30 June 2017

The Crossing Guard

There is a crossing guard near my house who dresses up as Elvis. I don’t even know if this is legal, but he wears the regulation orange vest, and has a big red stop sign instead of a guitar, so I guess it’s okay. At Christmas he dresses up as Santa, and around Easter he wears a big pair of furry ears.

His job is to take care of all the tiny souls that cross the street. Like a heard of turtles, they amble across the road lugging giant backpacks. They are too young and too distracted (and too weighed down) to really understand danger, and their only real job is stay between the white lines and not fall down.

I take my basset hound for a walk just before kiddy rush hour – but the crossing guard is standing there, holding his sign. He sees me walking slowly down the street with my short-legged buddy, who stops to smell every blade of grass, and every drop of dew. Sometimes the dog gets lucky, finding a discarded sandwich in the hedges, and like lighting, I stick my hand in his mouth and grab it. One of my hands is usually covered in slobber.

The crossing guard watches me. When I’m about ten feet away he blows his whistle, marches into the crosswalk, and hold out his big red sign. Traffic halts, and the lucky drivers in the front car get treated to a bunny, a Santa, or the King. It’s fun for them for about a minute. Which is about how long it takes for us to actually reach the road. And when we do, the crossing guard has stopped all oncoming traffic, and is quietly whistling ‘you ain’t nothing but a hound dog’ as he waits vigilantly for us to cross to the other side.

This is when I feel the safest. Not just safest during the day, but the safest, ever. Seeing this man (and many other guards) standing, beckoning, waiting, and bringing to a standstill thousands of pounds of metal is impressive. The fact that he withholds danger is amazing. And the fact that he devotes his time to bring people safely to the other side makes me want to cry.

I need more crossing guards in my life. I need at least three right now that I can lend out to my friends and family, especially  to one gorgeous soul in particular. Life is not stable. One lousy phone call can bring the strongest person to their knees. And when that happens you need someone who will stop the oncoming madness and make sure that you land safely wherever you need to be.

 Mostly, we need someone who will keep us from harm. A six foot Easter rabbit who will watch us as every step of the way. A lookout. A guide. A protector.

Now my dog and I are on the other side of the street.  Safe from harm, and exactly where I want to be. I wish for everyone to be so lucky.

14 February 2017

A Journey? That's Bull.

The barista at Starbucks told me my coffee order was ‘awesome’. Then, when I told her my name, she told me it was ‘amazing’. Seriously? Since when has my two syllable super-waspy name ever been considered amazing? It’s not amazing; it’s not even interesting.

With my ‘perfect’ non-fat latte, I headed for a doctor’s appointment. I’ve been having some weird pains in my arms and I think it might be a side effect of the annoying aromatase inhibitor drug that I’m on for the next several years. My regular doctor was on vacation (again), so a teenage intern was looking through my history, and getting up to speed. ‘Wow,’ she said sweetly, ‘You’ve been on quite a journey.’

I wanted to punch her in her sweet little face. I can listen to the words ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, and ‘perfect’ without losing my mind, but when it comes to overused and offensive words, ‘journey’ takes the prize.

A Journey
‘Journey’ is Miss Daisy getting into the back of a big old comfy car with her valise. On this journey, there will be maps and rest stops, and lots of pretty things to look at as the car rides nimbly past lovely white farm houses with wide front porches, and sun drenched fields of corn. 

 Real Life. A Rodeo
What was on the chart in front of my doctor bore no resemblance to a journey. No sir! What was in front of her was a Rodeo. A full-on rodeo with a massive bull, and me, the rider, hanging on for dear life as it tried to kill me. There was no f*cking valise. And there were no meandering paths. There were tears, and terror, and desperate attempts at safety, and lying on the floor staring into flaring nostrils, trying to escape sharp smelly hooves, and still, STILL, finding a way to get back on the bull in spite of the fear and in spite of the bruises.

And I’m certainly not alone. In the greater scheme of things, my Rodeo hasn’t been particularly horrendous. I know people who have been trampled to death. And those people aren’t around anymore to talk about how their ‘journey ended badly’. Because they were in a Rodeo where they didn’t stand a chance against their formidable opponent.

Journeys don’t promise to take you somewhere, and then throw you on the ground. Journeys don’t have cowboys that stagger around barely able to move one foot in front of the other, trapped in an arena that they can’t escape until there is a winner. No ma’am, that is a Rodeo.

So don’t look at my chart, like it’s a travel blog, or a scrap book. Look at it for what it is. An awesome Rodeo. And by that I mean the true definition of ‘awesome’, which is ‘causing an overwhelming feeling of reverence or fear’. As opposed to my baristas definition of ‘awesome’ which is something I can’t be bothered to figure out.

Although to be fair, my non-fat latte was pretty close to ‘perfect’.

8 February 2017

Mouse Cleaning

The great thing about surviving situations that f*ck with your mind, is that you get to know your brain. And the main lesson is, that you can control it.

