Blog

hope, Health

C like cat.

As I made my appt with my medical oncologist last week, the scheduler on the phone gave me directions to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center, my close by radiation site. I couldn’t hear her well as she said the name of the place, so she reminded me it’s “C,” like cat. How nice that she shares my not benign way of talking! And how interesting that all of a sudden, I can say things like my medical oncologist, my radiation oncologist, when just a few short weeks ago I didn’t have any of these people in my world. But I don’t believe it feels quite the same as if you could say my pool guy, or my tailor, or some similar luxury person one might afford and for affectation sake feel inclined to refer to. I’m not showing off, really, but I can say I have my team, which of course includes me, and I’m confident we will all be taking excellent care of me.

So many refer to this path or journey I’m on, but I need to look at it differently. Imagine your fridge is packed to the gills and one day you discover there’s a moldy lemon way in back. You remove the lemon of course and notice it has released and left some juice and pulp and mold behind, clouding up your glass shelves. Now everything in the fridge must come out and you wipe down the entire fridge with hot soapy water, removing the shelves, the drawers, the butter dish and the door compartments. Next you assess all your fridge contents and decide what to keep and what to toss. Finally, you get a strong bleach cleaner and do a final wipe of the entire fridge, inside and out before putting back the contents. My little not benign mass was that lemon (of course way smaller) and I’m now getting ready for the bleach cleaner treatment.

If I were to call this my path or my journey, which we all know it is, it would feel like mine and mine alone. Referring to it that way, for me, makes me feel separate and I’ll admit a tad lonely, because it sounds more like I’m moving down some road, leaving all familiarity and friends who have stayed behind on land to continue doing their normal things, without some path switching up their plans. I picture Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away taking his beloved Wilson along on his homemade boat as he set out on the big blue sea watching familiar land in the distance get smaller and smaller. I don’t want to be on that boat leaving what I know. Nor do I think I have to.

Instead this experience from Oct to date for me is rather a timeline. You remember the history timelines from grade school? Where there is a horizontal line and big round bullets popping up along the way, and vertical lines extending up and down from them with notable events and their dates? I’m on this timeline, having moved through a slew of significant dates already. I’ve got more ahead, but at some point, you get to the end of the timeline and no, I’m not talking about your own demise, but the end of the events which have made up this moment in your history. Later, you can step back and look at all you moved through and remember all the waiting between bullet points, wishing the next one would hurry and happen already, and how all the wishing in the world didn’t change the rate at which you reached the next bullet point.

I’m in that waiting mode now. Waiting on the Oncotype test results from the tissue they removed during my lumpectomy which will indicate how likely this strain of not benigns is to return. There is some numerical risk value this result will bring and I understand scoring 26 or higher means a greater risk for which they bring out the major artillery. I should hear next week and this value will chart the course of my treatment, tell me whether on top of radiation I also will need chemo. Not even sure the order I’d get them in either, if in fact I do need both. I’ve thrown a ridiculous amount of anxiety at this possibility and worried myself into tears, an unlimited stream that easily comes out of nowhere and which I’ve let run its long and winding course each time, leaving my eyes puffy and watery.

I’ve decided to hold on to a few positives, however: my dreams over the years have been quite telling. As horrible as this may sound, the night before my mom died I dreamed that she died. And what do you know, the next day she did. I had dreamed this dream once before earlier in her emphysema illness, but this second one I guess took. Certainly not my doing, but I found it interesting that it popped up in my dreams just the night before. All this said, the other night I dreamed I got my results and I only needed radiation, and the strain of radiation recommended would be super easy and manageable, and before you know it, I’d be cruising toward the end of this timeline, ready to daily pop that estrogen blocker pill I’m to go on for five years. I woke up in a hopeful mood, with less puffy eyes, and my outlook was energetic and largely normal. As if that weren’t enough to boost me, the next day I found a penny on the ground, heads up, which if you’re even mildly superstitious you might know is good luck.

