Thursday, April 04, 2024

A shark smile in a yellow van

Two days ago I got this sweet message: I do so hope you are alright.  I miss you. Please come back.

I owe the writer such thanks.

Because I couldn’t have said what I needed to start writing again—because I missed this place, but didn't know where to start—but it was exactly what I needed.

In the summer in DC, when our doors swell with humidity, we have to give them an extra push or pull to open them.

I’m so grateful for that kind and gentle check-in. The lovely sentiment. 

I just realized that I’ve been sad, like desperately, scraped-raw sad, for coming up on a year. I’ve been some level of scared for nearly that long.

I haven’t been alright, though I look like it from the outside.

I just needed some help recognizing it.

I've said before that I so badly wanted to be back to normal.

Normal. Ha. But you know what I mean.

I only started really processing the magnitude of all of the everything quite recently.

Somehow the time between the night of May 2, when my mom fell, and this February was just so, I don’t know, frenzied is maybe the word.

Betty left us on May 15. Her days in the hospital were brutal. And I'm dreading Mother's Day. I don't think I'll celebrate it again.

Weeks after her death, I had a high school reunion to host. I couldn't cancel. Friends had bought international plane tickets. And it would feel so good to see everyone.

Which it did, of course it did. We remembered Betty and cried together. And laughed. And danced.

I had a houseful of friends staying. (Those same friends would return in September to surround me with love.)

And then a couple weeks later I drove the kids to Maine. And drove home. And got on a plane.

And flew for 25 hours to Bali, where I spent all day in yoga teacher training and also went out and sobbed in the rice paddy at least once a day.

Sometimes people noticed me leaving class, and someone would escort me, or quietly come sit with me. Sometimes talking, sometimes just sitting.

One lovely, lovely woman told me on the last day that she’d avoided me for much of the course because I just had so much strong emotion.

She didn’t say it was overwhelming, but I imagine it was. 

I imagine I was.

I remember not knowing I was intense until I was in my 30s, and someone told me and I was surprised.

So whatever I am in the moment, I think I am very much of it.

I went to Bali to escape. 

Yes, I was already signed up to do yoga teacher training. But mainly in that time, I desperately wanted to be away from our house. Away from the place my mom fell. Away from home where, everywhere I turned, there she used to be.

Grief streamed from my eyes. My mouth. My pores. I sweated grief. 

Grief surely swirled and crackled around me like static electricity.

If grief had a smell, I think it would be lightening. Apparently the smell is ozone, which is way less poetic but probably easier to rhyme.

Even when I was laughing—and we laughed a lot—the base note was grief.

I’ve said before that uproarious laughter and hysterical sobbing are millimeters, instants apart.

Two sides of the same coin. Maybe closer, even. The warp and weft of fabric.

I learned on the last day of training, and was embarrassed to know, that my classmates heard me sobbing in the rice paddy.

I cried so hard it physically hurt. I was so desperately sad, it didn’t even occur to me.

And then I came home. And then we got the kids, and went to family camp.

And then I had my biopsy, surely nothing, let’s just check.

And then I had cancer.

Suddenly, I went from I just have to get through my mom’s memorial service before I can breathebefore I can make plans, before I can resume lifeto getting through her service, and then my operation, and then my recovery.

And then I’d be able to breathe. Plan. Resume.

Nicole, my god what would I have done without Nicole, came for two weeks to take care of me, as you know.

Nicole is a force of nature. Nicole is an event.

Then suddenly it was Thanksgiving. Then our family went to England for Christmas, to avoid the memories we hang on the tree and the sticky buns Betty is no longer here to make. The perfectly wrapped packages she’ll never wrap again. The stockings she was always excited to fill.

It was better, but grief still found us in Hyde Park. India and I hugged and cried while Nick and Jordan looked at the ducks.

But nothing stops. And I kept moving. 

And then Nicole came back, so Nick and I could go to the fancy event in Oxford. I’d never been in my life, then twice in a month.

So fun! So extravagant! So lovely!

Nick asked, and Nicole said she’d come take care of the kids if she could stay two weeks. And then Maude said, well, if Nicole’s coming, then I want to as well.

