“Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.”
Last week, I took seven days off of everything to help my mother through her first chemo treatment—or, as they say in Hawaii, her first date with “my friend Kimo.”
It was my first experience as witness to chemo. I imagine chemo looks the same anywhere, but here are my notes on Hawaiian Kimo. It’s all I’ve got to offer y’all this week, so take it or leave it, babies.
Should one travel to Hawaii for something un-fun, small talk on the plane becomes more awkward than usual. “Are you going home or on vacation?” asked the nice man next to me as he sipped on his Mai Tai. “Neither. Well, both. Well, neither,” I replied. Then I had to tell him the truth, which, turns out, from the look on his face, wasn’t really what he was after.
On the morning of Mom’s first date with Kimo, long before dawn, I watched a girl cross the parking lot below her condo, climb a fence, pluck a plumeria blossom from a tree and tuck it behind her ear. As she stepped lightly away into the darkness, somehow I was filled with the most delicate beginnings of hope.
A bit later on the morning, the most stunning, multilayered, salmon-pink-scarlet sunrise appeared on the horizon. I attempted to interpret this sunset as hope, too, but the detailed lecture I simultaneously absorbed about why I must immediately schedule a colonoscopy dampened my enthusiasm.
While we waited in the mauve-colored waiting room at the hospital, we were treated to the local news. “Home devoured by lava on the Big Island,” intoned the announcer. A rather ominous cloud descended on me. (Though lava, live, is rather pretty, even as it consumes valuable real estate.)
The blood on the floor of the Kimo room didn’t help, either.
The hospital food looked exotic—rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, gravy (plate lunch, ya); or sushi—but still managed, as does hospital food everywhere, to taste hideous.
The hospital staff ranged in race from Samoan to Philipino, hardly a haole (white person) in sight. Somehow, this diversity of faces brought the hope back again.
And speaking of hope, Obama’s favorite breakfast place from when he was a kid is now a boarded up spot in a strip mall, I was told as we drove past. Poor guy—and that, too.
When I held my mother’s hand as she met Kimo, it felt small and warm, like a seashell on the beach that I wouldn’t visit once all week.
When I finished watching chemicals drip for six hours in my mother’s veins, got her back to her place, and put her down for her nap, I collapsed by the pool under the most stunning plum-colored bougainvillea bush and a handful of palm trees wafting in the breeze. This, I realize, should have been pleasurable.
And yet it is true that taking care of one mother is easier than taking care of two small children and a husband.
When I called home, Chicken Noodle refused to talk to me. Chicken Little got on the phone only briefly, to say, “You are taking care of Grandma. I love you, now, bye!”
Love—Thank you, Little—love. Love is where the hope lives, and there is so very much of it, and that’s why everything is going to be okay. (And Obama probably has a new favorite breakfast spot, anyhow.)
When I got home, I tried to make Kimo into a funny blog post. I find that most of the time I can make just about anything into a funny blog post, and the process even helps make hard life stuff easier.
But I failed. Because Kimo isn’t funny. Kimo sucks. Even Kimo in Hawaii.
Stay tuned—next week, lost sense of humor rediscovered while wading through masses at the mall!
When I was young, Halloween was my very favorite holiday. No big surprise for a kid who was always yearning to be anyone but herself. Even if it was a fantasy, this was my one chance a year to be wilder, freer, happier, better.
The last few weeks have been pretty darned real, as was this Halloween night. No rock and roll fantasies this year. I felt exactly like myself.
This meant I wandered around after two gorgeous princesses, drinking a beer straight from the bottle in the middle of street with no shame whatsoever, wearing a fresh pair of Rod Lavers, an oversized witch hat and some cherry chapstick.
With me were some of my very favorite people in the whole world and a pig on a leash. Iron Man was there, too, masked and ready to protect us all. He ran with the frilly girls from house to house and only once asked the Spanish Dancer if maybe she would touch the giant spider first.
There was camaraderie and laughter and love. For at least one brief moment late in the dark and starry evening, the whole world sat centered in the palm of perfection.
Right about then, The Pumpkin Princess climbed on my back, tucked her cheek into the nape of my neck and said, “I love you, Mommy.”
Why would I want to be anyone else?
For all the thematic tension I managed to milk from my looming 40th birthday in the course of this blog, as it actually loomed large, I barely mentioned it.
(Can anyone say denial?)
Well, anyway, it was yesterday.
Tra la la!
As for how it feels and all of that, I will only say, you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? You may ask yourself, am I right or am I wrong? You may ask yourself, how do I work this? And the days go by…
A couple of weeks ago while I was tutoring at the college, my blood sugar crashed. I emptied my wallet of quarters and headed for the vending machine, wondering if I would find any sugar-free, protein-laden options.