My results will be my results. I will do what the doctors recommend, because while medicine fascinates me, biology is the only class I’ve ever failed, and so I’m not going to even begin to know any better or second guess these doctors. That poor biology grade was pure laziness on my part as I refused to memorize all the parts and pieces of these amazing bodies of ours, refused to put in the enormous hours required. Whatever course of treatment I am prescribed, I will keep moving through my timeline, and continue to move forward, checking all these things off my list. Of course, I would love this treatment to be easy and not make me feel or look bad, but in the end, I’ve got that gleaming refrigerator waiting for me at the finish line, and c’mon, who doesn’t love a cleaned out fridge?

 

Encouragement, Health, hope, Love

Kill ’em with kindness.

Last month I found my hands cupping my breasts, first the right and then the left. Hold on now, just so we’re clear, this is not one of those stories. This one’s different, but stay with me. They were unusually smooth, nothing like a few years ago, pre-menopause, when I used to do these self-exams, parsing through the mealy tissue with clockwise two finger circles. I have what’s termed “dense breasts” which I can only describe as the consistency of pea gravel you’d run through a Cuisinart, so turning over any potential bad stones always seemed next to impossible, so I stopped, but kept up my annual mammograms.

Over the years I’ve been religious with all my health checkups, occasionally even calling doctors early to remind them it’s time for me to come in. This year was no different, with a gyn annual visit in February that included a breast exam, and a mammogram in July. For that mammogram, I took my usual lucky seat next to the aquarium in the breast health center waiting room, and once called in, got it done. They called me back days later needing a “second look.” All you can think with a call back is holy shit. The days drag when you’re waiting for the MyChart “all clear” and the letter that follows which you’ll of course save in a file forever. Eventually I was cleared and declared “normal” and looked forward to another year’s stay of execution.

Fast forward to October when I was lying on my bed and for some reason decided to feel both sides thoroughly, almost marveling at their teardrop symmetry and softness, delicately balanced above my rib cage. All that pea gravel now gone after menopause, this texture was smooth. Except, wait? Is that something on my left side? Hmmm. More rotations, more checking the other side. Yep, this is a little something, and I’ll be getting that checked, yet felt fine about it since the July all clear.

I called my doctor the next day and got in several days later. As I sat in the examining room in my paper Flying Nun gown, not nearly as adorable and carefree as Sally Field, I couldn’t help but wonder, wtf? My doctor felt it too, and looked a little puzzled, but reassured me it’s probably nothing, recalling July’s normal results.

Next on the agenda was another mammogram, this time 3-D, followed by an ultrasound that same day. As I checked in, the woman in reception, excited about her bouquet of pink pens for the taking, reminded me that I can keep the pen. I was reluctant, but she extended the pen toward me anyway and smiled, waiting it out. My mind went to the Seinfeld episode when Jack insists to Jerry, “Take the pen!!” I took the pen and tossed it in my purse hoping it’s hot pink malignant ink wouldn’t leak everywhere.

I set off to change in their dressing room, passing the normal waiting area and on to a room deeper in the facility, with nicer snacks and cushier chairs, certainly not intending to, but definitely amping up my anxiety. I refused to enjoy an apple juice or the Milano cookies set out in this waiting area because I was a regular in the first room, and despite my assignment to this one, I wasn’t going to drink their Kool-Aid.

The radiologist viewing my ultrasound asked me if I’d experienced trauma to my left breast, or did I have diabetes? My research later revealed that both conditions can resemble a malignancy, and befuddled, I nodded no. Though I did fall in New York skating in Bryant Park a few years back and cowered off the ice to heal only to go back on in a half hour and do it again. Skaters don’t just keep going when a fifty something woman falls; instead there’s this unspoken “old lady down” alert and they rush over and help you up and off the rink so the skating can continue without the distraction. And then there was last year when I was walking my dog on a perfectly fine fall afternoon and tripped on an enormous acorn in my path. Down I went and off went the skin on my knees replaced with sticky bloody ovals on each knee cap, like a kid’s, but wrinkly.