I was a doubter of brain control for most of my adult life. After years of yoga, I’d never understood how mediation could be useful. For starters, I couldn’t do it. My mind is constantly chatting I could never get it to shut up long enough to relax. And trying to resist the chatter doesn’t work either - in fact, it makes things even more stressful.  So I gave up trying to be ‘still’ and let my mind wander to imaginary conversations with my ex-best friend, or my acceptance speech if I won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was when I discovered ‘Guided mediation’ that I realized that I could actually take my mind to a different place. I practiced learning it before I was to undergo a 12-hour surgery and was desperate for security. It worked, and it is amazing. Yet, at the some time, it is also a tremendously boring subject for people can’t relate. Like talking about day-care to childless people.  Or hummus, to a carnivore.

My second form of mind control came when I was trying to cleanse my body of any possible bad cells. I’d lie spread eagle on the floor facing the ceiling, and picture a giant paint brush full of white light going slowly up and down my body, sweeping it clean of anything bad. Again, I never discuss that one too much. I practically roll my own eyes when I talk about.

Why have this...
Today I was at the dentist. Since it’s been a while between cleanings, the hygienist used a supersonic high-performance tool with a horrid high-pitched squeal. Even before it was in my mouth, my toes were curling. I didn’t know how I’d last half an hour with this machinery. Then my body switched gears, and surrendered itself to my fabulous brain.

I can’t explain how this happened (insert eye roll here) but it was awesome. Without any conscious effort, a tiny cartoon mouse popped into my head. He was wearing a white lab coat, and wiping my teeth with Windex. That explained the squealy sound. And then there was a second mouse, also in a white coat, wearing aviator glasses and brandishing a tiny hose. Then a third mouse, with an itsy bitsy ice-scraper, scratching away at the tartar. My cartoon mouse cleaning, which lasted almost 15 seconds, was enough to make me relax, and stop resisting the cleaning. It was a delightful surprise, and a reminder of my own super powers.
...when you can have this!

‘So! Any plans for a winter vacation?’ my hygienist asked, as she jammed something n my mouth. And just like that, my mice disappeared, replaced with a supersonic torture tool. ‘Cu-ha’ I told her. She smiled, ‘Oh Cuba! That sounds nice!’

I closed my eyes. I’d been temporarily transported. She asked me where I’d be staying. Seriously? I tried telling her that I couldn’t talk with the drill in my mouth but it came out as ‘ Ikatok cuza  illi ow’. Or, it could have been, ‘I can’t talk cause of little mouse.’

Either way, it had been nice being carried away for a few seconds. A short trip, but sweet, nonetheless.

6 January 2017

Granny Park

It was a blissful day in the dog park, until another dog owner decided to strike up a conversation. ‘How old is your dog?’ he asked. Twelve, I said. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Twelve! An old guy!  How long do those types of dogs live?’

I looked at his big friendly pie face, and pictured myself ramming a steel rod through his eye. My imaginary vision of his big cranium crashing onto the frozen earth with a piece of metal sticking out of it was so much more satisfying than any conversation I could ever have. But I couldn’t even talk. I couldn’t have this conversation.

Of course I think about how old my dog is. I think about it a million times a day. The thought is small dark cloud that is constantly seeking access to my brain, but I immediately make it disappear. Gratitude is a much stronger force than fear, and I use it to nudge the cloud away. Why think about the unknown when you have this day?

Somewhere in the last five years, and due to spending much time in the hospital, my thought process has changed. There is a long story (which boring to everyone but me), but the short one is that I am much more able to live in the present, and much less likely to get swept up in the anticipatory anxiety of the unknown. It’s working quite well as long as I stay in my own head, but I haven’t evolved to the point of incorporating  it  into stupid conversation.

My throat was closed and my mind was racing. Now I was picturing the same guy sitting on a park bench with his granny. He with his round jolly head, and she, a little apple face doll in a pink hat that slightly resembled a tea cozy. They are in a ‘Granny Park’ and someone walks up to him and says, ‘She’s a cutie. How long do you think she’ll live?’

Now, about your Granny.....
Now it’s back to real life. He’s still looking at me, waiting for an answer and his smile had started to fade. I’d been staring at him for at least ten second without blinking. ‘I’m sorry’, I said, ‘Did you say something?’

‘Um,’ he said, with a lot less jocularity, ‘Your dog. The basset hound. How long do they usually live?’

I summoned all the little tricks I’ve learned over the last few years. Clearing my mind. Filling my heart with a smile. Acceptance. Understanding. And arranging my face into a pleasant expression until it starts to feel real.  Sometimes this works, but sometimes people are still assholes that you want to jab in the head with a stick. So I answered his question.

‘Forever’,  I said. And walked away.

15 December 2016

What if ?

There are only two games in the world that are truly entertaining. The first is ‘Who Would You Do? This one’s especially fun when the options are undesirable. For instance, would you rather do Sam the Butcher from the Brady Bunch, or Reuben Kinkaid for the Partridge family?

