If you’re lucky now

I hold tight to the summer’s magical moments. Laughing with my mom and my sister on the lawn of the Hotel Del Coronado as we try for a perfect sunset selfie. Sitting under the stars at the Greek Theater with friends at a Ryan Adams concert. Floating in the pool with my son. Driving to Manhattan Beach at dusk with my nephew’s surfboard on the roof of the car, holding our breath for fear it will fly away.

I am a lucky girl, my memories like bright shiny beads in the palm of my hand. I string them together, wear them close to my heart, where they remind me of the things that matter. Family. Friends. Laughter and love. We have just a week left here before we fly home and I want to hold on to these moments, let them carry me through the seasons until summer finds us again.

Tonight I sat with friends and talked about music and politics and family and high school and I thought about how amazing it is that this is my life. I have so much to be grateful for, so much to cherish. I am reminded every day of my limitations, of the things that are hard for me post-surgery, and yet, I am here, in this place that I love, surrounded by people who love me. And there is nothing else that I need.

It’s heartbreaking, in a way. The beauty of it all. To know that a moment in time is so precious, so perfect, that it will never be that again. And yet, just holding it is somehow enough. So much of life is spent chasing things and looking for things and dreaming of things — I want to take a breath, to pause and reach for the magic, to hold tight as the echoes of laughter and shadows of light slip away.

In the end, it’s all we have. But it’s somehow exactly right, isn’t it?

And the lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
The night will break your heart
But only if you’re lucky now

~Ryan Adams

Three weeks to go

It’s hard to believe we only have three weeks left here in California. I am a little surprised by how quickly our time is winding down. Our days have been full of seeing and doing, family and friends, and there is nothing I can think of that we haven’t done or still want to do that isn’t already scheduled.

I am already thinking about how much I will miss this in the months to come. How the long, grey winter stretches before us, how another school year — this one sure to be more challenging, more demanding than the last — stands between us and next summer. But I want to push those things aside, embrace today, and forget about tomorrow. I am here now. That’s all that matters.

Southern comfort

Friday morning I took Amtrak south — the Surfliner — to visit a friend in Corona del Mar. I had forgotten how charming and idyllic some of those southern beach communities are; I’ve been going north, and only north, for so many years. I have given my heart to the central coast, but there is much to be said for the beaches carved out of the cliffs and rolling hills just north of San Diego.

When I was growing up and before I went away to college in San Luis Obispo, the only beaches I knew were the LA beaches and the southern beaches. We’d often hang out in Santa Monica and Venice, but when we were going somewhere special, we went south. Laguna, Newport, Balboa Island. My dad loved San Diego and La Jolla. We vacationed once in Ventura, but at the time it didn’t even come close to the draw of Orange County and we never went back.

So much of my time here is peppered with remember whens, with memory fragments, and ghosts. I am always taken aback when I hear of a classmate who died young; I am shocked by the notion that we are old enough to die, though I know death has nothing to do with age. When faced with the past, there is no logic, no rhyme or reason to how our memories take shape. Spending time with my junior high and high school friends makes me feel simultaneously young and old, like I’m stuck in a time warp. It’s 1977 and 2016. It’s Peter Frampton and Ryan Adams. The Brady Bunch and Breaking Bad.

My friend and I booked a spa day at Pelican Hill. We sat outside and drank wine as we waited for our appointments. The crystal clear blue of the Pacific filled the horizon below the rolling greens of the golf course. It was an extravagant view.

There are so many reasons why I miss California. The older I get, the closer I feel to my past, to my history, to the remember whens and the memories I’ve left behind here. When I come back to this state for a few weeks every summer, I am immediately reminded of its beauty — the kind of beauty that is unique to the west. The mountains, the beaches, the desert. It’s the total package. A vista at every vantage point. It is what I miss most when I am home on Long Island. And though I am surrounded there too by water and water views, the beaches are flat and smooth and I can’t help but wish for rocks and cliffs and tiny coves carved out of the landscape.