The radiologist said her share of hmmm-s, and I’m concerned-s, and a biopsy was scheduled in a few days. The biopsy radiologist was comforting, imagine Faith Hill in a lab coat, with a velvety voice to match. She walked me through all the steps, numbing your breast, placing a hollow needle inside and pulling out a sample of the tissue for testing. She said I’d be hearing a clicking sound which reminded me of an ear piercing gun. After it was done, instead of sporting gold ball studs in each ear you’re sent home with a Steri-Strip on the incision.

It looks like I’m allergic to Steri-Strips, or maybe it was the Lydocaine, but the next day I developed a rash covering the entire breast and even down below my ribs. Nothing itchy or painful, but just weird and slightly worrisome. After an interminable day or three (at this point, honestly, it’s all a blur), I got the call. You can guess the news from your gyn’s voice because I’ll bet they all start out with “We got the results back on your biopsy and….”. I already know that front end of the sentence because isn’t that the reason she’s calling? Yet while somewhat extraneous, it affords a few seconds for you to gauge the tone of the news and predict what’s coming next. With each word, the tone became increasingly I’m sorry to have to tell you this.

After learning the news of what I’m dubbing my not benign situation while standing in a friend’s driveway, I returned home and a few hours later Faith Hill (remember, the pretty radiologist?) called me not realizing my gyn had already told me. We talked at length and her velvety calmness was the perfect salve. I asked her advice on loads of things and she said I should get a bilateral MRI (scanning both sides) and I asked if they’d automatically order it and she said yes, but after I met my surgeon. The next morning first thing, I was on the phone trying to schedule the MRI, and they said usually you meet with the surgeon first and then you schedule the MRI, but they thought they could do it this way instead. I was meeting my  surgeon the next week and certainly wasn’t going to wait all those days to see her only to wait more for the MRI, so I hounded them a bit, ok a lot, to go ahead and schedule it in advance so the doctor would have everything in hand when we met. I mentioned my radiologist suggested it, and my Faith Hill get the MRI card worked.  The not benigns were surely procreating inside me and needed to stop their shenanigans immediately.

A day or so later on a Friday afternoon I got a phone call from the hospital’s “patient navigator” who asked if she could help. I was in denial that I was on this pink papered path and I certainly didn’t need a navigator, which only further acknowledged the road before me. But she got me talking about my confusion with several MyChart biopsy results, about things like estrogen and progesterone receptors, and HER2, and labeling my not benign situation as invasive ductal. She explained there are some silver linings here. I am ER 100% positive which means that the pill I’ll end up having to take for five or ten years is uniquely suited to my situation. This little bugger feeds on estrogen and only estrogen, so we can starve its sorry ass (my words, not hers). The HER2 thing, which I don’t exactly understand yet, but which I learned is negative, she said is also good news. As we kept talking, I liked her voice more and more. I hadn’t told many people and certainly hadn’t broken down. But I did here. For probably another half hour I sobbed and talked and sobbed some more and she listened and sent love and courage over the phone. And that was everything. That same evening I had plans to go see a play with friends, but after this outburst couldn’t imagine myself ready to leave in 20 minutes, but I made it happen. I loved the play and the evening, but holding my secret inside was hard and unsettling.

The MRI was bizarre. You lie face down on a table that has two big cutouts which line up with your breasts which hang down as if someone below on a stool would be milking you. You are given a rubber oval thing to squeeze if you need anything (thank you, I’ll take a Shake Shake double cheeseburger, stat) as you are rolled into this machine, with earphones on, because it’s loud. They said it would sound like a construction site, but to me it sounded like a phone off the hook which nobody had bothered to put back on. You remember when phones came with wall plugs and curly cords? The MRI attendant seemed proud that Piedmont could now offer me Sirius for my listening pleasure. I choose classical piano which paired nicely with phone off the hook.

