Monday, October 12, 2015

Reading old journals

Every once in a while, I drag out an old journal or two and read through them. I've kept a journal since I was thirteen. I keep them in a box in the basement. Yesterday, as I waited for the wash to finish the spin cycle (yes...I AM that lazy...I didn't want to go upstairs and then have to come back down in five minutes...) I grabbed a journal from 2002. Liv was three years old. And like most parents, my journal was mostly filled with Liv-isms.

I wasn't with Bing yet. She was still teaching in New Orleans. I had not had a date in over a year and was just fine with that. I was in my stay-at-home period of my life. It started when Liv was 2 months old and when she was in pre-school, I went back to work part time as a free lance jury selector. When she started 1st grade, I started back to work full time at a hospital. Later, I would go on to buy in to my own practice with two friends, but for this journal, I was a SAHM.

I had enough money in savings to last until Liv was four and if nothing major went wrong. I had to penny pinch, though. Oddly enough, thinking back, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Just me and Liv. All. Day. Long. Some of those days seemed to last much longer than 24 hours, but for the most part, I enjoyed this stint of my life.

And reading back, I realize what a smart and funny child I had.

Prepare yourself. This is the part where I become a braggart about my child. But, honestly, she was so smart and funny.

1) I used to take her to a Mommy and Me swimming class. She liked it much more than I did but I felt it was important to try to socialize her. There was a parent there who wanted to have a play date with us SO badly. We tried it once and I hated it. Mostly because this other parent seemed vacuous to the point where I could hardly stand spending even an hour with her. And her daughter was a bit of a bully who said things like, "I like to put my fingers in my butt, don't you?" Liv seemed honestly bewildered by this child. We only had the one playdate and then something happened that sealed our fate and made us a bad play date choice. We were in the WAY too public changing room after our swimming class and both of our daughters were naked as we toweled we them off. The other little girl pointed to her vagina and told Liv, "I call this my gadget." Liv looked up at me and said, "I call that stupid." We were never asked on a play date again even though I had gently admonished Liv by telling her that we don't use the word stupid when referring to another person.

2) Liv continually mispronounced the word popcorn. She called it cockporn. She would often ask for this in grocery stores.

3) Once, out of the blue, Liv told me that she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. I smiled at her. "I want to make spoons," she said. "Or chase squirrels. Maybe be in charge of putting ice in cups." I nodded. Okay. Whatever you want.

4) Once, when I couldn't find a sitter and had a UTI, I took her with me when I went to the doctor. I was given a cup to pee into and took her into the bathroom with me where she solemnly watched me pee into a cup. As I carefully set the cup on the ledge and pulled up my jeans, she gave me a seriously dubious look. "Who has to drink that?" she asked.

Yeah. 2002 was a very good year.

Any funny stories to share?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Luckiest

I sure didn't feel lucky last night in the harsh glare of the bathroom light after my shower.

You and I stood in it, me naked and dried off, but shivery. You, with a huge blob of Miaderm in your hand as you came tentatively towards me, wincing before you even had to touch me.

Radiation burns suck the big one.

You took a step towards me, I took an instinctual step back, knowing what was coming. The cold sizzle of cream followed by the searing pain.

I bit my lip. "Sorry," I muttered. "Just do it, okay?"

So you did and I didn't cry out but shook with a spasm of pain shivers. GOD DAMN IT THAT HURT!

You swiped quickly, lightly, expertly, while my legs shook and I looked up at the ceiling willing myself not to cry.

"Wouldja just cry, already?" you finally said, as you finished doing what I couldn't do for myself anymore. It was just too painful.

"I don't want to make you feel badly," I told you. "I know it's hard for you to do this and I don't want to make it worse for you."

You sighed. And then it was over and my big red fisherman's shirt was over me, sticking lightly to me until I pulled the fabric away from my skin. As I did, waves of heat came up through the neck hitting me on the chin. God, this sucks so badly.

8 more days and I am done. 8 more days and I am done. 8 more days and I am done. Or maybe less, the oncology radiologist says since my pale Irish skin is so burned that it is already beginning to blister and peel.

Later, in bed after waiting up for Liv to come home, we sank into our bed, tired to the bone. I was almost asleep when I heard you whisper something but I couldn't quite make it out.

"What?" I said, tiredly.

"Oh, sorry. You were breathing like you were asleep," you said. "I was...God, this is going to sound crazy..."

"Well, I'm wide awake now," I said, crabbily. "What?"

"I was saying a St. Therese novena for you. I just...god, I hate it that you are in so much pain and I have to sit and watch you and not be able to take it away. I feel so helpless."

I couldn't help it, I chortled. Bing is one of the last people I would ever expect to say a novena. She rolls her eyes at the collection of novenas we have amassed stuck to our fridge by magnets.

Saint Rafka
Saint Agatha
Saint Peregrine
Saint Giles
Saint Jude
Saint Josemaria Escriva
Saint Joseph
Saint Fiacre
Saint Rita of Cascia
Saint Anne

All sent by my side of the family, the extremely Catholic side. Liv jokes that she will never have to study up on patron saints again, that she is well educated now.

Bing laughed, too. Softly.

"At this point, I will invest in voodoo to help you," she said.

We fall asleep and I awake a few hours later, chest stinging. This happens almost every night. My radiation burns itch like mad and while I can prevent myself from scratching when I am awake, it is difficult when I do it in my sleep.