As my train carried me back to LA and to Glendale Saturday night, I thought about how important it is to say yes. To make an effort. To show up and be present. What the last year and a half has taught me is that all of this is a fading moment in time. A memory about to be made. I am a cancer survivor, and I am grateful for the life I have, my family and friends, and this, California to hold me.

 

Just enough

I’ve decided to take a little break from Facebook this summer. In fact, I logged out about three weeks ago and haven’t looked back. I won’t lie, there are things about it that I miss. But I feel like the experiment has left me more present in my actual life. I’m no longer scrolling through my newsfeed every time I think I might be bored or whenever I’m caught waiting for something. And in so many ways, it’s a relief. My head is no longer swimming with everyone else’s thoughts, it’s quieter inside my head and I like that.

Because I’m not posting on FB, I’ve been papering my Instagram feed with photos. I’ve always loved Instagram and my circle there is relatively small. Family and a few close friends. It feels more intimate, better suited for the visual expression of our days here in California.

And our days have been lovely. Exactly what we need and exactly what I’ve hoped for. After dinner last night we drove up into the hills above Burbank looking for the perfect spot to watch the fireworks show from the Starlight Bowl. Cars and people lined the twisting streets, and we worried we were too late to get a spot even though the sun was just beginning to set. We turned a corner and squeezed into a parking space. I rolled down the window to ask the family camped on the curb if they knew their vantage point was a good one. “We’ve never done this before, but the iPhone seems to think so,” the royal blue-haired dad replied. Fireworks via GPS navigation. He wrapped his kids in strings of glow lights and as the sky darkened and the rockets lit the night above us, I thought about how much his toddlers looked like flashing robots, all lit up for the Fourth.

There was a time I would have rushed to FB, anxious to see what the world is up to and how my friends are spending their days. But there’s something about the quiet that seems right this summer. Text, email, Instagram… it’s enough for now. I want to savor the moments I’m in. The fireworks in the sky and the flashing neon lights on the ground. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be. I’ll make my way back to the mother of all social media some day. I’m not looking for a permanent delete, just a temporary pause — enough to catch my breath and reset.

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Coming home

Sometimes I get stuck in the logistics. My dream to move back to California hampered by the reality of how to make it happen. It seems impossible at times, but I won’t let go. I miss this — my family, the ragged coastline, the mountains that hug the edge of the state. I have come home again. And I love how much my boys love it too. My son wrapped his arms around me as we walked the trail out to the vista point at Montana de Oro. “I know you want to live here, mom. When I get rich, I’m going to buy you a house.”

We arrived a week ago. And for the first time in over 20 years, my brother-in-law is with us. So we are soaking in everything we can, doing things we don’t necessarily do every summer because there’s something about this one, this particular time, that needs to be extra special. We splurged on ocean views in Pismo Beach and spent the last four days covering every inch of the central coast. Again I was reminded how the vibe up there, the ease of daily living and the beauty of the landscape, is something I desperately want to hold on to. When I think of California, picture it in my mind, that is what I see. The fog rolling in over Avila Beach, the charm of San Luis Obispo, the majestic beauty of Montana de Oro. This is the home I dream about.

Now we are back in LA, and on Saturday my husband and his brother will fly back to NY. Maybe they will take a little piece of my dream with them, or maybe they will simply hold tight to the memory of a perfect moment in time. A moment when the rest of the world faded away and there was simply this: California in all her glory.

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Two steps back

Even though we are leaving for California in exactly 10 days, I decided not to wait, the pain really was too much. I’m back in PT. I have somehow managed to do damage to my upper pec muscle and AC joint on the left side. It would seem boxing is a very bad idea when you have internal stitches and so much scar tissue restricting your natural range of motion. The good news is nothing seems to be torn, the bad news is it’s going to take a long time to properly heal.

I let my guard down. I was feeling good. I thought, why not go back to one of the activities at the gym that I enjoy? (There are so few…) As my PT reminded me, that shoulder was a trouble spot even before my surgery. All the more reason to be extra careful now.

