Home.

I went home last weekend to be with Melinda for the first anniversary of her husband’s death. Those 24 hours turned out to be about so much more than that.

Where I thought there would be tears, there was alcohol. As I lay in Melinda’s former marriage bed, now exiled to the guest room, I listen to her repeatedly throwing up. Later, she tells me she passed out on the bathroom floor. I wondered why the bathroom fan ran for so long. I am stone cold sober.

Meanwhile, her sister in law is audibly moaning in the living room, as she is drunkenly hooking up with a man who claims to have been a friend of her brother’s. I doubt the veracity of his story as any man who really was friends with her brother would not be having sex with her right now. The next morning, she will say she has no recollection of being with him. I recognize the extremely problematic nature of this entire situation, seeing as she was clearly blitzed at the bar and not able to consent. I do not say anything, as she isn’t enlightened about these matters to the extent I am and I don’t believe it’s my place to say anything now.

It’s 7:30am and I am the only one up. I get dressed and get in my car, driving to the nearest Starbucks. I want to return to Los Angeles right now. But Melinda is actually sleeping, and I don’t want to wake her, nor leave without saying good-bye. I am in Carlsbad. It’s cookie cutter gross, the rolling coastal hills packed to the gills with stucco tract housing that surely costs seven figures. My skin crawls. I feel claustrophobic. I take my time returning to the apartment. I decide to leave at 10am if Melinda is awake. She is, but then I feel guilty just running off so we hang out in her room and talk.  I wait until 10:45am, then I make my move.

“Traffic will get even worse if I wait much longer,” I say.  Pulling the traffic card always works when you are an Angeleno. She doesn’t resist. Her sister-in-law is throwing up in the bathroom while we talk. Melinda herself is hungover, her eyes drooping.  She walks me out, we embrace and I cannot get out of there fast enough.

“I was a rebellious asshole! And you were always so nice! I’m sorry I was so mean.” I am in the bar with Tracy, someone I have known since middle school. She bullied me. Now she is a dissatisfied mother of three, holding her beer in one hand while yelling at me about her alcoholic mother and how mean she was Back in the Day. I’m nodding. I’m not really enjoying her mea culpa; this is not something I think about all that much anymore.  What I am thinking about it is a night out in Hillcrest over ten years ago, where I am the designated driver and at the end of the night, my Honda is filled with people from my high school graduating class.

Nothing has changed. It’s like any other night out with Melinda when I lived there. We are older and that’s about it. It’s 12:30am. If my bag were in my car, I would drive the 90 minutes home right now.

Earlier…

“Come home! Come home you cunt!” Jena is yelling at me, her hands on my shoulders. “We’re your family and we’re here! I know you aren’t happy!” She’s not wrong, but I have no desire to go back to the future. That’s been made clear.

Two days later, I am sitting in traffic on the north 110 on my way to a job interview at an academic medical center. I look on the horizon and I see my San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown LA skyline, the faint outline of the Hollywood sign. I relax. I am home. 

 

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The Doom in Song

I applied for a job back home tonight. It’s part time with health insurance and pays me what I was nearly making when I left. I could live on it. I would have the energy to create the life I want to live and have my bottom line covered.

It is with this pot simmering on the back burner that I revisited one of my favorite pieces of music tonight. The Philip Glass compilation, Solo Piano, was my constant companion while I was suffering from acute stress disorder.  The repetitive simpleness was soothing to my brain for reasons unknown to me. It’s serious and grand. The huge claps of doom in the minor notes mixed with a gorgeous complexity that captured the crux of my emotional tornado. I listened to nothing but that for months.  The last time I felt the urge to play it, I didn’t progress past Metamorphosis One as the darkness and wonder of those times was too much for me to sit with. That was not the case tonight. I made it all the way through, viewing my emotions from a safe distance. It was not enjoyable, but it did not elicit such a strong reaction that I had to turn it off. I could describe how I felt and what drew me to it so intensely. I was testing my emotional distance.

One of my favorite people from my current job said to me on her way out the door, “You need to find a way to be okay.”  I have been barely functioning for a long time, I know. I have not been okay in years. I was simply not allowed to grieve my losses and that’s the biggest reason that I am not okay.

As I have done my best minister to the bereaved grief of my two friends, my resentment has blossomed. One expresses her grief in a performative manner and I have little tolerance left for her written hysterics that are smeared all over Facebook each day.  I can’t even leave her a little heart emoji anymore, which signifies I read her post. She was dismissive of me; we lived less than ten miles apart and she made no effort to visit me for the two years between my diagnosis and my moving. She was mad when I called Melinda (BFF, deceased husband) to take me to Trader Joe’s when I was still taking narcotic painkillers and unable to drive. And Melinda herself was always telling me to think positive. She was the person I called after I talked to Dr. Overinvolved and it was “think positive, you’re fine, it’s going to be okay.” I do not go near the family because that well is dry, dry, dry. There’s no empathy there, let alone understanding.

This morning when I was trying to workout in a gym that I really do not like, I kept thinking about how I need me again, and did I leave me behind somewhere, maybe…back home? I know that if the circumstances arise and I am hired for this role, I will certainly see it all through very different eyes; I have grown here in so many ways, but I hope me is somewhere, on a trail in Balboa Park or on the dragon-shaped running path at the Lake. Perhaps me is out in the east county mountains I have never explored. I need to find the place where my life, my journey does not feel like it has been in vain, the place where I can be okay again.

Watching the Years & Waiting

On this, the occasion of my follow up appointment for year 9.5 with thyroid cancer, I am aware that my cancer may be declared a benign condition during my lifetime. The frequent appearance of a research study about benign thyroid cancers is then quickly followed by an avalanche of news articles. Last week it was about “watch and wait” for all papillary tumors under 1.5cm, which are categorized as “low risk.” I have been in the survivor community long enough to be able to tell you this is not a sure thing and that I know of people who had tumors under that threshold who had second and third surgeries and multiple rounds of RAI. My tumor was 1.4cm and was on the verge of growing outside my thyroid. Would I have been called low risk and told to come back in six months? Would that have made any difference to where my life is today? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I continue to be that 37 year old woman who cannot be declared NED. Nothing has changed except my age and I know as I age with an empty uterus, empty left ring finger that I become less and less sympathetic to the patriarchal medical system.  Dr. Overinvolved showed me that I was only worthy of his attention and kindness when I fit the narrative, i.e. I was a reasonably attractive young woman with a “normal” body type. I’m not here for this anymore.

I also know that I continue to struggle with finding my place out in the world. There is the life that I am living, which is often small and limiting. There’s the many lives I dream about living, which are large, loud, and expansive. I continue to search for a new job while also possessing a wandering eye that has not given up on the dream of studying social work and public health, of making jewelry for pay, of being a freelance writer, of learning to weld and make metal art. I want to do and be all of these and my anxiety, anger, and disappointment take up so much room that there is no room for much else.

The wound healed. I can feel it, I can see it, but it is in a very tenuous state, a state that it will likely maintain for the rest of my life.