When I was in kindergarten, my class had a little graduation ceremony in June to commemorate our promotion to 1st grade. I remember this because I fucked it up.
I simply had to walk down an aisle with my partner, who would turn left to proceed up the stairs to the stage, while I, on the other hand, turned right. On graduation day, however, I froze at the end of the aisle. Right? Left? Crap, I don’t know! I don’t remember learning this part!
As usual, I had been preoccupied with more important matters. Like wondering why, Melinda Lacey didn’t think the empty Signal toothpaste box I gave her was cool. (Did she not know it was a sexy new brand?) Or why at our recent field trip to the dairy, the cow I was attempting to milk dropped a load on my new pilgrim shoes with the shiny brass buckles—even though I was sending her my most powerfully positive vibes. (Could she not feel my loving kindness?) Or why my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to go to school with a giant, oozing eye infection if I would only wear her Jackie-O sunglasses (and thereby escape everyone’s notice). Or thinking about the tragedy of finally connecting with George Cornelius—making eye contact even—then promptly barfing in my lap from eating too much toothpaste on an empty stomach.
At five years old, I was simply too busy to pay attention to details. Although, I think the truer statement is I was too anxious to let my attention linger longer than briefly on any topic—with the possible exceptions of compelling consumer product packaging and the hidden motivations of dairy heifers.
In later years, this lack of focus caused me to miss a lot of pertinent information. That propensity—coupled with the fact that we moved to a new state every two to three years and that I had to deal with a new neighborhood, new friends, a new school, a new curriculum—kept me in a constant state of panic. Everyone else seemed to have more information than I did; information that is critical to understanding the world, other people and their interconnections, basic mathematics.
And even though I solved part of the problem by getting a degree in communications, which satisfies my extreme need for accurate information, I still sometimes feel like I’m missing key pieces of the puzzle, but the feeling is fleeting.
That’s what this Lucy plate represents for me: feeling integrated. It took years of hard work and gut-level honesty and therapy (and, truth be told, an antidepressant that helped me battle constant anxiety), but I now feel as if I know who I am. I can locate all the pieces to the puzzle. And that helps me focus, which helps me appreciate life—my life—deeply.
I attribute this sense of integration to JoAnne, my therapist for 14 years. Sometimes I see her often; other times, infrequently. She’s been absolutely critical to my self-discovery and my resulting happiness.
Two months after my bilateral mastectomy, JoAnne was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer. She underwent brutal chemotherapy, which on average works in only10 percent of the people who receive it. She happened to be in that10 percent group, which means her tumor, while not gone, is not growing either. I saw JoAnne last night. She looks beautiful in her short red hair and long earrings. And while she now forgets things—which used to be a rare occurance for JoAnne—she remembers the key elements, the elements that she helped me piece together.
Thank you, JoAnne. For being the corner-piece.
PS: As I reread this post and the story about my mom sending me to kindergarten sick, and how my dad moved us to a new part of the country every two to three years, I had a pang of guilt. I want people to know that my mom and dad are great parents. Unfortunately, the good stories about their parenting aren’t nearly as funny as the ones that are a little more complex. I, too, have sent a child to school sick. Gave her some Tylenol, put a little lipstick on her, and sent her and her shoebox diorama representing the book she read on Rosa Parks to school. And while I haven’t moved my kids, it’s because I haven’t had to. My dad moved us because either his career demanded it, or he wanted to move us to a better environment. I want people to know that my mom and dad did and continue to do a terrific job of parenting their kids.