The second best game is ‘What if?’ This game peaked for me in high school. Those were the mad days of dieting, where I limited my intake to jujubes, coffee, and cheese whiz. During these frustrating times my friends and I would play a game to take off our mind off the trauma. ‘What if', we’d say, ‘we were skinny first, and dieted later? If we woke up suddenly skinny, could we stick with a diet so that we would stay skinny forever.’

The answer was a resounding YES! As long as we had the reward , we could accept the challenge. If we had the body we wanted, obviously we’d be inspired to diet for the rest of our lives! After all, if we were suddenly skinny, there'd be no temptation to reach for the Haagen Dazs? Who would be so foolish?

Me. That’s who. 

Three years ago I had the fat surgically removed from my stomach and was sewn up tight as a drum. It was the silver lining from a very arduous process that began with cancer, and ended up with a lengthy (but amazing) operation that relocated my fat to my breasts. To be honest, if there hadn’t been the promise of a flat tummy, it would have been a significantly less enjoyable operation (the clean bill of health was also a bonus).

With my taut tummy I was the envy of all my friends.  I remembered the teen fantasy of ‘skinny first & dieting later’; only this time I was playing it for real. Apart from the cancer, it was a dream come true.

At first I was really good.  Lots of vegetables and (almost) no sugar. Giant bunches of kale that I lovingly massaged and sprinkled with high quality olive oil. Grilled salmon, & smoothies with flax. Then I stopped massaging my kale. And then I’d have the occasional caesar sale. And champagne. And waffles. And cake.

So now I’m getting heavier, and as I struggle to do up my skinny jeans I’m aware that I’m lackadaisically sabotaging a darn good fantasy. But here’s the thing.  When we played the ‘wake up skinny ‘game, I assumed that new circumstance would come with a mature attitude. I assumed this in the same way I thought I’d automatically wear high heels, and start to knit.

But no. I’m still 16 and I still think I can hide my fat. (And I almost can. Because my stomach is so tight it stays flat, and weight goes directly to my sides so I look like I’ve been run over by a small steamroller. When I look at my profile in the mirror, I’m thin. When I look head on, I’m wide. It’s like being an eggroll in a fun house mirror).

For people like me, ‘what if’ games are fabulous beucase they’re fun and exciting and completely safe. Our expectations of ourselves are so high! And so unrealistic! As one of the few who have had their fantasy put to their test, I realize that, as kids, we have very unequivocal view of how we will nurture the gifts we receive. We overestimate our discipline, but underestimate our strengths. My resounding ‘YES’ when I played the skinny game was woefully underdeveloped and hadn’t factored in things like emotion, hunger, responsibility, and life.

Still, ‘what if’ is still a favorite game. I just don’t answer as quickly. I take a time to ponder circumstance and mental ability. But for the record, I’d do Reuben. But only if he was wearing his eye mask.

And only if I got to do Keith.


18 September 2016

The Haven

I was invited to my Junior High School reunion this summer. Obviously  I ignored the invitation.  Grade seven was not a happy year for me as I was shy and awkward, and nearly fainted when I was called upon in class. Also, I played the clarinet, which annoyed me, my parents, and even my music teacher. But in a year of un- fun memories, one excursion stand out as the most un-fun memory of all.

Our class took a three day trip to a camp called the ‘Haven’. The main reason I hated it, (and there were many) was that I was squeezed into a tiny dark cabin with five other girls. It was a cabin built for weasels. Our cabin was in the woods, but through the dusty window next to my cot, I could see across an open field to the other cabins. One of these cabins, which had it’s own beach, was nothing less than magnificent. It looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright Cottage; all gentle slopes and generous windows. That cottage, which could fit a small blimp, was assigned to the three prettiest girls in the class. They were the popular girls. And I couldn’t even hate them, because they were all so nice.

It was at the Haven that I realized that certain things were out of my reach. Until then, I thought my insecurities were invisible. And if that was a case, then I still stood a chance. But my teacher put me in a cabin with the ‘undesirables’. Girls like me who wore stretchy pants, mouth guards, and manly shoes. The only person in that cabin who was actually my friend was a good-natured blonde girl who was oblivious to our feral conditions. She’s still my friend today, and the one who is responsible for talking me into going to the reunion. 

Not me. But I wish it was.
Once I committed to going, I decided I going to go in style. The memory of my sh*tty Haven cabin still bugged me, and I wanted to make up for it by staying somewhere nice. In the event that I ended up standing alone by the punchbowl, l needed to be able to escape to Egyptian cotton sheets and a chilled bottle of French wine. Also, if anyone were to ask where I was going, I could drop the name of a nice hotel. And so, I booked the loveliest room in town.

As the reunion neared, I couldn’t stop picturing myself walking into a backyard full of strangers. I was hoping that one of the popular girls might sneak admiring my flat stomach, and wonder how I’d managed to keep in such top-notch shape. For once I hoped they’d talk about it behind my back! And maybe my grade seven crush would be there, and perhaps I’d even have the chance to kiss him.

