The thing they share

For two days I’ve come downstairs to find them glued to the 24 hours of LeMans. Though they vowed to simply watch the first and last hour of the race, there has been quite a bit of intermittent checking in.

The only time the TV is ever tuned to source 1 and regular cable TV is on race days. Formula One, the Indianapolis 500; spring is nothing if not a season of automotive racing. They have this in common: A love of motorsports. Before he was born, his father used to watch alone, or with me half-heartedly showing interest, but now he has a real partner, a true believer in the house.

As a metaphor, there is much to be learned from the international race circuit. There is a camaraderie the drivers share, regardless of their country of origin. In Formula One racing, a tire change takes less than two seconds. Blink and it’s over. At LeMans, it takes closer to 20 seconds. Either way, imagine the teamwork and training it takes to make that happen.

The living room debates — Astin vs. Porsche vs. Honda vs. Ferrari, and so on — have become more studied, more intelligent as the years fly by. If you think for one minute that the father is schooling the son, you would be wrong. It’s the know-it-all young man who absorbs the facts and figures and trivia like a sponge; he is the one who knows strategy and engine speed and how much time a driver has until the next pit stop.

I have come to love these mornings, the sound of racing engines, the commentary, the civilized intensity of global motorsports. But most of all, I love the way it brings them together, father and son. The thing they share. Allegiance to the checkered flag, to each other, to this incredible life they live.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads. May your day be filled with shared moments, checkered flags and the things you love.

This life

Friday we celebrated our anniversary. Twenty-seven years of marriage. I can’t help but think what a long, strange trip this has been. Lately, we’ve both been a little nostalgic about all the traveling we’ve done together, most of it in the first 12 years of our marriage, before we were parents and homeowners.

Though there were plenty of other trips and other places, we spent so much of our time in California. Our lives continue to be drawn west and east; our footprints in the sand from Point Reyes to Montauk. Our hearts split between where we are and where we have been.

We met in LA as I was preparing to move to NY. He was the art director at the NY-based sport magazine where I had just been hired to write about performance fabrics and apparel. Our first assignment together was a surf story in Malibu and he showed up in a black rented turbo T-bird, which I later learned he drove illegally down a dirt fire road off of Mulholland Drive. The road, of course, was narrow and had no turnaround, so he had to back out in that big old boat of a car — about a mile back to the pavement. I would learn that this was pretty much his approach to traveling in general. Asking directions and turning around were not in his DNA. To this day, he swears the map showed a through road.

His passion for cars and culture is still shaping our lives. There have been times when I’ve felt myself lost to the things he loves, and yet, my life is richer too because of those things. He gave me the West Village and Dylan and Patti Smith; I gave him California and all her treasures.

Marriages are complicated and messy and 27 years is a long time. But here we are. Once I tried to catalog every place we had been. But the list was too long. There was a time we lived in the moment, when tossing a bag in the back of the car and seeing where we might end up was just about every weekend we knew.

I have loved our life and sometimes even felt smothered by our life, but through it all there has been us. Together. And I don’t always understand how or why, but somehow it just works. Twenty-seven years is a long time. It’s been something of a magical journey, a little wild, a little free, a little out there at times.

And maybe it’s been a little miraculous too.

k&jcollage

Slip sliding away

I feel my zen slipping slowly out of reach. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything these days: the election, the dread of what’s to come regardless of who wins, family things, parenting things. One of my oldest friends (as in longtime, not age) has taken to calling me Debbie Downer on our text messages. I get where he’s coming from. Most of what we frantically type late into the night is about the election, and I really doubt there’s a human being on the planet who feels hopeful about what’s been going on in American politics. I’m not here to write about my views, but for the record: I’m with her. No doubt or question about it. And not because she’s the lesser of two evils, but because she is a superstar in my book.

But again, I didn’t come here to write about or debate politics.

Thursday night my mom fell, hit her head on the tile floor, lost consciousness, broke her shoulder and humorous bone, and fractured her knee. It happened during the wake for my dear friend who passed away on Sunday from ovarian cancer. I’m told there was a great deal of panic, emotions were fraught, everyone was sad and overwhelmed and then the fall, no one could find her pulse. Of course, I was here. Three thousand miles away. And I don’t want to write about that either, about the guilt, the feelings of helplessness, the phone calls and text messages to my sister and brother. It has been years of this through countless family crises. So, no, that’s not what I want to write about.

