverse and anxiety-ridden, even a day trip to a museum fifteen miles away feels like an overwhelming undertaking. I engage in an endless debate with myself as to whether I should go or not, and I never do, once the debate starts. I did not used to be this way. I fantasize about not being this way; about getting out of here and going everywhere and doing everything. Specifically, writing for a living, making jewelry for a living, baking for a living, being able to go hike or workout whenever I want, living abroad and overall, living a life that doesn’t revolve around what time I have to install myself at a grey metal desk in a grey office with no windows. I feel stifled, held down, and trapped, which I know is something I say over and over again. Nothing will change. I only know how to follow the rules.