I get up, as I always do and check on Liv, who is deeply asleep, her left foot out of the covers, as always. I tucked it back it in and sat in the old rocker that is still in her room, has been there since her babyhood. All those days and nights when I rocked and rocked her to sleep, through not wanting to take a nap, 102 degree fevers, allergies, bad dreams.

Without thinking, I set myself rocking, slowly, steadily.

And I thought to myself that I am so lucky. Really. I thought that. I am not some saint. I don't spend my idle hours saying prayers for the poor souls in purgatory as my Mother did. But, I thought back to this man we saw walking in the twilight as we drove home from Liv's softball game. He must have been 80 years old and he had a long grey beard and a small black backpack fastened against himself. He was carrying a stick, walking on the side of the road, walking up a hill and not hitching a ride nor a sign saying he would work for food. He was looking up at the stars.

We drove by slowly and I only got a glimpse of him but I turned to Bing and said, "I hope he's okay. Do you think he's okay?"

She said that yes, she did. That he looked like a self reliant sort of guy. He did, I agreed. But, still. He must have felt lonely out there alone on a cold Autumn night on the prairie.

I have so much. I had eaten a delicious Chinese dinner that night with Liv, Bing and Sven and his Mother. How pleasant to have a whole table of Democrats, I had thought to myself! So unlike dinners with my family where I have one sister proudly talking about how much she loved reading Sarah Palin's book, Going Rogue. When I pointed out to her that Sarah had, in fact, NOT written that book, that a ghost writer named Lynn Vincent had actually written the book, she retorted that it hardly mattered, that they were Sarah's thoughts

I had thought to myself, Do you really want a president who can't even write her own book?...but didn't comment.

And then, more recently, I sat silently, biting the inside of my cheek HARD as another sister went on and on about how much she admired Mario Rubio's showing on the debates. Really? MARIO Rubio? Are you sure about that, sis? Maybe you meant MARCO?

How lovely it was to sit at a table and talk to intelligent, well read people about the election. And eat with chopsticks and not be called a show off. Yes, I know how to use chopsticks and so does my child. Big deal.

I had adored that dinner. The good talk about Obamacare and how it just may go down in history as a GOOD thing. Kind of like Social Security did. When it was first introduced, everyone balked. HOW DARE the government take money out of our paychecks to help us save for our retirement? And now, look. Everyone depends on it, is despairing of it withering away.

I love my spouse. My Bing. I love how, on Sunday mornings, we go buy Pumpkin Spice lattes at Starbucks and then go to McDonald's for an egg white delight for me and to Taco Bell for a breakfast burrito for her and go to Benson Park with old bread in our bag for the ducks. Socks comes with us now that he is older and better mannered and not inclined to chase the fowl life. Bing and I sit on a bench and for some reason, our best talks occur right here with the occasional quack and Socks settled at our feet, usually enjoying half of my egg white delight.

I love that we talk about zombies. What it would be like if The Walking Dead was real. We agreed that those ducks and squirrels would be everywhere. I mean, how could a zombie catch a duck? They are so slow and fumbling. Which led us to the obvious question? Do you think zombies can swim? We talked a long time about how the wild life in the forests would flourish because really, how many zombies are there in the forest? Yes, we would just find some abandoned forest cabin and settle down in it with Sven and his mother. I already knew how to kill a chicken (Thank you, Mother!) and pluck and dress it. I could do the same for a goose or a duck. We'd figure out how to deal with deer and feral pigs. We'd plant a garden. Bing and Sven could make runs to the city to find my RA medications and lots and lots of condoms. Because the LAST thing we would need would be for Liv and Sven to bring a baby into the world. Good lord, NO. We'd have to build a well....

I mean, seriously. How lucky am I to have someone that I can sit on a bench with on a Sunday morning and discuss zombies?

I have this incredible house. If I have to deal with cancer, it is helpful to have a soft place to land when I come home from radiation therapy. My retired days are full of writing, walking the dog, sitting outside in the cool breeze with Socks in my lap while I read and the yellow and gold leaves fall around us. I drink a pumpkin spice latte nearly every day from Starbucks. Fuck it if it's cliche. I LOVE those suckers.

We have enough money to plan Christmas in New Orleans. We just went out and bought a new stove. Our last one finally refused to come back on after the power went out during a wild Summer storm. After tinkering with it forever, Bing decided that she had never liked having an electric stove anyway and that we needed to get a gas one. So, we did. Now, of course, we have to get the gas lines all set up...but...we didn't blink when we wrote the 1,000$  check for the stove at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Liv still curls up next to me on the sofa, although, albeit, she is very careful now. My blistered chest causes us both caution. But, I sometimes just grit my teeth and don't say anything when it hurts a little bit. It is worth it to have her long body next to mine. Right now, we are researching ways to fatten her up. At her last doctor's check up, he pronounced her about ten pounds underweight and since she isn't a dieter or a purger, etc. this is a concern. This has been a concern since she was a baby. She has always been skinny. And while she isn't a big eater, she does eat plenty. Now, we are trying to add protein bars and smoothies to her diet.

But, how lovely it is to just lay on the sofa with my sixteen year old daughter nestled in my arms, while she laughingly shows me a text from her Father or one of her friends. She has declared her junior year of high school the year of the no-boyfriend year and I, for one, am JUST FINE with that. She goes out with her gang of girlfriends and I breathe easier.

