I’m baking cookies, fulfilling two orders I just picked up. My Spotify’s Quiet Songs playlist is rumbling in the background with Paul Simon’s April Come She Will, Dawes’ Nothing is Wrong, and more ahead.
Sitting at the table between batches and a CNN alert hit my phone with the headlines: Two Officers Wounded at US Capitol Attack, and a little later, Gunman Killed at US Capitol Attack, and now, 1 Officer Killed, 1 Wounded, Attacker Dead at US Capitol. Three mass shootings in less than a month, and now this, another Capitol attack.
Earlier today I learned my old neighbor’s sweet daughter, all of 21 years, passed away. My kids grew up with her right across the street from our house, swimming in her pool (she was an expert swimmer from early on) and hanging out while the parents drank wine and talked of future neighborhood fun for the kids — pumpkin carving parties, pool parties, parties for no reason at all. A heart attack and two strokes slipped her into a coma and then a few days ago into an untimely death.
It’s a sunny day here, a nice break from all the rain of late, and I’ve been thinking of all the tears shed already this month, already this year, last year and the one before, wondering if you collected them all in a big bucket what a shiny reflection today’s sun would cast. My mind is stuck on the enormous swath of people left behind wrestling with it all, trying to sort it out, slipping into the past remembering, and fast forwarding through the pain of the present in an attempt to carve out some semblance of a future, now with a gaping hole at its center. Wives, parents, sisters and friends, all left behind in this bizarre Covid-spiked world to keep going. But there is hope. There is always hope. We have vaccines way ahead of schedule and I like to imagine grandparents hugging their kids and grandchildren after this long year of isolation. What a pure delight that costs nothing. We all crave these kind of things but some of us don’t seem to find them.
I feel like I am supposed to be learning important nuggets from this set of years. I am supposed to come out the other side that much stronger, wiser, grateful for what I have, but instead I feel sad for it all. The Asian community and the hate they’ve experienced, the families of gun violence who get to relive their pain after yet another mass shooting, and the ongoing trial over George Floyd’s death. I watched witnesses walk up to the stand and after just a few questions, break into full on sobs, flooded back to that moment, the moment when you desperately want to help but you are pushed aside, forced to feel the avoidable horrific struggle spiral beyond control. 2021 was supposed to bring with it an enormous relief.
I am appalled and ashamed of these people behaving badly and disheartened that we still haven’t seemed to learn anything. Where are the gun laws that will protect these innocent people and spare their families so much pain? I don’t see the progress I need to see. Instead I see people laughing at our First Lady who didn’t pronounce “Si se puede” right. I see bullies and social media flexing its muscle for all the wrong reasons.
The cookies are cooling now, and there is India Arie’s I Am Light swirling through the kitchen.
I am not the mistakes that I have made, I am not the pieces of the dream I left behind, I am not the color of my eyes, I am not the skin on the outside, I am not my age, I am not my race
My soul inside
I am a star, a piece of it all
I am light
And next, Ruth B’s Slow Fade offers up its own wisdom:
The light has disappeared the dust has settled here. Was it always like this, cause now it’s always like this?
I’m not sure what the rest of this year has in store, but I am thinking we all have to find some light, harness it, be it.
Be well, find some sun, and if you’re vaccinated, go hug someone who could use it.
I went in August 24 for a diagnostic mammogram. My radiologist suggested I go ahead and get one instead of waiting until October as my gynecologist planned. The mammogram at this hospital presented stark differences. The robes you change into aren’t a screaming, Pepto-Bismol pink, but a white soft cottony waffle weave accented with subtle thin pink piping. They’re stacked neatly waiting on you in a warming box. Divine. Here I found few deep Southern accents, but more Brooklyn, and simple pastel beach scenes or botanical wall art; you’re not coddled as much either, which surprisingly I liked. Besides, the last place brought bad news, and I am so over bad news, so I needed a new place.
When you’ve had what I’ve had (yes, I now get to check the “history of breast cancer” box), for future mammograms, instead of going home to wait on your letter in the mail, your results are on-the-spot. It was a long wait, and after looking each other up and down for a few minutes, a woman across from me and I eventually broke our masked silence with a “What are you in for?” dialogue. Me: “I’m Stage II, 100% ER positive, post lumpectomy, chemo and radiation.” You? “I’m triple negative.” Even though no one in our predicament can determine exactly how we ended up here, we each tried our best to reveal what might have contributed, with a Forgive me for I have sinned confessional to each other. She: “I used to eat ice cream every single night.” Me: “I’ve stopped red meat and now only occasionally enjoy a glass of wine.”
