Recovery.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved…The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” –Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart


End of February 2015 I shot a commercial for Vonage telephone service, a service I used and loved for many years because it gave me precious time with my brother who lived in London. The photo on the left is a shot of me after the day wrapped. Little did I know that my life would fall apart only a week later and that I’d cancel my Vonage service and delete my relationship with my brother only months later, the day the photo on the right was taken (September 2015). 

Things fell apart. A week after my fun on set, at the top of my career, in love with my life as it was, I was diagnosed with cancer. This distanced me from my family, my friends, myself, my job, everything. I lost 40 pounds (photo on left: 143 pounds, right: 103) and my hair. I lost my job, my boyfriend, some friends, and my sense of stability. 

And during that time, people complimented my appearance. It devastated me, and I broke. I hurt everywhere, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. That photo on the right was an unhealthy version of me. I remember being cold all the time, walking through a cognitive fog, suffering from spontaneous incontinence, and really exploiting that small amount of hair that stayed attached to my scalp (the rest I had to shave because of the bald patches). I cried every single day. From pain, from loneliness, and mostly from fear. 


Photo on the left: 6/5/15. Two years ago. I’d completed a complete cycle of chemotherapy (7 doses over 7 weeks), 8.5 weeks of radiation, so many scans and biopsies and blood tests, 1 surgery, and all the misery I could have imagined. I had just been discharged from the hospital after my first surgery, the surgery that would remove the rest of my cancer. I couldn’t move from the pain, I had a catheter in still, and I was vomiting everywhere. My hair had just started to fall out, in chunks. I had an open wound where my labia used to be. And this was the day I wanted to die, when I couldn’t take anything any longer. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than that moment. 

But that wasn’t rock bottom. Over the next 6-8 months, the bottom fell out from under me and I experienced the depths. My body changed and healed, but I completely lost my footing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially. I was broken. Literally everything in my life changed. I experienced so many endings that it shook my cobwebs loose. 

And that’s when the healing started. I met my therapist in the city where I moved, and she gave me the room, the capacity, to experience everything in a messy, ugly, angry, irrational, emotional way. I began to learn what self-love feels like–being ok with all the emotions I’d been bottling up for so long. 

Those cobwebs that shook loose allowed room for things I could not previously accept: joy, self-respect, humor, silliness, childlike behavior, spontaneity, forgiveness, and love. I discovered what God means to me, and where I can find, accept, and celebrate spirituality. I am continuing to discover these depths inside of me, knowing now what Pema has tried to teach me for years: the things that shake you to your core remind you what inside of us is indestructible. 

“To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

Today is my cancer survival day. Happy birthday, new body. Thank you for bringing me to my knees so that I could learn how to pray.

Upstairs

Over the weekend I walked by that place where you first opened up about your dad, where I got to know your girlfriend’s past, where we talked about pasta and laughed about movies. When we talked in This Is Spinal Tap quotes. It was 5 blocks from the Thai place where you taught us your signature move, craning your neck awkwardly to get a server’s attention. Where we celebrated you selling your first Hummer and plotted our revenge against them. The apartment above the Chinese place, next to the gay bar. Right on the main drag in my favorite part of town. Half a mile from our apartment. Close to where you could buy Saucony and cannoli. And we did.

I remembered the night you fell apart, when we couldn’t find you, when we were so worried. The night we had to carry you up those stairs and bathe you when we got there. The night we all fell apart, before we knew we had. I remembering noticing your extensive porn collection. I’d never seen anyone own porn. I remember giggling about it with your girlfriend, while we ate cold spaghetti. 

I remember the night we took a cab from our house to yours, loading up percussion as we went, drums first then bass, heading to a show in the east. How we unloaded the percussion while parked on a hill. How the bass amplifier head smashed my big toe into smithereens. How you cared for me that night. How you gave me booze and cigarettes. How you apologized every day afterwards. Including my wedding day. Including the week before you were gone forever. 

