Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dusting off the Leisure Suit

The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals. ~ Madame De Stael

The indefatigable springtime bustle continues, though the passing of Memorial Day just yesterday--with its ceremonial, marathon yard sales, graduations, picnics, and parades heralding the unofficial start of summer--may have popped the bubble, ushering in the promise (and we all know that promises are meant to be broken) of a more languid pace amidst blank canvas days and the intentional cultivation of leisure. We Americans seem to like the idea of things more than the thing itself (case in point: waiting for hours to "enjoy" a mediocre sugarhouse breakfast that we could have gotten for half the price in half the time and actually enjoyed at our favorite local drive-through); the concept of Leisure is no exception. We talk a big game, wasting zillions on securing toys and games and trumped up diversions that echo someone else's idea of fun, only to end up with a dearth of unused vacation days and a mountain of neglected croquet sets and boogie boards in the basement. We seem to need a crash course in Leisure Studies, and learn properly, once and for all, how to take it easy every now and then. I'd be the first to sign up.

It's the Tuesday after the long holiday weekend, which proved to be a welcome respite from the to-and-fro methodical weekday grind. I was lucky enough to spend some time this weekend with family, immediate and extended, and be reminded of the importance of not only place in our lives, but the circles and scatterings of people that inhabit and breathe life into those spaces as well.

On Saturday morning, I slipped out of the house for the Farmer's Market in nearby Greenfield (the largest metropolis in Franklin County), where I was hoping to find some winter squash vegetable starts and heirloom tomato plants. Characteristically, I ran into dozens of familiar faces, bought some lovely pottery and four budding astilbe plants, snatched up the last loaf of delicious whole spelt, flax, sunflower bread (score!), communed with a sweet chocolate lab named Noodle, and fell headlong into deep, comfortable trenches of conversation with friends old and new--but did not find exactly what I was looking for. It didn't matter. Looping about the market, I was happy for the chance to be out and about, create my own pace, visit with good-hearted people, and participate in the age-old ritual of Market day, when people head out to buy what they need for the week from neighbors who grow and raise their own food close by and gather together with their goods for sale and barter so people don't have to drive forever or pay unsightly prices for food to be shipped from Chile, Argentina, California, China, all those millions of miles away. Low-carbon diet aside, it is pretty close to wonderful to know exactly where one's food comes from.

It's been good to get away from the usual entrapment of the Saturday domestic slog that threatens at times to undermine my more earnest attempts at extricating myself from this midlife rubble and live a little. A little, and a little more every day. One step at a time. In a few months, I may be ready to jump out of an airplane. But unearthing takes a while. For now, I'm content to find a bit more space and light to, ah, air out my tendrils, limbs, and locks, feel the wind start to fill my sails, and ready my rudder.

Saturday afternoon brought us to the Durfee Conservatory and Gardens, a curious and lovely spot of secluded calm on the otherwise frat house-raddled University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, which on this day was riddled with cars and foot traffic and campus cops parading as city blue. We had come to see my brother Will graduate from the University's landscape architecture undergraduate program--and to see the rest of the Gardner family--my other two brothers, Sam and Eli, my father and his new wife, Mimi, and my step-mother, Martha. After a morning of marketing, badminton and basketball, we had all polished up for the occasion. Luke and Dominick had washed their faces, combed their hair, and put on those sprightly button-down collared shirts that they used to have to wear every day to school, but that have now been relegated to the dark side of the closet in favor of the more comfortable, and decidedly more ratty, t-shirts. (No dress code in H.S. 385)

I tried to look presentable, though Luke informed me that I wasn't looking "very fancy." (I took that as a good thing). Fanciness aside, I have realized that what I am most self-conscious of these days are, you guessed it!, my girls, particularly when I am seeing people who have known me forever, are well-versed in what my girls usually look like, and who might balk at seeing the obvious ample-ness of my over-expanded girl-in-progress (I'd call her Gip but I do believe that no matter how eager I am to trade her in, she'll prove herself worthy in the end).

I've noticed that when I run into people who have heard about my breast cancer, their eyes invariably begin a Death Scan to see if I'm truly still alive--checking on my color (gray would be the pallor of the cancer survivor, right? wrong!), my posture, my aura, and then, once they've realized that I'm not scary-cancer-looking, their eyes travel right to my breasts. I can only imagine what kinds of misconceptions they might have about what's happening under my sweater--what the scar looks like, what an over-expanded, nippleless girl-in-progress looks like, and all the other reconstruction queries--and I can't say that I blame them. It is a curiosity, after all, and breast cancer--and all of its unimaginables--is something that most women wonder about while at the same time holding close to them in absolute terror. I know I did. But now, well, it's still frightening, of course, but not as, and given how familiar it is to me now, it has lost its edge, and loosened its malevolent grip of that unknown terror of which many of us don't dare to speak. Breast cancer is a bit like Lord Voldemort: we go about our days averting our eyes and speaking in hushed tones about "cancer," sometimes not daring to even articulate the actual word itself, as if the Breast Cancer Beast had become a She-who-must-not-be-named Dark Villianess trying to resurrect an evil resurgence with estrogen-fueled Death Eaters spreading their contemptible, predatory, prejudiced charm amongst unsuspecting Muggles like myself. I'd like to think that swirling about my inner warrior are shards of the ever-impressive Harry-Ron-Hermione trio that have enabled me to slay the BC Beast, but I know I've had a helluva lot of help--and I am grateful. Echoes of Dumbledore's Army, I suppose.

But here I am, talking about my breast cancer, dishing the scoop on my girls, and sharing things that might make some people uncomfortable (and still others simply nauseated), simply because I couldn't not talk about it, nor do it any other way. It is my hope, too, that by being candid about my experience I will engender a better understanding of a disease with which so many women have had to grab horns and do battle. Plus, it's been and continues to be a powerful way for me to demystify and disempower the cancer in my life, to deflate and defuse the terror while empowering myself instead, freeing my identity from the breast cancer victim/survivor stigma, and infusing the experience with a deeper acceptance of the ongoing, restless, willful fight for life--and the freedom to live without the constant fear that oft darkens the great caverns of soul and spirit.

Since I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me, because, after all, they'll just make me feel uncomfortable around me, I try to reassure them instantly that I am fine, that despite everything, I'm doing okay, really, that yes, my left girl is quite a bit bigger than my right, see, here she is, a bit unwieldy these days, but doing just fine. I make reference to my left girl at the start of the conversation, so they can gawk all they want, because, after all, here I am, inviting them to look and see and be okay with it all, as I point and grab and introduce my girls, This is Pamela Anderson, here on the left, and this one, this is Liz Gardner. Pamela leaves on the 17th. And I can hear the audible sigh...

I didn't have to worry, really, about how my family would take me in. I knew that they'd hug me, all of me, and not be overly delicate about it, and I was glad for it. But I had other things to think about. Here was my youngest brother, Will, graduating from college. How was that possible? Will was a baby when I graduated from college, entertaining us all with the kind of hilarious slapstick comedy routine that would land an eighteen-month old on youtube these days. This could only mean one thing: I am old. Shit.

It was great to see everyone--my brother Sam in from Boston, Eli in from San Fransisco, Will's girlfriend Ariel, and Dad, Mimi and Martha all in from Marblehead--though there wasn't nearly enough time to talk and get caught up properly. And we were all proud of Will, who looked ever the graduate in his black gown and perfectly visible tan line that his cap--and the morning's sun--had left on his forehead. (And Will had, just a few days before, jumped out of an airplane, inspiring me to actually think more seriously about doing it). We joked that it was too bad my mother hadn't been able to make it; what fun it would have been for Will to line everyone up and introduce his family to his friends and professors: "This is my father, his first wife, his second wife, and his third wife." (for those of you not familiar with our particular brand of family, my mother was my father's first wife, Will's, Sam's, and Eli's mother, Martha, was my father's second wife, and Mimi is his third wife. Sam, Eli and Will are my half-brothers, though my love for them is quite whole.)

On Sunday, we headed back Amherst way with my mother for a picnic at our cousins' place in Cushman, an annual get together that has become a much-anticipated day in our busy spring calendar. The house, like so many before it, with its lived in and loved charm, its palpable residue of spirited gatherings, good food, music, and fun, and its lovely gardens that evoke an industrious indolence in the best possible way, has become a place of comfort for me, where our Cousin Fay, husband Ed, and entire Kaynor family first welcomed us into the warm folds of their annual Memorial Day picnic several years ago, and reestablished Reed family bonds that have deepened over the years--and for which I am most grateful. Though Fay died a few years ago, I see her smile on the faces of her children and grandchildren, and feel her sweet, feisty, independent spirit and warmth all throughout the day, in the way they care for each other, for the house, and for their father Ed, who, at nearly 85, still amazes us with his own inspiring brand of moxie. But I miss her. And there's a touch of grandfather, too, my mother's father Carroll Reed, whose brother was Fay's father, in all of the Kaynor cousins--and when we are with them, I am reminded of everything I loved about him, and the way I felt when I was with him, that no matter what was going on, everything was going to be alright. I am reminded of the old family homes that once offered that sense of reassurance, and that now exist only in memory, with a bitter sense of loss jockeying for space with the resounding sense of history and family and good memories.

These days, I am acutely aware of when I am lucky enough to feel that everything is going to be alright, when the dark chill of fear and anxiety and uncertainty melts away and the day stretches before me, ripe and ready for the picking. Sunday was one such day. There was something about the way everything smelled, tasted, felt, sounded, and looked: the tickle of the tall grass against my shins, the upright rows of garlic, reaching their green scapes to the skies, the sizzle of the grill, the smell of the mint in my iced tea, the the grip of the frisbee and the whoosh as it left my hand, the flavors on my plate, on my tongue...(my childhood comfort zone is a full-fledged sensory experience). Any lingering troubles and a residual weariness from the week's woes, seemed to dissipate, and we could relax, fully, and enjoy the tidings of the day: brilliant sunshine, the perfect open field for frisbee and soccer (and cousins who are always game for such fun), delicious food (there's something about the sun-brewed iced tea in the ceramic pitchers with the fresh mint leaves bobbing about that takes me back), and the best part--the conversation and warmth that drew us in, encircled us and followed us back home, where that feeling of reassurance permeated the cantankerous corners and hung about for a time, smoothing over all the rough edges. I do wish it could be more often. It is a rare event to gather with family two days in a row--and two different families at that. It made me realize how little I've seen of family since my diagnosis, how much I miss them, and how thankful I am for all the families that dot my genetic landscape, and keep the cold at bay.

On Monday, while the boys played their endless games of badminton and basketball, alternating between the lush green of the lawn and the dry dust of the driveway, my mother and I drove about looking for flowers at a few of the local garden shops, and lost ourselves in the rows of salvia, bleeding hearts, and bee balm. Later, my mother helped me plant more lettuce, winter squash, and tomatoes in my garden (thank you, Mom!). With toes immersed in the soft earth of our vegetable garden, gently coaxing the weeds up and out of the beds, I filled a few more holes with heirloom tomato plants from our neighbor's venerable, verdant spot atop the hill across the street. By the afternoon, I was a sweaty tangle of sore muscles, my mother had fled to the quieter confines of her Williamstown home, Jim was nearly finished mowing the lawn, and the boys had collapsed on the couch in anticipation of the night's Celtics game.