Fast forward to I don’t know how many days later, and my husband and I were at a breast center in front of my surgeon. (Btw, Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavillion could be a fine place to house a breast center – do a drive by, look at its shape and nipple on top and see if you don’t agree.) I had heard of her and her solid reputation, and she struck me as beautiful in a pre-plastic surgery Janet Jackson in a lab coat sort of way. Her calmness worked well against my whatever you want to call it. She told me I was Stage 1 (or could be 2), and 1 cm in size, though the MRI shows it could be double that. Lots of potentially positive news followed by little doubts about whether it was as simple as it sounded. I pictured phone cords from all those off the hook phones tangled up in my breast, making finding this evil bugger hiding in a sea of breast density next to impossible. Still, teary eyed, I asked, “Is this eradicateable?” Surely that’s not a word, but after using it, I wasn’t going to admit to my degree in English, and instead just whimpered softly repeating the question. She gave me a bit of a “well, duh” look, followed by a “yes,” which calmed me down. She said my lymph nodes in both the ultrasound and the MRI looked small and unremarkable, which is what you want, and after surgery we’d determine my course for treatment. She added if my pathology report indicates these not benigns have a low risk for returning, I’ll only have to get radiation. High risk and they add to that the big guns, the cannons, the chemo. After all that, they put you on a pill for five or ten years, depending on pathology results. Piedmont is a badass.

With this diagnosis you get things. As if Elizabeth Warren herself designed this curriculum, there is a plan for everything. There is a nutritionist you can see, thanks to a grant, and I got in immediately. For now, and maybe indefinitely, I’m gonna be a clean eater, and for now, a non-drinker. All the beige colors have left my plate and it’s bold peppers, carrots, kale and fish for me. A little chicken and some nuts too, but no dairy. Almond and oat milk are vying for space in my fridge and that 2% cow’s milk is shoved in back. I’m determined to feed this troublemaker everything it hates, everything anti-inflammatory.  I’m certain I’ll have a slice of pizza or bowl of real (non chickpea) pasta now and then because, after all, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But I am eating well and it all tastes good. Before I went for a run the other day, while putting on my jog bra, I said to these fellas, the not benigns, “Buckle up! We’re going for a ride!” As I pounded the pavement, I pictured them shaking their heads asking wtf?, pissed off and running out of steam, as I filled my healthy lungs with air and pressed on. I’m loading up with all kinds of good ammo. I’m Will Ferrell, the elf, throwing snowballs at this unwelcome mass. Here! Take this! Splat goes a red pepper. Can’t swim in all that almond milk? Too bad, so sad!  Thanks to another grant, there is a counselor to see, giving me ten free sessions, which I’m scheduling weekly. I’ve already been to two and cried through the first and after the second, she said I seem much better. It’s helping. Thanks to another grant, there is genetic testing too, and they’ve drawn two vials of my blood to test some 75 genes. So now I wait for that news. Knowledge will be power.

It’s been a mixed bag (no pun intended) of good and bad, these last three and a half weeks.

THE BAD: I worried every day to get to this day, this lumpectomy. I had to make umpteen appointments and be poked and prodded for biopsies, inserting clips in my breast to guide the surgeon, and then more fun with the IV at surgery and of course, the scalpel. And then I had to worry some more. I had to start telling people, because how can you not?, which made me scared to see their faces often scrunched with concern, as if they saw my future and now felt sorry for me. I had to imagine a potentially sunburnt breast from radiation and wonder would it be permanent, or a bald head from chemo, and imagine what kind of hair would grow back. And what will this medicine do to me other than block estrogen from getting to this breast, the chosen snack of the not benigns. I worried my body has become a game of Whac-A-Mole, stamp out the pests in the breast, only to discover them popping up somewhere else. I worried about worrying my family, my children in particular.

