A Death

When something terrible happens, something that surpasses my understanding of the world, I want to run to Dr. Overinvolved. I want to cry in his arms. I want him to touch me in all the ways I am not supposed to want him to touch me. He is darkness and death and infinity and trauma and every unanswered question I have about why terrible things happen. Why, and for what purpose?

***

“He was 41 for a month and three days.”

“I am not supposed to be looking for a place to bury my husband.”

“He’s been rejected from the body donation program because there’s too much trauma.”

“The Sheriff who knocked on my door at 4am was named Officer Grimm.”

“I can’t put him in the ground. He hates confined spaces.”

And so, it has been eight days, 15 hours, and 30 minutes since my best friend’s husband died in a terrible accident. I stayed with her the first two days. I gave everything I had physically and emotionally. I cleaned, sprinted down the street after wayward dogs, berated teenagers for smoking weed and drinking in full view of the neighbors, cleaned, cooked, shopped, cried, hugged, and opened her front door to a multitude of intimidating and articulate biker dudes in tears.

“I’ve done some bad things in my life, but I have been a good person overall.  I don’t understand why this happened.”

I said, “It’s not you. I know we like to think that if we are good people and try to treat people how we would like to be treated, things will be okay. But the world is chaotic; things happen that are far beyond our control and it’s so scary to realize that. You ARE a good, kind, loving person.”

She is.  She was the first person I called after I found out I had cancer. She drove me to my thyroidectomy. And so much more.  When you are kids in the neighborhood playing hide and seek, watching videos on MTV, and talking about the boys you have a crush on, you never imagine that 25 years later you will be holding that same friend as she screams in anguish over the loss of her husband.

On the two hour drive to her home, I stopped to get coffee. On my way out, a retirement-age woman handed me a flyer. It depicted Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and said, “When will the suffering end?”  We are not religious people. I nodded politely.

We go gingerly into day nine, with the date for his celebration of life set and his ashes cooling. We have photos, memories, and personal quirks to look back on and smile, and even amongst all those remembrances, it still doesn’t seem quite real.

Empty Style

When she was five, she wore a purple polka dot bikini, prompting her best friend’s grandpa to christen her Miss America. At a doctor’s appointment, she soon learned of a thing called “fat” and how it made others mean and ashamed. It was a word used to describe her, and she never wore a bikini again. Instead she wore leggings and colorful tunics or shapeless dresses procured from garage sales.  She was a majorette who marched in her small town’s centennial parade wearing white shorts that were too big in the hips and went down to her knees, while her fellow twirlers lifted their knees in time with their skinny mid-thighs bare and proud.

When she was 10, she owned just a few articles of clothing that fit: a pair of jeans, black shorts, and a homemade denim skirt that was quickly going out of fashion. She was able to rotate four tops she had in order to make different outfits. She was still called fat, but now she was also called poor. What she sh0uld have been called was neglected.

When she was 17, she secured her first job and soon, her first credit card. Gone were the teenage years of wearing men’s surf shirts and jeans as she was able to patronize retail establishments with clothes that fit her fat, shameful, poor, neglected body.  She found boot cut jeans, a lace shirt she later wore to a Madonna concert, a purple v-neck top with bell sleeves that she wore until it unraveled.  Soon she bought her first pantsuit- black and pinstriped- and it was in that suit she secured her first professional job and launched her career.

When she was 30, her frame had lost nearly 100 pounds and a size 8 fit her like a dream. She indulged in beautiful wrap dresses, vintage-inspired dresses, a sumptuous purple blazer, and knee high brown leather boots that laced up the front. No longer was she seen as that shameful, ugly, mean thing called “fat” that she learned about from the pediatrician all those years ago. Instead others saw her as a competent, attractive, desirable, well-dressed professional woman, who flitted down the halls of the company turning all of the men’s heads and little else. Her rare style may have beckoned to them, but inside she was still full of walls made from bricks of shame, neglect, and ugliness. The men ran into this wall on the regular, and so she spent her time alone, adorned with style but without the love, companionship, and connections that enrich a life and fill it with joy.

(In response to Daily Prompt: Stylish )

I Might Be The Asshole Your Mother Warned You About, or, Why I Hate Cancer Fundraising Events

Sunday morning. I’m wearing a bright orange shirt and I am astride a Schwinn indoor cycling bike, surrounded by seventy other people on bikes too, randos jumping around with orange pom-poms, the music bumpin’.  I focus on my ride and my heart rate which tops out at 168 BPM many times. I only get thirty minutes on the bike and I want to make the best of it. One of the instructors is yelling about how we are alive, we are still breathing and let’s imagine a world with no cancer. I feel irrationally angry at him, so I ignore him, pushing on those pedals as hard as I can.

For a number of years, I declined to participate in this event, but this year I thought I would give it a try.  I just cannot get into the celebration. That’s what it is, of course, a celebration of life and survivorship that raises money for cancer research. What kind of person feels anger at an event like this? Feels that it is torture? Me, me , me. I cannot celebrate. Sometimes I feel as if I am no closer to getting over this than I was the day I was diagnosed.

I have always had trouble calling myself a survivor. I feel like a phony, a pretender who had a cancer that is not legitimate. But yet I am lumped in with people who had legitimate, real cancer. My treatment period was so short; it consisted of  a series of one-shot deals: surgery, then radiation. Done. Presto. Go back to whatever it was you were doing before (an actual quote from Dr. Overinvolved). Really. Now that I know nowhere and no one is safe? Sure, no problem.

I do not feel honored or supported by the other participants. I feel alone because they are so happy and celebratory. I cannot get to the other side of my cancer experience, to the side where I can celebrate.  My still being here is not a good enough reason to shake my orange pom-pom.