 A few days before the reunion, I called to confirm my reservation. All was in order, my queen suite awaited, and the staff was looking forward to meeting me on Friday. Unfortunately the reunion was on Saturday. I’d booked the wrong night!  Was there was a chance there was a room free on the Saturday? Um, no. Absolutely not. There was an event in town, and every decent room was booked. Availabilities were limited to a Motel 8, and an ugly B & B with shared bathroom and burlap sheets. I would have a shitty room. It was the Haven all over again.

It was too late to back out. And, I must admit, I had started to embrace the idea of meeting everyone all over again. (I also had a really great outfit). So I booked a crummy motel and tried to make the best of my crummy room. I put my wine on ice and wiped the germs off the door handle, and the converter. Then washed the germs off myself, put on some lipstick and headed to the reunion.
Here’s what happened at the reunion. I did get to hug my crush. And in typical fashion of of a woman who’s lost her filter – I told him I’d always loved him. And then I talked to all the popular girls – who have only gotten even nicer with age. And then I talked to some guys who I didn’t think I knew. 
They’d gone from short and weird, to fabulous. (They didn’t know who I was either). I brought up the subject of the Haven. Apparently nobody had a good time, but for different reasons. Bugs, food poisoning, scalding by smores…the list went on. But nobody remembered the cabins. It was my memory, and mine alone. 

After six glorious hours under the summer sky, it was time to leave. Sally, the most beautiful girl on the planet, drove me home. “Where are you staying?” she asked. I told her, and as the words came out of my mouth I felt like Cinderella leaving the ball, and traveling back to her hovel in a pumpkin (actually an Audi).

She stopped the car in front of the my plain looking hotel. ‘Is it nice inside?’ she asked. ‘No,’ I told her, briefly mentioning my booking error at the nicer place, which just happened to be where she was staying. ‘Fuck!’ I said, ‘Is it fabulous?’  She smiled kindly, ‘It’s okay, not really a big deal.’

I stared her down with my best grade seven squint. ‘Alright’ she laughed, ‘It’s absolutely brilliant!’

Rats. The nice hotel had been within my reach - but I'd just missed it. My own fault, really. Sally and said good night and I went into my one star hotel where the sheets were brittle, but the view of the lake was pretty. Once again the memory would be only mine, and this time it was mostly funny.

19 June 2016

My Dad, and Eye

When I want to be reminded of my father, I have only to go as far as the closest mirror. He died 14 years ago, so it’s been a long time since I’ve seen his lovely face. In the meantime, I have my own face, which according to his elderly friends, is the spitting image of his own.

We used to get comments all the time when I was little. They would usually begin with ‘Oh my!’, ‘Or well well well, no question who YOUR father is’. I would bream with pride at our sameness. My older sister, who looked nothing like the rest of the family, was excluded from our universe. But occasionally the grownups would take it down to a jolly whisper and say something about the ‘postman’. I was always tempted to tell Sue that she was adopted. But I took the highroad and told her that she was 'an accident’, instead.

Me. (No, not really)
By the time my dad was in his fifties, he had sparkly silver hair and was just as handsome as ever. But there were a few signs of aging. Most noticeably his right eyelid, which had started to sag. I was disbelieving at first  - because I thought he would be permanently perfect. And I optimistically thought it might just be a temporary glitch. But the sag just deepened, and when he was very sleepy, the lid hung lazily over his sparkly blue eye like a hammock.

Recently it has been taking me longer to blink. The left eye works wonderfully, but the right eye is a beat behind. It has to work a bit harder to reopen, because apparently, my right eyelid is starting to sag. I’m a little surprised, and I’m not sure why. Everything is right on track. I am the same age dad was when his lid gave away, and right about now he started to creak, get hair in weird places, and spend the afternoon in a lawn chair, reading the news, eating triple cream brie and drinking white wine. And my hair, of course, is not naturally brown.

My dads old friends still tell me I like Stu, and my heart still swells with pride.  When I close my eyes I can still recall his clear and gentle voice. But when I open my eyes, the right lid gets stuck and takes that extra millisecond to open.  So to remember my dear dad I don’t even need to look in the mirror, or at his photos.  To be reminded of my lovely father, all I need to do is blink.

21 April 2016

Naked Friends

I don’t have any naked friends.

In fact, I didn’t even know that ‘naked friends’ were a thing until my sister Sue told me about them. We were on a long drive and the conversation had gone from world politics (3 minutes) to middle aged skin (2 hours, 15 minutes).

I was telling her that nobody has seen my new boobs in all their tattooed glory, except for three people. Jim,  of course.  My mom, since she was the one who made me. And my friend Leslie, who, after a bunch of wine in her kitchen said ‘Hey, can I see your boobs?’ And was delighted to show her.

‘Nobody’s seen my boobs in years,’ said my sister. ‘Really?’ I squealed, recalling her astonishing lack of modesty in our family home. ‘What about Kim?’ I asked, referring to her close friend, fellow single mom, drinking partner, confidante, and work out buddy. ‘Nope,’ said Sue, ‘Kim is not a naked friend.’

The present:
 According to Sue, friends fall into two categories. Friends with whom you can be freely naked, and friends with whom nudity does not feel at all natural.  And ‘relaxed nudity’ has nothing to do with the level of trust or friendship. Casual friends can be naked friends, and best buddies often, are not.