Yay—Smokehouse almonds. $1.25. I plunked my five quarters in and watched the little metal corkscrew arm make its slow rotation…and then stop. My almonds dangled there, caught on their own packaging. Then, strangely, a nickel dropped into the coin return.
I gazed at it in my palm for a moment, wondering what the heck I was supposed to do with it. Was five cents the returnable deposit on my risk? And how was it that I hadn’t realized that I was taking a risk in the first place?
Stubbornly, I went back to my bag and got more coins. I didn’t really want to pay $2.50 for almonds, but if I don’t eat, it’s possible that I’ll suddenly begin to stab my students with their own writing utensils. In went another $1.25 in quarters. This time, the twisty arm rotated, making its low whir, and two bags of almonds dropped to the bin.
Out of curiosity, I pressed the “coin return” button, and received two dimes and a nickel.
I scooped up my loot and headed back to my post, unable to shake the feeling that the whole experience was metaphorical somehow. Sometimes the world withholds your almonds. You do what you’ve been asked to do and get jack in return. Sometimes you get unexplained gifts that you’re not sure even you understand. Other times you get everything you’ve asked for and much more. And sometimes, you just get caught on your own packaging.
Vending machine as karma.
This week, the almonds are good and stuck. But I am waiting for the coins. I know they’re coming, sooner or later.
Today is the seventh anniversary of the birth and death of my first child. There was a time when I thought it would get easier each year. Now I think, it doesn’t.
First comes a frantic stemming of the tide. But it comes anyway—a massive tidal wave of grief. I cry for days. I mean, really, why not?
One of the most challenging aspects of this whole affair (yes, there are many) has been the inherent loneliness that comes with being the bearer of something so miserable that most people won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. From the get-go, the edges and depths of this experience were something only a few of my contemporaries even tried to comprehend, let alone address. I can count on one-and-a-half hands those who have really gone there with me in seven years, and several of them are bound to me by blood, married to me, or I had to pay.
Perhaps the death of a baby is just one of those life-situations irrevocably fraught with peril. I’ve always known that everyone did what they were able. But that didn’t make it any less lonely.
One silver lining of this whole affair (yes, there are many) is my chickens. Not just their blessed existence, of course, but their reaction to this day. I always intended for our family history to be something that was out in the open for them—not overly dramatic, but truthful. So once a year we go to the cemetery to visit the brother they never knew. And each year, I am surprised and delighted by the ways that Noodle and Little transform the experience for us all.
Last weekend, Chicken Noodle began the planning. “What will we bring to him? Ooo—candy,” she moaned, like it was crack cocaine.
“How about a bouquet?” said Chicken Little, who is three and prides herself on her growing vocabulary.
“Candy,” sighed Noodle, still lost in an imaginary-sugar-induced fantasy.
“Candy,” agreed Little with a reverent whisper.
“No, I know,” said Noodle, who is five and has to have the last word, even if it means trumping her own idea. “We’ll bake him a cake. But we’ll eat it! At his cemetery! And we’ll leave him one piece right there by his name. And we’ll put heart candles on it! And we’ll sing”—she broke into a warbling tune—“’Happy birthday, lovey boy!’”
All I’ve wanted was for someone to validate his existence, honor my pain, love me there, and make me laugh. I could never have guessed that it would be my own children who would do this the very best of all.
Off to bake a cake…
Anyone heard of angel cards? They are a product of the woo-woo culture, a novelty I’ve kept by my bedside since college (which was a long time ago, btw). Like a deck of cards, you draw one to take as your daily inspiration. They each read one word—Strength, Healing, Purpose etc.
I don’t pay the angels much mind anymore, except to poke fun at Captain Daddy when he’s grumpy. Nothing like selecting a card reading “Peace” and thrusting it under your over-stimulated spouse’s nose to drive him completely off the dock. And sometimes I use them as bookmarks. And sometimes the chickens use them as confetti, as in, to throw a ticker tape parade for their Groovy Girls.
Anyway, I was at Powell’s Books on Sunday selling off some old reading material. The clerk pulled an angel card from the pages of “Blindness,” a book I started like eight years ago and never finished. (I thought it was depressing and unforgivably bleak, but what do I know, they made it into a movie last year). The card read “Freedom.”
“Thanks,” I said to the clerk, smiling. I felt downright gifted with my own personal allotment of freedom. So that’s where it’s been. I stuck it in my back pocket and went on my merry way.
Flash-forward to yesterday, when I pulled clean laundry from the dryer and discovered the shredded remnants of “Freedom,” washed to destruction before I could even enjoy its blissful sweetness. Drat.
