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Today is Saturday the 3rd and Gia asked me to come over. Liz asked if she could come over. The Music room needs work. It is only 8:45 a.m. and I’m already dreading the day. Why? Because I don’t feel great? Because I’m lonely? Maybe it is because I am ashamed of having cancer. Of being ill. But then, what are you going to do?
It is 7 a.m. or so in the morning of the 4th, that leaves me a little under a thousand words to fill in yesterday and today, daunting but doable. Yesterday I woke up feeling tired still and slightly lonely. My stomach was queasy. I called Thorne Ann and she agreed to come help with the house. I went back to bed. Some parts of me felt depressed. It seems the most reasonable approach to dealing with a dark day is to just take it one day at a time. One second, one minute. It doesn’t all have to feel exciting and bright and it doesn’t all have to feel like the end of the world. There is mystery in love and there is love and the more you know the more you know you don’t know anything. I think my dreams last night were not horrible. My mind is going at one speed and my body at another. The importance of hope but not be understood by those of us who’ve never not had it. Although it seems that culturally, it is part of our design. As the story goes, they live happily ever after. When the end of life has come for ourselves or someone we love, we hope for heaven, for peace of mind or, for some of us, just a change from what we’ve experienced in this life.
She woke up early, it was going to be a long day. By 8am her mom was there, cooking in the kitchen, keeping her hands busy. Together, they waited through a cold December morning and into the early afternoon. Finally, sometime in the very middle of the day she just decided it would be better to call than to be called and when she did, after being put on hold by a well meaning and totally unhelpful administrative assistant, the Pathologist picked up the phone at a desk somewhere she would never see and he called the diagnosis “favorable” and this was immediately incomprehensible to her. It would never have occurred to her to characterize any sort of cancerous- ness as favorable and so, she hung up the phone where she sat up in bed still achy from the biopsy stitches and the world fell away and she wasn’t stoned anymore so if fell away hard and fast. And after 33 years of working on it, she had completely lost who she thought she had become and she did not understand life even a little and, despite the sickening diagnosis of a life threatening illness which saddened her in a places heretofore hidden away- she wished for a moment she were dead. It was simply a very, very sad afternoon. A total disappointment.
Earlier in the week, as they anticipated the results with hopeful abandon, she had called it “the friendliest case of cancer” that ever was- if it was at all. It hadn’t let on a bit. No weight loss. No unusual infections, illnesses. Successful yearly check ups, hours at the gym, no significant family history of illness. Not a whisper of what was to come.
Girl is born. Father, black American. Mother, white American. Late 1960’s. Late. She sings, the little light skinned one. She is drawn toward languages and people with character. Her laugh is loud and during college she experienced a deep bias against girls who ate mainly salad. This gave her pause and angered her. Eat some fucking food, she might think or sometimes say. The competition in a (I almost said boarding house) sorority house is keen. Smiling, tugging cowboy boots up not quite under the bottom of a mini-skirt. Charming and lethal and steely, a casteless masquerade. Hopeless late night songs, trampling steps toward the phone. Oh, the wai, ai, ting, Tom Petty sings, is the hardest part. Then, or later, the shock of bodies loudly brushing up against itself. The breathing a frenetic dance between voluntary and, involuntary. With any luck at all, a full moon or a dark night, there would be less than a little thinking. Just woozy and amorous. More college. More men. Exotic locations and black cars. Long soundtracks and puckery first time experiences. Hangovers and hordes of fried food. Predictable and delicious. Here she sits at the real estate desk at 33 wondering about it. Still unaware of herself settling instead for a compulsory education in personality. How to assume one and with whom. All of this is plot. Or is it?Comment
Following my inner voice used to be easier but things are starting to heat up between us. And while I don’t doubt for a moment the truthfulness of what it’s telling me or the notion that the harder it is for me to do what I know I should, the more important it is for me to do just that, I’m still more than a little put off. And following my bliss, that’s getting trickier too. Not so much for feeling indulgent but because the price of following my bliss will be paid, in part, with tears. There will be joy and sacrifice. And so the cycle will continue. The cycle of growth. And ultimately, the gentle irony of letting go of what listening to that inner voice got me, will come to pass. Never has this been more true than with my house. My home.
Eight years ago or so, when I got the call from a relative of that the old house, I’d known as a child, was going on the market and my help as a Realtor was needed, I knew right away I would be the new owner. Even before I came to it again and saw the wear of many unkind years I remembered the look of the light through the windows and the memory of Sunday afternoons in summer here in this bungalow. And, when people came to look at it and wondered out loud, and sometimes with sincere fright, why I would want to do so much work. How would I manage it all? What had gotten into me? It was my inner voice that gave me told me there really was no choice in it. “Dive in,” it said.