A nurse calls her, and she gets up to go hear her results. Next a man, I presume the radiologist, got me for mine. Immediately I assumed since I got the doctor, the news seemed more complicated, and complicated could spell trouble. We went to a room that was far too nice for doling out good results. He made small talk before he dove in, admitting if he didn’t know better, that I’d had a lumpectomy, my scans might have raised a red flag. Lots of them as it’s a mess in there. Not his words exactly, but with all the pins, scar tissue and density obscuring things, he seemed exhausted from wading through the scans, as if he’d just returned from war.
I knew my left breast was a mess when back in 2000 I began breast feeding my first baby. I knew there was milk in there but, damn, quite the struggle to get it out! Always a poor producer and the plumbing seemed faulty every time I pumped or breast fed my babies. But you have to get it out of there or you’ve got a painful situation on your hands! After his initial comments about such chaotic density, the radiologist said everything looks fine. Gosh, did we really need to sit in that private room for all this? I got up and left, happy to dodge this scare. The woman who’d led me to the dressing room asked a man at the checkout desk to schedule an MRI. I asked why an MRI, since my mammogram was fine, and she mumbled something about high risk. Wait, me? I ignored my confusion and instead requested the first available appointment and to get on the cancellation list. I snagged the only one they had, four days later at 6:45am.
I had an MRI before back when all this breast drama started up in November of 2019, but experiencing how particularly thorough this new place was gave me a reassuring level of comfort, that this hospital is sparing no detail, turning over every stone so I’ll continue to turn up “normal.” Friday came and I was up at 5 to leave by 6. It was quiet in the lobby except for a few patients waiting for their own scans. Wonder what they’re in for? Since MRIs are loud, you get headphones and your choice of music. I went for my old standby, classical. No sooner did they slide the headphones on than Pachelbel’s Canon in D began. Always floods me back to my twilight wedding, walking down that beautiful outdoor aisle passing smiling friends and luminaries along my way. The technicians worked efficiently, and I was heading home in 45 minutes.
Busy in my kitchen later that afternoon, I got a call from my radiation oncologist. She asked, had the radiologist already called me? Uh oh, I’ve heard this kind of call before. Cut to the chase please, I thought impatiently. “Ms. Greco, the radiologist saw some areas of concern on your MRI and wants to schedule a biopsy.” First off, my brain is screaming, area(s) PLURAL?You have got to be &#$@-ing kidding me?! And then it moves on to the OF CONCERN part, concerning it its own right. I had noticed a little pea sized nodule during my daily breast massage but assumed it was just knots left behind from surgery and radiation. After radiation ended in April, the radiologist had suggested I daily massage the tissue to keep it from forming too much scar tissue, which I’ve done.
Alas, this was no dream and I was told they’d be calling soon to schedule my return for another MRI + biopsy + mammogram. Great way to start the long weekend. Ugh. I got scheduled for that following Friday, a 7am appointment, with arrival at 6:30. Another early morning, but nothing like getting it out of the way.
Thankfully between our house renovation and chats and visits with my boys and my own endless internet research on breast nodules four months post radiation, fat necrosis, and any other topic which resembled my situation, the week ticked along fairly quickly.
Up early again for the MRI and arrived to find another handful of people socially distanced in the waiting room. I got registered, my hospital bracelet, etc. and was escorted to the dressing room. As with the previous MRI, I had an IV inserted in my arm so they could inject a contrast dye, which improves image quality. I got my choice of music again and this time I thought, let’s change it up. I asked for something calming but not classical, and the nurse suggested nature sounds, so nature sounds it was.
My nature music started with water sounds and soon my brain went to our recent plumbing situation with camellia roots wrapped around our pipes and toilet and adjacent tub filling with water. After the plumbing fiasco (which we resolved) I moved on to stiller waters and imagined my sister and me canoeing on Lake Lanier, like we did as teenagers. Our oars cut the glassy water as we maneuvered into coves, the mature adventurers we were, now out of view from our parents we’d left behind on our sailboat docked in its slip. As I lay masked on my stomach, the doctors slid me in and out of this machine, instructing me over and over to stay completely still. I’m guessing they felt they must repeat the instruction given how much I talked at the outset, thinking surely this motor mouth wouldn’t put a lid on it and stop moving in order for them to get their work done. But as the kind nurse told me afterwards, I was a real trooper. It must have been nearly an hour that I was on that table and somehow, I didn’t move at all.