And she has not crashed any cars. Or missed any curfews.

I am so lucky. Maybe not lucky with this cancer. But....I am the luckiest in so many ways.

I have good friends, a best friend (Harriet) who brings me chicken noodle soup. I have a dog who talks like Ernest Borgnine. I am going to see Kinky Boots when it comes to my city on October 24th.

I am the luckiest.

In 8 days, I will be done with radiation.....

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Here be dragons

On an old Lenox globe from 1510, where there is undocumented territory, it says hic sunt dracones or, as we know it: here be dragons.

I think of all the unexplored areas of my life in those terms.

Especially Nirand.

Nirand was Tinton's (Liv's Father) assistant for many years and also his good and trusted friend. They traveled the world together, working on various digs and spelunking. Two years ago, though, Tinton began having some back and leg problems and he realized that he could no longer live on the side of mountains in tents and excavate. He took a job with a college in Colorado and settled down with his long suffering girlfriend of over a decade and became an academic.

Nirand, however, was not ready to throw his vagabond towel in yet and he went on to a dig in England where he has been for the last two years. He and Tinton talk often and whenever Tinton talks about Nirand there is just a trace of jealousy in his voice. If his knees hadn't started giving out on him, I know he would've been right there with him.

Nirand, a native of India, used to often come with Tinton when he visited us here on the prairie and he and I became good friends. Probably too good of friends. There was an electricity between us from the beginning and while we never really acknowledged it or acted on it, it was there.

Once, we came close. To acting on that spark. He and I were in my kitchen....years ago and he was teaching me how to do something called "a hand dance."

We linked arms and touched hands and our eyes met and held and well....stars could have fell on Alabama. 1, 2, 3 seconds more and we would have kissed.

Except that we didn't. I broke off and fled out into my garden, shocked at how close I had come to betraying Bing.

Nirand and I eventually talked about it. We have always talked our way in and around everything. It is why we were and are such close friends. We agreed that we had dodged a bullet and that it would never happen again. And it never has.

There have been others. In most marriages, I believe, there are others. This is not unusual. I am not an overly romantic person. I do not believe that there is one person in this world for us and if we are lucky, we find them. I believe that our lives can be fitted well with many people. It is just a matter of who we choose and what path we take. We have many possible journeys inside of us.

I chose Bing. And I have never regretted it. Okay that is a lie. Sometimes when she is driving me crazy, I have entertained the thought of being a pot without a lid. But, it is rare. Even when she is annoying to me, my love for her is so consuming that it is big enough to compensate for the fact that she tends to dismiss and ignore people whom she feels aren't intelligent or are boring. And I am very certain that she has thought about her other choices as well. But, when push comes to shove, I chose her and she chose me. We are a pair. A mismatched set, but we make it work. And it is better together. Life is sweeter together. We are happy.

If I had acted on that moment with Nirand, it would have hurt Bing. And nothing is worth that to me.

Here be dragons.

I haven't spoken much to Nirand in the past two years. Tinton tells me that he loved the dig in England and that he was looking around for another nearby gig as he had grown to love the area as well. England suited him to a tee. He was happy.

A few nights ago, I was curled in a chair reading, thinking about heading upstairs to bed when my cell phone rang. I glanced down and smiled when I saw Nirand's name.

I picked up.

"Hi, stranger!"

"Hello, sweet Maria. How are you?"

And it was, as always, as if we had spoken yesterday and not years ago. I thanked him for the lovely books that he sent to me (I didn't admit that I hadn't gotten around to reading to them yet, but they WERE in my pile.) He said that he had been keeping track of my health through Tinton and heard that I was kicking cancer's ass.

"Well, I'm at least kicking it in the back of it's knees," I told him.

"Naw, you're a bad ass. You're  kicking it's teeth out," he answered.

I said okay. I never argue with that reasoning. Privately, I am very scared. This cancer nearly got me. It brought me to my knees. But, I got back up. That has to count for something.  Please?

We talked for a long time about England, his dig, my retirement, the reappearance of Sven and all that entailed. And then we moved on to movies and books. As always, we had read the same books and loved the same movies. Kindred spirits.

And then he said, "I heard this old, old song and I thought of you. I sent it to you via e-mail. I wanted to call, wanted you to know that I didn't mean it in an unsavory way."

I assured him that whatever it was, it was okay.

"Well, wait," I said. "You didn't send me "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails or anything, didja?"

He laughed. Said of course not.

"I'm a classy guy, Maria," he said. "I wouldn't send you smut. As much as we both enjoy good smut. I would never send it to you. No. It's a Neil Diamond song. So, yeah...kind of drippy. But, nice. In a Neil sort of way."

"Kind of like in a Sweet Caroline way, right?" I asked.

"Right," he said. "Kind of gooney, but sweet. Like a cinnamon roll."

We talked for a while longer and then I realized that while it was nearly 9:00 here that meant it was nearly 3:00 a.m. his time. So, I told him to go to bed.

"I called you because I couldn't sleep," he said. "Now, I think I can close my eyes and have some sweet dreams."

We wished each other well and promised to stay in touch better and I invited him for Thanksgiving since we were going to New Orleans for Christmas this year. He promised to consider it. I knew he wouldn't be coming but it was nice of him to pretend to think about it anyway.

