old (2008), Uncategorized

on the 16th floor with a view of the lake

So I taught this morning and ate donuts and drank coffee during my office hours before getting my paycheck and driving to the bank to deposit it (and get $20 fast cash) and pointed my car down Lake Shore Drive to make it to class on time, and when I showed up the classroom was empty and I found myself calling classmates to see if something had happened about which I knew nothing. And it turns out that the professor said some time ago that there would be no class today and I just didn’t remember or wasn’t listening or didn’t care (or all of the above), which I took as an excuse to head down to University Village to go shopping.

Because shopping can be exhausting, I needed food, so I stopped off at Quizno’s for a veggie sandwich and Dr. Pepper (a lot of Dr. Pepper) before walking down to Barbara’s Bookstore because, really, this is University Village we’re talking about, so nothing else is really available or in my price range other than books. And I saw on the way in that all calendars were 75% off, which inspired a bit of an apoplectic fit, since I have been laboring under the delusion (since 1984) that, were I simply to get the “right calendar” (whatever THAT is), I would magically and instantly become super-organized, always on time, never forgetful, and miraculously poised in all of my affairs. It’s the concept of a geographic cure as applied to my clutter issues and further evidence of my complete unwillingness to admit my powerlessness over chaos. Of course, I made a beeline for the calendars and found The. Perfect. One. for only $3.49, and it’s already collecting dust under my bed, where it fell when I came home and had to throw all my crap on my bed because I had to pee so badly from all the Dr. Pepper. But ANYHOW…

I had time to kill before heading over to the hospital (where I was going to sit with S., who is going through chemo and in need of visitors during the day), and so perambulated over to the books on clearance, where a big stack of Anne Lamott’s Plan B practically fell on my head as I got on my hands and knees to see what yummy stuff was on the shelves down below. If I believed in God, I’d say He was at work here, but I don’t, and instead what I believe in are God Moments (perhaps splitting hairs, but just humor me) and I bought the book, plus the calendar, along with an Ed Emberley drawing book for the boys so I didn’t feel completely selfish, wanting to be organized and find spiritual salvation (or just salve?) before going off to do something that ended up being one of the hardest things I’ve done sober.

And I’m not going to talk about seeing S. in the hospital, because that’s not my story to tell and the things I have to say are less about what it felt like to be there than they are about all the things I’ve repressed about my own tumor and surgery and recovery, which continues to feel more like a dream than a memory. I think all along I’ve felt that I was some superwoman soldiering on and proving how brave and strong and adventurous I was. Look at me! I had brain surgery and went back to school two weeks later! But the truth of the matter — when I allow myself to feel it at all — is that I was terrified and I felt abandoned by a man who said he loved me and I worried that my children would have a fucked-up mother and I fretted over whether my hair would grow back right and, on a daily basis, I dealt with seizures, headaches, fatigue, memory loss, and a host of other things I don’t even feel like listing here.

All this emotion I’ve been holding back for so long comes tumbling forth and I remember — as in viscerally, not casually — what it was like to find out I had a brain tumor and spend an hour walking around Lincoln Square, calling people on the phone, leaving vapid messages — Hey, it’s A., how ya doin’? I have a brain tumor. Call me back when you get a chance — with absolutely no one calling me back and The Philosopher doing what he always did (leaving me to deal with things alone under the pretense that he was “handling the kids”) and me ending up seeing Wedding Crashers on a Friday night amidst loving couples who (I am guessing) knew little to nothing about tumors and cancer and craniotomies and focal seizures or any other similar crises that could (and would) tear all of them apart one day, forcing them to become people they’d barely recognize before the dust settled.

And the odd thing is that I cried last night and again this morning because I was happy and completely filled with hope. And when I was sitting in my car on Halsted wasting seven minutes before I sucked it up and drove to the hospital, I realized it was probably the first time in my life when I thought I could actually succeed in anything I put my mind to, the first time I have had all external obstacles truly removed, and definitely the first time I haven’t had any baggage weighing me down. This is all me, I thought in the car. All this hope, all this potential, all these promises and dreams and aspirations… they are all mine to own or lose or squander. And that wasn’t the case on September 30, 2005, when I was wheeled into surgery and had a panic attack on the operating room table about three seconds before the general anesthesia kicked in, and the last thing I remember before waking up, groggy and headachey, in the Neurological ICU, was the absolute certainty that I was going to die, everyone who ever loved me would lose me, and I hadn’t yet done any single thing that really mattered.

Those are the truths, though, and by accepting them — yes, I am going to die, and yes, everyone who has ever loved me will lose me one day — I force myself to do those things (both large and small) that matter. And so it’s not so much that visiting someone who has cancer stirs up feelings I had about my own surgery and recovery, but that being there today was one of those things that makes a difference, gives someone else something I didn’t have, and brings me not only to tears in the elevator and walking down the sidewalk and talking on the phone but also to the place where I can hug my children just a little bit more snugly and dream a little more than I did yesterday and — more importantly — make spaces in my life to allow love and sunlight and happiness to pour in, while there is still time.

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