After my water music segued into crickets and other summer night insects, I noticed a little half moon shaped light below near the floor or maybe on the table I was on. It looked like the Morton salt girl’s umbrella, complete with curved J shape below for its handle. As I was wheeled in and out of this machine never knowing when they’d move it out or back in, I was reminded of one of my favorite Six Flags rides, Mo Mo the monster, when the guy working the ride spun me around extra times since I was the birthday girl. I decided getting zoomed in and out of this machine was instead a fun ride, plus I had the benefit of summer bugs and the Morton salt girl for company.
Once the biopsy began, the nice nurse – the one who gave me the warm robe and told me I was a trooper — began holding my hand. I remember when a nurse at an earlier biopsy last year began lovingly stroking my calves. This nurse held on to my hands and I realized how good that felt, especially these days when we don’t get to hug anyone except those we live with. I needed that touch so badly and while my left hand was holding on to the emergency ball they give you to squeeze in case you need them to stop, I found a few fingers on my left hand joining her hand with my right to communicate an extra, this is so nice and I feel loved, message. Because I had been numbed, I didn’t feel them jostling and twisting to get this suspicious mass during this core needle biopsy, yet I could tell it wasn’t simply a pulling on a syringe but a turning motion as if wrangling a cork out with a corkscrew. Weeee! I got wheeled back in again and more loud MRI knocking noises harmonized with the summer bug sounds, and I was back out. A final jostling to insert a pin, another marker to light the way for the next person doing my scan, and in and out several more times, and it was done.
Next on the menu was a mammogram. Freshly bandaged, I was promised this mammogram was of the gentle variety. Having not had one since my initial diagnosis in November (and since subsequent surgery and radiation), I didn’t realize how much it was going to hurt since the former surgical site was terribly tender. Picture your ear lobe after you pierce it, forever left with a knot. My knot hurt getting flattened onto the machine, especially fresh from the biopsy. As I was pressed into a pancake again, the blood started coming, smearing the glass. My wandering mind went to a hilarious sketch years ago with Dan Aykroyd channeling Julia Child boning a chicken, blood spurting up and down onto the bird. Instead of high-pitched Julia gasps, this technician was calm and simply wiped it away. But my poor breast, how much more was it going to endure? A few more images from a few more angles and I was left to wait while she met with the doctor down the hall. She returned with news he was pleased with the images, and off I went to check out.
The nice nurse who’d held my hand handed me off to a gentleman at the exit desk, telling him I’d had a biopsy. He couldn’t hear her, so he whispered, as if trying to simply mouthe it, “She had a b i o p s y ?” lest the folks in the waiting area learn my situation. I felt this strange cloud of shame and sadness waft over me. He told me in a quiet sympathetic voice to enjoy the holiday weekend. I uttered a “You, too,” and got the hell out of there. Once home I had to take it easy which for most people means lie in bed and rest. I had to realize that paperwork, dishes, laundry and dog walks could wait and that I could actually lie in bed and rest, which is exactly what I did, icing the area 15 minutes every hour on the hour until bedtime. The biopsy site stung so that kept me still and thankfully my 13-year-old dog was content to stay put on the kitchen floor, slinking in and out of sleep.
The doctors told me I’d hear results by Tuesday or Wednesday, and it was an interminable five days. Wednesday came and went and nothing. I had decided it’s ludicrous that I would be the one with that unfortunate case of a recurrence a mere four months post radiation. No matter the new diet, ridiculously slight alcohol intake, stepped up exercise, mine was an aggressive little bugger that could withstand chemo and radiation and emerge with a renewed, Please ma’am may I have another? annoying verve. My sister tried to convince me I’m not special that way. I felt a bit like a criminal, like I was being punished yet couldn’t understand my crime. I figured I had a 50/50 chance and felt like over the weekend they’d rustle up a public defender – a la My Cousin Vinny – and the next week hopefully I’d have some semblance of a case ready.
Now it’s today, Thursday, and I couldn’t stand the silent house any longer, so I left for the hardware store, where I tinker from time to time, just like my dad used to. I love it there because it’s small, there’s plenty of interesting merchandise, and people are ready to help you find what you need, answer any questions you might have (except the What do you think will come of my biopsy? variety). Found some flowers on clearance to replace my tired zinnias and was loading them in the car when the phone rang. An unknown exchange, certainly not my doctor’s office, but I answered it anyway. On the other end of the phone was a smiling Brenda’s voice, which exclaimed: “Hi Mrs. Greco, I have good news for you, as I know you’ve been waiting. We got your results in and it’s only scar tissue. So we won’t need to see you for six months.” I literally said, “God Bless You” and thanked her profusely. If you can hug through the phone, then that is what I did. It was heartfelt and I’m certain Brenda felt it. I love that Brenda.