THE GOOD: I caught this myself, it’s early and it’s small. It’s “eradicatable,” and it’s clear someone is watching over me, and for that, I am beyond grateful. My diet is squeaky clean, I am going to move more, and my body will be stronger for having gone through this. This is a wakeup call. A call for more calm and less worry, and I already feel it washing over my cells. I may have been opened up today in surgery, but I am forever opened to breathing in all the good I’m finding and exhaling it over my friends and family, and over strangers too. After I finished rattling off my many questions in the recovery room to my nurse who had remained with me well past what is normal, I got dressed and was about to draw the curtain to leave. I heard a voice through the adjacent curtain say, “I’m glad you asked all those questions. They helped me too. I’m over here next to you.” I said “hi” and opened my curtain to see who was next door. It was the lady who had been on the elevator with me this morning, also heading to pre-op, and I remembered our husbands next to us silently ruminating on what was ahead for their wives. She was lovely and about to be admitted to a room as she’d had a double mastectomy, saying goodbye to both breasts which I can only assume must have been overrun with not benigns. I took her hand and squeezed it, and told her she would do great. She smiled and her eyes sent me the same good wishes. My exit wheelchair was waiting, but I found it hard to leave her with our palpable connection, instantly filled with love and understanding. I leaned in and cupped my hand around her cheek and reminded her again that all will be ok. She will do well as will I, and that moment will surely stay with us both.

I will hear from pathology in a week or so and know more about additional treatment, but for now, the not benigns have left the building, I’ve got my family by my side and friends who are in touch. I couldn’t ask for more. But actually there is one thing I need: Ladies, feel yourselves up like clockwork every month. Learn how they feel, even if they’re pea gravel, so if they change you will know. Also, if you’re considered dense or even if you’re not, insist on a 3-D mammogram, even if your doctor whines that insurance might not cover it. Learn the cost and just do it, charge it if you have to. I didn’t know I needed to request this kind and I’m certain if I had, this would have been caught even earlier when it was even smaller. I’m lucky in so many ways to have good insurance, a strong body and the boundless perseverance that I do.

And lastly, be kind to yourself. Really kind. Because the not benigns hate that. And more importantly, because you, my dear, are worth it.

Postscript: I just learned my lymph nodes are completely clear and the margins around the mass they took are clean. All signs are that I’ll only need radiation but another test due back in two weeks will confirm. Suffice it to say, I am over the moon and thankful beyond measure.

 

Uncategorized

Drawing out your self

Before we were told to color between the lines, what did our art look like? I remember kindergarten and I got the tough teacher — was it Mrs. Timmons? When I told friends that morning at Trinity School which room I was in, they sighed shaking their heads relieved they hadn’t wound up in there. She assigned what felt like piles of homework that first week while the rest of my friends with easier teachers got to play outside until bedtime. The piles amounted to scribbling a picture of our family on a sheet of paper or determining a food we liked and getting our mom to help us write down its word, but still, it was homework.

Mornings we sat at rectangular tables with rounded corners coloring, with fresh crayons and beige ruled paper in the middle. Mrs. Timmons walked around the room, peering over our shoulders and inspecting our progress. As she circled the room, she reminded us to color between the lines, a simple methodic instruction that stuck, such that I never considered there could be another way.

She reminded us to color between the lines, a simple methodic instruction that stuck.

Self-expression made me nervous. I chose Halloween costumes from Elmore’s already boxed up and figured out, or I went as a ghost (simple sheet with cut outs), a witch (black cape, pointy hat, creepy mask) or cat (drawn on whiskers, headband with ears, black leotard and pinned on tail). I could qualify as a trick or treater eligible for as much candy as the next kid, but I didn’t have to build my character from scratch, hoping people “got” my costume. Because, horror of all horrors, what if they didn’t? I wanted to sail along house to house unnoticed, filling my pumpkin pail with Three Musketeers and Milky Ways. The goal was candy, the costume the ticket. All the attention on whether I measured up could ruin the fun and was an unnecessary distraction for the evening I’d anticipated all year. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was the only one measuring me.

Growing up, one of my good friends lived in-town near Peachtree Street, and on weekends I’d spend the night there and we’d sleep in, hanging out upstairs in her sunny bedroom. Her brothers often brought in their hamsters and we’d play with them and let them run loose, and they’d eventually wander off where no one could find them. They’d always turn up, though, and I know this only because I would ask.

