On the one-hundred-and-eleventh day of November, 2020
My boss texted me this morning to say he liked the “editorial comment” I slipped into this week’s edition of our school newsletter. I had accidentally left a typo dating the newsletter: 111/01/2020.
But like my boss said first, it DOES feel like we’re in month one-hundred and eleven of 2020. Doesn’t it?
HOWEVER, Sarah and I must have been crying “uncle” loud enough for 2020 to hear us because today her job agreed to let her work remotely, for a time, from Tucson which means we can be moved into our new home by December 1st, both gainfully employed, and still holding our health insurance card.
I was telling my friend Megan that I was fully prepared to sign up for the ACA, or as I call it “Broncocare” (which is both a reference to Obamacare and that viral YouTube video from back in the good old days where the cute little girl is crying because she’s tired of listening to adults fight about “Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney”). Anyway, Broncocare is fine, but it still costs a decent amount of money. ACA is about as close to “socialized medicine” as a slightly melted plastic spork is to a freshly sharpened chef’s knife.
So here we are. One more step and we’re out of the plane and into the sky and free falling toward the ground and maybe we’re going to get a parachute that works, or maybe we ain’t. We won’t know until the ripcord is pulled.
But guess what? Most of us are not going to STOP BREATHING tomorrow. It may feel like that. Our breath may catch for a moment, but most of us, like probably 100% of my readers will 100% for sure live through tomorrow. Even if the parachute doesn’t open and your body hits the hard ground. You will live through this. So will I.
I taught my classes today: AP Lit, Intro to CRW (high school), and World Lit (all seniors). The “waiting room music” was David Bowie. Changes, of course.
First track: “Space Oddity” — is there a more perfect rock song for the way all Americans feel today? A rock song about anxiety, reticence, change and that awful, but brief, moment of launch.
We’re waiting, as a country, to launch into the next chapter.
I’m waiting, as a person, to launch into my next chapter.
Of the content, both America and I are mostly unsure.
In AP Lit we read the epilogue to Angels in America, “Bethesda,” out loud
as a class. I got a volunteer for every character in the final scene/epilogue, but no one wanted to read for Prior because he had TOO MANY WORDS FOR MONDAY MORNING (and i get it), so I ended up reading for Prior.
“ . . I’ve been living with AIDS for five years. That’s six whole months longer than I lived with Louis.” — Prior, Angels in America, Epilogue, Tony Kushner
“ . . . She’s my favorite angel. I like them best when they’re statuary. They commemorate death but they suggest a world without dying.” — Prior, Angels in America, Epilogue, Tony Kushner
“ . . . in the summer it’s a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.” — Prior, Angels in America, Epilogue, Tony Kushner
I kept it together.
I didn’t cry.
This is dialogue about hope.
My students need hope as much as I need it or you need it.
We are famished for hope. Each one of us.
I started class by telling my students that I was moving to Tucson. I told them this not because they really “need” to know (we’re all online, so they wouldn’t know if I was in Flagstaff or Fallujah.)
When asked “why” I was moving, I replied vaguely at first, “well, a lot of reasons . . . “
and then I told them a big part of the truth because why can’t they know this? Why can’t they know what America (in its current condition) makes us have to do?
“There’s better healthcare for me in Tucson.”
I know some of my students are probably sad about this.
I know for some of my kids maybe just knowing I was here, in town, was some small comfort. Or I’m flattering myself.
(Anyway, I’m not leaving them NOW. Later.
We’re ALL “leaving later.” That’s what sucks,
but whatever. Can’t do a damn thing about this.)
So there was that, and then I hit this part of Prior’s dialogue and my voice started to crack:
. . . the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you, More Life.
The Great Work Begins . . . — Tony Kushner
(NOTE TO ANY STUDENTS CURRENT OR FORMER: I am NOT using proper MLA in-text citations, and that’s just how reckless I’ve become, playing fast and loose with MLA rules on a Monday afternoon in 2020 and don’t even get me started on the way I’m mistreating grammar, syntax, and punctuation . . . in any case, you can do better than me. Let my behavior serve as a warning.)
So mind you, I am reading these fucking words OUT LOUD on a Zoom call THE DAY BEFORE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN OUR AMERICAN LIVES and the DAY BEFORE I find out if my cancer has spread into my lungs and shit, and in the MOMENTS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING my announcement, to my kids, that this year was my “last” at FALA.
And then I had to read THAT gorgeous shit.
I’m sorry, but I’m just going to go ahead and brag: that I wasn’t a blubbering fucking mess (which I often am) is a credit to my professionalism.
I cried a little.
My voice quivered for a sec, but I kept it together.
I’m not espousing the virtues of “keeping it together” in all situations — sometimes it’s good and necessary to totally lose your shit; catharsis is real, not just something that lived in the minds of weird ass ancient white people — I’m just saying that sometimes
if you can control your emotions like a horse (Mae, if you’re reading, I can read your thoughts: like a horse. GREAT analogy, Socrates. I GET IT!)
— if you can control your emotions like a . . . like a fucking bear.
“Taming “bears is awful.
I don’t want to think about that shit.
I don’t have a better analogy so “horse,” Mae, it will have to be.
If you can sometimes guide your emotions like a wild ass horse, keep them from bucking you off, it feels good. It feels good because you’re exercising one of the very few muscles of control we’re given in this life.
I think I don’t have anything else to say today.
Just, you know, “more life,” and
I’ll see you on the other side of tomorrow.