We hung up and I pulled up my email and the song.

I sighed as I listened.

Here be dragons.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Why I hate insurance

I have had Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance for the past 8 years. It covers myself and Liv. Bing had her own similar policy with the public schools and now works for a company that uses United Health Coverage.

I have had nary a problem.

Until now.

I retired from my job in mid September and according to our policy, would only receive health benefits until September 30. I had an option of going for BCBS's retirement policy (a little pricier than cobra but worth it since it would cover me until I was 65 instead of just 18 months.)

Since I had already met my deductible and by converting to the retirement policy, I would just switch over to paying premiums myself and keep the same policy, we decided that I would do that and then, in January, Bing would put both Liv and I on her insurance at her job.

Sounds easy, yes?

Well, I filled out all the forms and got them turned in in a timely manner. And then, when I took Liv to the ER a few days ago, I was informed by the hospital that my insurance card had been "inactivated" and that we were no longer covered.

I calmly told them that this was a mistake, explained the situation: that I had retired and was changing over to a direct bill retirement policy but that I would maintain my same policy number. They somehow agreed to treat Liv after I signed ten million pages of paperwork saying that I would be responsible for her treatment if BCBS didn't pony up.

The next day, I called and left a message for BCBS. They hadn't returned my call when I went through the drive through at a local pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. The pharmacist informed me that my card was "inactivated" and that instead of the 0$ that I had been paying for month (again, deductible met), I would now owe nearly 1000$ for prescriptions. I scoffed. Left the prescriptions saying that I would pick them up after I had gotten this squared away with BCBS.

I think it would have been easier to get a private meeting with the pope. I was put on hold and then transferred over and over. I spoke with Jenny and then Lula and then John. I was told that my paperwork had not been received, therefore my account had been "inactivated."

I swore that I sent it in. I have chemo brain, yes...but not THAT bad. I distinctly remembered filling in that paperwork because it was more confusing than any taxes I'd ever done. Was I changing or applying for new coverage? Well....both, sort of. Did I currently have coverage with a BCBS policy other than my retirement plan and if so, I needed to attach proof of it. Bing and I sweated out a whole weekend filling the whole thing out.

So, not easily forgotten. I had also called BCBS several times to figure out how to translate long winding sentences that even a lawyer would have had trouble with. To my surprise, I called one day and got one answer and the next I called just to make sure and received a differing answer. Which was which? This was freaking HARD. But, we got 'er done.

And now...WHAT? I had no insurance? Are you fucking kidding me?

I finally called and talked to someone who seemed fairly knowledgeable and played the cancer card.

"Listen, I am currently in the middle of radiation treatment for breast cancer and I cannot affort for your company to lose my paperwork. I filled it out and you should have received it no later than September 21. I want that paperwork found and my new insurance backdated to October 1st. This is causing me a lot of stress and I am already overloaded with stress due to my CANCER."

Well, this person seemed to sort of know their job. (And THAT the best that we can train employees? To kinda sorta kinda know their jobs?) She went the extra mile and located my paperwork in another city. How it got there is anyone's guess. But, she arranged to have it placed in URGENT need, my card re-activated. and backdated.

I think. I hope.

Bing and I are going to go to the pharmacy tomorrow to try again to pick up prescriptions.

If they tell me that my card is still inactivated, I may have to start crying and fling myself on the floor.

Anyone have an insurance story to share? Misery loves company......

Friday, October 02, 2015

Canning, freezing and Liv scares her Mother shitless

Yesterday, I let Liv stay home to spend the day canning and freezing our garden produce. It's been a sort of paltry year. We have absolutely no extras to hand out to neighbors or send on to the house for homeless women and their children, but we have enough to feed us through the Winter.

Bing and Liv had brought in all of it the previous evening. We had beans, okra, beets and asparagus to can and would freeze everything else. Bing had even brought up the huge canning pressure cooker from the basement and set it on the kitchen counter. In addition, we had some apples donated from our neighbor to bake into several pies. One for now and two for Thanksgiving. The rest of the apples would be either frozen to make cobbler this Winter or applesauce.

It was a long day. I had overestimated my endurance and towards the end, my energy flagged and Liv finished up without me, aided by Sven, who came over to help. They baked the pies and made the applesauce and put the last of the beans in the pressure cooker. When we finished, we had over 30 jars and 22 ziploc bags of frozen vegetables. And several pints of applesauce.

So, a good start. This weekend, we will put the garden to bed. Always a hard thing for me to do, but it will freeze soon and we need to get it done. Get those hoes out and start tilling up the soil and covering it with mulch.

We finished by 3 and Liv and Sven lounged on the sofa watching a movie while I completely zonked out on the lazy boy without a scarf for my head, probably snoring. Cancer has given me the gift of not caring what I look like anymore. The allure of sleep is too strong.

When I awakened, it was only because Bing was gently shaking me, telling me that it was time to leave for Liv's softball game. Liv had already left with Sven driving her.

Bing sighed unhappily. "I think they were holding hands on the sofa when I came home," she said. "I'm not liking this much."

I retorted that I had been sitting right next to them, that they couldn't have done much. She laughed.

"Maria, you were out like a light. They could have been making a grandchild for you and you wouldn't have stirred. I had to nearly pour ice water on you to get you to wake up."