I have three more PT appointments between now and our departure. Fingers crossed that I can get some relief before we go and that eight weeks of low impact moving will give me a chance to heal.

Nine thousand four hundred ninety six days

Twenty-six years ago today I married a really great guy. Funny, smart, kind; he brings out the best in me. Maybe we bring out the best in each other.

I wore my mother’s wedding gown and a pillbox hat his mother gave me. The seamstress covered the hat in lace and tiny pearls to match my dress and attached an elbow-length veil. I remember that I spent over $300 on my Peter Fox shoes, justified by the fact that my dress was essentially free. I spent months searching for the perfect ivory gloves in antique stores and after finding just the right pair, I’m pretty sure I never even put them on. We were married at a church in West LA and had our reception at Lakeside Country Club. Everything about the day was perfect, but of course, all I was thinking about at the time was being a bride. I had no clue how to be someone’s wife.

There are lessons you can only learn in the experience. How to give without always taking, how to gracefully let something go. Nine thousand four hundred and ninety six days into it and I’m still learning. I never could have dreamed the life we have created. Or the life we were dealt. In sickness and in health. You never think anything is actually going to happen. The last year and a half has not been easy. It’s been scary and hard, but we’ve been here before, we’ve had practice, and together we are strong.

I am restless, my heart wants something I have no idea how to find. But in this — this union — I am at peace. Because 26 years ago today I married a really great guy.

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Balancing act

I resisted yoga for years, but now I’m not entirely sure why. I’m stiff and not very limber and since I really don’t like to exercise, I guess I always figured high-impact = greater rewards. Why waste time on glorified stretching? But here’s the thing. I was wrong.

I’ve been having so much trouble with my left arm. I’m pretty sure I hurt myself at the gym, even though I can’t remember a specific moment or move that led to an injury. I can no longer reach behind me to hook a bra and it feels like I’ve lost most of the mobility and flexibility I gained in PT. I mentioned this to one of the women in my breast cancer support group and she nodded her head in solidarity — or at least I think she nodded her head. We were texting at the time. But here’s the thing: we are vulnerable, with all the scar tissue and everything under the skin that was moved around, prodded and scraped, and reattached during surgery. Even my chest aches, up by my collarbones, it’s tight and constricted. It hurts to sneeze.

So I put my trainer at the gym on hold and signed up for a one week trial at a local yoga studio. I had to modify some of the workout yesterday. I can’t plank or downward dog or put any weight or pressure on my upper body. At least not yet. But the stretching? Holy wow I needed that. I put myself on the schedule for four classes this week.

I only have about two weeks between now and our summer in California. But there’s a yoga studio in the village near our house in LA. I can walk there. I think I’ve settled on my summer fitness plan. My focus will be stretching and bending, and trying to let that arm heal so it can move in the right way. I hope to spend a lot of time in the pool and a couple early mornings a week walking up into the foothills. Hopefully I’ll feel well enough when we get back to NY that I won’t need to ask my doctor to write me a script for more PT, though I guess there are worse things.

I want this summer to be restorative, relaxing, and yoga fits right into that hope. I feel like I’m in a good place emotionally, keeping the worries and fears down and back. I’m finding the balance in my life, and so maybe this is one more step in that process. As I left class yesterday, the instructor gave me a hug. “Remember, it’s a journey,” she said. “You’ll get there.”

 

Just be

Recently I’ve found myself wondering if my son’s lack of interest in or patience for age appropriate shenanigans is a result of his personality or the fact that he views these years within the context of the life he ultimately hopes to live. It’s probably a little bit of both. He’s like a zen buddhist, his brain front loaded with the kind of wisdom and perspective that comes from experience beyond his age. It’s noteworthy because it hasn’t always been like this.

I was exactly the opposite growing up. Overwhelmed by the ongoing drama at school and among my friends, I wanted to know everything, be a part of everything and even try my hand at manipulating the outcome. My son? He isn’t terribly interested in anything like that. I honestly think he sees this time, these high school years, as a stepping stone to something bigger, something better. It’s like he is waiting patiently to get wherever he’s going. And I’m kind of in awe of all that.