It was as wonderful as one might think. We chatted and we laughed and we wept. Maude brought starter from Denver and taught me how to make sourdough.

And then.

Then they left. And the house was very quiet.

Valentine’s Day, I think, is when I really started falling apart. But inwardly.

Inwardly apart. Apartedly inward.


We once went to a carefully orchestrated demolition. All these explosions were placed and timed such that the building would cave in on itself. It didn’t even seem violent. 

Emotionally like that.

Not that I didn’t cry regularly before then, because I did. But like a shark, I kept moving, moving, moving.

Water over the gills to keep breathing.

Apparently, this isn't every type of shark. I looked it up. So, hashtag notallsharks. The ones that need to do this are called obligate ram ventilators.


You can’t outrun yourself. I guess this is one of those lessons I seem to have to learn over and over.

I wasn’t seeing my therapist, because though I love her, it just felt too hard.

One of my yoga friends noticed. She looked me in the eye after class one day and said, “How are you?”

I started to explain about the physical, and she said, “No. You. How are you?”

I started to cry, right there in the gym. I was not fine. I was not remotely OK. In fact, I was barely even breathing. 

On the outside, I look strong. Healthy. Healed.

I’d been cut open and sewn up by world-class experts. At this point I have delicate scars. I’ve got high grade silicon implants that are my personal forever science experiment.

I think about how the rest of my body seems to be degrading at an accelerated pace, but these are fairly static. 

Like, one day I'll die, and my body will hollow, which I know firsthand happens. And still, barring previous calamity, I'll have these two youthful silicone shapes, pretending to be part of me.

You know me. I’ve long had anxieties about a whole lot of things. Mainly like plane crashes and raccoons and rabies and sink holes.

Somehow breast cancer was not on my fear list.

Also: the more I learn about neurodivergence, the more it explains my life. Not ever human picks one topic to obsess about endlessly until the next topic catches their eye.

But I digress. Because when do I not?

Suddenly there it was, top of my fear list, its own circle in the Venn diagram of my life. The bold heading of one of the now-myriad clubs to which I never wanted to belong. 

I picture my Venn diagram more like a chrysanthemum, because I like them. I don't care about the factuality.

So, I just had my six-month oncology checkup. I have my surgery checkup next week.

I thought they’d take blood, analyze the results, and be like, yep, you’re good, see ya in three months.

But it doesn’t work like that. They don’t know.

You just have to keep living and hoping for the best. There are no for sure answers.

Although I guess that’s really all of life.

The day of my checkup, I also had an infusion for my bones, because the medication I’m on can cause osteoporosis.

A common (78%, I googled) side effect of the infusion is feeling like you have the flu.

I taught a yoga class the next morning and thought maybe I was in the lucky 22%.

By that afternoon, I could barely walk.

And for a day and a half, I felt like hell. I knew I wasn’t sick, but I also couldn’t get out of bed.

It was reminiscent of post-surgery, which I’ve kind of forgotten, but which wasn’t that long ago, after all.

It’s surreal, honestly. For two weeks I had tubes coming out of my body, attached to silicone bags I had to empty every day. I know this is true. But I don’t remember it.

I couldn’t take care of my family. I couldn’t fully take care of myself.

In bed with the not-flu, I read a Louise Penny book. I intend to start using “tabarnac” as a swear.

But then, I also intend to swear less, and I can’t say that’s going well.


At this juncture, it feels like it’s been cold and rainy my entire life, though I know that’s a factual impossibility.

I took the photo above about a month ago. My hair was clean. I was wearing makeup. I liked my outfit. 

Ever since Nicole visited, donning something fabulous daily, if only to hang out and walk to CVS, I’ve had the goal of wearing real, non-gym friendly clothes every day.

I probably accomplish this about 50% of the time. Or maybe 25%? I am, after all, a person who asked for something to be mixed 60-30.

Not most of the past week, but today I'm wearing jeans. Jeans count as real.

Anyway, I’m here.

I’m not very alright, but probably more so than not. 60-30. Anyway, I believe I will be.

Love and hugs,