And now, Tuesday has come and nearly gone. We had our first thunderstorms of the season today, and happily rushed about shutting windows, bringing in outdoor cushions, and making sure the dog, aquake (yes, I made up that word) with thunder-fear, was okay. I stepped out onto the deck to watch the storm roll in, with the wind and rain flipping and flattening the leaves, filling stray buckets, and soaking the grass and gardens in a sudden outpouring of boastful show. It didn't last nearly long enough, but had enough flash and dazzle for the sun to reappear like some powerful emperor of the sky and quickly dry the sodden, sparkling ground, and for the wind to whip in cooler, drier air that blew out the stuffy hot dredges of humidity that lurked and enveloped and threatened to spoil our sleep. There was something different about this day. It made me think of making Thundercake with the kids when they were younger, when we would race about as the skies darkened and try to make a chocolate cake before the lightning hit, listening to the thunder and counting, mixing in eggs and chocolate into the flour as the storm edged closer and closer. It made me long for the days when life, perhaps, was simpler, and when Thundercake could distract us from our worries and make everything alright, if but for an afternoon. Daisy could probably use a little thundercake these days...we all could.

A thunderstorm is God's way of saying you spend too much time in front of the computer. ~ anonymous.

Ok, I'm shutting down. Time for bed. (:-)) Sleep well.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Heirloom Happiness Seeds

No mockery in the world ever sounds to me as hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness...Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. ~ Charlotte Bronte

Perhaps its just because its Friday, the end of a long week, and Dominick has been sick in bed for much of it, and Luke in and out, and I've been dashing up and down the stairs and bedrooms between boys to refresh the throat coat tea, offer a bowl of berries (we are trying to expunge our freezer of all last summer's berries--straw, wild blue and rasp), insist that vitamins be taken, fluids be swilled down, teeth brushed, and I'm, well, tired out. It could be that I'm worried about my friend Lisa, who is recovering from her own breast cancer surgery, with a double mastectomy and the start of reconstruction that is reminding me that I am not quite done with my own, and I'm suddenly feeling unsure of everything. Maybe it was the long drive to and from Ludlow on Wednesday night for Luke's soccer game, where we parents huddled under umbrellas and wondered if the rain might turn to snow, or if thunderstorms--the only, and I mean only, impetus for either cancelling a game or ending it early--would send us home before nine, and I'm simply still recovering, since the game spilled into the twilight hours, and we all climbed into our beds stiff and weary that night. Or quite possibly, I can blame the Celtics for my fatigue, and all my outpouring of energy on their behalf, often late at night, when I should be sliding into slumberland and dreaming my wacky dreams, that has sapped me, leaving me spent and wondering where exactly I've put my vigor and vim...Anyone seen my energy? I seem to have lost it somewhere...

There's something about this time of year that hits most everyone with a smack and a swerve that leaves people feeling overwhelmed, and says, Look, you have a choice. Get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather, dirty your hands, till the earth, and commune with nature, or deny yourself those pleasures, and finish up the school year with a vengeance, attend every good weather event (and there are a gazillion), and be sure to Spring Clean your house as well. And let's not forget the unrelenting demands of your childrens' schedules--that inexorable combination of youth sports, school to-dos, final projects and program happenings that culminate this time of year in a frenzy that leaves most parents gasping for air. Striking a balance between some down time in the garden (and let's be real, here, planting a good-sized vegetable garden, re-edging and mulching your perennial gardens, and taking care of a decent sized piece of land doesn't always feel like "down time") and all the gas-powered hoopla requires some serious motivation and resolve--and careful planning, sacrifice, and astute adherence to a family philosophy of sorts that might include spending less time in the car (hurrah for that) and more time with each other, at home. But there is so much that is winding down this time of year, with send offs and grand finales and celebrations, and there is closure to be had on many fronts, and the draw to be a part of it all is so very strong. It is a difficult terrain indeed to navigate without getting lost every now and then.

Either I have the start of a fever or the Tamoxifen has graced me with an extended hot flash this morning.

At times, we keep our circles close around us, and at others, we gradually expand them to take in a broader view, air out our limbs, keep our minds, hearts, and eyes open. There are times, too, when our worlds are punctured by news from afar, and the effect is immediate and intense and deeply unsettling--and this spring has not been without the usual--though worsening--catastrophic events around the word. I think we often underestimate the influence of such major calamities on our little worlds half way around the planet--there is a soul-searing effect on all of us, and as we go about our days, we cannot help but feel as if something isn't quite right.

There are too many reasons to feel a bit off-kilter these days--however small and tidy our circles are. And we cannot deny the power of those natural cycles of time and energy created by earth and sky that our bodies know well, but that our intellect often fails to acknowledge. Call them subliminal effects, but they are there, and undeniably a huge part of our ancient wisdom and the sense of mystery in our universe, which keeps us all searching and wondering and trying to impart our answers on everybody else. I like the questions better than the answers.

Trouble is, I have so many. What changes do I make in my life so that the breast cancer (or any other cancer) does not return? How can I best carve out space and time for me in my life, when it feels so awfully crowded with taking care of others? Is it okay to be selfish? (actually, I am sitting here writing this and feeling very selfish indeed, as my kids listen to books on tape in their bedrooms...) And what, exactly, does that mean anyway? How do I best care for my family and myself at the same time? How do I become unstuck and unblocked, find my courage, and jump into the river, become the river, flow assuredly, and know exactly where to go? And those, of course, are questions that inhabit my closest circles. Bring out the edges a little, and the questions start multiplying.

As ever, I am grateful for all the free therapy I have received from so many of you out there. I am trying to "let the world take care of me for a little while," but that means putting my trust in something that well, I haven't always trusted. So, as everyone does, I keep trying. Happiness may not be a potato to be planted and cultivated in the earth with manure, but perhaps one can sow the seeds for balance and harmony and harvest the joy that often blooms in the darkest, most unexpected times. That's where I'll be, skirting the edges, filling my basket, and trying to scrub the dirt from underneath my finger nails.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Greening of America

I don't always want to write about my girls. Or about my angst. Or...

Today, I give a shout out to Red Sox pitcher John Lester, who gave hope to all of us cancer survivors with his no-hitter last night. As well, my heart goes out to Ted Kennedy and his family, for the ache they must feel to have just received his diagnosis of brain cancer. If there's anybody who can flip what will most likely be a lousy prognosis on its head and kick its ass, it's Ted Kennedy.

And finally, kudos to the men in green, who stole the show on Sunday night against the Cavs, and especially to the veterans, like PJ Brown, who played clutch basketball at the age of 38 amongst much, much younger players who make much, much more money than he does. PJ, you did us mid-lifers proud. This is the first season in a long while (ok, since Bird and McHale and Parrish and DJ played their hearts out in tight little shorts) that I've bothered to watch, learn their names, and get to know the players. And, well, I'm proud of all my boys. (see, my girls aren't always center stage!). Here are my notes from the game:

First Quarter. Boy, does Kendrick Perkins sweat a lot. It’s the start of the Celts-Cavs Game 7, Sunday, and the Celts have come out strong, 14-4. Paul Pierce is on fire! Jim, the boys and I are crowded around the TV, hanging onto every shot, every dribble, every blur of green (well, okay, white, since it's a home game) to the hoop. The Garden is packed, noisy, the good Juju emanating from all those championship banners and retired jerseys hanging from the rafters. They will not lose at home—the ghosts that haunt the place won’t allow it. At this rate, all those crazy mouths and loose lips in the crowd—and we are part of it—are going to wear themselves out; I hope they pace themselves so they can go the distance. Rondo—clutch! Right at the buzzer. It’s 16-4.

I love all the basketball names…Rajon Rondo ranks up there with some of the better ones. Dominick has already decided he’s going to name his kids Amari and Rajon. Go figure.

And there’s the King, LeBron James—if he was anyone else, we’d ask about the name. LeBron? The Brawn. Well, it kind of fits. And in his case, it seems to denote some line of royalty, as if it's a given that he, so gifted with so many special talents, would be named LeBron, and not ah, well, I don't want to offend anyone, so let's just say something less peculiar. And be forewarned about insulting LeBron in any way: I've seen his Mama in action and it is clear where he gets his ah, drive from! I’ve noticed that the less LeBron is mentioned, the better the game is going for the Celtics. But as soon as they start talking up the “Superstar,” “oh, LeBron this and LeBron that…” Shuddup, already.

Kevin Garnett is more regal—in his high cheek bones and slimming goatee (as if he needs any slimming)—than LeBron James. KG is Mr. Vertical. I’d like to see him in a striped suit. And there's Cleveland's Daniel Gibson behind the bench, still sporting the black eyeliner that makes his eyes look so darn pretty (and I mean that as a compliment).

I like Ben Wallace’s crazy ‘fro better than his corn rows. As for Delonte West, he looks like a miscreant elf—the tattoos, the scrappiness, the angular jaw, chin, pointy ears, and a look of graceful toughness that belies his size. If not for the tattoos, he could fit in nicely with the cast of Lord of the Rings. The others hail from countries like Russia, Yugoslavia, Brazil, and Spain (Szczczczerbiak was born there), making this a true international team. Too bad it won’t help them any tonight.

Foul #2 on Perkins, and he is positively splashing his sweat onto the floor now. How does he even see with all that sweat cascading down his brow into his eyes?

For a lot of reasons, I prefer watching these home games— when the men in green wear their white headbands and I can tell who is who from afar. Rondo is smaller, quicker, often exploding in athletic finesse moves worthy of a gymnastics routine. Pierce, bigger than Rondo, unleashes his deceptively quick and smooth moves with a subtle duck-footed charm that would suggest a certain clumsiness, but he’s all elegance. “A thing of beauty, defensively,” indeed.

Dominick asks, “What is wrong with Sam Cassell? He’s wearing a skirt.” We love watching Sammy. But he’s not going to play much tonight.

And neither, it seems, is Tony Allen. He’s nearly out of sight. Perhaps it’s backlash from the teddy bear story that recently broke. (If you missed it, he was asked what he’d bring on a deserted island, and he answered: “My teddy bear, my wife, and my baby.” Sweet.)

The other Allen, Ray, who has not been without his own difficulties, takes LeBron out, and goes back to chewing his gum with that slightly cockeyed, sardonic half grimace-half smile of his. Rondo wears his headband snug down over his ears, like an elf, another elf. Love the tall white socks, James Posey. 16-12: Hey, what happened to our lead?

Eddie House, another dude in white headband and high socks, runs around in hot pursuit of his guy on D. House, fairly riotous to watch, moves with purpose, a real predator. KG’s bald pate grows ever more slippery as he pursues those rebounds. The tall glass of water makes the tough shot, but after the first quarter, its 18-13, the Celtics’ lead upset by a 9-0 run by the Cavs. Blah!

At the break, Coach Brown of the Cavs says his guys have got to “box out” more. Funny to hear that even at this level—and it doesn’t get much better than this—the players are still told to “box out” by their coaches. Not too complicated, just box the dude out.

Second quarter. Eddie House sure is energetic. He is so fired up he’s got steam coming out of his ears, jetting out of his heels, lighting up his sneakers, and sending sparks out to all his teammates. Let’s get it goin’! Paul Pierce is benefiting from all the good Juju, making his moves to spin to the hoop. One of the announcers certainly has a way with words (don’t they all). About Paul Pierce, he says, “If he’p doesn’t come, it’s time to dance.” And dance he does.

Leon Powe dishes a terrible attempt at a foul shot, and another, and…finally sinks one. You’d think that given how tall these guys are, how much practice they get in, and how much they’re paid, that they’d sink every single stinking foul shot they take.

Wally Szcerbiack misses the 3—glad to see the icicles still hanging from his fingertips. Cold! Don’t want him to get hot.

House brings down the house—with a lovely basket—and some crowd-pumping shenanigans on the floor. Just what the Celts need—a spirited energizer—to turn LeBron James and the Cavs on their heads and spin them ‘round and ‘round until they puke (or lose).