MONDAY: I was texting with a friend who asked, “How’s your Monday been?” and I thought to myself, I could respond with an upbeat “Pretty good” or “Ok” or “Good, you?” or just cut to the chase. I chose the latter: “The damn cat woke me up last night with his throwing up.”
Louie had a long walk earlier in the yard with the boys, walks more about munching grass than walking on it. He over-indulged again, his system expelling the remarkably intact blades at a most inconvenient 2:45 am hour. The horrible sound of a cat bellowing as his body expands and contracts instantly wakes me and no doubt my husband too, yet we both lay there just like we used to with nighttime baby cries, waiting it out to see who’s going to get up. I rose quickly hoping to avoid it underfoot, whispering the mantra in my mind, “Please don’t go on the rug, please don’t go on the rug.” Thankfully the cat found a spot in the hall on the heart pine floor in plain sight which I could clean up before someone walked on it or the dog took care of it, the more vulgar of the two possibilities. I climbed back into bed trying to convince my mind that I hadn’t just disrupted our peaceful sleep when Louie continued droning for some two hours until he either gave up or I slipped back into sleep and lost track. Can’t determine how many hours I got, but the sum total was crappy sleep, which sends one’s brain, what’s left of it, into hopeless places.
Now up, I tried doubling up on coffee thinking I could snap out of it and feel awake, but that either works well and you’re wired much of the day accomplishing loads or it has the opposite effect, like melatonin got stirred in. I got the latter. Scrolling social media didn’t help support any semblance of a new-day can-do cheerful mood. More articles shared about college openings and mask wearing. It’s worrisome. Like many others, my son’s college is not requiring masks worn in classrooms despite professors rallying together revolting, some 700 signing a letter. Will our governor budge and put in this mandate that will trickle down to the University System and the individual schools? How long is it going to take? Some states have moved their mask wearing needle from “optional” to “suggested.” I guess we should be happy for small victories, but how about we hop over the “suggested” stepping stone and just land on “required?” Seems with this pandemic we’re going to have to get there anyway, so why the snail’s pace which allows so much sickness to take hold and pushes hospitals beyond their limits?
All this together time and some days stupid stuff grates on my nerves. I went to butter my toast and there was this. Who does this? My mother never let us maul our butter. We had to cut individual pats, put them on our plates and then it was our choice how to apply it to things more complicated than toast, like corn for instance: horizontally rotate the cob with buttered knife overhead or spear the butter and apply it to a diagonally rotating cob, hoping each kernel gets some before it melts onto the plate. I wanted us to be that family that rolled our corn onto a brand spankin’ new stick of butter, the contented cob twirling like a pig reveling in mud, and then watch the stick soften and mold into a sway back. But we never did it that way which is why it’s now unsettling to find diagonal hurried jabs disfiguring what was a perfectly fine stick of butter.
And the eggs too. No one’s fault here, but on a day when I’ve gotten little sleep, the carton needs to be symmetrically organized or else I’m finding my brain resorts to arrive at a workable configuration, and when no possibility presents, a plan for that surplus egg.
It may seem like we’re standing still but things are moving. The long-awaited lumber delivery happened so our porch renovation is closer still. After weeks, make that months of delay, Carolina Lumber came through and it made me so happy I could sing! Not sure if it all actually came from Carolina, but I went there in my mind. Enormous structural beams wait for when the larger-than-what-was-earlier-expected crew arrives to hoist them into place. Maybe even as soon as tomorrow!
The porch is going to be another place to go, delivering all the benefits of outside – sights, sounds and smells – with all the comforts of inside – no mosquitos, roof overhead, adjacent to the kitchen and bath. Not to mention the talented architect on-site who’s beautifully drawn it all and will ensure it gets built to its glorious specifications. The pets also will be in heaven.
More lumber, new and reclaimed, put to good use. May I present the bench that Evan made (with Joe’s design help). Sturdy for plants or people, and as it now stands, perfectly positioned for social distancing on our porch too.
TUESDAY: Some good news! As I’d wished for yesterday, mask wearing will now be required on our state’s college campuses. Seems jumping to “required” didn’t take as long as I thought. A seemingly simple step which will afford far better outcomes for students and faculty returning to campus. While I’m at it, I wish for good news in November’s election. Just putting it out there.
These days at home together may be different than what we’re used to, but they offer the same cast of characters and rather predictable if not comical commentary. Take tonight for instance. Joe walks in the kitchen as NBC Nightly News is interviewing an adjacent state to the south’s governor, and all he can do is lean into the TV, get the gist of the story, utter “douche bag” and walk away. This is where we are.
