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.