Later, we’d make cookies, and if they happened to be out of chocolate chips, it would be sugar. Flour and crumbs dusted the counters and floors of their large sunny kitchen and, unlike at my house, no one seemed to notice. There was nothing wrong. Colorful art hung on the walls and leggy plants spilled over sunlit window sills. Her mom would come in and inspect our rows of cookies cooling (instead of our mess), sample one and rave, making us beam, and then move to the sunroom to open mail and read or paint. Hours later after we’d ridden bikes in the rain and gotten an ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, we’d come in soaking wet and trailing water, the kitchen mess still there, and remarkably, still producing zero stress for anyone. I learned years later that her mother was an artist, and I can still picture her in that sunroom seated before her easel and stacks of mail.

I’m fairly certain I was the only one measuring me.

Sometimes I feel like a beautiful songbird who wants to sing, but I’ve taken the liberty of taping my beak shut, eliminating my voice so no one can judge it. As a child, in the privacy of our den, I blasted my favorite albums, singing into my tall tapered candle microphone Marilyn McCoo’s Wedding Bell Blues or Barbra Streisand’s Queen Bee — and every other song on the A Star is Born soundtrack. Years later, I found the nerve to try out for a singing role in my school’s Academy Awards production, and stood weak-kneed in Westminster’s chorale room before Mr. Spence, who patiently waited at his piano for my cue. I nodded and it started, the unremarkable audition from the shy, shaky singer, nothing resembling that sparkling performer I seem to have left at home. I wanted to explain and get a redo, but I left as soon as it was over. I didn’t get the singing part, but they gave me instead the part of presenter, decked out in fancy clothes announcing nominees into a microphone, not the substantive, courageous role I was after.

Years later I wanted to try out for an acapella group with some Atlanta Botanical Garden carolers I’d seen at Christmas time. They were amazing and for me, far outshone the holiday lights. I wanted to join them then and there, and it was all I could do to not sidle up beside them, blend in and start singing, but my family had moved on to see more lights, so I hustled to catch up. Still smitten, I found them online and signed up for an audition, only to cancel when my cold morphed into a sinus infection, killing my high notes and my courage to try again.

After college, having worked a few years in admin and marketing, I was itching for more, for something creative. I applied to The Portfolio Center, an advertising school which, true to its name, required a portfolio to get in so you could then develop a real one. I savored the hours I spent creating mock ads, and much to my surprise and delight, I got in. A few months later, juggling full-time school, a full-time job and the full-time work of caring for my aging parents, I was overwhelmed and needed to drop something. I chose school before giving myself enough time to hone what I’d later realize was a budding talent. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned this: Don’t cut out the fun stuff, the things that get you thinking, the stuff that brings you to life. You’ve got a lifetime to handle responsibilities, but it’s your job to infuse your life with life.

If money or time or circumstances were no object, what would you do? I asked my niece this question and her answer surprised me. It turns out she loves making furniture, and her boyfriend has given her tools to support this hobby, and also she’s found a course to learn more. I could hear her excitement as she came alive describing what she loves, but less so when I asked about her day job. This question can reveal telling things if you ask yourself, especially if you move in that direction at whatever pace you can muster.

Don’t cut out the fun stuff, the things that get you thinking, the stuff that brings you to life.

What if I’d kept writing ads or singing or taking more risks? What if I started now? Why have I allowed hesitation and trepidation to be my guides instead of fascination and exhilaration? I’ve taken personality and career tests to uncover what I might be naturally good at or with which careers my interests align, and the results haven’t propelled me in any one direction. A test isn’t going to fire me up, but letting my curiosity wander and refusing to let anyone, myself included, stamp it out or push me back in between those damn lines, very well might. That time my friend’s mom spent in her sunroom, quietly reading or sitting or creating art, is sacred. It’s not finding the time, it’s making the time to slow down so you can notice new paths to explore.

Why have I allowed hesitation and trepidation to be my guides instead of fascination and exhilaration?