(at commercial breaks, we often switch to watch Red Sox baseball. Wow! What a contrast! And the crowd looks so excited! (not) There’s absolutely nothin’ going on, which is why the announcers, especially on radio, spend the whole game talking about ridiculous, irrelevant, inane things. "Gee, did you happen to catch the sale at Bob’s Furniture over the weekend?").

This seems to be a particularly long time out break—more like a mini spa treatment, the way they take their plush seats, have fresh towels tossed to them and cups of water handed over. Here, let me mop your brow, Kendrick. The thing is, you can’t really see who is pampering these giants. House elves? (Rondo and West?) Poof!

Eddie House misses. LeBron leans in and drives, Get outta the way! Blocking foul, to the line. Paul Pierce threads through the crowd, mercilessly. He is in every sense the glue that holds this team together. Delante West fires it in. PJ Brown fouls Joe Brown, oops, is he thinking out there? He looks stunned. Kevin Garnett, and his big, beautiful almond shaped brown eyes, grabs another rebound. Good for you, Posey, though I can’t remember what you did.

What hustle by House!! He’s playing like a fifth grader trying to impress some girl on the sideline. Enthusiasm! Diving for the ball! Bet he’ll feel it on his knees later tonight.

I’ve just noticed that the headband brigade all wears their headbands directly snug over their ears. Better fashion statement than some of those tattoos out there. Jim on House: “His arm is like a coloring book.”

Rondo and Allen are on the bench, Rondo’s head is all covered up, his big doe eyes peeking out from under his towel, and Allen is sporting his sideways sneer. There’s a youth basketball struggle for the ball on the floor—House, the renegade fifth grader, and West, the miscreant elf. It gets physical, and no one is letting go of the ball, despite the whistle. “Go back to the bench, guys.” Personally, I like the emotion. The crowd loves it. “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” This is great stuff, and the banners are swaying in the breeze generated by Eddie House's spunk alone.

(Baseball break—hey, look, the grass is growing, yahoo! Terry Francona spits a big wad onto the dirt. The batter adjusts his glove, Nomar style. The catcher gives a few signals. The pitcher winds up, strike three. Replay, now, from two different angles, because, really, what else is there to show? Commercial--Yao Min, square headed man, asks for help with earthquake relief in China. We are glad that the NBA cares)

House, KG, Kendrick, Posey and Pierce take the floor. Three headbands, two tall socks. 35-25. LeBron hits a three. He’s looking restrained, not celebratory, despite his stinging shot. I think this means the Celtics will win.

El Capitan Pierce makes two careful, thoughtful shots at the free throw line. What else would you expect from him?

Why doesn’t Ben Wallace ever shoot? He’s always wide open for the shot and dishes it off to somebody else. (I’ve just been told that he’s not a shooter. How these guys make it to the NBA without being everything is beyond me).

(Best part of watching the Sox is Manny. Last time: catches deep fly ball off wall, high fives a guy in the crowd, throws it in to get the guy on first)

Hey, it’s a Larry Bird flashback. Look at those shorts! Short and tight. What I wouldn’t give to see today’s match up played in that old gear.

Uh-oh, James is down, a big grimace on his face (He had stepped out of bounds before the foul, by the way). He clutches his shoulder, working it. As he pushes himself up to his feet, his arms looked as if they’ve been engraved.

22 points for Pierce after this three. Luke predicts 50 on the game for the man they call The Truth.

KG steals the ball—runs like the Bone Man (and if you don’t know who that is then you should check out the beautiful picture book about the Native American Moduc tale of the same name by Michael McCurdy) until Wholesome Wally takes him out, and he goes down hard. Ray Allen—hurrah!—finally takes it in for a basket. Dom heads up to find his Ray Allen jersey.

24 for PP, 24 for the rest of the team. Steal—another fragrant foul (Pavlovic grabbed his arm and tossed him)—and Pierce careens into a camera man. He’s hurt. Hip? Knee? Upper thigh? Scowling, he gets up. I wonder how the camera man is doing. PP exits the first half a few seconds early.

Who’s the guy in the suit slapping everyone on the butt as they head toward the locker room? Do they know him?

Third Quarter.
After getting dinner going during the half, I flick it back on to find that the TV is stuck on Sponge Bob and the clicker is nowhere in sight. There are worse scenarios, but not many. By the time I find it, and switch over to the game, there’s been a travel call on the big guy, Ilgauskas. With 8:03 left in the third quarter, the score rests at 52-49. Here’s three more for the unstoppable Pierce. But where’s the moxie, guys? They’ve come out flat.

I’m stuck on Ben Wallace’s hair. It’s like a chunky foam sculpture, a not-so-carefully groomed shrub, a hilarious nod to Buckwheat’s timeless do. Whatever it is, it’s original.

Garnett—sweet drive! 50-55. James, Pierce, James, trading shots, then: a missed floater, and a turnover by the Cavs. Pierce hits for his 33rd. Time out. They’re starting to talk about LeBron too much. “Superstar, superstar, superstar.” Blahblahblah.

Hey! Ben Wallace just got a basket! (of course, he was fed at the rim, but to his credit, it did go in). Must have been all the talk about his coif. Rondo hits, and a minute later, the ball slams off his foot and out. But then, the Cavs turn it over again, Boston’s ball. Foul. PJ to the line. Yeah, PJ! He’s coming through. Are you aware of how old PJ Brown is? The man is my hero. It’s 65-58. Are we having fun yet?

James misses, Rondo misses. When Rondo makes a mistake, he looks so worried, like his mom is going to yell at him or something. It's the eyes. Relax, Rajon! Loose ball foul on Wallace, and he’s mad, again. I wouldn’t mess with his hair. Pierce escapes the double team. PJ for another two! (FYI, He’s only four years younger than I am, exactly, too, seeing as his birthday is my very same birthday, October 14, just four years earlier, and apparently, four years makes a very big difference because I surely could not be motoring myself about the floor the way he is).

Rondo goes flying—and West, with his big neck tattoo making him seem somehow off balance (in fact, he seems downright burdened by his tattoos), goes to the line.

Ray Allen misses (again), but West hits his. Ray sits, wishes he had Tony Allen’s teddy bear for comfort, no doubt. The big Brazilian Varejao misses his free throw, goes one for two. Varejao and James slap Pierce silly, James pokes Pierce in the eye. Yeah, those were ALL fouls, LeBron.

LeBron this, LeBron that. If given the chance, I think the announcers would sleep with LeBron, they seem to love him so much. But here's the thing--even at this point in the game, with James and Pierce trading baskets, they are not so much going shot to shot, or mano a mano, as some would like to say, but team to team. And Pierce, who has fought long and hard over the years during some grim times with the club to get to this point, plays within the context of being a multi-faceted team player, with an eye out, always, for the pass, and well, James plays as if the world has always been arranged for him--here ya go, take it to the hoop, LeBron--and despite his experience, he is still young and unseasoned compared to the time-tested Pierce.

After three quarters, Pierce has 35 points, and the score perches precariously at 73-68. Celts up by FIVE.

Boy, does Doc Rivers need to rest his voice.

Fourth quarter. Turnover to open fourth quarter. Tighten up the ship, boys. Oh, gee, another foul for James. We need KG back in the game. But how come he didn’t go to college?

These are games I usually don’t watch—too scary! Foul on Posey (James is too fast and too strong to not foul when he comes through the crowd). “Bull-shit, Bull-shit.” The crowd doesn’t like the call. And then, later, “Let’s go Celtics!” Now back to the “Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit.” I feel like I’m at a Williams-Amherst game. All we need now is “Cleveland Sucks! Cleveland Sucks!”

KG back in. Rondo with a beauty. Ah, youth. Turnover by Cavs. Ha-ha. Eddie House is getting it going. “Take advantage of your moment.”

Someone’s gotta bring West down. He scares me. Pierce loses ball, shit. James to the point, shoots for three, NOPE. Wallace fouls KG. Wallace is pissed, again. Do these NBA players ever admit to their fouls? They all seem to have the same I-didn’t-do-it-no-fair! reaction, throwing their hands up in the air, putting on that “Whaaaa?” look on their face, and mouthing “no way,” or “that’s bullshit,” or worse, much worse.

The guy in the music booth is pumping up the crowd. In the first quarter, he did it with Boston’s own Aerosmith spitting out Walk this Way; in the fourth, it’s the theme from Rocky, and it’s working for Pierce, who sinks yet another. 79-72.

PJ Brown is coming through off the bench, igniting the crowd, who has jumped to their feet to scream their obscenities, only to be silenced by a 3 by LeBron. Don’t give LeBron any more vitamin water! You know, PJ Brown is old enough to be LeBron’s father. Ever think of that?

James and Pierce are trading 3’s, then James misses his—what a ball hog, someone else should have taken that shot—then goes after Pierce, blatantly grabbing his jersey (the classic Crap! I missed my shot! Now watch me do something stupid! move), but somehow the refs miss it—and LeBron slips out of it, unscathed. Curses! Stop that man!! 4:22 left. #4 on James. Should be #5. He should be O-U-T.

KG! Celts by 5. Long possession, good at-bat. The crowd appears as a sea of emerald green. Pierce at 39, James at 42.

There are lots of guys with four fouls. But what color hair does Delonte West have? Is it reddish? Why I am so captivated by everyone’s hair? Ray Allen looks so sad on the bench. PJ=clutch!! Then takes out the big man, ooops. Gawd, the free throws are killing us. 2:35 left, which could mean 15 minutes more. I love how time on the clock is so relative, can be stretched to near infinity in games that are taut with suspense and excitement. James steals, dunks, his embossed arms flying, pumping. Celts by 1. Just one!! Crap.

KG misses, we groan. James misses, PJ gets the clutch rebound, and hits for 2! 91-88!! We go ape. Definitely not dog. Ape. Oooo—oooo!

Sammy greets PJ with open arms at the time out break. We love Sammy.

Is PJ Brown really a veteran? Luke assures me he is. He’s playing like a man possessed, like a man who has young bones and joints and muscles, and very definitely not a body that is just four years younger than my old, sore, cranky one. Lucky bastard. 1:19. West misses a three, there’s a botched rebound, and a jump ball (and a real jumper, too, no possession arrow shit like they do in youth) with Posey and Ilgauskas, the Cavs’ biggest, whitest, baldest man—Pierce positions himself perfectly and jumps on the loose ball, calls a time out just in time, and chest bumps his way to the bench. 58 seconds.

Pierce, KG, Eddie House, PJ Brown, Ray Allen take the floor for the final minute. KG misses his jumper, LeBron drops his shoulder and charges like a bull, but can’t finish it. The Cavs have to foul Ray Allen, who just may be able to redeem himself with his foul shooting prowess here—makes both, yep. 33 out of 34, 91% on the season. 18.8 seconds left.

The ABC sports camera scans the crowd, lands on the pitiful homemade sign Another Banner Coming. These guys need Harold and George of Captain Underpants fame to spice up their signs.

LeBron takes it in, draws the foul, but it doesn’t go! Misses the first—crowd is happily, deliriously, joyfully aghast—makes the second, 93-89, 16.3 seconds left.

For these last seconds, they play a new game—no more basketball, it’s FOUL-BALL! Eddie House gets fouled. Uh-oh, he hasn’t taken a free throw since the regular season, will it go? Ah, no need to worry, he makes both.

Pierce shows us he’s human, leaves Pavolovic unattended to sink a three, then gets fouled, 7.9 seconds. His first foul shot hits the rim, and for the crowd—at home and at the Garden—time is stopped, and we suck in our breath, steel ourselves for the possibility that we will be disappointed, and watch as the ball bounces straight up and, then, as this great suspension of time finally ends, goes in. The crowd goes crazy, and Pierce smiles and laughs out loud his own palpable relief. The moment is priceless. 97-92. 7.9 seconds.