We drove along sister silently and I tried recalling who I’d been naked with. Nobody. We’ve all changed clothing around each other, and have been slightly naked, but I’ve never had a fully naked face-to-face conversation with a girlfriend. There’s been side-by-side talks in the steam room, but I’m certain I would have been at least partially covered by a towel. Could it be I have no naked friends?

I like to think that I’m fairly open minded and relaxed about nudity. But I’m not. I’m one of those girls that like to have clothes on unless I’m in the shower. Doesn’t have to be a lot of clothes – panties and an undershirt will do – but I like a little fabric next to my naked skin.

I’m really not against nudity. I think the human body is beautiful! (Well that’s not really true). But  I want so badly to be the type of person who is completely open-minded and serene in a locker room. I changed next to my mother Violet,  and  her aqua fit gals, and didn’t bat an eye at the occasional nipple or wrinkly bottom. But when one large woman came strolling around the corner with so much hair that it looked like she was wearing fur pants, and then bent over right in front of me– well that was neither lovely, nor natural. It was awful! I could feel the horror spreading all over my face.

The future: Unwrapped
So I think I’m the problem. My sister listed off several naked friends with whom nothing was off limits – even things that rhyme with shlabia. That means that Sue is also is on a ‘naked friend’ list. But I’m not. I am nobody’s naked friend.

Perhaps my inhibitions are discouraging  my gal pals from having our own naked friendship.  Eventually, I am certain, I will be a naked friend, as I will lose my modesty in the same way I lost my filter; abruptly and uncomfortably.

‘Till that time I’ll be a loyal friend, albeit one who is partially dressed.

4 April 2016

My Freezer is Full

I have an emotional freezer. Apparently, we all do. And in our freezers are a jumble of Ziploc bags, each filled with an unpleasant emotion.

In reality my freezer is full of frozen berries, and individual chicken potpies. Also some scallops, smoked trout, and a few bags of frozen shrimp that are just itching to jump on the barbeque. There is nothing buried at the back, nor anything gross or unrecognizable. My emotional freezer is another story.

My freezer.
The well-adjusted  one.
This theory came from my yoga teacher. She said that it is human nature to want to present oneself as a pleasant, capable person. And even though we strive for happiness and stability, achieving it is completely unrealistic. Life is uneven and unfair. Devastating events will occur, and we may not be able to absorb them. Maybe we don’t have the tools – or the time. Or, we’re forced into battle mode, where it may be impossible to deal with our pain and fragility. So in order to move forward, we take all our inconvenient emotions, and stuff them into bags.

Because the teacher presented her theory at the beginning of class I had 90 minutes in which to consider my own personal history. Cancer is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever been through, and it was a heck of a job. But because I was busy being a warrior, I didn’t have time to be fearful. My friends told me I’d ‘sailed’ through treatment. And it certainly appeared that I did! But at the same time that I was putting on lipstick and making ginger cookies for the chemo ward, I was also filling bag after bag of troublesome emotions, and jamming them my freezer.

And I am certainly not alone. This has happened to many women who went through treatment. And to many people who have had to struggle with a death, or conflict, or those who have been forced to move ahead in the face of danger. Emotions ignored. Emotions stored.

Now, running a freezer takes a lot of energy. The lucky ones may have only a tiny bar fridge - built to hold nothing more than a small vodka bottle and six cubes of ice. But there are also industrial size freezers – 79 cubic foot capacity, constructed of stainless steel for maximum durability and protection from corrosion, an aluminum liner, bottom mount compressors, and three doors that lock.

But even industrial style freezers can’t protect things forever. Sooner or later someone will leave a door open and a bag might fall out. And this might happen when you least expect it. The bag will start to melt and you’ll feel it in your head, or your heart. Or maybe you’ll be reaching in your freezer for a thought, or a memory, and you’ll accidentally open the wrong bag and cry for no reason. Or – heaven forbid, you run out of energy to keep your freezer running and everything thaws, creating the mother of all breakdowns, leaving you a soggy wreck, collapsing under the weight of hundreds of melting pain bags.

Of course – I’m paraphrasing. The way my yoga teacher explained it was much more eloquent. Also, I suspect she has only has an itsy-bitsy freezer as she is very young, her parents are still happily married, and she recently adopted a cat which she named ‘Shanti.
But her analogy is a good one.  It allows me to understand how circumstance and reaction may be on the same menu, but not necessarily served on the same plate. And it allows me to offer positive reinforcement to those souls who fall apart for not apparent reason.
‘What is wrong with me?!’ they’ll cry in confusion. And I will tell them that nothing is wrong with them. It’s simply time to clean out the freezer.

15 February 2016

Perfect, with a Hint Of Coral

The doctor who was assigned to give me my areola tattoos was standing in front of me with a tube of coral coloured paste, and she was scowling. At least I think it was a she. It was hard to tell what was going on under the shapeless XL lab coat, and the lack of makeup made it even trickier. Was this seriously the person responsible for giving me pretty boobs?