My mom is a fighter. One of the first things she said when she could was something to the effect of “there goes Christmas.” And, of course, she was thinking about the fact that we had already bought our tickets, that the four of us living here in NY are planning to spend the holidays in LA for the first time since my 15-year-old son was a toddler. Christmas means everything to her. She’s been on cloud nine since we told her we are coming. But again, she’s a fighter. And through the unbearable pain and disappointment and sadness and frustration of the long recovery ahead, she is focused on what she needs to do to move forward.

Sometimes — despite my best efforts — the worry seeps in. It’s not where I want to live, or how I want to live. But when I’m tired and stressed, my thoughts turn to all the what ifs. What if my cancer comes back is the big one, but there are plenty of others. Some are tiny annoying thoughts, others are harder to push aside (like the fact that we recently discovered the bank put a $10,000 lien on our house seven years ago and we have no idea why). I know I’m not special. Life is ridiculously hard and challenging for just about everyone. Yet still, moving far away from this mindset, choosing to live on the bright side, is the healthiest choice I can make.

Yesterday, while we were waiting to hear whether my mom needed surgery to reset her shoulder (she doesn’t, thank god), I was looking up flights and mentally trying to rework my calendar for the next week. For now, a panicked run to the airport is on hold, but not entirely ruled out. Still, my heart hurts with the heaviness of it all.

When I told my brother-in-law what happened, he asked about Christmas. I told him we are still going and he said, “we’ll just have to bring the joy with us.” Smart man.

When I think about walking this other path, finding and focusing on my own definition of inner peace, I think mostly about gratitude. It’s not about eliminating what’s difficult or stressful or frustrating, but accepting that those things exist. The absence of challenges does not lead to peace because we would have no perspective, no context. It’s the acceptance of conflict, the understanding that despite hard times, there is so much to be grateful for — that’s where my zen lives. And while there are times when I feel it slipping away, I know deep in the heart of my soul, that it is never really gone.

This is life’s work. This is what I hold on to. As bad as things get, I still come back to gratitude. And I know that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not an easy thing, either.

 

The sun came out

Last weekend I helped my brother-in-law sort through his mother’s things. We made piles for donation and much smaller piles of things to keep. In January, she will have been gone a year, and we are heading into our first holiday season without her. All of this makes me very sad.

I found among her things two notes that I had written to her and my father-in-law around the time of my wedding. I was so young, so earnest, so entirely hopeful and committed to making my life here. I knew that marrying her son meant letting go of every other option. I wasn’t just marrying James and marrying into his family, I was marrying New York, and letting go of California — though you never really let go of the place you grow up, at least not all the way.

This afternoon I finally watched the movie Brooklyn. I didn’t know much about it, but I had heard that it was charming and sweet and it was, in fact, all of those things. In the last scene, the main character is telling another young Irish girl what it is like to leave Ireland and move to Brooklyn. She says: “You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out and you might not even note it straight away, it would be that faint. And then you will catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”

And I thought, yes. That is exactly as I remember it. James was my certain someone, and this has been where my life is. When I think back over the years, I know we’ve been happy. We’ve weathered a few storms, but the sun has never let us down.

Of course, California still tugs at my heart, and someday — maybe — we’ll move back. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic, too, for that time when New York felt so new and so believable, and I was a young bride welcomed into a warm and loving family.

And home became this thing I never could have dreamed possible.

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.

 

Quiet, but good

I haven’t written here in a while. No reason, really. One of those life-gets-in-the-way kind of things. I miss my mother-in-law every day. Seriously. Every. Single. Day. I feel a little adrift here in our neck of the woods, kind of like a kid whose parents have gone on vacation. I know I’m not the kid anymore; I am, in fact, the parent. But still it feels a little lonely and strange. With my own mother so far away, an entire generation is missing.

I am keeping busy with work, and trying to stay on top of my healthcare. I’m doing mostly okay on the aromasin, a little curious to see what changes — if any — I’ll feel with the lupron out of my system (weaning off of it pretty much started this week). I can re-do my bloodwork at the end of April, and if everything looks as it should, I may be off the lupron shots for good. One less med is always a good thing. I’ve also been working on cleaning up my diet. I’m completely off sugar and processed foods, and I feel like it’s a step in the right direction. The more research I do, the more I am convinced that diet and disease are connected. And if eating smart is going to give me one more tiny edge over a recurrence, then it’s worth sacrificing the chocolate chip cookies and potato chips.