I remember smelling Chinese food coming from the floorboards the night you relapsed. As I sat with your girlfriend, bawling, worried not only about your sobriety but her own. I was mesmerized by the both of you, coming up from such depths, pushing one another to be better. Silly and tender. And we sat there, watching all of it melt away, in silence, smelling Chinese food. Oh, to turn back time to that moment. The silence. The despair. The hope for the future, it was still there. 

I remember swinging by that sign, with our hazards on, hugging, saying farewell before our long drive north. That was the last time under that sign. The last time we’d smell Chinese. Before it all changed. 

I’m not sure how I got so close to you so fast. How I felt so connected to you. I’m not sure why you tried at all with me, even after the divorce. We no longer had ties; I expected you to choose him over me. But you never forgot our friendship in the living room above the Chinese restaurant. You always remembered my birthday. You always reminded me you were there. 

Are you still?

Sin Zapatos

Last night I had a dream.

We were back in your room, 

The one by the train station.

The messy room with a wine bottle,

Once full of Maynard Keenan’s finest.

Last night I had a dream.

I was in your room,

Feeling your sheets beneath me,

Your skin rubbing against mine,

Hearing your deep, heavy breaths.

Last night, I had a dream.

We were in your room,

Wearing that Manchester United hoodie,

Long socks, no pants.

My favorite combination.

You were wearing glasses.

Last night, I was a Star.

In the room with The Wall,

A guitar I loved to hear you play,

And freshly pressed shirts.

In the room where I felt safe

For the first time.

Anoche, esta manana.

Despacio, despierto.

Por completo, cuandro sonries.

Sin zapatos. Al tiempo.

Dormido. Amor. Siempre.

Lost Time

I caught myself realizing today that it’s been almost a year since I’ve been in a committed relationship. I sat there, trying desperately to remember him. What did I like about him? Did we have fun? Or did I just play into his life? Clearly I did because I only remember the day we officially broke up and I was… happy, for the first time in a very long time. 

And then, I realize there are people in my past whom I still adore, still remember even the smallest, quietest moments. Those moments where we just breathed. Those moments I saw him coming on his bike. Those moments chopping peppers. Those moments playing pool, playing bocce, playing house. Just ordinary moments. 

“I don’t mean no harm, I just need you on my arm, wedding bells were just alarms, caution tape around my heart… You ever wonder what we could’ve been? You said you wouldn’t then you fucking did, lied to me, lied with me, got your fucking fix. Now all my drinks and all my feelings are fucking mixed. I’m missing people I know I shouldn’t be missing, you gotta burn some bridges just to create some distance. I know that I control my thoughts and should stop reminiscing but I learned from my dad that it’s good to have feelings. When love and trust are gone, I guess this is moving on…” -Gnash, I hate that I love you

What makes some people so forgettable to us? People we were convinced that, with them, we could spend our lives? What makes the feeling of being dumped so intense that you convince yourself you actually need or want someone who you never really enjoyed? 

What makes people so memorable, after years or even decades apart? What makes me hold onto the vivid memories of my best friend, swinging on swings, brushing her hair from her face, nearly 20 years after her life faded? What makes memories so sticky?

Some friends, some people I called my BEST friends for years, I can barely remember them. Others, whom I only met once or twice, are etched into my neural pathways. Why is that? I dated people for years and remember little; some for a couple months and my heart still aches for the kisses, like candy, I can still taste on my lips. 

How do we lose whole people, whole years of people? How do I sometimes forget one of my sisters altogether? Is there logic to this? Am I repressing things or do I process them away? 

There are entire years of my marriage I hardly remember and then years where I recall every day. Is that how life is? If so, I am starting to think our bodies and minds are more resilient than we give them credit.  What does it say about the memories that stick out the most? Are they our mind’s bread crumbs, leading us into something we need to continue? To lessons we still must learn? 

Thanks, mind, for forgetting him for me. And for leaving all the better ones for me to dream about, write poetry about, and look for in the next ones. 

Irish heart

It’s one of those nights when I can’t stop thinking about what we had once. And, if we’re both able to be honest and unguarded, what we still have. 