‘Its pink,’ she (he?) growled at me, holding the tube under my face. I politely said that I saw it more as coral. In fact I knew it was coral because I’d had time to examine the whole tray of tubes as I sat in the examining room for 90 minutes waiting, and the word coral was printed right on the side. The colour had a distinct cheapness to it, and reminded me of all the slutty girls in high school who thought that coral lip gloss would look classy with their Farrah Fawcett bangs and faded Jordache jeans. Besides, I’d already decided I wasn’t going to use it. So, I politely requested to have a sample smeared on my hand, so we could examine it together. ‘ Pink,’ she declared. ‘No. Coral,’ I said.

Memories of High School. Ick.
Three times I asked her to alter the colour. With her large back to me, she squeezed the little tubes into a paper cup, stirred it, and dabbed it on my hand to show me the results. Three times she showed my something form slutsville, circa 1978. When I was disproving of even the last try, she began to lose patience. ‘What is wrong with this one?’ she demanded.  I shook my head, ‘I don’t like it’. She, who had probably never worn make-up in her entire life, squished her skinny lips into a thin white line. ‘Why not ?!’

I sat up on the examining table and pulled my gown around me. I wanted to tell her to fuck off. But experience had taught that expressing displeasure gets me nowhere, and I’d have to be more articulate. I cleared my throat. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘I haven’t had a lot of choice in the last four years about my body or my reconstruction. But with this procedure and I do have choice, so I really want to get it right.’ I sensed some softening, and suspected that under all the flesh, there might actually be a woman. Or at least, a person with a little bit of empathy. So we mixed the colours one more time, and came up with something pink and quite pretty.

The rest was a piece of cake. The colour was brushed on each breast with a Q-tip. I lay down, and Dr Manwoman jabbed me with a couple of needles, in order to freeze my already numb breasts. And then she came at me with something that looked (and sounded) like a Russian prototype for the electric toothbrush. It was all stainless steel, and it was loud. This was my least favorite part of the procedure, but the doctor seemed to enjoy it. I swear,  she was almost smiling.

Last week the bandages came off. I stared at myself in the mirror for quite a long time enjoying the finishing touches of reconstruction. My boobs, after 30 months, looked almost perfect. And by ‘almost perfect’ I mean slightly lopsided, somewhat scarred, totally healthy, asymmetric mounds of skin stuffed with fat from my stomach and topped with hand made nipples recently painted a dainty shade of pink that when, I toss my bangs like Charlie’s Angels, and the light hits them a certain way, have just the slightest hint of coral.

3 January 2016

No Slang for Areola

I don’t know what it is about the word ‘areola’ that bothers me so much. Though it’s not an awful word,  I can feel my mouth tighten at the sound of it (much in the same way I react to words like smegma, and menstruation). Perhaps it was because of my mother’s vocation. She was a nurse, and our dinner conversation was dotted liberally with the proper terminology for bodily parts, and their functions. Oh How I longed to be able to practice a common way of speaking!  I wanted to be just like the other kids that talked about about periods, and jizz.

However, there is no slang for areola. If one wants to talk about the pink area surrounding the nipple, one muse use the correct terminology. And one might be able to go through years without ever having to use that word, unless that person happen to have lost her areolas, and is planning on getting reproductions.

I lost them, of course, during the reconstruction. They could save the skin envelope, but the nipples and areolas had to go. Last year the nipples were rebuilt (in an alarmingly swift procedure) and I was told that my last procedure would be the ‘tattoo’ that would replicate the colour and shape of the areolas.          

I could have done it months ago, and I don’t know why I kept putting it off.  Perhaps it is because I’m a procrastinator. Or perhaps it is because I consider myself rebuilt, and I don’t feel like going back to the hospital. (Ever. For anything). Or perhaps it is because I’ve always hated the word areola, and the longer I avoid the procedure, the longer I can avoid using the world.

But recently I visited my plastic surgeon, who asked how I was enjoying my new breasts and new nipples. ‘I love them!’ I told him enthusiastically.

‘I’m so happy you're happy,’ he said in his gentle Dutch accent. Then,  ‘If you love them now, just wait till you get your areolas.’  Maybe it was the accent, or maybe it was his, calm kind manner and his big blue eyes. But whatever it was, he made the word ‘areola’ sound as nonchalant as ‘strawberry’, or ‘bird’.  

So I made my date for tattoos. It’s my final procedure. And it’s in 27 days.

14 November 2015

Swimming With Seniors

I am swimming in a sea of seniors.

Or more accurately, I am on a lifeguard stand, watching a sea of seniors, ready to jump in and save them at a moments notice.

The thing is – my seniors don’t need saving. The sea I am watching contains my mother, my dog, my cat, Earl, my elder relatives, Jim’s elder relatives, and Mick Jagger. (To be fair, Mick Jagger has never met me – but he’s often sung to me in the car). From my lifeguard stand I watch to see if anyone is in distress, or if anything that needs doing.