Jim and the boys are shouting. “IT’S ALL OVER!” and “WARM UP THE BUS!” I’m teetering on the edge of my cushion, watching the final seconds of pure chaos unravel as James misses, Pavlovic rebounds, House rebounds...Eddie House has the ball! and shoots it up to the rafters. It’s over. Sweet relief. I can breathe again. King James has been dethroned. He leaves without shaking anyone's hands. The guys on the bench engulf their teammates in hugs. Sammy Cassell's big smiles say it all--Hey, that was great! And I didn't have to play at all! I got to watch the whole thing from the bench!

I love that the Celtics won. I love that they won at home in such exciting fashion. I love that Paul Pierce had such a great game, and had such a stellar support cast from folks like PJ Brown, who more than earned his $226,650 annual salary in those fourth quarter minutes he played. I love that Paul Pierce’s 41 points were worth so much more than LeBron James’ 45, in terms of his own ability to involve the whole five on the floor, make those connections, see the whole court, make those passes, share the ball, and dance when no help is coming. We can learn a lot from this team in green—who promotes teamwork and hard work above all else, who’s not afraid to sweat (Kendrick), makes no room for Superstars, only Team Players, extends hands to the downtrodden (there’s nothing I like better than to see someone help someone up, especially if the person has just blown them over, and there’s nothing worse than ignoring someone on the floor whom you’ve put there), and shows emotion, whether fear or pride or relief or joy.

This cast of characters spills out of the pages of the very best fairy tales, fighting ogres and giants and miscreant elves as they make their way through the land of the recently deposed King James on their way to the happy ending they all deserve. This is a team, after all, led by The Truth. 'Nuff said.

Detroit, you're going DOWN. (Sorry, Blair :))

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ok Kids, So What's Weird About That One?

For those of you keeping tabs on the reconstruction process, my left girl, now 60 ml. more full of saline since my most recent expansion on Wednesday, is now precariously and fully stretched to the max, making it feel and look massive (I know, I know, you chuckle...this coming from a woman whose only brush with mega-boobs was during six years of nursing babies and toddlers). Not only is she massive, but she is hard, dangerous even. Whereas last week my new girl was filling out the lovely new shaped B-cup bra with panache, this week she is being positively overbearing and rude about it, pushing the soft cloth and seams to their limits with an overstuffed appearance that renders her strikingly unattractive. And I have cleavage now, cleavage!, for the first time, of course, only on that left side, but it's there, lurking behind my fitted shirts like some bad girl waiting to bust out and bloom. Watch out! I do declare my left girl has become way too brazen and bold since her latest expansion, and my right girl cowers in her shadow, like some timid fawn. The sad truth is that however tawdry she now looks to me, that with all the pathetic internet-porn night crawling about, there are probably some out there who wold find my left girl quite attractive. But to me, she looks shamefully artificial, a real phony, grotesquely emblazoned and overstuffed with size and perk.

She's so bizarre looking that she has taken on the strange esoteric feeling of a contemporary art installation, and begs the question that I'll put to my kids whenever we go to MassMoCA to check out all the cool, new art—ok, kids, so what's weird about that one? There'd be lots to say. At this point, aside from being a real work in progress, she feels and looks creepy bad, and I can't help but think of the movie Alien, and of the sprightly alien creatures temporarily taking up residence within, only to burst through muscle and skin, screech, and drip nasty looking stuff from their corrosive sneers. I doubt she has the same malicious intent, but clearly, there is something not of this world about her, and something not of me, too, despite the fact that we share skin (though the skin has lost all its feeling, and therefore connection, to me). I will not miss this girl when I trade her in on June 17th. I will bid this expander adieu and welcome a more comfortable implant that will, hopefully, feel and look a lot more like my other girl.

This was to be my final over-expansion. The technician Christina hinted that when Dr. Pitts sees me for my pre-op appointment in a couple of weeks, she may want to expand me further. You have got to be kidding!! She laughed, too. I think I'm done. If I am over-expanded anymore, I will set up my freak sideshow along the roadside somewhere and start making some money off of this ridiculousness. At this point, I suppose I could say that I am (o) +O; that'd be lopsided, small real on the right, big fake on the left, android in appearance. No tassles. Yet.

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. ~ Albert Schweitzer

The moment of change is the only poem. ~ Adrienne Rich

Dear family and friends,

I write to you today with apologies for not being in direct touch for awhile (the blog doesn’t quite count, I know, and I am sorry), and with hopes that you’ve all been well, taking the time to enjoy some of the finer offerings of the season: the slow, unraveling reveal of the fiddleheads, the rising sun set against the sparkle of dew, the wetland symphonic serenades at dusk, the bursts of buds and blossoms that have set the tops of the trees ablaze in color…

It’s been many weeks now since my last surgery, and I am ever grateful for the good Juju that has come spiraling my way, coursing through my veins and carrying me through the tougher days with light and love from many corners of this earth. Despite a difficult first couple of weeks, I have healed well physically. I regained full motion fairly easily and quickly, found having to be careful and quiet with my activity for the six weeks following surgery maddening, but manageable, and have enjoyed a gradual return to doing whatever feels right: push ups are not on this list. I have returned to Boston for follow-ups with my breast surgeon and oncologist, and several times to Wellesley for nearly weekly expansions with my plastic surgeon. I have been so grateful for their good care, and particularly, for their good news: no post-surgical complications, no need for chemotherapy, and a new left girl, sprouting with the same kind of fury and flamboyance that this springtime revelry has inspired. And a few weeks ago, I returned to Exeter for my 25th reunion, which brought me fully into the light for a few days, a light that has been pulling me through the darkest days of this experience with the promise of dear, old friends gathered from all ends of the earth, for endless talking, dancing, and other deeply sublime weekend adventures.

With the exception of some residual and chronic difficulties with my left knee (still numb, still working it out with the neurologist and spine guy) and sciatica, which has flared up in a way that I have not felt since I was at Exeter, and had to often go flat on my back in the middle of class, my body is regaining its strength and stamina, but it will take some time. I feel so tired at the end of my days, but know, too, that this spring season is rife with overdoing it, in the gardens, the youth sports arena, the over-scheduled everything, and that I am not alone in my fatigue. And given that I’ve been out of commission for a long while, since my knee surgery in January, it’ll be a long time before I feel thoroughly strong again.

The reconstruction process has been comical and fascinating—and very uncomfortable. I never knew skin could be stretched so far! That the body is so resilient and fluid and adapting is amazing to me. And yet, there are trade-offs, always. Along with my skin, my left pectoral muscle, which now sits atop the now over-expanded saline expander, is being stretched, stretched, stretched some more to accommodate an ever-expanding expander. Just yesterday, I received an injection of another 60 ml of saline, to constitute my official second over-expansion. Room must be made, after all, for the expander to come out and for the implant to come in. And from its new perch, this poor messed-with muscle yields considerable influence on some of the other muscles to which it is attached—the psoas, and the lat, for instance, both of which are being pulled in concert with the pec, throwing my whole body into an uncomfortable state of disequilibrium. Hence the sciatica, the worsening knee issues, the overall feeling of soreness. Reconstruction will do that.

Happily, I won’t have to deal with this for much longer. My next surgery will be at Newton Wellesley on June 17—when this bulky, tight, alien expander will be exchanged for a more permanent, comfortable, and realistic looking and feeling silicone implant. The exchange surgery will be a day surgery, so I should be going home that night to sleep off the narcotics and try to get used to yet another new girl. There will be another four weeks of restricted activity and physical healing. I am hoping that I will be better off having gone through something similar before—as it was with my second child, that the body will surrender a little more easily, and recognize that the best way to get through the tougher stuff is sometimes the path of least resistance.

Emotionally, the healing has been more difficult. What’s been most disheartening has been the rush around me to return to some kind of “normal”, which, of course, just isn’t there any more for me. There are some days that come and go as if the breast cancer never happened. And yet it did. Each and every day there are millions of reminders that I am still in the thick of it, with deep work to be done, and that my girl is, that I am, still a work in progress. I am still trying to listen to it all, and to spend some time on the big what’s next. The diagnosis has made me question how I have lived, what I did to bring this on, what I can do differently now to make sure it doesn’t rear its ugly head again. I know, too, that there are unknowns, that shit just happens, is all, but I like answers. It’s the only way I can feel somewhat in control of something that is so entirely out of control and seemingly unpredictable. Finding the time and space to move forward with it all has been more of a challenge—I still need to take care of myself, to listen to all of this—and yet, as is the case for so many of us, the usual flurry of obligatory springtime activity has overshadowed my best efforts, and I feel thwarted and frustrated and spent, searching for snapshots of time when I can reflect, write, do some yoga, try a little meditation, get together with a friend, go for a long walk with Daisy, disengage from the constant clatter and clamor of family life and just be.

The boys are doing okay—better, I think, now that there is soft green grass under their feet for running about, that the temperatures have warmed the chill out of their bones, that they are once again more fully engaged with homeschooling, favorite spring sports, and time with friends, and that they have their mom back. I worry about them, but every mother worries about their kids. I worry about the lasting impact this winter will have on their lives—the disruptions and lost chunks of time, the fears and anxieties they will carry with them, the way their world has been turned upside down. But I know, too, that they have been fortified by this experience in many ways, and that they are stronger because of all the life lessons they’ve received, in living life no matter what you are dealt, in facing things head on, in staying open to the love that shines all about, and in finding the good and the light when there seems to be nothing but deep wells of darkness around you--lessons that I am trying hard to learn myself.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. ~ Sylvia Plath

Part of my recovery must include imagining, discovering and creating a new road map for myself. I have been at the mercy of a cancer patient’s schedule—filled in with doctors’ appointments, surgeries, recovery time, and treatments—for so long (though for so many others out there it is so much longer, so I know, I know I am blessed), that now I need to recreate my own what’s next. For the immediate future, this will include trying to figure out how to tune out the chirping birds at dawn and sleep in properly after staying up way too late cheering the Celtics on; surviving Dominick’s baseball season, which offers up a delectable slice of American life during the seemingly endless three hour plus games that stretch from the sparkling sunshine of the late afternoon to the blinding black fly haze of twilight; finding time to write each and every day (and if I don’t, as my writing prof used to say, forgiving myself); finishing up the homeschool year with a bang, so I don’t feel forever guilty for being such a pox on this homeschooling project and the cause of so much blown time this winter; putting things on the calendar, aside from doctor appointments, so we have plenty to look forward to—family picnics, reunions, summer camps, retreats, and trips; and continuing to research how best to eat, exercise, and live in order to protect myself against recurrence. This is simply not something I ever want to have to go through again.

I have also been considering walking to raise money for breast cancer research, and there are several options. The boys and I were all excited to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-day, which benefits the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and takes place in Boston in August 15-17), but we recently discovered that kids must be 16 in order to participate, and now, well, we just feel deflated. Our team was to be the Blue-Footed Boobies, and I still might walk on my own if I find some walking buddies to join up and complete the walk with me. If there is anyone out there who might consider joining me, I’d love to hear from you. I know there are many of you who have been touched by breast cancer in some way—this is supposed to be an incredibly moving experience, a real personal challenge, and a great way to channel all that good energy into something productive and meaningful. The walk covers 60 miles in three days. Ooofta! The web site covers the details: http://08.the3day.org/site/PageServer. Just in case I might motivate some of you, I am continuing with my training (and am looking for local walking buddies, too)…

You can still find me at my blog: http://flipsideofforty.blogpsot.com/, and of course in Gill. If you should ever happen to find yourself traveling down Rte 2, 91, or Main Road, please do say hello. It’s been a lonely ride, and I’d love to see you.