I never actually knew there was more to life than high school until I wasn’t in high school anymore. And I wonder why that is? I never saw my future or held on to a dream or even aspired to a specific career. I kind of fell into what I do and I am grateful every day that it has been such a good fit, but it was not my dream or my desire or my secret hope in any way.

I have written so much here lately about all the ways in which cancer has changed me. But this goes without saying: an event of this magnitude is life-altering in ways I am still discovering. And it didn’t just change me. It changed all of us. There is still a circling of the wagons here, my husband and son staying close, keeping watch. We’ve always done things together, the three of us, but the air around it feels different now. At a time when my son could — should? — be pulling away, he still refuses to stray very far.

Wednesday night we celebrated the birthday of a dear friend. We sat at a long, rectangular table and ate bowls of the most delicious pasta and talked about life, music, art, and families — but mostly music. It was the kind of evening I love best: a grown up night out. When we arrived at the party, someone cried out, “Oh, you must be G’s parents! I’ve heard so many wonderful things.” And I thought to myself, how sweet is it that our dear friends tell their dear friends about our son.

I spend a lot of my time now looking forward, trying to visualize the scenery of our future. I know it’s a waste of time. I know I can’t predict an outcome, but it comforts me to think that anything is possible. And in some ways, this is what cancer has given me — a second chance. A do-over of sorts. I want to live squarely in the moment at hand, holding tight to us three, to my sweet son and his patient, thoughtful way. I want to be G’s mom until my last breath. I want to look at life through his lens, let go of the drama, and just be.

 

Imagine

I cried during my son’s spring concert. At first it was the song, the way the chorus lifted its voice and filled the auditorium, and then it wasn’t the song at all but the fact that I saw him — standing tall and straight in the back row — through all the years of spring concerts, a small, sometimes confused little boy now a poised young man. I am in awe of the change, of his grace. He had warned me I would cry, and he was right.

Ghosts slip through my fingers like white smoke. I am drawn to the past and memories of a time when this life was nothing like what it turned out to be. I don’t know what it is exactly that I am chasing, but it’s something that is long gone, something that can’t be held again.

I imagine a small tattoo on the inside of my wrist or at my ankle, a small work of greenish/black art. I don’t mention it, or ever think it out loud. I may not care if anyone approves or not. I don’t have a clear sense of what this tattoo should be, but I like the possibility of it, the idea that I can do this one thing for myself if I choose. Like a secret only I can decide to share.

They sang Imagine at the spring concert. The music teacher explained that the kids chose the song and arranged it. It was beautiful, but not the song that made me cry. The song that made me cry was You Raise Me Up. Sitting in the auditorium, eyes on my son, I couldn’t help but think of all the times we’ve raised each other up, the baby I held in my arms and the young man who held me when I was sick. I want that etched into my skin. I don’t ever want to feel the ghost of this time slip through my fingers. I want to look down and see it always. There is so little in our lives we can control, so few moments we can orchestrate. I feel him slipping away from me — as he must — but I don’t ever want to let go.

I am aware of how lucky we are. I am grateful for all of it. The good days, the bad days, in sickness and in health. I will never take any of it for granted again. I think sometimes, this desire for a tattoo, a small reminder of sorts, is rooted in being a survivor. There is an underlying restlessness to my actions, a need to make the most of my days, but also to slow down and savor the shiny bits of life. I don’t know if a single tattoo can convey all of that, but it’s an idea I hold on to. That, and this boy who is so quickly becoming a man.

I came into motherhood uneasily. It was not my first instinct. And the early years were rough, we fed each other’s anxiety. But somewhere in the middle we settled into it, and now there is a bond, a shared knowing of where we’ve been and where we may be going. He has the lion’s share of my heart. I cling to what is familiar and I long for what has been lost. But I want, too, the things that are just outside my grasp — the complicated, messy, unknown world. And all its shiny bits.