I had quite the little self-pitying episode there in my laundry room, mourning the freedom I’d have to live my entire life without (as well as my inability to master the art of laundry), before truth smacked me in the head. Duh. You don’t need a small inspirational card in hand to stake claim on a little freedom, or any other longed-for life state, for that matter. These things are yours for the taking. Don’t you get it yet? Make them yours, for God’s sake. You’re almost forty. It’s about time.
It has been said that all fear is fear of death.
I’ve managed to get my head around the fact that all negative emotions are fear. Envy is fear. Anger is fear. Anxiety is fear.
But I hadn’t gotten my head around all fear being fear of death until I came to live with a kid obsessed with death.
Two weeks ago: after a half-hour lost to the ephemeral delights of Screaming Flailing Crazyland on account of who-remembers-what transition, probably that it was time to go to gymnastics, I finally cornered Noodle, gave her a fierce hug, got down in her face, and said gently, “I know you have a hard time when things change when you aren’t ready for them to change.”
Her face crumpled. “I don’t want to grow up! I don’t want to die! I want to be five forever!”
Whoa, dude. And I thought I was existential.
Yesterday, on the way to swimming lessons, apropos of nothing: “Is everybody going to die, the whole world, everybody?”
I’ve learned to just cut to the chase. “Yes.”
“But that’s sad! I don’t want to die.”
“You aren’t going to die for a long, long time.”
“But, actually,” she brightly reconsidered, “ I want to try die, like, die for a minute and come alive again.”
“Well, sweetie, it doesn’t work that way.”
“Why not? I want to. Then I would know what it would be like, you know, for later.”
Before I could respond to this (who knows how) we arrived at our destination (“Land Ho!” hollered Chicken Little) and I was off the hook until next time.
Surely, if not before then, in May, when her brother’s birth/deathday rolls around. Unsurprisingly, Noodle thinks his cemetery plot is the most fascinating place on earth (“Is he really in there?”).
She recently told her entire preschool class about the cemetery (“We go and visit him at the place where all people go to die”) and her brother (“he lives there, but not really lives, because he’s dead”) with an enthusiasm akin to if he were, say, a newly acquired guinea pig.
To Noodle, the whole dead-sibling thing is like, seriously cool.
It’s given me a totally refreshing take on that particular situation, I must say.
Santa stopped by the chickens’ preschool the other day. Very kind of him to go out of his way like that. Just like Santa to make sure that even the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daycare kids whose parents don’t have time to go to the grocery store let alone the mall where Santa normally hangs got to see him this year.
But there he sat, alone in the corner. No kids anywhere near him, his cutie-pie elf, or his pile ‘o candy canes. It’s his season, but Santa looked a little forlorn.
A parent arrived to pick up his child. “Gavin doesn’t want to sit on Santa’s lap,” said a teacher apologetically.
“Oh, noooo,” said Gavin’s father, widening his eyes. “Santa brings the heat. Santa’s got power.” He waved his fingers around and quivered all over, as if Santa were Voldemort, or Idi Amin.
Chicken Little was terrified of Santa until this year (that’s her in the picture, three years ago). She needed a little coaxing the other night, but she hopped on his lap eventually. Probably helped that her baby sis walked right up to Santa and said, “Hi. I want a Rainbow Fairy for Christmas. Can I have a candy cane?”
That kid has no fear.
Some of us never get over our fear of Santa’s power. We cower at the sight of “December” on the calendar, require several dozen cocktails and a few sleeping pills to survive the holidays, and still emerge feeling like we’ve spent a month in a blender.
But isn’t Santa’s power a benevolent one? Sure, he’s kind of overwhelming in that big fuzzy suit. It’s a little freakish that you can’t see his face under all that cotton-ball facial hair. But I think Santa really wants to share his superhuman energy with us all. He doesn’t care how old we are. He does ask that we be nice instead of naughty. But then he’s like—here, take this pile of toys I just whipped up with my magic powers and be off with you. Go be happy. Live strong. Kick some holiday-blues booty. See you next year.
I personally could use some heat right about now—literally and figuratively. I want to be like Chicken Little, to walk right up to Santa (metaphorically) and tell him exactly what I want. I want to soak up Santa’s mojo.
“Santa,” I’ll say, “I’d like to harness your incredible power to finish this book with strength and finesse. I’d also like a trip to Hawaii. Five days spent with family this week without anyone snapping at each other or bursting into tears would be nice, too.
Right on, Santa. Thanks for spreading the heat. You ‘da man. And a big shout-out to the missus, eh?”