At least twice a week timed late in the afternoon, I reach for the phone and nearly pick up until – whoa! – don’t touch that handset! Please DT, don’t call me.
WEDNESDAY: Ben is busy making garments and new patterns arrive, and I can hear the hum of the sewing machine churning out a jacket, a turtleneck for his girlfriend or in the case of today, pants. Evan has been helping Joe make railings for the new screened porch and both boys are learning more about woodworking, captivated by possibilities. They’ve each dealt with these strange times with grace and patience and resilience and despite not being able to stray too far from this home we’re quarantined inside, they’ve managed to fill their days rotating through simple pastimes – biking, frisbee, wiffle ball – or taking a drive to the mountains, just the two of them.
Joe returned yesterday from the store, as if just in from a hunt, hauling the kill stuffed in white Publix bags over his shoulder – pork ribs and ground beef (and ground turkey thrown in for my sake). Somehow, we managed to rearrange the fridge and freezer again to fit it all – a favorable problem in these times.
A simple burger normally eaten alone for dinner or with some chips or carrots now needs to be elevated – maybe baked beans on the side, green salad with veggies and homemade dressing, and what about for dessert? We are all relying on something to look forward to, each equally vested in turning these monochromatic evenings into something colorful, and food is the logical start. The days ramp up to dinnertime and you hope it’s all you hoped for and then you digest and clean up and begin sketching out the next sit down.
At least once a week there’s an Amazon Prime truck parked in front of our house. I run to the door wondering, have my vitamins arrived? Or maybe its that cord I lost and reordered for my external hard drive? Ben rushes to the door too, considering his own package, has my zipper come? He’s been sewing and ordering fabrics and now is waiting on an Etsy zipper to complete a jacket he’s begun. It’s as if Santa’s sleigh is out front and those few minutes he spends sorting out packages nearly kills us as we wait and wonder. Surely, we were good this year, good enough for one of these to be ours?
I’ve stayed busy baking, perfecting various favorites of mine, even taste testing on a few friends. Maybe this little hobby will grow, and I can start another little business. Obviously we must eat if we’re going to live, but if we can infuse the experience with memorable taste and texture and depth and light, I think we’ve accomplished something important. The days can be hard, but the meals don’t have to be. They offer chances to unwind and savor something satisfying. Might as well make them extraordinary. I’m working on it.
Today at least has gotten more interesting. As I sat on my bed to write, I noticed my vision increasingly strange, my lens now a watery veil, with bubbly visual noise in the corners. This being a pandemic coupled with my recent health “thing,” I was on the phone with my oncologist and eye doctor immediately. Seems I had an ocular migraine. They tell me they’re not cause for worry, yet their origins aren’t completely understood. I had one ten years ago during a particularly stressful event, details I won’t bore you with. So is it stress? Very likely the culprit. I know discord, tumult, or too much uncertainty make me uncomfortable. I was that girl when overhearing her parents argue who would make them kiss and make up. They used to make my siblings and me do that, so I figured why not them too? Besides, I hated hearing them argue. Ultimately, they’d oblige and offer up a disgruntled peck on the cheek at best, and I always stood my ground until they did. They would go on to divorce. Damn.
Today we’ve got the perfect storm on our hands with all that’s going on in the world and in our own homes. Even though it changes by the hour, consistently the news hasn’t been good. I feel scared leaving my bubble, and so like others, I rarely do. I’ve heard friends announce before that they can’t watch the news, but I’ve been fine with it on all these many years. However these days I think it is finally getting to me and manifesting on a physical level, as with today’s migraine. I realize good nutrition, exercise and rest have absolutely got to remain in place but a little more fun needs to find its way in, too. On the peace-of-mind upside, as with colleges and universities, Atlanta will soon have a required mask mandate in place. That’s a start.
Despite its continued efforts, my brain can’t wrap itself around the layer upon layer of difficulties in our world that you can never fully unwrap. It almost seems shallow tackling insignificant household minutiae when there’s this enormous elephant in the room trying with all its might to get out, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Or a better analogy would be there’s a massive tornado, with a tail the likes of which you’ve never seen, and it’s coming to a neighborhood near you. Except when? Where? Have you battened down the hatches sufficiently? There is no perfect solution. Except there is that life-saving trifecta, our own part we each can and should do: Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands.
Finally, I asked my family to sum up in three words what living together during this pandemic has been like, and our different perspectives are interesting:
Susan: Togetherness, nourishing, unpredictable
Evan: Uncertainty, boredom, projects
Ben: Free time, productivity, relaxation
Joe: Surreal, enjoyable, virtual
(Stealing from Garrison Keillor)… Be well and keep in touch.