I send you all much love, and thank you, as ever, for hanging in there with me,


Saturday, May 10, 2008

The start of Tamoxifen

Last Saturday ~

I started Tamoxifen this morning. It took me a while--two weeks, to be exact--from the time I heard from Dr. Ryan, my oncologist, that I could begin the treatment, to shake my Procrastinator, summon the courage, and actually fill the damn prescription. I suppose I was enjoying not having any meds careening through my veins; after all, once started, this will be a five year course of treatment, and will no doubt be followed up with some other version of the same kind of drug that will be tailored for that specific time in my life to target and blast away my particular kind of cancer cells. So--I delayed the inevitable, enjoying the drug-free, no side-effects-to-worry-about, clear-headedness for just a little longer.

I suppose that I was feeling a little bit nervous about taking the Tamoxifen, despite its reputation as being a time-tested Wonder Drug that has extended and saved countless lives. My grandmother took it for years and I don't remember her ever issuing a complaint. Of course, she had gazillions of other medical issues always on the brew, so to have sorted it all out would have been next to impossible. I never know how my body will respond to something new and foreign. I'm fairly sensitive, so I was starting to wonder about what kind of havoc the drug might wreak on my system. When I picked up the prescription yesterday afternoon, I instantly read the enclosed fine print--always a stupid thing to do, I know, because there's always much more information there than anyone would ever need, and it just aggravates and overloads the interiors of your better sense and sends you spinning into the vortex of worrying and waiting for bad things to start happening. In this case, diarrhea, nausea, hot flashes, yadda yadda yadda. And of course, the more catastrophic risks of cervical and endometrial cancers...but hey! I trust fully in Dr. Ryan. She knows exactly what she is doing. And I will be FINE.

The pills are small, round, white--nothing special or extraordinary about them on the outside, but inside, well, we know they pack a power punch, so all that magnificence has been packaged quite quietly. What was I expecting? A big pink horsepill with a pink ribbon etched on its side? Take this and be breast cancer free forever! I swallow the pill after breakfast, washing it down with my green chlorella water and a handful of other supplements, none boasting as big a promise as the Tamoxifen. It goes down easily. I wait and listen and hold my breath for a few seconds afterwards. Do I feel any change? Ah, yeah, right.

It was the perfect morning to start something new. I slipped out of the house and headed out, by myself, to check out some mosquito-infested yard sales (found some good books for a quarter a piece, and two beautiful ceramic mugs for the same) before heading into Greenfield to shop at the Farmer's Market. It felt good just being out and about, and on my own for a change--and at the Market, being surrounded by what seemed like a bountiful beginning to the season, with cascading piles of fresh lettuces and greens of all kinds, garlic scapes, herbs, vegetable starts, flowers, and fresh baked breads all for the taking. I felt energized; the Tamoxifen must be doing me good already.

Mother's Day ~
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother. ~Author Unknown

It's a beautiful day--clear blue sparkling sunny skies. My mother arrives at noon. We sit outside, the picnic table festooned with a bright table cloth and a scattering of brunch dishes. We eat well. Later, she helps me mulch the my perennial gardens, blueberry bushes, and fruit trees, and I am so grateful for the help. I spy the raspberry patch and my forearms ache imagining the pruning that still needs to be done. I have fixed up two flower boxes full of herbs for her deck; Dom has dug up some of our overflowing mint and put it in a pot for her. There are beautiful handmade cards. But for now, the boys run around barefooted and armed with water guns. Just when I am quietly praising them to myself for working out a near balance of fun and feist and chasing each other about without hurting, teasing, or blaming, their battle explodes for real, and I find myself being tugged in to soothe and listen and not take sides, and I am reminded of the real meaning of Mother's Day, that as much as you'd like to think you can foist the job on someone else for the day, or take a break from it all, it just won't ever happen. When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child. ~Sophia Loren, Women and Beauty
Woman in the home has not yet lost her dignity, in spite of Mother's Day, with its offensive implication that our love needs an annual nudging, like our enthusiasm for the battle of Bunker Hill. ~John Erskine

That night, we head to one of our favorite restaurants around, Hope & Olive, where we sit at the bar and feast some more. Admittedly, I spend the better part of the evening pining after a Thai Gin-tini, but settle for tap water on the rocks in a lovely glass.

I am grateful for the day, for the time spent with family. Motherhood has always been the one thing that I have always been certain about. Not that it hasn't been rife with challenges (after all, Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. ~Sam Levenson), of course, but it's the one thing that has made me feel fully engaged in the ebb and flow of life and its rhythms. And as for my own mother, My mom is a neverending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune. ~Graycie Harmon. Thank you, Mom! I love you!

Thursday ~

Nearly a week has passed since I started the Tamoxifen and despite a few hours of nausea at the start of the week, which could have possibly been brought on not by the drug but by the fact that I had been waking up with the sun and the annoying little birds chirping their good mornings at 5 AM and was totally exhausted (no, ya think?), I haven't felt a twang of difference in the way I feel. I suppose I'm being foolishly premature, but I'd like to think I'm just being positive in thinking that we are a good match, Tamoxifen and me. I have to believe that. And I remind myself constantly of what the alternative might have been. Taking the Tamoxifen, and the Tamoxifen only, without chemo, every morning has been and will continue to be a lovely little grounding ritual of mindfulness and gratitude.

Mulch Thievery

Wednesday ~

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another—it’s one damn thing over and over. ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

There’s an odd group of people roaming the country roads of Gill this week. Just yesterday, one of them strolled down our driveway, much to the chagrin of our dog Daisy, who nearly popped her head off barking, before being subdued by this stranger’s crouched, docile position. We don’t get a lot of pedestrian traffic around here, particularly that which is unexpected, or, in this case, unexpectedly odd, so as soon as I heard the deep, ominous tones in Daisy’s bark, I knew someone was out there who was not a familiar sight or scent. I knew it wasn’t the UPS or Fed-Ex guys, who sometimes park at the top of our driveway and walk down, package in hand; Daisy knows she’ll get a biscuit if she plays it right, with a bark tinged with excitement and a just a hint of malice, and this just wasn’t the bark I was hearing. I knew it wasn’t a neighbor, who would have worked Daisy into a frenzy of high-pitched, celebratory barking, as in Awesome! You’re here! Someone to play with! Throw the Frisbee! Throw the ball! Throw it! Throw it! It wasn’t Malcolm, our trusty Egg Boy, who wheels around the neighborhood on his bicycle delivering fresh eggs (there’s nothing better), and elicits similar shrill vocalizations of love and anticipation from Daisy when he makes his way down our driveway. Malcolm! Malcolm! You brought eggs! You brought eggs! I love eggs! I love eggs! I love you! Throw the Frisbee! Throw the ball! Throw it! Throw it! And I could tell it wasn’t Mowgli, the lovable pooch from across the road who arrives every now and then and sends her into loud, abrasive spasms of bitch-snobbery, Get off my porch! Get off! Don’t you dare eat my food! Go away! Stop sniffing my butt! No, I will not play with you!, before succumbing to her better senses and surrendering to her true feelings, Ok, Mowgli, I do like you, but I have to play it tough when everyone’s watching. Sure, go ahead, sniff it, and I’ll sniff yours.

This was more like Hey You! Get the hell off my land! I’ll eat you up! Get out of here! Can’t you hear me? I’m a big tough broad! Grrrrrr… and then, What’s that? You’ll pet me? Oh, Hiiiiiiiiii! Throw the Frisbee! Throw the ball! Throw it! Throw it! What a pushover.

Just who was this guy? I could tell right away that I did not know him, that he was not from the neighborhood, from Gill, from anywhere around here. But he came around the corner, Daisy now completely under his charm, escorting him through the evergreen gates onto our front walk with a wag and a smile, and flashed me a toothy grin, outstretched his arms, and said Hey, How are you doing today?, all as if I did know him, and he, me, I suffered a brief episode of self-doubt, brought on by my insistence to rose-tint my world by not wearing my glasses and keeping things a bit blurry, (so I can imagine anything I want), and for a second, thought Oh shit, Do I know him? Who the hell is he? But then, clarity and vision restored, I knew I did not know him, and instantly stepped back, thought of Dominick inside the house, and was glad that he was out of sight. I could feel my adrenaline start to pump through my body, the just-in-case mechanisms starting to fire up. I know, I know, I watch way too many crime shows on TV. But the world is a changed place, after all, and my caution, however cynical, rose up and spilled over me without hesitation from deep wells steeped with experience and reason.

What can I do for you? I asked him, knowing full well that I really didn’t have time to do anything for him. I had about twenty minutes to do a million things—exercise and feed Daisy, get Dominick something to eat before his baseball game, change my clothes, help Dominick pack his baseball bag, and warm him up with grounders and pop flies, for starters—and chatting it up with some strange stranger, no matter how friendly he seemed to be, in the driveway was simply not on my list.

He introduced himself as Joe. I did not tell him my name. I volunteered nearly nothing at all, except that I had a very small window of time to give him, and suggested that he had better make it fast. But I tried to be polite, as caught off-guard as I was. After all, I knew nothing about him. So I opted for the middle route—friendly enough, but not too.

Joe was tall and skinny, his sandy hair scruffy and short on the top of his small head. He walked as if not was all right in his carriage. I took in the scabs on his hands, his weather-beaten face, and the old clothes that didn’t fit him quite right. He carried no bag, no water bottle, no Bible, just a few papers visibly tucked into a back pocket. Definitely not a Jehovah’s Witness. I considered that he could be destitute, homeless, looking for hand outs. But there was something else about him that struck me as counterfeit: the awkward way he had of talking and smiling at the same time, in an intrusive, fawning, obsequious way that made me start to question my safety.

He started to talk about why he was there, but it took me a long while to make sense of it. I get out in the community and walk over twenty miles a day, getting to know people and earning points. Earning points? Huh? He looked like he walked over 20 miles a day. I have already earned 44,000 points and when I reach 50,000 points, I’ll earn the money I need to become a sports therapist. Whaa? I just wasn’t getting it. Just how do you earn your points? I asked him. Are you selling something? The smile grew wider. Yes, Ma’am, I work for National Circulating Company, and you can help me earn points. Here’s a list. Out of his pocket, he took out and handed me a plastic-sheathed card that listed magazines front and back. Ah, you’re selling magazines. It was starting to make more sense now. Yes, Yes, I am. I could see him readying himself for his all-out sales assault. I’m up to my eyeballs in magazines, I said, throwing out the first lob. Well, I would ask that you take a look to see if there’s a magazine that you already get, and you can renew it through me, and help me earn points. Ugh. I do hate having to deal with sales calls in this setting. It’s much easier to simply say No thank you, I’ve never heard of National Circulating Company, hang up the phone, and never have to know the face, the gait, or the story of the sales person.

As part of his relentless unnerving sales pitch, he tossed in compliments (You look great, by the way. You’re not working too hard, are you? Your dog is beautiful. What a fine dog she is. What’s her name? Sadie?), took in our house (Your place is lovely. I can tell you work hard at it. Your house is like a country palace, I walked down here and wooo!), noticed the glass bottles of sun tea brewing on the porch (Oh, you make your own iced tea! Lots of people don’t do that anymore…that’s so great), and made sure to assert his essential goodness throughout: People tell me they are so grateful to meet someone with such nice manners. I always say please and thank you and show people a lot of respect. And I can tell that you appreciate that as well. Thank you. Did I tell you that you look twenty? Well, you do. You’re welcome. Happy Mother’s Day, by the way. And an early Happy Father’s Day to your husband, too. You’re welcome. The little sycophant. Was he fishing? Trying to find out if there was a man about? Trying to coax information out of me? Wondering if he could overtake me, ransack the house, and make off with our, umm, flea market furniture?