I grimaced. Not ready to be a grandmother just yet, thank you. And not that I think that Liv would do that, it's just that she is very, very inclined NOT to share dating details anymore, especially anything regarding Sven. They are both careful not to display any PDAs in front of us, but I am fairly certain that when they are alone, they indulge in some....well.....something. Still, Sven is a gentleman and whenever they go anywhere, he is careful to invite us all. But, I'm not an idiot. They both look relieved and happy when we decline and they get time to themselves.

So, Bing and I drove to Liv's game. Liv is not really happy on the team. She missed several practices because she's been looking at colleges and her coach is adamant that if you miss a practice, you do not play the next she's had to sit out several games. And if a player strikes out, the next game, if they play 1st, 2nd or 3rd base or shortstop (as Liv does), they get relegated to playing a back field position. Because Liv struck out at the last game, she would be playing right field this game instead of shortstop. These practices may be good at making sure that kids go to practice and try hard not to strike out, but it has not helped the team advance. Girls who are not that adept at the game end up playing bases or shortstop and having less-than players in these key positions has made them lose several games. They have won only half of their games this season.

Bing and I found Sven in the bleachers and sat down next to him. Bing fussed over getting a blanket pulled around me and asking me if I wanted hot chocolate. The weather has suddenly gone from Indian Summer to Autumn with temps in the high 50's instead of those low 70's. Sweater weather. We've been going to Husker games with just our sweatshirts on. The next game we will need sweaters, blankets and a thermos of hot cocoa. So far, I have made it to every home game, but have ended up sleeping ALL the way home and then going right to bed as soon as we get home. Energy is still problematic.

I watched Liv dutifully run to her position in the outfield, punching her glove. The team we were playing won state last year and still had most of their players who were now seniors this year. It would be a tough game. The first three batters made hits and the bases became loaded.  I watched the pitcher wind up and

SMACK.....that ball went sailing into right field. I shielded my eyes from the setting sun, knowing that Liv was looking up into the sun, too. It looked like it might go over the fence and be a homer. And then I saw Liv leap high into the air and come down with the ball in her glove but against the fence. The ball tipped out of her glove and on to the ground. She slid down the fence and hit the ground, too. Our opponent's coach screamed at the girls to "RUN, RUN!"

Liv didn't get up right away and my throat caught and then she struggled to her knees and grabbed the ball and heaved it home. But, it was too late. The hitter was sliding into home plate and despite the catcher's valiant attempts, she was safe.

I looked again at Liv, who was now laying on the field, curled up. Without thinking, I rose to my feet and started for the field. Bing held me back.

"Hang on," she said. "Look, Liv's getting up and the coaches are going out there." Shaking, I sat down, not taking my eyes off her. When I saw the other team celebrating, rage came over me. I wanted to SMACK that batter, HOW DARE SHE HIT A BALL THAT HURT MY CHILD.

My eyes went back to Liv. She was waving off the coaches in her I'm fine, I'm FINE! gesture. But, I saw her reach up and massage her right temple.

I stood up. "I'm going to the dugout to make sure that she is okay," I said. And before either Bing or Sven could speak, I shook off the blanket and headed to the dugout to wait it out. After another painful few minutes, the inning was over and Liv and her teammates came back to the dugout. The coach immediately handed Liv an icebag and she put it over her temple. She sat down and I made my way towards her. When I reached her, I was worried that she would be angry for being what she calls "the overprotective mother thing." Instead she leaned into me. The coach crouched in front of her.

"Let me get a look, Liv," she said, and Liv took off the icebag. I gasped. (I am so helpful and calm.) A large bruise was forming at Liv's temple and I could see her undereye purpling. One of the other player's Fathers, a doctor, came over and asked to examine her. She allowed him to do so.

"Well," he said. "I think you'll be just fine...but expect a shiner tomorrow," he told her, patting her shoulder. I looked down into my daughter's face. Yes, a definite shiner.

"Do you think I should run her to the ER?" I asked. I was told that the ball didn't hit her, she just took a "face full of fence" and that she'd be fine.

Liv's coach said, "That's it for you this game, though, Liv. Just sit the rest out."

Liv looked miserably ahead of her.

"C'mon," I told her. "We're running to the hospital just to make sure."

Liv protested, but when she saw that I was not going to budge, she caved. And so...last night we spent a few hours in the ER. It was determined that Liv is fine, that she does not have a concussion, etc. but that....yes....she will have a lovely black eye.

Her comment? "I can't believe I let that ball slip out of my GLOVE!"

I reminded her that the homecoming dance was this weekend. Did she mind that she would have a black eye?

No, she said. She was going with a group of girls. If a boy wanted to ask her to dance, they'd have something to talk about. That's my girl.

After we got home, Sven brought over a bag of frozen peas from his Mother's house to put on Liv's eye.

"You're such a bad ass!" he said.

Bing chuckled. "Like Mother, like daughter," she said.

I looked at her, puzzled. "Are you kidding me?" I said. "If I had ever played on a softball team and the ball was coming towards me that hard and fast, I would have held my arms over my head. I wouldn't have DOVE for it, like my studly daughter did. I can honestly say that I have never had, nor will I ever have, a face full of fence."

And it's true. My child is a jock in a way that I have never been or will ever be. Even in volleyball, I would cringe in horror if the ball came my way. Where Liv got those die hard athletic genes, I have no clue. Even her Father was a bench sitter ALL through high school, although he does crawl around mountains for a living.