I haven’t spent nearly enough time looking and listening and far too much of it coloring inside the lines, creating very little. I do still have a couple of clay pots I made in high school, and one of them cracked in the kiln from that day I forgot to wrap it. Other than it’s ruddy glaze, I think that mistake is what I love best. I also made a beautifully shaped coil pot, and glazed it a cream color, painting its rim a pretty blue. Later I added Sharpie chevrons around its edge, a junior high school choice I wouldn’t repeat today, but I love that 8th grade girl trying something, marker chevrons and all.

It’s not finding, it’s making the time to slow down and notice new paths to explore.

It’s not the mess, it’s the exploration. It’s not the mistake of coloring outside the lines, but trying to play with colors in the first place, and seeing what happens. Because something always happens. We can either encourage it or we can suppress it, but if we accept the rules as the Rule, we can’t expect to discover something new about ourselves, our world and even more important, what we might be capable of. If the mess distracts or derails us, we are completely missing the point. Lift the brakes, sing, dance, paint, let it out. Because that song? It’s gonna be sweet.

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Atlanta, Love

Cause for celebrating

IMG_4394We’re both ’63 babies growing up in Atlanta. He and I both recall riding south down Peachtree Street in the ’70s, rounding the corner at Brookwood Station and passing the TraveLodge sign on the left, the one with the bear in a stocking cap holding a candle, its shared “L” to a child reading Trave Lodge vs. the intended Travel Lodge. It was probably a Sunday morning that our respective cars would climb the hill toward Pershing Point, he, many Sundays bound for Sacred Heart in his family’s International Travelall, and me, every Sunday on my way to St. Luke’s in our wood-paneled Country Squire. We realized our paths likely crossed again in Athens in the ‘80s when we were both at Legion Field for an REM concert, arguably one of their best.

His favorite color is purple and mine is yellow. We’re opposites on the color wheel and in other ways, too. My chatty ENFP-ness interrupts his logical INTJ down time, pulling him out of his own head, nudging him to connect. I think we fill in each other, and after all these years, hopefully better understand the intricate mechanics of boundaries and balance and belonging. Or at least by now, we know what we don’t know, and want to know more.

Opposites attract yet do their share of repelling too. We finish each other’s sentences, exchange a knowing glance across a room, and tell funny stories from our braided outlooks, but we also bicker about stupid things, vying for control. We look out for each other, though. He maps out my routes without asking, and I issue egg alerts when dining at friends’ has him fork to mouth about to discover what’s lurking in his potato salad. And in loads of other ways, too. We run late or very occasionally arrive at our version of early, which most would regard as being on time.

He likes his bedsheets untucked, his feet kicking them loose, and I prefer cozy and tucked in — give me a crisp hospital corner, even better. I joke he’s a Belgian beer and IPA snob, and he pokes fun at my occasional cold Bud in a can, in honor of my dad, who he sometimes reminds me of. He lotions his feet at night and I do my hands. We share two houses, two kids, two cats and one dog, and endless logistics. We share a life that can be full and frustrating, fractured and fascinating. He’s the velvety Chianti to my sparkly Prosecco. He’s my then and my now. He’s my love, he’s my vow.  Cheers to October 1, and to our 25th anniversary.

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connection, hope, loss, Uncategorized

9/11

IMG_4356The day is done. I woke up early this morning and went outside and saw the start of a murky sunrise, a smeared light-polluted attempt at dawn. Bats circled overhead and a nearby train whistle sounded, as a few jets criss-crossed the sky. It’s September 11th  again, a day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows, a day so many shared but now wished hadn’t come at all.

