Random loose ends

Last night I slept with the windows open. And the air coming in, the cool breeze, the fresh clear morning, reminded me that the season is about to change. I love this time of year. I love how fall sneaks in quietly to overtake the last hot humid days of summer. I love how the cooler days feel like treasure waiting to be discovered. It’s still warm — tee shirt weather warm — much of the day, but the nights and early mornings are cool enough to throw on a light sweater.

A week ago I had an MRI which confirmed a diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis in my left shoulder. In layman’s terms, I have a frozen shoulder. A couple days after the MRI, I had a cortisone shot and now, finally, I am starting to feel some incremental relief. I’m no longer in constant pain, and while my range of motion is still severely limited, the no-longer-in-constant-pain part is really key. In a week I can go back to PT and moderate exercise. I’m beyond ready to put this chapter behind me.

I get frustrated with the level of vigilance, the amount of follow-up and ongoing care, my doctors require. My oncologist has been bugging me to get back on track with regular visits to my primary care doctor. I kind of let that slide last year since I was, well, you know, dealing with the cancer and all that. So last week, I went in for my annual physical. The good news is, I’ve lost ten pounds. But the bad news is I’m about an inch and a half shorter than I was before starting the lupron shots and the aromasin. At my age, that’s not really normal or expected, so even though it’s only been about 16 months since my first bone density test (which was normal), I need to have another one. Oh and my A1C number is a little high despite the fact that my fasting glucose level is well within the normal range. I’m not sure which of these two things bugs me more. I wonder what would happen if I just stopped getting tested for things?

I already know I’m going in the right direction. Most of my health news is good, and the not-so-good things are fixable. Except, of course, the shrinking. Pretty sure I can’t un-shrink. When I consider where I am, where I’ve been and how far I have come, I know I’m in a good place. I have a lot of people in my corner, and I have so very much to be thankful for. Somehow that makes the annoying and the crazy and the frustrating a little easier to take.

The other side of fear

I’ve told the story before, on other blogs, in essays, but today 15 years later, it bears repeating. We mark anniversaries, we try to give meaning and purpose to that which is impossible to comprehend. I look at the young man sitting across from me and I remember I was eight and a half months pregnant when the towers fell. He was born just blocks from the smoldering remains at St. Vincent’s hospital in Manhattan. Our room overlooked the rubble in a city that was eerily quiet and grey.

Four years later, they closed St. Vincent’s to make way for luxury condos and it broke my heart. It felt like a moment in my past, a deep and meaningful moment had been erased. I spent countless days of my pregnancy there hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, hospitalized and on bedrest. At the time I couldn’t imagine a scarier thing — to be responsible for another human life and yet absolutely dependent on the doctors and nurses and midwives who cared for me, who kept my challenging pregnancy alive, who brought a beautiful healthy boy into the world.

Five years ago, I wrote this:

 

I’ve been thinking about a day this past March, a beautiful crisp late winter day. We drove over the Williamsburg bridge and in a way that was completely unplanned and unexpected, found ourselves pulled deeper and deeper into lower Manhattan. As we got closer, I knew we would park and walk and for the first time since it happened, I wanted to see it.

But I underestimated the impact it would have on us. I watched as my son realized for the first time that the planes were in fact passenger planes and not, as he had always assumed, war planes piloted by military men, but living breathing airplanes like the ones he travels on every summer to California and his father rides in over and over again on business trips.

Processing that information was too much for him, coupled as it was with the story of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and the idea that ordinary people on their way to visit family or to work somehow saved so many others with their heroic actions.

I am something of an idealist. I believe our job is to take care of each other, not push each other away. There are so many things that divide us, but I refuse to accept that we are better off building walls and closing ourselves off and disrespecting — rather than embracing — our differences.

In April of this year I attended an event with James at World Trade Center One, a single spire of a building that has risen slowly above Ground Zero. It was a beautiful night. A celebratory event. And as I looked across the Hudson to New Jersey and down into New York Harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty. A tiny green pillar of hope and ideals. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I believe in the golden door, in beacons of light, in the beauty and symmetry of one world. I believe that everything we want is on the other side of fear.

There are moments that stay with me. Hard and hopeless things that I have had to face. But I will never let those things define me. And I will never stop believing in the power of all that is good in this world. Out of the ashes, they created a thing of great beauty and strength. When I consider that line, that singular thought, I cannot help but think it speaks to so much more than rubble and skyscrapers.

Yesterday I sat in a room with other breast cancer survivors and I saw great beauty and strength. I heard stories and told stories, laughed and cried. There is so very little in this life that we can count on. I am grateful for the moments when we can count on each other. Because everything I want is on the other side of fear.

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Yesterday

Yesterday I bought four tickets to see La Boheme at the Met in January. It is a gift to myself. I’m taking my husband, son and brother-in-law. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is one of those things that’s been on my bucket list for a while. I love listening to opera, but I’ve never actually seen an opera. In the past, I’ve tried to interest friends — even my husband — to come to an opera with me, but it seems my interest is not widely shared.

In the car, I was listening to a Moth podcast where Elif Shafak, a well-known Turkish writer, was talking about art and its role in society. She told a story about the 1999 earthquake in Turkey where more than 8,000 people lost their lives. At the time she was in the middle of writing a novel and she found it almost impossible to go back to her work in the face of such tragedy. Her writing felt small and insignificant, pointless even, in light of the world she was living in. It wasn’t writers block, but a crisis of faith. She said, “To me, to this day, this is one of the toughest dilemmas in my work: to have the faith, to have the belief that words matter, that words make a difference and connect us across the boundaries, and the sneaky suspicion that all art is in vain in the face of larger, darker world events. And between this optimism and pessimism my heart is a pendulum, it goes back and forth, back and forth…” She went on to tell of a neighbor, who after the quake, extended a kindness to her that was born of their shared experience. She said, “Perhaps at the end of the day, this is what we writers want to achieve with our stories, something to remain, a spontaneous bonding, a speck of empathy, and also the possibility of change.”

This resonated with me. There was a time when finishing my novel was the most important work I could imagine myself doing. But then there was a shift, a change, and the words felt pointless and insignificant, the work nothing more than an exercise in vanity. But in my heart, I know that it does matter. Art matters. Whether it’s on the stage of the Met or a draft file in my hard drive. I don’t want to let go just yet, but I’m not certain I can find my way back to the work that sustained me for so long or even make my way into something new. I still don’t know what my story is, but it’s not something I can know without beginning to put the words on the page. It’s a slow reveal. Always.

I don’t write as often as I used to. Not here on the blog, not anywhere for that matter. For me, the crisis of faith lingers. So I listen, and watch, and read. And pray that the pendulum in my own heart swings back to the side of optimism and hope again soon. Because the words are a gift, one that is meant to be shared.

I am still trying to process and figure out my post-cancer world. I am newly sobered by the experiences of the last year and a half, the lingering emotional fallout and the ongoing physical problems (problems, seems like such a big word in this case… maybe it’s more like physical glitches?).

But I am alive. I am here. And I am grateful.

And I know there’s a story to tell.

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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