I can’t believe it was 4 years ago now, when we went to an Irish punk show on St. Patrick’s Day; I’d never celebrated it before. It was a Friday, and I worked from your apartment, writing code and taking meetings… And taking shots. You got stoned, watched basketball, played video games. I loved falling in love with you in that apartment. The one with the bean bag chair you rescued from the alley and repurposed into something people fought over… Kind of like how you repurposed me into someone I loved. 

I remember the nights we ate ice cream and watched Game of Thrones in the dark. The times we babysat your nephew, when we played music in the living room. When we played games. When I’d watch your ritual of separating seeds and stems from buds, how you weighed flower on a Jimi Hendrix CD. Board games, card games, heart games. Most of all, I remember your smile. Your laugh. Your bright, animated eyes. How those eyes looked into mine. 

The way you sipped tequila when we shot it. The way you called it a “wee dram” like your dad did. The way you danced when you drank tequila. The way you watched when I danced. The way you held me tight and covered my eyes at the show when there were strobe lights. The way you always, always protected me. The way you still do. 

That night, there was a song at the show that reminded me of my best friend who’d died of an overdose the year before. An overdose I’d just found out about. You held me, you danced with me, you kissed me during that song. You made it ours; full of special and thought and intention and love. In every moment, you made me feel safe and strong, because I am.

Now that I’m stronger still, more composed, I wish, on days like today, that you could be part of the stillness with me. That we could be a force. That we could watch basketball, go drinking, or stay in and drink beer and watch star trek. That we could play magic and go to game cons and laugh. That we could continue the happiness and fun and excitement we lost nearly 3 years ago. That we could be best friends, like we both know we still are. 

“If I ever leave this world alive, I’d thank you for what you gave to my life…” 

It’s days like today that I know that day four years ago left a four leaf clover in my heart forever. 

Black Albatross

It was more than 18 years ago now,

The day I watched your face

Turn from violet to blue to an icy white.

I stood there, holding your hoodie.

Complete shock.

This accessory smelled more like you than you.

I remember my mouth going dry from surprise and terror and fear and panic.

My ears recall the utter silence. Pin drop.

Those fibers on the black lining, rubbing.

Your body, more limp, making you look like a hanger, no longer holding up your clothes.

You’d cleaned your room. Spotless. Pledge.

No feelings, just data. Vacuum.

You and me, alone, in a clean room.

You lifeless, me dead inside. Mirrors.

I didn’t do anything. I just stood and watched. I’ve regretted that.

It was our only time alone before all the tears. I’ve regretted that too.

I remember you like you left yesterday.

Wearing socks.

I’ve stayed quiet with regret for so long.

What would I say if no one would judge?

I’d talk about the sigh of relief my chest exhaled when I saw your lips turn blue.

Knowing I could get out and not worry about you.

Chasing my dreams without thinking of the mess you’d become.

I’d tell someone that the last words that left my lips in that room was, “i couldn’t save you. I never could.”

It wasn’t I’m sorry or I love you. You were my loss, but a loss.

I’d express my anger that you left me at the worst time, without a friend. A best friend. You rejected me.

How I gave up my bunk beds because you’d slept on them with me, because I couldn’t stop seeing you hanging.

How you made me more different than I already was. Now I was the girl with a dead friend. Now I’ve watched someone die. Now I have even more issues.

Unrelatable and alone.

How you knew. You knew I had no one to help me with this. No one to turn to.

I wanted to yell at you, to call you selfish. But that wasn’t correct.

I would say I have never quite gotten the hang of being around dead bodies because you were the first. And there was nothing comforting about it.

How every time I’m around one now, how every time I even see Jesus on a cross I see your face.

How I never understood. How I don’t understand. Did you not trust me?

How sometimes, in those first few days, I slept easier knowing you were safer.

How sometimes, in those first few years, I hated you. I hated me.

Guilt. Relief. Anger. Calm.

You changed my life for the worse.

A terrible scar across my heart.
All I could show was pain or nothing.

For so long, nothing.

In a child, out an adult?

Protecting you then honoring you?

Who does that for me?

And all I seem now is selfish.

If only I felt safe enough

To say it while still alone in your room.

Perhaps then, this pain could dissipate.