Graveside

19 years ago today, I watched dirt pile over my best friend’s casket. I watched as what was left of her was lowered into the ground, inch by inch, the physical space between us mounting. I loved her, I did. 

Since that time, I’ve visited her grave often. I talk to her. I smile at her. I cry with her. I’ve moved away and still I sit with her when I’m home. Sometimes, people ask me if I still have friends or family in my hometown, and I want to say that’s she’s there. I want to raise her from the dead, keep her going. 

Last year, for the first time, I heard her whispering to me. I felt her presence. I experienced the games she still played on me. Now, you may not believe any of these experiences, you may think that dead is dead, but I know it in my core. I know she’s always around, wreaking havoc. Kokopelli girl. 

Today, as I was sitting in the sun at her grave, and I saw 2 blue dragonflies fly around us, finally landing on her headstone. Dragonflies are the sign of my spirit animal, my patronus. They mean I’m on the right track, where I need to be. That I’m doing the right thing. I had my angel sitting on the headstone at the same time, and I felt watched, guarded, protected, loved. I looked at her headstone and said, “i release you.” And she was no longer lingering, but the love and protection were still there. Peaceful girl. 

And always, I carry her heart. I carry it in my heart.

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But, can you catch it?

A little over two years ago, on March 1, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer. It had spread from my cervix, to my vagina and vulva, and even into the lymph node in my groin. It’s funny, because I felt none of this. It wasn’t painful or visible, and it baffled me that it was silently killing me. I felt like I didn’t know how my body worked, that my assumptions about my body were wrong.

I had been seeing someone at the time, a difficult relationship. He was still married, trying to file for divorce from his wife of many years. We worked at the same company, and my employee was in love with him. It was fraught with scandal and unethical decisions. I was intrigued by him, but I always knew he was a bad decision. When I told him my diagnosis, I never heard from him again. He went AWOL. 

Then, I started treatment, feeling deflated, exhausted, overwhelmed, and I didn’t pursue dating. What would I tell someone on a first date? How would I break the news about my treatment? About not being able to be intimate? It was too much to think about. My friends already looked at me with pitying eyes, I couldn’t date someone looking at me like that too.

Somewhere nearing the end of treatment, I reunited with a high school classmate, who surprised me with his romantic feelings for me. I had never thought of him in that way. At that time, I was sickly and pale, 40 pounds lighter, and my groin was being attacked by toxins. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. But he scooped me up and cared for me, telling me I’m beautiful. I was about to have surgery that would make me unable to be intimate for months. But he had a way about him, helping me feel like none of that mattered. After we’d already undressed, after steamy kisses, he paused, putting some space between our bodies. 

Looking down at me, he whispered, “I want to do this but, because your cancer is down there, I have to ask: can you catch it?”

“Catch what?”

“Your cancer. I know, I should know the answer to this question.”

I hated that my cancer seemed to others like I had the plague, like they should back away. Like I was somehow contagious. Kind of like when my husband and I got divorced and I stopped being invited to weddings. I hated how people told me I was strong and that I would kick cancer’s ass, like I’d win. All I felt, week by week, as my dermatitis started and my hair fell out, as I couldn’t get off the couch anymore because my legs would go numb, was that I was being stomped. Between the cancer and the drugs and radiation waging war on one another, the battlefield that was my body became fallow, trampled to death. Some days I’ve wondered if living was worth it.

They call you a fighter, a warrior. They call you a survivor. But more often, I find myself being a tired partner following a dance with death. I find myself all too often still that fallow field, struggling to come back to life. Someday I know there will be stronger, more beautiful flowers, fertilized because of the experience. Carrying the hearts of those who will always remain fallow fields.

Sunny days

It all started with
The cave by the beach,

Just south of home,

Carved into the cliff,

Where I used to bring my secrets,

Where I grieved in secret,

Loved in secret.

The safest, most painful place.

I wish you could have been my secret there.

These places have accumulated over time.

The grass below the rose garden 

Where we’d lay on our backs and watch the summer clouds.

The meditation garden in the grotto,

Where I witnessed God within my heart.

And then there’s your home.

My safest place I never knew.

The strength of the red rim, nestling the town below in its expansive arms.

Sitting in the water of the stream, kissing your face, while the dragonflies buzz about.