And dive I did, and, in no place with more purpose than in the dining room. I just had to. Because my inner voice said so and she wouldn’t can it until the work began. White paint covering the wood built-ins hutches, flanking the door to the kitchen, and the three sided bay window whose leaded glass sun let the real thing through to caste rainbow circles all over the place and box beams against the 9’ ceiling and fancy wainscot skirting below had chipped with each bump. Yellowed a little every year for many years. Twenty-five maybe. There was no lightness there. It was heavy and sad because it was beautiful underneath it’s own history.
So first with a heat gun the thick layer of paint melted away and fell to the floor in warm curled up pieces. Throughout that summer the heat gun hummed and the paint fell away a small section at at time. It was fun but too much of any one kind of fun is, well, less fun. By fall though most of the white was now a sticky looking brown.
Soon all the white was gone and the wood could breath but it was still sickly and sad. About this time, I wasn’t very pleased with my inner voice. It seemed to have lead me down a path that was too long. However alluring the promise of completion, the reality of the work required things of me I wasn’t sure I had enough of. Namely patience. Several months into the process working several nights a week with nobody in their right or wrong mind willing to help save a boyfriend who had come and gone and really only helped because what else could he do without looking like the worst boyfriend I’d ever had. And my mother who probably would have been at my brother or sister’s house (poking fun at my wild ideas and foolishness) had I had any. But being her one and only meant she had one and only place to go to get that mother love fix that comes when a momma is with her baby. She came like a trooper after declaring (quite seriously and very uncharacteristically as she is almost always the epitomy of supportive) that I could take on such a mammoth undertaking “over her dead body.” She came in the evenings and side by side we worked and I wonder now what on earth her inner voice was telling her all that while.
By spring, opening the windows was not only pleasant, it helped keep the toxic fumes of chemical stripper from completely overtaking our lungs and corrupting any hope of level headedness. And the work continued. Like the utensils and cookware of any good cook: ladders for climbing, dental tools for picking out specs of paint that hadn’t gotten the message, steel wool and paint coated thick gloves which couldn’t totally prevent the sting of stripper on skin, lay spread over the room. A giant recipe being made on the walls and me, mom, my inner voice and my dining room, yet to be dined in, but not through after eight months together.
Maybe I wasn’t as impatient as I’d thought. How could I be? A really impatient person would have burned the house down. And maybe it was around this time I started to bargain with my inner voice. I started to make earnest deals that included never having to leave this house for the rest of my life. I remedy my pain by proposing that I be allowed to stay there to guard the grains of wood. After all, why else would I be doing something so crazy. Surely this meant forever. And believing in forever spurned me on and the feeling of being a complete freak of renovating nature subsided.
And then summer was here again and the days got long and the task seemed to have and end that I could see. And at night as the sun set and the music played there was a spring in my step. A sense of goodness. More than the cold beer I sipped while stepping back to admire real progress or the fantasy (one day to be reality) of folks coming from far and wide to admire good work while I smiled with humble confidence in a job done well. It was just a sense of goodness in that time and place and I thanked my inner voice because it seemed so wise to me.
By fall the first coats of stain began to tell the story of beauty restored and it was marvelous to watch. And then a second coat all the way around. And then on Thanksgiving day, more that a year after the task at hand had begun, the last lick of varythane went on and when mom came through the door and saw the table set and the warm glow of the wood all around the room, she cried those proud motherly tears and it was good. Thanksgiving it was.
There are more stories of this house. Of painting it and patching it and watching it for clues of how to make it better and of the yard that still calls to me for love and time and money wanting to be given a make-over too like the house it holds.
But inside I hear of other plans now. I hear it when I think of my bliss and where it would have me next. It is not found in this house anymore. It tells me it’s time to go even when it knows that this isn’t what I bargained for. I thought I was going to get to stay because I’d done the work. The house that scared some people was admired and in it’s glow, I shined. I thought I had earned my permanent place here. Instead, what I found constant was the courage to do more listening. Maybe I could live without that kind of courage I think to myself. But what sort of life would that be for me? Where would I be today if this was how I’d chosen to make choices. Fearfully. Tentatively and in accordance with the well meaning expectations of others.
Well, maybe the voice I heard back then has been in some random accident and is laying somewhere warm and safe but unable to move trying to crawl back to tell me that the voice I’m hearing now is not the authentic one and will ruin all promise of a real future if I listen to it’s crazy talk. I wish.
I wish because following my bliss is risky business and I think I thought I only had to feel real risk while I was younger, less experienced and with nothing but a ’77 Green Mustang and a set of used silverware to loose. The stakes are higher all the way around but it’s the same game. More to gain and more to lose but really only one way to play. The philosophy that got me into this great big gorgeous house is about to get me out and not many people, least of all me on some days, thinks it’s a swell idea. But then, they seldom do.
That’s just it. Right now I’m listening but not agreeing and I don’t have to, yet. I’m following my bliss but I’m certainly scared to pieces. I’m certain that I need to move forward but sure it will be sad looking back.