Later, when Liv got out of the shower, I came in to check out her eye. It had already moved from blackish purple to a greenish brownish purple. I pulled her towards me for a hug as she shivered in her towel.

"Mama, thank you for insisting on taking me to the ER," Liv said. "It really hurt a LOT and I didn't want to act like a baby, but I was scared."

I held her tight. "I was so afraid that you'd be mad," I said. "But, you were going to the ER if I had to carry you there kicking and screaming. Schools don't look out for you like your Mother does. They worry about lawsuits."

"You know, I think you ARE kind of a bad ass, too," Liv said. "Just in a different way,"

Maybe so. But, you Mothers and Fathers out there get me completely. There is NOTHING more scary than watching your child fall on the field and not get up. It was like my heart went into fast motion.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. You have to be a bad ass, yes?


Imagine Whoopi Goldberg about 20 years older and about 40 pounds lighter. That's Sada. I met her on my first day of radiation therapy. I slunk in as I did when starting chemotherapy, determined to just get this shit over with already. I used my patient card to beep into the kiosk and my name popped up:

Maria Lastname is now here!

I wondered what the exclamation mark was for. I mean, it wasn't as if I was excited about burning the hell (and cancer) out of myself. I sighed, reminding myself to complain again about the crappy parking and puke smelling elevator at the hospital and then went to the room labeled Women's Dressing Room complete with a drawing of a rotund woman in a hospital gown in case we weren't sure what sex we were.

I found the closet labeled GOWNS and selected one as I had been instructed. Took off my blouse and put the gown on that was obviously meant for a giantess. I could have easily wrapped it around myself twice. Hung up my clothes in another closet with the number 3 on it and wrapped the little key on an elastic wristband around my wrist and walked into the other room, labeled Women's waiting room. This one had a picture of a woman in a hospital gown sitting in a chair reading a newspaper, a cookie and a cup of coffee on the table next to her.

I had seen the cookies and the coffee when I signed in but couldn't imagine wanting to eat. Food and I now have an adversarial relationship. I eat to live. I can't taste anything since chemo, so there is little pleasure in it for me anymore. The worst thing? I can SMELL the food and it smells delicious, but I might as well be eating cardboard. It's frustrating. Weirdly, I can taste certain foods when they are paired with other foods. I can taste chocolate when it is paired with peanut butter, so Reeses are an option for me. I can also taste pumpkin if it has cinnamon on it, a LOT of cinnamon. So, each day I allow myself to get a pumpkin spice latte from Scooters and ask then to load it with cinnamon on top.

I basically live on Reese's bars and lattes.

Anyway, I plopped down and noticed the only other two people in the room: an older black woman who was dressed in black pants and a sequined red top and someone who looked to be her granddaughter, a teenager. A pregnant teenager who looked not a day over 14. A very pregnant teenager. I smiled at both of them and nodded politely.

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SMILING ABOUT?" the older woman asked me while she yanked on her long black curly mop of hair. I started when it tipped halfway across her head. The teenager burst out laughing.

"Grandma, your hair is falling off," she said and stood up to right it. The older woman snarled at her in a way that scared no one and went back to me.

"Seriously, don't smile at me, white girl," she said. "If you're here to be radiated like me, we have nothing to smile about."

I didn't answer, just went back to my paper.

Bitch, I thought.

Just then, a tech nurse came in and smiled and said, "Okay, Sada, let's do this. Still refusing to wear your gown, I see."

"Damn straight!" the woman replied. "Them things are butt ugly. I won't be caught dead in one."

The tech nurse shrugged and they left. The pregnant teenager turned to me and said, "Don't be offended. My grandma wouldn't hurt a fly. She just hates the radiator."

I blinked. The WHAT? And then, I figured it out. She meant radiation.

"No offense taken," I said. "I am not crazy about these gowns either."

The girl shook her head. "She gets all dressed up to come here, like we're going to church or something. She says that she just takes off her top when they get to the radiator room and that's that. But, she won't touch my belly anymore. Says that she doesn't want any radiator poison seepin' in to the baby."

I nodded.

Dumb as doorknobs, both of them, I thought.

Sada came back, sashaying in the room in her black patent leather high heels and pointed to me.

"Next victim," she said.

And so I was.

Each day, I looked forward to see what Sada would wear and what wig she would put on. She favored a set of braids that looked very much like Whoopi Goldberg. She NEVER put a gown on. I thought a time or two about joining in her refusal to put on a gown, and then decided not to. It was bad enough that I had to pull the gown off of my right shoulder to get radiation therapy, I didn't really want to do it topless.

By the end of the first week, I was wincing as I took off my blouse in the cubicle. I was bright red and starting to blister a little bit. As I sat with Sada (who was ALWAYS late, therefore making my appointment late, too), she turned to me.

"I see you're looking kinda peaked," she said. "You're really a pale one. I bet you're blistering and peeling like a motherfucker."

I thought about acting like I had a cob up my ass and decided not to.

"You're right," I said. "I'm blistering and peeling like a FUCKING motherfucker."

Sada cackled. And then shocked me by lifting her bright green blinged out blouse. I gasped. It was harder to tell on her black skin, but she was blistering a bit, too.

I wasn't going to share my chest, just nodded in what I hoped was a sympathetic way.

"Yup," I said. "Looks familiar."

