Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lucy III: Integration

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.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Lucy II: Imperfection

In this image, Lucy’s damage is plainly visible. But in spite of the damage she’s suffered, she is still unmistakably Lucy.

I like this image of Lucy because it symbolizes the fact that people can suffer great damage and still retain the essence of who they are.

This idea used to be important to me because for years I felt damaged on the inside and was absolutely certain it was visible from the outside. It’s important to me now because, while I no longer feel damaged on the inside, I am visibly damaged on the outside. And I am still unmistakably me.

My physical damage—the scars that extend across what used to be my breasts—are road maps that indicate where the cancer lay beneath my skin. Sometimes they piss me off. Sometimes they make me sad. In more lucid moments, they make me grateful and happy beyond expression. I now look different. I now feel different. I now am different. But I am not less; I am more. I am more me. With everything that was taken away from me--my breasts, my youth, my vanity, my peace of mind--I have gained strange and beautiful blessings.

When I was a kid, I would put records on my little turntable and change the outfits on my Barbie. "If you are really there God," I would challenge, "you'll make my Barbie talk." Then I would hold my Barbie at arms' length and stare at her, unblinking, while Badfinger played on my record player. Of course, nothing ever happened in those four minutes. (Although, I can probably attribute my 20/300 vision to the Barbie tests). Forty years later, God still hasn't proven His presence to me. And He didn't protect me from breast cancer. But I now believe He is there, in some form. The series of events that began two months before my diagnosis and that still continue make it difficult for me to believe that they were simply random.

When my son was in elementary school, he and his buddies would take the camcorder and record the Legos on the carpet, the dog sleeping in the sun, the grass growing. They called their films "Random Shit Productions." I thought it was brilliant, their videos about nothing. I now look at the random shit in my life as brilliant. It's all coming together in such a lovely way.

(And I'd love to write about it, but I'll have to continue this weekend. I just started a new job today, so my posts will be infrequent and brief. Be patient with me...)