My seniors are swimming happily, merrily, faces up to the sunshine, splashing to their hearts content. Some have shed their middle-aged responsibility and have reverted to the light heartedness of teenage year. Orderly days have become more reckless, and words like ‘we should’ have been replaced by ‘what the heck’. Some have taken up new hobbies, and found new friends. Some have trouble walking, but keep walking anyway, because the only way you can move is ahead.

Jed & Ed & a sunbeam
The seniors don’t seemed worried, so I do their worrying for them. I call my mother and worry if she doesn’t answer the phone. At night, at home, I lie in bed and listen to the breathing.  The 20 lb cat snores softly on the pillow next to my head. The basset hound, in his bed, snores somewhat more enthusiastically, and if he doesn’t I slip out of bed and rest my ear against his tummy. I don’t think he enjoys this – but I need to be reassured. I need to know he is breathing.

There was a time, a few years ago, where I didn’t know if I was going to stick around forever. I gave a lot of thought to not taking things for granted, and the eventuality of saying goodbye. These days though, I am invincible. But now that the world doesn’t revolve around me, I know that those dearest to me are getting a little long in the tooth. 

 I try to remember to live in the moment, and enjoy each and every day. I know that worrying is a waste of time, and I know that it steals from the present and robs the potential of joy. I know it in my head – but my heart is a different story. Several times a day, my heart aches of hoping that nobody I love will go away.  

Oblivious to my worry – the seniors keep on swimming. My mother Violet continues to out perform me in aqua fit. Earl & Kathleen, with their happy late nights, put Jim and I to shame, Jim’s mom parties like a (classy) teenager, and Jed outruns me on the beach. It’s clear that all my lovely golden oldies are soaking up all that their lives have to offer. They're not looking for help.

It’s not the seniors that need saving. It is me.

6 September 2015

Bourbon and Pink Pee

How come nobody told me that eating beets makes pee turn pink?

I was having a perfectly loving evening in a motel on the shores of Lake Huron, when I got up to go to the washroom. We’d spent the evening in the bar, sun-kissed and slightly drunk, listening to a performer who was making us very happy.

Scene of the Crime
Afterwards we went out to look at the stars, marveling at what nature has to offer.  The water, sunset, food and the music had all been better than we’d imagined. There’s got to be a better word than ‘fulfilled’ to describe it – but I don’t know what it is. I might have to start looking in another language.

At 3 am I got up to pee. At 3:01 I glanced in the toilet. And at 3:01 I almost fell to my knees.

Here’s what went through my head. Oh no – I’ve got cancer again. The bad kind.
How am I going to tell my mother?
I have blood in my pee.
My perfect night was the goodbye gift.
I shouldn’t have had the second bourbon. I shouldn’t have had any drinks at all. Ever.
Is it really pink, or is the shitty motel lighting? It’s really pink. What else could have cause pink pee? What else what else what else. WHAT ELSE!
Should I google it and scare myself to death, or should I put of the terror until tomorrow.
How much time will I have left?
I promise not to eat anything bad ever again, if I can get through my treatment. I’ll go back to school, write a novel, and help build houses in Africa.
I don’t want to die. Please, someone, please don’t let me die.

Then I went back to bed. I cold have looked up ‘pink pee’ but decided to procrastinate a little longer. As long as I didn't know, I was still ok. I went back over my day to think what other clues there might have been to my new cancer. I felt great all day (albeit a little tired), I’d exercised and eaten well – we’d wisely chosen the seared trout followed by a beet salad….

Another Sunrise. Lucky me!
There it was! The tiny crack that allowed a shard of light to shine in to the doom of my self-diagnosis. But it was something. I grabbed my phone and goggled ‘Beets & Pink Pee’.  Three second seemed like hours hours, but then my little phone came to life. And it announced the yes indeed, beets could be the culprit.

How I love my little phone! And the stars! And the sunrise. And the fact that I would be alive tomorrow to see the sunrise, with  the promise of even more sunrises up ahead.  

And I felt that once again, and for the time being, I was once again carefree.

7 August 2015

The Hostess With the Mostest

The TV in the waiting room was turned to the food network, and the chef was cooking up risotto balls. 

That would have been fine had it been something other than a surgical waiting room, and if the patient awaiting surgery hadn’t been fasting for the last eleven hours. ‘I’m turning that fu*king thing off’, I said to the patient, who is also my sister. ‘That’s okay, ‘ she said staring longingly at the screen, ‘I like risotto balls.’

‘Seriously?’ I asked. Not that I was questioning her taste in food, but I was amazed that someone could watch glistening tomato sauce, gooey cheese and porcini mushroom on an empty stomach. So I sat back down and looked around the room. Was there something else I could do to make her more comfortable? After all, I knew the hospital very well, as I’d been there about 50 times as a patient. And since I was there, for the first time as a non-patient, I felt less as a wingman, and more of a hostess.

Can I adjust the volume, get you a pillow, or perhaps a warm blanket? ( no, no ,yes). But the only thing my sister really wanted was to know that I would be there once she was wheeled into recovery.  Would I? Absolutely.