The next day, Sada handed me a small jar that said Keokuk ointment..  "I use this. It helps," she said. I reluctantly took the lid off of the jar. Inside it looked like a vaseline textured mix that had a slightly astringent odor.

"If you're gonna act like a biddy about the smell, give it back," she said. "Do you want to help yourself of not?"

I said yes and asked her how much I owed her. She looked like I slapped her.

"It's a gift," she said. "One cancer bitch to another, Miss Snooty pants."

Well, I wanted to be mad, but instead I laughed. "I'm NOT snooty," I told her.

"Are too,"

"Am not, and if I'm snooty than you're bitchy," I told her. "But, thank you. I'll try it."

I did. It helped. And later when Liv's kunsi sent me a recipe for salve and I made it up, I shared it with Sada and we both agreed that it worked even better than the Keokuk, although they both stunk to high heaven.

"We don't have to worry about the mens coming around sniffing at us when we have this shit on," she told me.

I laughed. Told her no...certainly not. Not the women, either.

Sada reared back and slitted her eyes at me. "Well, well," she finally said. "So, you's one of those manly women."

I glared right back at her. "Nothing manly about THIS broad," I said. She looked at me for a moment longer and then she laughed.

"No," she said. "You're very girly. Well, except for that bald head, no eyelashes or eyebrows and that odor you carry."

I just shook my head at her. On that day, she was wearing a bright red and orange sparkly (she ALWAYS wears bling) top tucked into tight blue jeans tucked into bright red cowboy boots. She had her Whoopi hair on.

I wanted to tell her that she looked very much the transvestite that day, but of course, said nothing.

Yesterday, was Sada's last day. I wouldn't have known this except that the tech nurse announced that it was her last day when she came to pick her up.

I looked at Sada. "Were you planning on telling me?" I asked her.

She looked at me coolly. "Why would I?" she said. "It's not like we're friends or nothin. We's two gals in some deep same shit."

I rolled my eyes as she left, sashaying as usual, like a 20 year old. Again, her pregnant granddaughter apologized. "She likes you," she told me. "Says that you were probably almost as pretty as she is when you had hair and such."

I didn't see Sada when they brought her back as I had already left for my "radiator" treatment as I have come to call it.

But, later, as I went to my locker to get my clothes, I saw an envelope taped to it. I opened it and there was a card with two fashionable women on the front. Inside, it read:

Let's go out to a bar and get drinks and talk and pretend that we don't notice all the men eyeing us. Because you know they are.

It was signed simply Sada. I chuckled and got dressed. Decided that what the hell, maybe tomorrow I would fucking refuse to put on that stupid gown.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wishing on that blood moon

Well, no apocalypse. I thought not. I read so many articles saying that horrific things would happen under the blood moon last night. But, none of them happened here on the prairie.

Bing and I went out to peek at it before this came on:

And then after it was all over, we went back outside to see the deep orange glow of that blood moon. We stood on our front lawn, arms around each other's waists, watching. Liv took a studying break to join us. We made room for her, tucking her in between us.

"Should we wish on it, Mama?" asked Liv.

I frowned. "I dunno, sweetie. I guess...why not?"

So we all went silent to make our wishes. And then, shivering in the cool Autumn night, we trooped back inside, peering over our shoulders to say goodbye to the moon. I will most likely be dead before the next one. And Liv will be far beyond wondering where to go to college or studying for her Spanish exam.

We all went upstairs, Liv to get another half hour of studying in, Bing and I to hit the hay. I brushed my teeth and went into Liv's bedroom to kiss her goodnight, remind her not to stay up too late. I leaned down and tucked her hair behind her ear, which she promptly untucked. I smiled and kissed her cheek, inhaling the lemony scent of her hair.

"What did you wish for?" Liv asked. "Or, do you think it's bad luck to tell?"

I shrugged. "I wished for what I always wish for. That you have a happy, full life."

Liv sighed. "You are such a mother," she said. I laughed.

"Comes with the territory. What did you wish for?"

Liv didn't answer at first. And then she said, "I'm such a teenager. I wished to pass my Spanish test. You would think I would've been altruistic enough to wish for peace for Syria or that my Mother would conquer cancer...."

I laughed again. "Oh, honey. Syria will be a part of history and as far as I'm concerned, cancer is toast."

Without thinking, I reached under my camisole to gently stroke my poor burned skin. Nearly halfway through radiation and I am blistering and peeling like I've spent my days sunbathing topless.

Liv went back to her book, softly whispering to herself. I kissed the top of her head again and told her not to stay up too late, reminded her that I'd already packed her lunch, not telling her that I'd packed an extra large brownie and a note saying that she was my little frog. Just enough to make her smile a little and perhaps embarrass her in front of her peers.

When I slid under the cool cream colored muslin sheets with Bing, she was waiting for me, arms ready. We cuddled, warming each other up. I placed my cold nose against her collar bone.

"Cold nose, warm pussy?" she asked.

I snickered. "Cold nose, cold feet, cold hands, hairless pussy," I answered. I am despairing of my hair ever growing back. It seems to be s l o w l y coming in sheer white on my head. My legs, eyebrows, eye lashes and vagina remain hairless. I'm getting really tired of well meaning friends telling me how lucky I am to not have to shave my legs.

"So, what did you wish for?" I asked, wrapping my leg over hers.

Bing was quiet for a long time. So long that I thought that maybe she had fallen asleep.