Eighteen years ago and four months pregnant with my second son, I had a busy career and on this particular morning, a meeting with an important TBS creative director. The Techwood Drive office lobby was bustling as I stood waiting, staring up at multiple TV monitors. One news clip showed tall towers in Chicago – Hancock and Sears – with a breaking news ticker scrolling along the bottom. Nervous enough about this meeting I’d worked months to get, what on earth was happening in my sister’s city? With no time to learn the relevance of the story on various steel towers’ breaking points under the duress of heat, I was called in and began my spiel presenting our portfolio of logos and brochures, annual reports and point of sale. The TV was on in his office, like everywhere in the building, and I noticed him pulled into the screen as I was, both of us realizing something enormous was unfolding. There was a knock on his door and a female colleague said people were asking if they should go home. He motioned yes but said he’d be getting with her in just a minute. Horrified and now with the sound turned up, we looked at each other unable to speak, and I started to pack up when he directed me to continue. I tried for a moment, but it felt terribly wrong, clamoring for business here, now a ridiculous idea with the relentless evil that was surrounding us, taking over.

A day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows.

Petrified driving home, radio on with accounts of planes crashing and towers falling, I was concerned more still was ahead. Atlanta of course would be next on this random hit list, and I worried my route home on Dekalb Avenue was a mine field. What kind of monster was this new world that my innocent baby would soon join? No streets felt safe, but somehow, I got myself home to my toddler and husband, quickly getting inside, shutting the door behind me. The next day as if on autopilot, I drove to Sak’s to find a bathrobe, and left with something beautiful, a soft charcoal grey with a scalloped shawl collar. How bizarre and inappropriate to be shopping the day after, but I must have needed this soft wrap to envelop my baby and me, a cocoon to be safe inside. It would be years before I could part with this safety blanket, and only then when it began to noticeably fray did I finally.

Everyone remembers where they were that day as clearly if it were last week, yet I know my story isn’t unique. Our own memories combine with the reel of news broadcasts and over the years they weave a changing mix of sadness and strength and hope we carry forward. If our thoughts of this day fill us with fear and sadness, can you imagine what it’s like for the families of the thousands lost? It must be an unfathomable deeply private and personal layer to wrestle with, on a day that is forever public, the mourning of that morning we together share.

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Son #1, in New York

My older son, at the time not even two, now lives in New York. I imagine the makeshift memorials, the candles, the music and memories, and wonder if he notices, his head full of school work and subway schedules and college sophomore stuff. The younger son I carried that day is himself headed to college in a year, and for them both, 9/11 is something they didn’t feel but rather grew up knowing about, from us, their parents, and even learned a little in school in APUSH class, studying the United States’ response to 9/11.

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Son #2, senior proof

 

 

When we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum years ago, I worried about how this sensitive topic would be treated and hoped there wouldn’t be any hint of commercial flavor to this ticketed experience. When we arrived, we immediately felt the striking architecture, bold yet sensitive, and found the way finding minimal and helpful. If you could somehow gather every burnt, broken and twisted artifact left behind to tell the story of this unprecedented tragedy, this museum had done just that. Every detail, display, recorded voice, everything down to the varied lighting installed on different floors created a serene silent scene, and carefully, respectfully led you through that long dark day. Our tour docent spoke in a measured voice and presented a vivid account of this monstrous attack on US soil. Afterward, I thanked her for providing such detail that made it almost seem as if she herself had been there. She paused a moment, and then softly replied, “I was.” Tears rushed into my eyes and knowingly, she put her arm around me, comforting me, the New York tourist and she, the one who’d made it out of hell. I leaned into her for a moment, full on crying now, and then left to go outside in the sun.

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Edgar Woody, pictured with a bourbon (and his dry humor)

My own September 11 started ten years earlier in 1991, the day my father died, so this day holds something additional. This year, I’m realizing, marks the halfway point. I was 28 then and now at 56, I’ve lived as many years without him as I have with. It doesn’t intensify the loss or anything, but interesting for me to realize nonetheless.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: you’re here today, so keep going, keep building, keep learning and loving. Stay in touch with people and make plans. There’s lots still to do.

I leave you with a timeless poem published in 1844 and sounds from the memorial bell tower erected a year ago in Shanksville, PA.

Peace and love.

 

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The Day Is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start:
Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

 -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8zVVmetepE

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