I am hypersensitive. And I sometimes have a little trouble letting things go.
This is not a headliner to those who know me. And it’s old news to Ocho, who weekend before last made the mistake of asking me why I’d chosen grape-colored mums to stick in the ground next to the Japanese maples in my front yard.
Back in the day, I spent whole weekends in my yard. I maintained my own hedges and trees. I cleaned my own gutters. I demossed my own deck. I built my own swingsets. And I squeegeed my own windows.
But in February 2006, I went back to work full time. Under normal circumstances, working my way back into a corporate environment after freelancing for 15 years would have been a difficult and stressful transition. But the circumstances became a little harder at the end of May 2006, when I was diagnosed with infiltrating lobular carcinoma. New job. New cancer. New loads of adrenaline being pumped into the system.
For a while, I was able to maintain a sense of control. I woke up at 6:00 a.m., put on a full pot of coffee, did a load of laundry, watered the plants, paid a few bills, signed school papers, scrubbed a toilet, ironed my black cotton pants, made Katie’s chicken caesar salad, fed the dog, swept the driveway and showered. All before 7:30 a.m.
After work, I drove home, picked up the dry cleaning, got groceries and refilled prescriptions, got gas, made dinner, Windexed the dog snot off the car’s interior windows, fixed the broken (insert one of the following: faucet, router, garage door opener, washing machine, cordless phone, drip system) __________, read my email, finished a work project, and got into bed to read one of the books on my nightstand: Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, Surviving Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer for Dummies.
Weekends? Same stuff. Except for alternate weekends with Ocho. On Saturday morning, Ocho and I would go get a coffee then either ride our bikes up Mount Montara, hike Purrisima, go to the rock climbing gym, do yoga at Enzo, or take Marge to the beach to unload a little pent-up border collie energy. Then we’d go back to his place, where I would put in a couple hours of work and Ocho would go back out to surf. After dinner and a couple glasses of wine, we’d fall into bed and sleep like rugby players. Then we’d get up and do it again on Sunday.
I felt enormously capable and powerful and proud of the fact that I could “do it all.” But after my bilateral mastectomy, I realized there was simply no way (no surprise) I could do it all. During the week, the only steam I had available went toward chemo and radiation, my job, the kids and the occasional trip to Safeway. The latter of which only happened after Mike would declare an “official famine” in the house. “Me and Ryan are eating your vegan Lära bars, Mom,” he once announced, while staring into a cupboard that held a box of All-Bran and a can of black beans. “They’re good, aren’t they?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “If you overlook the fact that they taste like crap.”
I realized I was in desperate need of an alternate plan. So I created one. It had several liberating elements, including not balancing my checkbook, not cleaning my house, not keeping up with the laundry, cooking minimalist dinners, working out less and totally letting the yard go.
My hedges are now wild green skyscrapers. The once chubby privet that provides essential privacy between me and my neighbor is now anorexic. My 50-year-old California pepper tree is quite possibly dead. The grass is certifiably dead.
But I have brand new motivation to get back into the yard. I’m having a crew at my house for Thanksgiving this year, and I want the house and yard to look good. So I spent the weekend raking, weeding, dead-heading, pruning, trimming. And buying grape-colored mums to stick in the ground next to the Japanese maples. “Wow. These look kinda of stupid,” I thought to myself after I planted them.
When Ocho asked me about the mums—which looked like seven bridesmaids had been buried in a row—the tears shot out of my eyes horizontally. While I’m not a psychotherapist, I think this is a sign of hypersensitivity and indicates feelings of inadequacy. “I know they look stupid!” I cried. I got in the car to buy mum replacements at the Home Depot, while he fixed my leaky faucet.
But as I drove, I realized I wasn’t crying about the grape-colored mums. I was crying because I just need to these days. I tabled a whole lot of emotions from March 2006 to now. Anger, bitterness, grief and fear felt like luxuries I couldn’t afford. I still had to get up every morning and go to work and take care of the kids. Now, however, those feelings are demanding expression. They will no longer be suppressed . And while I celebrate my life and am beyond grateful for my good health, I desperately need to feel these feelings inside. I need to mourn my losses and find a way to incorporate them.
I also need to deal with the overwhelming number of items on my to-do list, those things that I decided not to do for 17 months. Lots happens while you’re off doing chemo and radiation. Wars are fought. People go to work. Babies are born. Houses require maintenance. Shrubs and trees continue to need water and fertilizer. The list alone lately brings me to tears.
The day after the mum incident, Ocho called me while I was driving to work. He said he’d had a nice weekend with me and complimented me on my homemade butternut squash soup with crème fraiche and chives:
“Great soup last night.”
“Thanks. My cooking makes up for my gardening skills.”
“Gawd. Do you ever let anything go?”
“What, are you kidding? And pass up the opportunity to drive something straight into the ground?”
“Honey, if that’s your goal, you’re going to have to dig it up and start over.”
I laughed and then I just let it go. Because that’s the kind of girl I am. The kind of girl that just lets things go. After she’s driven them straight into the ground. Or uprooted and replanted them.