Soaking up the hot summer sun on our bare chests and backs and legs.

The beading drops of cool water refreshing us under the heat of a sunny day, running off us.

Light glinting from our blue-green eyes, consuming one another’s souls.

The silence of the gravesite, where my best friend lies.

Where just the memory of your presence there soothes me, just knowing you met him in your home towns, including me.

Surrounded by succulents and lizards.

Surrounded by birds and dragonflies.

The family cat and its rodent prey.

Surrounded by your loving family, sitting in your family home, watching the sunset.

Smiling. Home. Safe. Loved. 

Summer gods on sunny days.

Reality Hurts… Sometimes

A few months ago, I wrote an email into a podcast I listen to quite regularly. It was a desperate plea to know if I should wait for the man I thought was once the love of my life. I have exhaustive, expansive love for said man–so much that I’m still finding new poems to write, recalling more memories I loved, reflecting on the ways he improved my character. It has been several years, more years than we were together, and I’m still unpacking the bursting adoration and exhilaration (and adjectives!) coarsing through my veins. 

I received the answer today in their most recent podcast. If I’m honest with myself, I knew the answer while I was writing the email in the first place. He didn’t want to be with me or he would have stayed. It was about me. And no matter how long he goes on searching for what’s missing, it’s unlikely he’ll turn around and once again grab my hand. He’s moved on, with or without a new partner, and somewhere along the way, I just stopped to wait for something that isn’t going to come. 

To add insult to injury, or just an additional dose of reality, I turned on the television this afternoon to see He’s Just Not That Into You, one of my favorite movies because it’s so blunt. Girlfriends always seem to say the exception to a rule–that there was that one time a couple broke up and then got back together years later. But that rarely happens. People change, people sometimes don’t have a good reason for breaking up except that it just doesn’t feel right anymore. Sometimes people change and don’t realize it until later. 

It hurts, it does. It hurts because I still have this deep chasm of love overflowing for the person who put me onto the path I am today. For the person who was able to show me what I’m truly capable of. For the person I want to share it all with now that I’m here.

I want to flow all of that love into a container, opening that deep chasm wide for a new person with current possibilities. For someone who chooses me every day. Good, bad, happy, sad. Someone who wants to figure out their life in parallel to mine and doesn’t run from the possibility. 

Too often we talk about flowing out negative feelings, channeling grief or anger or sorrow into music and poetry. Journaling difficult emotions. Exercising out our anger. Scream therapy. Facing our fears. But what happens when the feelings we have appear positive but still get in the way? Loving someone to exhaustion can also block the heart to new options. Remembering the good times too often can hurt our necks as we crane to keep the past in our sights. 

Reality can hurt sometimes, but it can also open us to new and soul-stretching possibilities. So, what’s in it for you?

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.

The Alchemist

To the one

Who loved this body

Broken, wounded

Ravaged by where others had been

Taking on the darkness

That lived, burrowed deep inside

Drinking from this vessel

Always knowing its poison.
To the one

Who, with eyes like lasers

Gazing deep into this heart

Boring into this soul,

Coated the myelin sheath

Around faulty synapses

Corroded from trauma

From those who’d come before

Strengthening all chakras

Always knowing its depletion.
To the one

Whose uttered words

Like a sacred language

Became the guiding voice

A radiant light in the darkness

Comforting the small child inside

Desperately pleading for reassurance

Coursing through these ears

Into these veins

Filling empty spaces with compassion.
To the one

Who, now with this body nearly restored,

Has drifted away

In need of wholeness

Of detoxification of spirit

Of compassion and comfort

Of deep, healing restoration

Your essence is enough

Surrounding us both at once.
To the one

Who, with vulnerability and kindness

Taught this broken heart to mend

These broken wings to fly

These blind eyes to see

Who, with gentle wisdom

Taught a body, mind, spirit

To heal, to harness its power.

Who, with divine alchemy

And pscionic power

Revealed the magic inside.
To the one,

Whose healing touch

Still felt on this body,

Whose stare,

Still slowing this nervous breath,

Whose voice lingers in these ears,

Whose mage hand, holding mine

Still guides this soul through the dark river

Whose alchemy,

My constant companion.

Never to be alone again.