(One certain thing we can all feel good about, even me and my body, After tomorrow we will be done with this first Big Unknown. And as I mentioned in my last, rather wordy, article — The Unknown is the fucking worst of all the fears. Tomorrow, we’ll be done
with this first Big Unknown
and dear readers, I really think we all
will be breathing air. )
*** Addendum (Bonus Track????), 10:10 p.m. MST ***
I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep and I know tonight it’s not the Prednisone (I’m tapering down anyway). I’m fucking scared. I mean, I’m simultaneously excited to start getting it all “over with” — Election, PET scan results — and also terrified of what it MIGHT be (both the election and the scan). Like I’m trying to heal my gut from this last Crohn’s flare and tonight my gut is hurting everytime I think about tomorrow.
What I’m saying is that though I’m learning to control fear/mental suffering, it cannot all be avoided, and tonight, like the rest of America, I feel like I’m trying to tow myself out of the ditch with my skinny arms.
And I also know, from past experience with setbacks and scares, we’ll keep going. I’ll keep going. (Until we don’t, obviously.) I remember the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only thirty-four, had just moved to a new city, petri-fucking-fied. Like those first two weeks waiting/after my diagnosis I felt like I was a zombie in hell. It was awful. I couldn’t sleep EVER. I would drag my blankets into the living room of my little Milwaukee efficiency and lie down on the floor and watch infomercials and televangelists until I passed out from exhaustion or Valium or a little of both.
(This recent bout of cancer, but for some doctor/healthcare dealings, hasn’t been “LIVING NIGHTMARE DOPED UP ON VALIUM” — it’s been more like “Well, cancer, we meet again. Somehow I just knew you wouldn’t quit me that easy. So this fucking sucks. What do I do? What’s next here?” — and most of my days, if I do the math, like 89.59% (no need to sacrifice precision) of my days are really good and decent. I feel okay physically and REALLY good mentally — clear headed, awake-for-the-first-time-in-my-life good. Without drugs or booze. (I mean, yeah, the occasional MEDICAL, PERFECTLY LEGAL cannabis edible is consumed, but I’m not like dropping acid and taking fistfuls of Percocet and Valium.) Like I’m just here. I think the first time with cancer taught me that.
I will never be able to “look back” on this bout of cancer.
I will have to see specialists and take medicine
for the rest of my life be that two, ten, or twenty years.
But my first time with cancer there was a finish (at least a ten year pause). I stopped having to have chemo, take pills, constantly see specialists. I was able
to look back at it (and of course it was always trailing me. I’m no dummy. I knew the jackass fucker would hit me up again someday — just didn’t know when. Just hoped it was going to be later, like when I was 90, but even then
I’d still be upset about it and still want
one more big hit
(My grandmother died last year. I was able to say goodbye and attend her services. I loved her very much. She was ninety four and the last years of her life were pretty damn good — tough, but good — she lived in her own house. She had a tiny porch garden. She had people almost always around her kitchen table, sipping coffee or eating sandwiches. My point is that she probably wanted more of life and even though I was
in my forties and very lucky to have a grandmother that very long into life I still
didn’t want to let her go.
We never do. We’re hooked
on this shit. Bad.)
Anyway. After my first time with cancer, I got to look back on the experience.
And what I learned is that I was SO FUCKING STUPID for not letting people help me or take care of me and for NOT TELLING MY HEALTHCARE TEAM what I needed psychologically or even physically for that matter and for WASTING SO MUCH TIME GOOGLING “Stage II breast cancer” — like fucking hours and hours lost to terror on WebMD and message boards . . . For what? I didn’t let people help as much as they wanted to because I wanted to seem “tough” and I didn’t tell my doctors and nurses what I needed because I wanted to be “polite” and I Googled breast cancer obsessively (reading the worst stories I could find) because my fear was completely at the wheel. I was NOT mentally okay. Like, at all. And I didn’t let anyone know that. I didn’t ask for help. I was traumatized and so sad and scared, but fortunately
I grew up and learned about this GREAT SHIT called “therapy” and “antidepressants” and “being honest with people about how you’re feeling, including doctors” — -
What I’m saying is that I’m better at some things
when it comes to fear and cancer, but no one really equipped me
to deal with a really fucking important and horrifically stressful
Election Day that happens on a really fucking important and horrifically stressful
Medical Day for me about this fucking disease that I’m stuck with
until it fucking kills me. I’m scared. And I’m sad. And I’m full of hope.
And I’m full of rage at America and my body (like people chug Beefeater Gin and chainsmoke smoke unfiltered cigarettes and eat asbestos on a dare until their sudden death in their eighties — and you fucking do this to me, Life? Sure, I did a little coke in my twenties, smoked Camels for a good ten years, and always, always enjoyed my beer, but come the fuck on. I’m not goddamn Keith Richards. Never even came close. And that motherfucker is always popping up like a jack-in-the-box to raspily laugh, “Look at me fuckers, I’m still alive. Believe that shit?!” — Shut up, Keith Richards.
Just shut up.)
Maybe it’s not “rage” but
But I’m such a sucker for my fellow human
that I almost never think
they “deserve it.” It being both a stupid little word and the tragedy
that for the first or second or third or for the fiftieth time
visits every one of us who lives past, like, five.
(Okay, in the spirit of honesty, at this moment
I totally think Donald Trump deserves “it” whatever
“it” will have to look like. Hopefully, “it,” his big face-my-mortality-again
tragedy will be losing the Election. Bigly. Or maybe we’re going
to be stuck with this fucker for another minute yet
like I’m stuck with cancer for all my minutes
and Trump is a fucking cancer to our country. Way worse cancer
than the run-of-the-mill estrogen positive breast
shit my body is growing like fucking weeds. Can’t grow
a fucking tomato for shit, but my body grows crops of cancer.
I want to punch you in the face.
I want to kiss you on the lips.
Goodnight for real this time.