As suspicions and anxieties flooded my better sense, I was acutely aware of my own discomfort, my impatience (that was well grounded in the fact that I had things to do, and had to get Dominick to his game in about ten minutes), and my desire to just be done with this. I revisited the idea that this guy could be just fine and completely without malevolence, that he had honed his discomfited sales pitch on the road, the best he could do with a limited education, an odd gait and appearance, and a Forrest Gump-like idiosyncrasy that swelled awkwardly under the earnestness of his delivery. But truthfully, who ever he was, I just wanted him GONE. I didn’t want to wrangle, hear any more of his overbearing marketing mess, or stand there worrying about whether he was legit or not, or some serial killer on the lam. Ok, I relented, and quickly wrote out a check for thirty-two dollars to renew my Natural Health subscription, which, of course, would usually cost only half that. It seemed worth it, to reclaim my sense of peace and place from this unknown, specious visitor. He filled out a receipt of sorts, his hand writing barely legible. I couldn’t tell if it was from a frightfully bad tremor, or a brush with illiteracy, but he started to sputter on again, I’m going to leave you with a smiley face, too, right here on the bottom, and my signature, so you’ll have that when I become famous, and well, I would just like to thank you for your kindness and wish you all the best and blah blah blah, so I excused myself, as swiftly and politely as I could, and retreated into the house, where I was grateful to see Dominick, in his baseball uniform, watching closely from inside, ever the Argus.

Dominick, of course, noticed the strangeness about the guy instantly. I applauded his good sense at staying in the house while the man was about. I high-tailed it up to the computer to check on National Circulating Company, and there it was, a simple web page with phone numbers and email addresses, all out of Gettysburg, PA. I followed a link to the Better Business Bureau, which gave it a solid rating. I still wasn’t feeling reassured. Before we left, I made sure to lock all the doors, and instructed Daisy to bite any strangers that came to the door. On the way to Dominick’s baseball game, we drove right by Joe, who was walking up the road towards our house. He waved as we drove by. Dominick told me that he was the guy from his dream. What dream? A dream about a guy who came into our house and wrecked it. But don’t worry, Mom, it was just a dream. Uh-huh. At the bottom of the hill, I turned around, and slowly drove up the hill to see where he was headed. Perhaps to pocket some of our just-delivered mulch? Snatch a sun-tea off the porch? Instead, he turned on his heels, and took a right into Renaissance, the old commune that sits on the hill across the street from our house. I called Jim to let him know about the guy, so he could check on the house later. Further down the road, Dominick and I spied another strange looking guy standing at the corner, no bag, just a few papers sticking out of his pocket, and a bizarre look on his face. A little off. Hmmm…

At Dominick’s baseball game, I ran into the chief of police, and told him about the guy. Oh, yeah, you’re the fourth person who has told me about this person. Somehow, in a weird way, hearing that I was not alone in my paranoia made me feel better. In fact, there’s a bunch of them that are going to be walking around town for the next two weeks, selling magazine subscriptions. They get dumped off. But I’ve called the company, and they’re legit. But I also let the company know that I would have them all thrown out of town if I continued to get complaints, because there can be a real problem with selling door to door in a town like Gill, where people know pretty much everyone, and are weary of strangers, who don’t seem to take no for an answer. I shivered. Don’t seem to take no for an answer? What did that mean? I imagined Joe babbling on and on spuriously, an increasingly malicious bent to his pitch appearing, then finally clubbing me into submission. I was suddenly glad that I had written the check, but wished that I had felt comfortable enough to simply say No, thank you and be done with it.

This morning, every time the dog barks, I am driven out of my seat and to the window, where I scan the driveway and the road for signs of outside pernicious influences. All I see are the white blossoms cascading from the pear trees and filling the sky with spring snow. The wind has stirred things up; Daisy could be barking at an errant dead leaf, fluttering across the road at high speeds. And in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be thinking that along with a leaf there could be a stranger lurking about. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t worry about such loathsome matters. I wouldn’t worry about whether I should worry. But this is no perfect world, so while I am surprised by my unease, I understand it.

In many ways, I have come to rely on the predictable, the peacefulness that blankets this valley with a quiet reassurance, and the relative safety of living here. The stench of the fertilizer that greets us on these May mornings as we head outside to spread mulch over our perennial gardens. The arrival of strawberry season at the farm next door in just a few short weeks. The rumble of trucks passing by. The familiar routes we take day after day. Daisy's repertoire of barks. The endless road work that stalls and slows short trips into town and makes those unpredictable delays mostly predictable.

There are definitely things out there that I would rather keep at bay, away from my children, out of my community, my home—those malicious unpredictable invaders. And yet, after all, I have, for the past few months, been hit with a most unpredictable malicious invader, and the most unpredictable of diagnoses—despite being in the lowest risk group, I got breast cancer. And though I would like to think that I was not totally caught off guard by my breast cancer diagnosis—with a Williams reunion conversation last June with a classmate and prominent cancer researcher, whose name I consciously filed away, a summer of botched, exhausting vacations and an unyielding sports schedule, a September blood test showing a serious vitamin D deficiency that increase one’s risk for breast cancer twofold, and increasingly worrisome fatigue and a feeling of unwell that badgered me throughout the winter—I was shocked to receive the news, to hear that I had a disease that other women—those who smoked, or drank a lot, or who were overweight, or ate fast food crap food—and not me, got.

At first glance, nothing about it seemed to make sense, and the nonsensical of it all hit me hard. Not the why me? but the how? I have mused over possible explanations—all that whole milk I dutifully drank as a kid, all the McDonald hamburgers, plain, please, I nibbled down, all the sugar and salt and hydrogenated oils I consumed after riding my bike to the Andover Spa most days after school, where I would stock up on bags of chips and candy bars, and then eat them alternately, gluttonously; or, possibly, the Nihil en Moderato code of living that I embraced while living large as a Williams Women’s Rugby Footballer at college, and the scads of kegs I helped kill in the wee hours of the morning; or the frightful amounts of toxic gases I’ve breathed in over the years, painting houses, sniffing erasers as a little girl in Japan, sitting in smog-infested traffic with the windows open; or our proximity to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, which perhaps has infiltrated our water supply with noxious nuclear waste and carcinogenic flavor-enhancers; or more recently, perhaps (because, after all, I’ve been an organic whole food, sober health nut for about twenty years now) all those merciless chain emails I neglected to pass on. Oh, shiver me timbers, I have been cursed. But really, there are no explanations, just unknowns, and the resounding unpredictability of life echoing throughout.

So, I am aware, too, of the possibility that this stranger arrived at a time when I needed a few reminders: to stay open to the unpredictability of life, and to the possibilities that appear only when something shifts, and light is let in, to reveal new paths, new ideas; to beware the fear that drives us inward and away from moving forward towards our dreams and ourselves; and lastly, that it is best, always best, to use caution when strange strangers are about, and the creep-factor is climbing your trellis.

If we don’t change the direction we are headed, we will end up where we are going. ~ Chinese proverb.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Scoop ~ Reconstruction, Surgery, Oncotype

Luke, Dom and I made the trip to Dr. Pitts' office in Wellesley on Wednesday for expansion #3 of 4. I seem to have guessed correctly all those weeks ago, when Dr. Pitts said that "normally, it takes a course of 8 expansions" to prepare (stretch) the skin and muscle properly for the exchange surgery, during which time the temporary saline expander is removed and the more permanent silicone implant is inserted in its place, and I asserted that it would take only HALF of the normal 8 to fill me up. We've already established that there is nothing normal about me. 8 expansions? I would surely burst, and spew spalls of expander throughout the universe.

I made a big deal out of being lopsided after my last expansion, as Luke has pointed out, but as is the case with this process (and so many others), my sense of being over-inflated is, perhaps, over-inflated, and the feeling of imbalance eased with each passing day--chalk it up to the expander doing its job (stretch, relax, calm down), and my own ability to assimilate, adapt.

But now, well, I am feeling lopsided again, as my last expansion was the first of two OVER-expansions that will make sure there is plenty of elbow room in and around the left "breast" for taking that rather unwieldy expander out and putting the softer implant in. I feel as if I have a water balloon behind my chest wall, and each time I am expanded, the pressure and tightness increase, the skin grows more taut, and, well, it just may burst one of these days. One little poke...No more running with scissors.

My left girl fills out my new B cup bra with panache; my right girl--my true girl--enjoys ample breathing room, and is feeling a bit unremarkable. Perhaps she'll feel better after a lift.

Speaking of...my exchange surgery has been scheduled for morning of June 17th at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. I'll be having my final over-expansion in another ten days, and then, somehow, I'll make my way around summertime tank tops and bathing suits with one C cup and one A cup. It'll be hilarious.

I heard from my oncologist today. Dr. Ryan reported that the Oncotype DX test yielded only results consistent with the pathologists' findings: I will not need chemo. This is great news. I cried a bit in relief. Somehow, I need to really feel this one, let it sink in. There is a victory here. And sometimes, those little triumphs go unnoticed or unheralded, and walk on by only to be trounced by the more vociferous, cantankerous set backs.

As of Tuesday, I'll start up on Tamoxifen, but I can dance as vigorously as I want to. I can lift my fat cat and carry her on my shoulder. I can chase my Daisy dog and try to wrench the stick from her grip. I can play badminton with the boys. I can ride my bike along the hills of Gill. I can lose myself in a weights-yoga workout, do a Downward Dog and start restoring the fire power to my guns (those would be my arms, and if you have ever seen my skinny pipes, you'll understand how ridiculous I am being). I can get to all that work in the yard and garden that's been waiting for my golden (yeah, right) touch all these weeks. I can look forward to completing this reconstruction process without having to break for the destructively wide swath that chemo would have cut. And for now, I can drop the quiet puppy act, and get on with doing more than just wagging my tail.

And finally, on this rainy Friday evening, I bid you happy weekends all. With gratitude for reading, listening, and checking in, I wish you the eyes to see even the tiniest of triumphs, the hands to catch them, and the spirit to weave them into your heart.


Tuesday notes ~

No where is the acceleration of time more evident than in the riotous springtime revelry that has suddenly taken hold. I returned from my reunion weekend to find a cacophony of color and sound bursting all about--our wetlands brimming with shouts of new life and the bizarre mating calls of amphibians and bird fowl (or, I suppose, it could have been the neighbors); our three young peach trees suddenly adorned with inaugural blossoms; the ancient, wild pear trees that dot our land awash in white flowers; the apple trees--young and old, crab and macintosh and cortland--just beginning to show their color; the bright yellow limbs of the gangly forsythia reaching upward and outward to dance along the sudden stark green of new grass; and the red, sugar and Japanese maples, the poplars and birches, the Katsura, the cherry--all sporting newly and delicately blossomed buds, shooting fall colors into the sky to sandwich a green summer between reds, yellows and oranges.

The rains have come to fortify the greens, the buds, the blossoms, this season of hope and promise. I find myself about to burst. Waiting for the Oncotype DX test results, for the final word, to be able to resume my full-bodied, vigorous activities, to schedule the surgery, for my colors.