"I wished for the only thing in the world that I want," she said. "To have you be in my life so that we can live to see the next blood moon together. How about you? Liv's well being?"

"Yup," I said. "But, I already plan to be around to bug you for many years to come, dear heart."

"Good," she answered, pulling me closer. I felt her go slack in my arms a few moments later. It's been a long time coming since the time I could stay awake longer than she. I unwrapped myself from her arms and she sighed and turned over. I watched as the soft light under the door in Liv's room went out and the house went silent except for the creaking noises of being almost 100 years old.

I thought of all the things I have missed the past few months. Liv's Father has been taking her to visit all the colleges: Northwestern (loved it), Stanford (too hipster), University of Michigan (boring), Cali Tech (incredible) , Carnegie Mellon (so-so),  and the Colorado School of Mines (Tinton is a huge fan, Liv tepid)....After the holidays and into next Summer, I am hopeful that Bing and I can take her to the Georgia Institute of Tech in Atlanta, Johns Hopkins (where I did my residency!), University of Texas in Austin and Virginia Tech. Right now, they ALL seem way too far from home but I suppose I will have to let that bird fly when the time comes.

I've missed several of Liv's Fall softball games. Liv swears that this is okay since whenever I am at her games, she seems to strike out and now she is convinced that she is jinxed. God. Softball players are so superstitious.

I've slept through so many movies that my Sister now refuses to go with me since she maintains that it is a huge waste of money.

Little by little, though, I'm getting my sea legs back. Retiring from my job was difficult mentally but priceless physically. Taking a good nap every afternoon has been healing. Radiation is tiring, but not nearly as debilitating as chemotherapy. I'm fatigued but not fatigued and throwing up. BIG difference.

My garden is hanging on, thanks to a mild start to Autumn. The days are getting cooler now, though and Liv and I have agreed that she can take October 1st off this week so that we can can and freeze. Our bounty is not large, but it is beautiful this year. The pumpkins just might be ready for Halloween. And while we won't have a truck load of produce for the Sienna house, we will have plenty to see us through the Winter. Working in my garden has been balm to me. And thanks to timely rain showers, I haven't had to manually water it.

My roses are gorgeous this year. The pinks and yellows, particularly. They grace our dining room table with such dignity. I was astounded to see several red canna lilies popping up against the back fence in our yard. I hadn't planted them, nor had Bing or Liv. We plant cherry tomatoes there every year for the birds in hopes of luring them away from our garden. But, there they were....4 beautiful volunteer canna lilies. We also had three gigantic sunflowers pop up in the middle of our sweet white daisies. I'll take them, although their big faces intimidate me a little. And I feel so sorry when they start to droop over with the weight of their seeds. Liv loves them, goes out and picks a handful to munch on nearly every day.

Some sage has come up in the midst of my Russian lavender and chives. I called Liv's paternal grandmother,  her Kunsi to ask her if she had a good use for sage besides a condiment. She promptly sent me some Pinon sap and a recipe for burn salve using that, sage, sunflower oil, coconut oil and bees wax.

"Put it on your radiation burns," she instructed me. I followed the recipe and after I recoiled a bit from the strong piney scent, I slathered it on. Worked like a charm, much better than the expensive miaderm I had been using. I called her to thank her and tell her and in her true pragmatic style, she simply commented that "Nature provides. You merely have to ask."

She was right. I had not planted sage this year, although I had in years past and it came up on it's own. My garden wants to take care of me, I think, as badly as I need to care for it. And then it rewards my patience and care with surprises of volunteer canna lilies, sunflowers (where I got the sunflower oil!) and sage.

I slid quietly out of bed to go check on Liv, to pull her covers up over her shoulder and slip her foot back under the covers and kissed Socks on his head as he sat at the end of her bed gazing at the moon. I hunkered down at the end of the bed and slung my arm around him and we watched together, silently.

"So, what did you wish for?" I whispered into his ear. He leaned into me and said in his Ernest Borgnine rasp, "I don't wish for things; I have all I need to be happy."

I nodded and stood.

Me, too, big guy.

Me, too. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Singing in my sleep

Slowly, but surely...making my way back. Still very tired, even though I am no longer a worker bee and I sleep an extraordinary amount of the day.

A few nights ago, I awakened to Bing gently shaking me.

"Hon, you were singing in your sleep..." what?

Apparently, I was softly singing the song, "Ain't Even Done with the Night" in my sleep.

I sat up, confused. I barely know that song. Or just barely remember it. I remember it came out....right when I started med school. A John Mellencamp song, or as we called him back then: John Cougar.

The next day, Bing asked me to sing it and of course, I couldn't. Could only remember some of the lyrics. But, she said that I was singing them verbatim in my sleep. Almost the whole song before she awakened me. And um....okay....humming that sweet little guitar riff that opens the song and slides around all through it.

Do. Do do do, do do do.

I wonder what else is up there in my brain pan that I can't access in my waking life? Poems? Snatches of books? Medical jargon?

Last night, I was in the living room, halfheartedly reading and I head it....those guitar licks. I got up to find Bing, sitting in a chair on the sunporch, strumming her guitar and singing this:

Of course, I couldn't sing along because I DID NOT know all the lyrics.....

She should wait until I fall asleep. I could probably recite the Gettysburg address or T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock...

Life is funny, yes?