In other news, I’m taking my son to LA for a few days during his spring break. I miss my mom a lot, and so we are breaking with tradition and flying out mid-year for a quick visit. We also booked our tickets for summer so we’ll be back in LA at the end of June for about 8 weeks.

And that’s where we stand. Nothing here to complain about (I am, in fact, writing this post on my brand-spanking-new macbook pro and loving everything about it). Life is good. Quiet, but good. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Letting go

We had another death in the family this week. One of James’s cousins. And then Father Tom passed away. Fr. Tom was the priest who baptized my son, he was a dear friend to my brother-in-law, and probably one of the few priests I’ve ever known who really was a holy spirit, a kind and honorable man. So in an unexpected way, the last few days have been hard.

I’ve been working this week on a set of stories about journaling. One, in fact, about keeping a gratitude journal. There is a huge amount of science behind the benefits of gratitude. Simply put, grateful people are happier, healthier, and they sleep better. When I write here on this blog, I try to tease out the golden bits of my life, try to dig deep into my feelings and fears to find the nuggets of hope, to work my way through life’s frustrations and disappointments to circle back to what is good. But it’s not the same as keeping a journal dedicated to gratitude. Too often it’s too easy to settle in to feeling overwhelmed and unhappy, to focus on where I wish I could be rather than where I am. Gratitude — true gratitude — takes practice. Most of us are hardwired to zero in on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. I think I probably do better than some, but I have a ways to go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my own gratitude journal might look like. I was given two beautiful blank journals for my birthday, but there’s also an app (of course there is!) that looks tempting. There’s something appealing about keeping my journal on my phone, in my hands at all times, about importing photos and short videos and talk to text options. Plus, I’m a digital writer. I’ve always struggled to write by hand, though I know there is beauty in that. Still, nearly 30 years in front of a keyboard has made me a wicked fast typist and when my thoughts and ideas come tumbling through, I’ve found no better way to capture every last one.

It’s not easy to be mindful. And it’s not easy to let go of the people and things that disappoint us or hurt us or somehow get in the way of our efforts to be better, to do better. I’m not there yet, but I’d like to be.

 

 

Small things

Tomorrow I will be another year older, and while it sounds like the most overused and tired cliche, another year wiser, as well. Yet, maybe “wiser” isn’t entirely right, maybe it’s “weathered” or “more complex.” I have said I’m not the same, and it’s true. But getting a handle on what that really means, how to put it into words and somehow own it, is no small task.

New Year’s Eve was just us three, home, binge watching, waiting for the ball to drop, but when we could stay awake no longer, there was a subtle shift in the mood. Things suddenly got serious. The weight of whatever we had been carrying, the emotional baggage of such a difficult year, came crashing down. My son put his arms around me and refused to let go. He wanted to talk, to say the things he had been keeping inside. It was clear to me that he was still afraid. I don’t know when life will stop feeling so fragile. I don’t know when any of us will trust in the future again. I have been unable to shake the dull sadness, the feeling of helplessness that washed over me when my son told me that he is worried something bad might happen to him in the new year.

These are the things I carry. The things I work hard to keep in their place. Some days the weight is unbearable, but not always.

I was reading something this morning that made me think about the culture of recovery. We feel obligated to bounce back after trauma, to minimize the time and effort it takes to truly heal. We all share stories about the guy who had major surgery on Monday and was back at his desk a week later. It’s as if those stories are meant to inspire us. But if we are being very honest, it’s not inspiration we feel, but a twisted kind of survivor’s guilt. We downplay surgery by calling it a procedure and then we feel bad when we still feel bad a week, a month, a half a year later. I am learning to give myself time, to be okay with how slowly things move forward. Healing is hard work. It’s the scars you can’t see that slay me.

We took a drive this afternoon to the beach. I wanted to feel the cold air on my face, to stand in the wind and watch the waves. My son reached for my hand as we walked, then circled back to put his arm around his father. I don’t know how different our story would have been if I had never had breast cancer, if the last year had never happened. Maybe my sweet young man would have walked ahead, a little annoyed with my lingering at the rail. Or maybe he would have opted out, preferring to be alone than with his parents.

This is what I think of when I acknowledge the mixed blessings of the last year. I had cancer and it absolutely sucked in so many horrible ways. Sometimes, even, it still sucks. But the little buried treasures, the moments of absolute clarity, the holding of hands and the hugs and the desperate need to never let go. These are the things I’ve gained.