I would love to be able to report on the results of my Oncotype DX test, that final reassurance I've been waiting for before beginning Tamoxifen--and escaping the clutches of chemo--but I cannot. It seems that it took a week for Dr. Ryan, after many frustrating phone calls and confusion, to get the tissue sample from Baystate Medical in Springfield (whose pathologists were the first to examine the unsightly beast after my biopsy, which yielded the bulk of the cancerous tissue). Thanks to Ruth in Dr. Fox's office who came through at the end--but because the sample went out a week late, results, too, will be delayed by a week, and if planetary energies permit, I'll have ALL GOOD results back by Friday or Monday of next week. I'll then be able to move forward with the Tamoxifen, begin to assemble a pro-active ensemble of nutritional firearms, mind-body wisdom and workers, and various other therapies designed to assist me in getting all my houses in order, (I suppose a good cleaning person would need to be a part of the battalion as well), and walk with confidence into good health.

The happiness part of the deal is trickier. There seems to be such a premium put on happiness these days--pressure to shed the sadness, focus on the positive, be happy, damnit. My melancholy has served me well for the most part. It's provided me with signals to pay closer attention to my needs, to dive inward and explore the caverns of my heart, to reach outside myself, give and receive help, kindness, warmth, love, and bask in the subtleties of life's best offerings. It seems cyclical, a bit circular at times, and for me, the underlying muted lows have been punctuated with the regular, rhythmic pulse of joy and hilarity and deep comfort, which offers balance and sustenance to the soul. And there are always the unexpected delights, that guide me out of these safe habors, to fill my sails and set the rudder to where it might go, then back again, to shelter me from the storm, and drop anchor when the waves swell.

I would not be who I am if not for the cottony webs of melancholy filling the hollows of my soul, and the uplift would pale if not for the pull of the trebled, troubled tether of hurt, longing, and an ache that resounds with the feeling that something is wrong with this world.

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next. ~ Ursula Le Guin

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shine on you Crazy Diamond ~ Going Back to High School

And now, I fancy myself a fiddlehead, unfurling to soak up the dewy morning sunshine, to reveal my full bodied self, raise spirit to sky, and salute my soul...

I was never not going to go to my reunion. Not going was never an option. As I sat in Dr. Fox's office back in February, trying to absorb the news of my diagnosis, and the prospect of a year-long dance with endless doctor appointments, bizarre procedures, exhausting treatments, surgeries, and reconstructions, and the waiting, the Purgatory-like waiting, for results, for news, for word that Life would, indeed, go on, what came to mind first was must get to my Exeter reunion. You need to know, Dr. Fox, I said, that my 25th high school reunion is at the end of April, and I'm going to be there. As I was weighing mastectomy vs. lumpectomy options, I took myself to the edge of possibility--that I would have a mastectomy, reconstruction, that I may even start chemo, and be a bit undermined by the end of April. Still no matter. I would be there. I told all my docs that they would have to arrange everything—surgeries, treatment, appointments—so that I could be there. This is important to me, and my eyes would brim with tears, I simply cannot miss seeing my all those amazing people. Plus, my name was scattered across the program--giving a Friday night speech, serving on a Saturday morning panel, and providing iPod music both nights. Obligations aside, I simply had to be there!

On the Thursday before reunion, Jim, the boys, and I had driven up to The Governor's Academy in Byfield, MA, where Jim has been entertaining a job change, in two separate cars. After a pleasant afternoon touring campus and meeting with the head of the school, I headed north, while Jim and the boys returned home. Governor's is a great opportunity, but we're not in any position to make such a major decision right now. The timing is tricky, to say the least. And it weighed heavily on my mind over the weekend. If we moved there, what would I do? Is there a homeschooling community there? Would the boys be okay? Would Luke want to go to school there? When would I have the energy to move?  Could I leave behind the community of people who were so important to me, start fresh, lay down new tracks, new roots?  It was overwhelming. And with everything going on in my life, I was a bit distracted throughout the weekend, but completely taken in by the intense energy of the gathering nevertheless. It was so good for me to get away. I really haven't spent much time--or enough time, anyway--by myself since my diagnosis. I was looking forward to being on my own, untethered, unfettered, solo. I needed the time for reflection, for choosing my own schedule, for doing what felt right to me, and for not having to answer to any one else’s needs. I needed to enjoy myself, let the weekend spin around me and flow over me, soak up the energy, store up on hugs.

And I did. I was enormously grateful for the time with friends, to be on a campus that has always felt like home, to check in with favorite old teachers and dorm heads, the very people who watched over me, kept me safe, and taught me so well all those years ago. I was reminded of who I was, who I am, who I'd like to be, and how I am still learning from this. I was amazed at how easily talk flowed from breast cancer to homeschooling to other things, without my feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable in the least. I was grateful for the giant two-sided take-no-prisoners hugs that many people gave me. Don't worry, I had to tell some people, I won't pop. And you know, I didn't feel impaired, or sick, or burdened with breast cancer in the least; to the contrary, I felt strong, healthy, vibrant--until ten o'clock hit and I had to fight through my usual bedtime hour fatigue to last a few more hours. And I was amazed, as ever, by the fighting Party Commando spirit that still resides in so many of my friends and classmates, who proved that, as my friend Clinton put it, the world had gone mad, and they were still lovable maniacs, all. However proud I was of them, I was awfully glad I didn't have to do it anymore, and I was just relieved to see that they all made it out of there on Sunday morning, which impressed me ever more.

I had a few momentary lapses of confidence throughout the weekend, times when I suddenly filled with anxiety, or self-doubt, or worry about things going on at home. When I arrived at the Exeter Inn on Thursday to check in, it was clear that their renovations, which were supposed to be finished with the exception for their dining room and downstairs bar, were still in full swing, and the lobby was cluttered with plaster dust, plastic walls, and other construction debris. When I walked the stairs to my room, I could feel my lungs contracting amidst all the bad air, laden with formaldehyde and dust and enough stuff to thoroughly gunk up my system. The scent that emanated from the long, narrow hallway actually took me back to my sister's Lower East Side apartment building--not good. I hadn't smelled that particular brew in a long time. My room--small, but nicely executed in its attention to finishes--was truly baking in its own gases in the unventilated heat of the day. And since there was no screen on the window, the manager switched me to another room down the hall, which housed one window, with a screen, hallelujah, that I could open and so air out the room. I left to meet a small gathering of early bird classmates at a restaurant in town, a lovely way to start things off, with people having flown in from Hong Kong, Sweden, Colorado, Florida, L.A., and San Francisco, and when I returned to the room later that night, the air was better, but still thick, and I couldn't sleep, my anxiety about breathing in all that toxicity putting a stranglehold on the deep breathing necessary for genuine slumber. The air improved throughout the weekend, but my anxiety would tap me on the shoulder a few more times, on Friday night, right before I had to give a speech inducting my dorm head, Susan Herney, as an honorary member of our class, and my stomach seized up and refused to take in any food. But friends saw me through, the speech somehow rolled off my tongue without my usual red-faced stammering (oh, I suppose that was high school, and I have quite gotten over that, but I did forget), and when it was over, it felt great to receive such positive feedback from so many. And on Saturday morning, I was far too fatigued to be a part of the Harkness panel I was slated for, and bowed out as gracefully as I could.

By Saturday night, I finally felt relaxed and ready to eat, and dance--though I was sure not to dance too "vigorously," in case all that hopping up and down to Rock Lobster might have messed with the expander and sent the saline splashing over the dance floor, or worse yet, reconfigured the expansion into something more resembling a truly messed up experiment in body sculpture. I was grateful to my friend Betsy for helping me rally the troops onto the dance floor, move the tables out of the way, and play secret DJ behind the Oz curtain. I could have kept on dancing, but we were shut down at about 11, and escorted to the dark corners of the Inn's basement, where some sweet souls had lined a table with glassware, liquor, and buckets of ice, to lure and tempt the maniacal youth to once again spring out of hiding and steal the night from the weary mid life travelers. Though the high jinks continued most of the night, it was nice to notice that I was no longer tempted, though there was a part of me that felt wistful about it all, but I was happy to climb into my bed by about 2 that morning. I am reminded of that Shawn Colvin song, I used to get drunk to get my spark, And it used to work just fine, It made me wretched but it gave me heart...

I spent Sunday morning with some of my closest girlfriends and wished I could have scooped them all up, put them in my pocket, and taken them home with me. Alas, that's not the way the world works. But I wish it could. We rehashed old, lost stories, laughing about double-wall penis ball and Natalie's "Girls Don't Faht!" tale of Kristin proving them wrong, shared photos of our families, relished the presence of Rachel's Addie and Dave, and Michelle's Juna, and towards the end, previewed my new girl, which seemed to invoke good reviews. (After much lifting of my shirt, I just may end up posting a photo on my blog--the ultimate flash.) I bawled like a baby when it was time to say good bye; the depth of my adoration, gratitude, and fondness for these people, and the sudden realization that we may not be together again for a long time hit me like a ton of bricks. The ride home was long, but it felt good to fall into the arms of my family on the other end.

It's hard to explain just what this reunion has meant to me. Over the past couple of months, this past reunion weekend--with its promise of good cheer, free therapy (!), endless fun, long-overdue, stimulating (adult!) conversation, and late night, mid-life mischief, all with my favorite people in the world—has loomed like an enormous sparkling light, urging me through the murk and trouble, a tether to the wellspring of support and love that has come my way, and that greeted me upon my return last Thursday. It has been my focal point, a chunk of days on my calendar that I have looked forward to and worked to reach, a place and time that has spun and shimmered with possibility--You can get there, you can do anything--go back, dance a little, pull myself up and out of this darkness, and move forward, lighter, stronger, healthier. And all those people! I could see their faces, feel their energy, Juju personified, waiting with open arms. And so when the weekend arrived, I was so grateful to be there, and fall into those arms. And it delivered, truly, on every promise. Not many things do that anymore.
Twenty-five years is a long time. A looooong time. Long enough for fashions to have re-cycled their way through the 70's and 80's at least two or three times already, for music to have reinvented itself, only to sound like the old stuff again, and for my life to have revisited my adolescent uncertainties, angst and self-doubt in a new midlife mode of what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life? It's seems it really is all about the three R's.

My kids listen to music from the early 80's and wonder when "shawty" replaced "baby" in all the songs. I listen to the music my kids like and wonder when that guy, that wonderfully obsessive guy who tours the country in search of typos and grammatical blunders, tool box of fat sharpies, white out, and amicable smile at the ready, is going to stumble upon all the heinous violations in such songs and lyrics as "The Way I Are," and "drinks is on the house!" The guy would have a hey-day! I admire him for the tactful way he goes about engaging everyman in an exchange of mindfulness training about the English language (we could use him around here: our bike path meanderings lead us by several graffiti-stained bridges, where WANA TOKE? bellows from the steel like a bad omen). Hey there! You've spelled "spaghetti" wrong on your sign. Mind if I fix it? No need to feel like a total idiot. Your neighbor forgot the apostrophe in "you're!" So, hey, you're not so dumb!

But I digress. Twenty-five years. One weekend did not do it justice.

And how could it? After battling through the harsh landscape of an Exeter adolescence together, before a wiser, more female (a nod to Kendra O'Donnell, the first woman principal, and all the women faculty and administrators who blazed the trail before her--see Friday night speech at end of post; picture to the right) sensibility warmed up the place, and trying to gut it out alone was about all we could do, we return together, 25 years later, a collective class of '83 soul resonating with the realization that after all these years, we were not alone, that we had each other, that we still have each other. We are close. These are the ties that bind: you leave for twenty-five years, return on a whim, and pick up where you left off. No matter. Good friends are like that. There's nothing better.
It's Friday now, my week has zipped on by, and I am still thoroughly and wonderfully exhausted by an intense four days spent getting to know Exeter again: the place, the people, the memories, the whole experience. My head still buzzes with remnants of the non stop talk, my heart with the improbability that the weekend is over. I am sad. I am missing my friends. The let down is brutal.

