When B. and D. are together, they profess their love for each other and promise to be best friends forever. I didn’t much walk with them on the hike — I hung back, talking and commiserating with V., vocalizing feelings usually left unsaid — but I did make sure to keep them in my sights… two little boys, walking and running and smiling hand in hand, never entirely letting go of each other, while I wondered, at what point does it become more comfortable to run alone rather than hold on to someone you love?
Seeing all the children today was jarring. Everyone’s getting so big so fast. The ones who were babies at my pre-brain surgery Hair Party (where I quite ceremoniously shaved my head) are toddlers now, waddling through high grass, talking in sentences, looking at earthworms, scooping up handfuls of creature-filled dirt with newly nimble fingers. The ones who were toddlers then are all in school now, growing up and making best friends and falling in love in the ways they know how. I wonder how it’s possibly been two years since I wrote ethical wills, telling the boys goodbye, in case I didn’t live through surgery. The last time I was at one of these picnics, I’d just found out about the tumor living in my head, and no one quite knew what to say. This time, when I mention the anniversary is coming up, I decide we need to celebrate.
Everything in my life comes in small doses lately. A little bit of work here, a bit more there. An hour or two with the boys, time to myself, finite spaces filled with too-hot bubble baths, noncommittal dinners in front of the TV, my iPod on shuffle, movies on demand, ten-minute walks to The Grind and back for coffee. And other things, too: weekly therapy, a three-week support group, hour-long meetings, a series of steps I’m supposed to work through. Those steps, though: I keep getting stuck on the first one. Admitting I’m powerless? It overwhelms everything and I don’t know the way from A to B, the path between realizing what needs to be done and, well, just letting go.
I send out an Evite for my anniversary party, dubbing it The “Goodbye Tony the Tumor” Reunion Tour 2007. We’ll be celebrating at the Green Mill’s weekly poetry slam. With the moral support of friends who have helped me live through things I never would have imagined, maybe I’ll be brave enough to read my own work. Or perhaps a couple of martinis will tip me over that edge. Either way, I can’t believe how good it feels to have friends around when I actively choose to do something that involves a high risk of falling flat on my face.
At the picnic — at the table filled with the mamas who are troubled in love — I explain how I feel as though I’m sitting on the middle of a seesaw. At one end is the desire to (re)claim myself, stick to a bottom line, hold out until I get what I deserve; at the other is the tendency to make sure everyone else is OK before taking care of myself. I’m running back and forth, trying to keep both ends from flying off into the air or banging hard into the ground, losing sight of the only fact that matters: if I don’t take care of myself, I’m no use to anyone else, either.
I freaked out today when a bug landed on me — jumping up, dancing around, spilling my “adult” O.J. — and the hip mamas laughed with me. With anyone else, it might have been a chance to make me feel bad for my idiosyncrasies, tease me for being skittish, give me cause to take pause and be self-conscious and timid and embarrassed. But these women are the ones who pulled me through brain surgery and recovery when I needed a cane to walk and couldn’t feel the left side of my body, the ones who listen to me at 2am when I can’t sleep and need to talk or just have someone listen to me cry, the ones who validate both my hopes and my fears and tell me it’s OK not to have everything figured out and even make mistakes sometimes, the ones who accompany me to difficult places and hold my hand through unthinkable things. And while none of us are four-year-old boys skipping and laughing our way through the world, not wanting to let go, what we have is better: hands outstretched, warm and waiting, for the moments when all we need is someone who can walk with us on the journey, just for a little while, until it’s safe to let go.