When the time came that my sister had completed the surgery the surgeon came up to us and said that the operation had been a smashing success. In fact, he seemed enormously pleased with both himself, and my sister. I asked if I could go see her but he shook his head no. He said she was ‘dozing’ and the recovery room was crowded and there were a lot of germs. He said I needed to wait till she was moved to her room.

When he left I went to the nurse in the waiting room. I told her I’d like to see my sister and she said, that if the ‘patient’ asked for me, somebody would come up and get me. Otherwise, I had to wait. ‘Come up from where?’ I asked. The paused, then said, ‘the 2nd floor’.

The old me would have sat back down and pouted. But the new me isn’t timid. After all, I’d been there so much that I feel like I practically owned the place. I could walk through like a friggin’ tour guide, pointing out the best bathrooms, lounges, coffee shops, and places to go and cry. And I’d been told ‘no’ so many times by heads behind desks that it had ceased to be effective.

The second floor was practically deserted, as I strode along purposefully, looking for Recovery. I nodded confidently to two men with clipboards as I followed the signs. Eventually I came to a door that said ‘no admittance’. A maintenance man was there and I asked him if I could. He said there was no admittance, so I told him that I’d just left to go to the washroom and been locked out. So he let me in. I turned another corner and found the room called ‘Recovery’. It was practically empty.  I asked the nurse at the desk where I could find my sister. Nurse crabby-pants looked up at me as though she’d just found something gross on the bottom of her shoe. ‘Where did you come from?’ she said. I told her that I’d promised Sue I’d be there, and that the Surgeon said it was okay.

She scowled at me, and we both knew I was lying. We also both knew Doc was currently teeing off somewhere, and wasn’t be reachable for verification. So she called out to her colleagues, ‘Is there a Susan here?’ The nurses all ignored her, so I looked around the dimly lit room, full of beds with flat bodies. ‘Is there a Susan here?’ the nurse called out again, as though she was a bad hostess at a cheap steakhouse.

The nurses didn’t respond, but from the corner bed, one tired hand was waving weakly in the air.  I rushed over to Sue’s side and took her hand and told her that everything was AOK. The crabby nurse/hostess may have sensed my air of ‘I own this place’ and sidled up to me to make it clear who was in control.

‘When is she moving to her room?’ I asked conversationally.

‘Shortly’, she sniffed. ‘You can meet us there.’

‘Thanks’, I said. ‘But I’m going with you’.

And I did. Grabbing an extra blanket along way. 

12 July 2015


Tiny Tabby
Our little cat died.

In people years she was somewhere between 85 to 300, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but still it did. It was sudden and shocking and it left us feeling as though someone had poked holes in our hearts and then stitched them up with yarn, and stitched them up quite badly indeed.

When Jim and I adopted our three pets they were already a family, and they moved from someone else’s home into ours.  We had wanted a small dog, so I went looking online for an older pug, or a dachshund, or something compact and furry.

Then I came across a picture of a basset hound with freckles on his nose. The ad said his name was Jed and described him as a small dog (he’s not) who came with two cats (Quigley and Ed)  with whom he was closely bonded (he wasn’t). They ad said that they all liked to curled up on the bed together  (no) and couldn’t stand to be apart (not quite accurate). They also said that Jed rarely barked, when in fact, he barks fairly often.

Big Ed
Once ensconced in our house we discovered the cats couldn’t stand to be around each other. While Jed and Ed romped around their new home, Quigley kept entirely to herself. It took a year for Quigley to allow us to pat her. And another year for her to come and sit on the sofa while we were there. The following year I got cancer, and after that she would come and sleep by my shoulder.
When everything was quiet, she would silently make her way over to me and place her tiny brown paws on my arm, and when that felt safe, she would allow herself to nestle close to my neck, and rest her small head on my shoulder.

Jed the Basset
After that, she was often beside me. She’d wait to see me sit, and she’d come softly over. Or in the middle of the night, on the way to her water glass, I’d feel her tiny weight on my chest, her whiskers brushing my cheek. When I typed on my keyboard, she’d rest her small body on my wrists. At times she’d pick Jim over me, watching as he’d cross his ankles on the coffee table, then find her way into a safe place on his lap. Sometimes Ed would jump up to join them, and she’d deftly leap up and dart away.

And then she stopped leaping. And then we knew that something was wrong and we brought a vet to our home who said that Quigley had cancer and there was nothing they could do. Not only were we sad, but also I knew that I’d let her down.

When it came to sitting on me, our tiny cat always knew the best place to be. She knew where I needed healing, and she knew where I hurt the least. She would come to me at the moments when I needed my tiny companion, and she knew those moments so much better than me. 

Which is why, I wish I could have returned the favour. It was our job to take care of her and we didn’t even know she was ill.

So now there are the four of us. I expected to say that Ed and Jed had their period of grieving, but that would be right up there with saying the Jed doesn’t shed (he does). They sniffed her bed for a day or so, and then they got on with the business of being animals. My theory is that all along, they’ve known that she’d be leaving.  They have the knowledge, just as she once did.

I’m so glad to have known her. Thank you, my tiny friend.