Don't get me wrong, I love reunions--for the reconnections, mostly, infused with a spontaneous hilarity and laughter, and a delirious, rapid fire exchange of news, ideas, troubles and joys, that leaves me wanting more, always. It's always a wonder I've done without for so long; no wonder I've been withering on the vine. I appreciate, too, those reconnections with myself too, the chance to remember the baby-faced girl in the photo, reclaim my self from the depths of my own negligence and disrepair, dust off this dancing girl, light up a smile, and shine again. I love reunions for the sole pleasure of getting to know people I didn’t know way back when, and I am always uplifted and energized by these new connections, and by the deepening of older ones that happens so spontaneously as well. There are old bonds to be strengthened, new friendships to be mined, exciting opportunities to be harvested, fun to be had, so much fun to be had. But painfully bittersweet, all. There are always people who aren't able to make it back, leaving visible, glaring holes in the group, and with everyone there is the feeling that you have only skimmed the surface, and could use hours, days, weekends more for truly catching up properly. Just when you're getting going, bang, it's over. How brutally tough that it is just one solitary weekend that had to end as suddenly and swiftly as it began. The hardest part, of course, is having to say good-bye, leave each other, and scatter, again, into our respective lives and our own pockets of the world...until who knows when.

But it was clear--that though we leave each other behind, we do carry each other around within us--and as we go about our lives, we are impregnated with that utterly unique collective class of '83 soul. As I've navigated this breast cancer trail, I have become acutely aware of how lucky I am to have gone to school with such gifted people, and over and over again I have been humbled by the caliber of the company I kept, and amazed by the idea that whatever the trouble, mishap or worry that befalls me, there is someone, many someones, I can call for help, support and love, to get me out of a jam, bail me out, quite literally, to offer wisdom and advice, to find me the best breast surgeon. The absolute privilege of the network--the people I know and the people they know--has hit home this year, and I am forever grateful for this community of people that has seen me through these past difficult months. Going to the reunion was a blessed reminder of how much I have come to depend on that network--the collective energy, talent, and experience that glows ever brightly, a beacon in this often dark and chaotic world.

This was a world, and remains so, that I have always felt at ease in. And Exeter is by no means even close to the elitist preppy snobby world fabrication of misguided folk; who could feel at ease with that? Rather, Exeter has always been a place where I have been able to be me. It's simple. I can unfurl like a fiddlehead and shine in the sun. It was always like that. It still is.

Before I came to Exeter as a tenth grader, I spent three years at a large public junior high in Andover, MA, a town with a "good" public school system that sent a fair percentage of its charges to private schools every year--mostly Phillips Academy, which was just up the road. Despite being just down the road from P.A., East Jr. High sported the typical public school social system of putting each kid into a neat little box, a layout that was so deftly captured by the short-lived but heroic TV show Freaks and Geeks. Like most everyone else, I had a hard time fitting in to those boxes without some serious compromise. I suppose I did just fine socially, learning quickly the ins and outs of the boy-girl trade, the hustle of the boy-girl party, the emotional detachment necessary for surviving the endless loop of boyfriend swapping and the mean girl brigade. But I skirted the deep, dark waters in favor of shallow pools, where no one could really see me. But I was there, somewhere, hiding out behind my flipped back hair and v-neck velour tops, and I was eager to get out. The trouble was, in my school, you were either a Jock, an Egghead, or a Burn-out, and well, I was all three, and I wasn't supposed to be. Some crossover was allowed, but not much. Jocks sometimes partook in Burn-out activities, getting together to drink beer, smoke pot, and talk about buying J's for a buck a piece in the hallway. But to be a true Burn-out you needed to hang out with other Burn-outs by the bandstand outside at recess time, wear army surplus gear, try not to shower too much, and reek of smoke as much as possible. Jocks and Burn-outs were typically not Eggheads, who got the best grades, always did their homework, and had to stand up on stage in front of the whole school at graduation to receive their Highest Honors awards (yeah, that was fun). To the contrary, Jocks--and Burn-outs--gave each other high fives for getting D's, as if they were aspiring to flunk out and spend the rest of their lives pumping gas around the corner. But no one, no one, could be all three. Just didn't happen. Jocks could not be Burn-outs and Eggheads. Eggheads could not be Jocks and Burn-outs. Eggheads didn't party. They studied. And they certainly weren't Jocks.

But then I came along, and really screwed the system up. What to do with a girl like me, who captained three sports, liked to party, and made Highest Honors? Most kids just called me weird and looked at me with some curiosity. But I knew I had to get out of there--it was the Egghead tag that was most problematic. I had no desire to dumb myself down just to fit in, so I made the great escape to Exeter after my ninth grade year, and as soon as I had my interview on campus, I knew it was the right place for me. And as soon as I arrived for the start of my first year there, I was ecstatic: all around were people like me, people just being themselves, and no one as far as I could see was forcing them into a box, or a tag, or a category that excised or diminished some other part of them. There's real magic that happens when those social boundaries are removed--and Exeter, of course, was not without its boundaries, and its cliques, and its social maneuverings, because adolescence is adolescence in all its raw brutality and beauty no matter where it unfolds, but it was different, and it worked. I was at ease there, with myself, with those around me. And it was no different this past reunion weekend; twenty-five years later, I realize I am looking for my next Exeter.

Just a few more days to go before I am released. I will celebrate with proper vigorous dancing, much jumping up and down, booty shaking, pelvic grind, slash and burn, the bump, and the hustle. I might even reprise John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever dance (Sam?). I'll be jerkin' back and forth until my sweat flies off my forehead, my legs start to ache, and the fish flops out of my chest. And as they say, You can dance anywhere, even if only in your heart.

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. ~ Agnes De Mille

(On the Friday night of Reunion weekend, I had the opportunity to honor Susan Herney, who, as my dorm head for all three years, a dean of the school, and collective mom to all of us, figured enormously into my Exeter experience. Here are my remarks from my presentation.)

It wasn’t until I had endured my first year as the head of a girl’s dorm at the Middlesex School that I realized that after many years I had been wrong about Susan Herney.

By the time I had arrived at Langdell as a lower, the older girls in the dorm—particularly the ones we looked up to, with their intimidating 70’s-stylized brand of aloof cool, butt-room privileges, and endless tales of mischief—had mythologized Susan Herney into some fantastical creature with supernatural powers, able to see all, be in more than two places at once, see through closed doors, sniff out illicit substances of all kinds, and—here’s the clincher—work triple duty as Dean, Dorm Head, Advisor, AND still have the time, energy and gumption to follow all the so-called blacklisted students on every Swazey Parkway hike, unseen, running tree to tree ala Benny Hill, as she and the other deans made their way down Crater trails, looking for the big weekend bust.

As if she didn’t have anything better to do…

But I bought it, hook, line and sinker. Those older girls were convincing. Watch out for Susie Q, they told us. Heck, one even wrote it in my yearbook.

But here’s the thing: she never seemed very menacing to me; to the contrary, she was always kind, warm, and respectful. She was there when we needed her, but she didn’t hover. She set clear limits, and we knew exactly what was expected of us. And when we screwed up, she doled out discipline and consequences with a consistent follow-through and a level-headed calm that would have made Super Nanny proud. She entrusted the proctors with a huge amount of responsibility. She even did Jane Fonda workout videos with us in the Langdell common room. This is the stuff that good parenting is all about, particularly when it comes time to teenagers. Trust me, I have one at home and I struggle with it constantly. Despite my doing my best to be scared of her anyway, it was difficult, because I knew, back then, it was just what I needed. Wasn’t it what we all needed?

Once at Exeter, I needed that 8-10 study hall—in my room, by myself. I needed the 10:30 bed time, enforced by proctors, who drifted in and out like shadows of the mothers we had left at home. And from the Dean’s Office, I needed those slips telling me that I couldn’t miss any more classes. (I know this because I really could have used this kind of help in college). By the time I was a senior, things had changed, of course. By then, we had been allowed to grow into the responsibilities that we had now been given as proctors, and Mrs. Herney ably allowed us the space and support to do our job: to assume responsibility for the whereabouts of 45 girls on, say, a Friday night, to make sure they were doing okay: getting their homework done, getting enough sleep, getting along with each other, and getting through the weekends, it seems, without drinking too much. I remember one fac-proc meeting in her apartment, when she asked me very point blank, “Liz, do you think Rachel is drinking too much?” Not, “Liz, do you think Rachel is drinking?” But is she drinking too much. There’s a big difference there. “No,” I said, trying not to miss a beat, “I think she’s just fine.” What would I have said? “No, I think she’s drinking just the right amount?”
Throughout my time at Exeter, and despite my grumbling, I counted on knowing that Mrs. Herney would be checking me in on many Saturday nights, when temptations drifted my way, and it was infinitely helpful to have a clear limit on what would work and what would absolutely not, and I respected her for that. I remember one such Saturday night, when, after a night of dancing, sweating, and jumping into the Exeter River, Rachel and I returned to the dorm for check in dripping wet. Mrs. Herney could have been furious with us, and maybe she was, but she didn’t show it. She very calmly told us that it simply wasn’t a good idea to jump into the river, especially in the dark. It was dangerous. And you know what--? She was right!

Ten years later, when I was running a girl’s dorm, it was torturous thinking about all the foolish things those girls were doing, especially the ninth and tenth graders, and I didn’t get much sleep. Thinking back to the way Mrs. Herney had trusted me as a senior proctor, I enlisted the help of my senior proctors to help me try to keep them out of trouble, and somehow made it through the year without any major catastrophes, or completely losing my head, but you know—the year gave me a much deeper appreciation for how capably, nimbly, and expertly Susan Herney did her many different jobs at Exeter.

And let’s be clear, here. Exeter hasn’t always been an easy place to be female. Imagine what it must have been like in 1972, just two years into the tenuous beginnings of co-education at Exeter, and a full five years before girls would be admitted as boarders. This is when Susan Jorgenson arrived at Exeter. Six years later, she had married Jack Herney, and moved into Langdell. In our day, as the school was celebrating 10 years of co-education, its Bicentennial, and the dedication of the Love Gymnasium, and as Sue Herney was serving as Dorm Head, a dean of the school, and advisor, there were only 24 women on the faculty—Suzanne Graver, Christine Robinson, Eve Plumb, Senorita Piana, to name but four—and few women held department heads or top administrative positions. In 1981, the first four-year boarding girls would graduate. Did you remember that?

And yet, many would argue that it was by and large the females on campus—in all sorts of different roles—who created community at Exeter—a community that would benefit all students, and one that would benefit from changes made to warm up and strengthen residential and day student life, diversify the faculty, staff and student body, rebalance the male-female student ratio, establish new programs to better support healthy, responsible choices, and infuse the curriculum with such offerings as “Women and the Family” and “Great Women Writers.” As we know, it takes a while for such changes to take hold at a place where tradition has sunk its teeth, deeply, into its customs, curriculum, and ways of life.

Susan Herney has been a huge part of the ongoing efforts to create a healthier, warmer, more balanced community at Exeter. In 1985, just two years after Exeter hosted the National Conference on “Women Educators in Independent Schools,” she became the first woman to be appointed Dean of Students and set about continuing to do what she’d be doing for the past 13 years—listening and responding to the needs of the community, and working to better it. She has worked in development and currently works as the Senior Associate Admissions Director. Throughout it all, her husband Jack Herney has diligently and tirelessly worked for the betterment of the school as well. A New York Times article from 1987, heralding the arrival of Kendra O’Donnell as the school’s first woman Principal, wrote about the “perfect Exeter girl: confident, intelligent, athletic, and well-connected in the boarding school world.”

Thank you, Susan, for blazing the trail for Kendra, and so many others.