And my house. My home. What about us after all? We love each other. I’ve loved it and it’s loved me back. I took care of it and now it’s taking care of me back. It will give me everything I need to the my new chapter of my life. It’s setting me free. I haven’t left yet. I’m still listening. Some days I ask questions and wait for answers. Yesterday it came on TV with a guy on OPB who said, as I turned up the volume, “Follow your bliss.”
I know I’ll know when it’s time. Just like I knew I had to own this house and work on that dining room. I suspect what I’ll come to experience too is the feeling that “wherever you go, there you are.” I may not be in my house as my new life unfolds but it will surely be in me. Just like that ever present inner voice. My wisdom. My burden. My friend.
One day during the last year of the first decade of the century I rushed around the house happy and energetic waiting for my friend Julee to pull up to the house for some quality time. Suddenly I need to find some lipstick. I headed out the door to look in the car. It had rained a little bit and the stairs were wet. as I romped down the first two steps my legs and feet sprawled out from under me and I fell straight backward and heard a stout crack where my back hit the staircase. I happened to have a phone in my hand and I promptly called 911, for myself. Four or five medical men found me on my bed, groaning in a genuinely painful state. They did not seem worried about me at all. They were cute I thought. They assured me I’d be okay. The next day at the Doctor’s office they determined that I had fractured my seventh vertebra and they set me up to have a clever kind of injection to cement the bones back together. It really hurt for several weeks. Pain is rough. Physical pain, hurts. Still, if I had to make a choice I might resolve to endure physical pain rather than experience the inevitable pain of emotional heartbreak, fear and loss.
Losing love hurts, makes my face hurt makes my stomach hurt. These sudden waves of sadness reminding me the consequences of unrequited expectations helps itself articulate in the bottom of your heart. Shit. The highs and lows and what do you do? Today I snuggle in bed with the dogs, watching the Olympics trying to feel better. Things take Time said Nurse Emily during the nights in the hospital, that was so long ago.
Opening up the house with the doors and a window open makes a HUGE difference in my sense of breathing. It’s going to be time to start working in the yard. I am saving money, and yet, I feel broke. Then I’m helpfully reminded in my vision recorder (or Brain in old time language).
I’m dilly dallying around reading stuff I wrote and trying to learn what the computer grammar king means by “Fragmented Sentence”
it is just about time to practice yoga, wish me luck,
Today is the 22nd day of February in the year 2010. It is almost 9am. I wonder what today is going to be like. I wonder if I can get some shit done. put clothes away, yoga, guitar, walk, bank, cards, smiles.Comment
Having heard that my Doctor’s would like me to have a second transplant (assuming they can find a donor) I picked up a book given to me years ago by Shelly. In addition to asking me to walk, unadulterated, every day for twenty minutes, it asks me to answer the following questions everyday. Today:
1. What’s happening with my body? My skin is peeling off. It feels like I’m sunburned. I can’t hear well out of my left ear. My skin is itchy. I feel fatigue. I put Vaseline all over my body including my face. I have no sense of smell or taste. I’m thirsty. I have not thrown up or had loose stool today.
2. How am I feeling emotionally? Sad. Scared. Happy. Lucky.
3. When I let my thoughts wander, what do I find myself thinking about? My last relationship with a man. The last three years and the fact that it isn’t over. The future and whether or not I will live as long as my dogs. What if I die and my mom has to live the rest of her life without me? Why can’t I die later when I’m ready? Maybe I will. What is the difference between denial and faith? How do I live these days? My past and what I did and did not accomplish.
4. Who did I connect with today? It is 4:07pm in the afternoon on Thursday. Thorne Ann hugged me for a long time. I cried. I called Gia and she picked up the phone to talk, I cried. I talked to Dave and we’re having lunch tomorrow and we talked for a minute and, I cried. I don’t think I really want to talk too much about this whole thing. Hence the blog. Maybe this will be a way for me to stay connected to the wonderful world of people I’ve come to know.
5. What gave me a sense of peace? Writing these answers and reading the newspaper including the story of two brothers who both died last night in an accident involving them running into each other, head on somewhere along Highway 30, the girlfriend of one of the brothers was killed. Needless to say, it helps to remember that it could be worse.
Why don’t I feel worse?
Is it denial that keeps me from feeling worse about my new and not so great circumstances? About life in general? After all, my country is on the brink of war. Global warming is reaching critical mass. The world is full of discord. Full of sad news. And what of my personal life.
I’m thirty-three years old, my favorite number. An aspiring and by all accounts, very talented singer. One part of a gifted band of musicians all full of dreams. The only child of a warm hearted native Oregonian with the unflinching will to prove it. A child of one of the summers of love. The lasting legacy of a heartfelt but short lived interracial coupling that sprung from a time full of promise and potential. A graduate of my state college. An unlikely homecoming queen. Popular then and now. Friend to many. Enemy to only the very deserving. A gym rat. A guilty yuppie. A girl with many an old boyfriend most all of whom she still calls friend. A traveler. French speaker. And the latest title, cancer patient.
Cancer patient? No cure? Chronic health issue? Does not compute. You must be kidding.