Saturday, February 22, 2014

Adios Amigos

Last night I had a good talk with the guys. I realized that the tall one is a bit jealous that he’s not coming, he loves the beach, and he’s having some interest in learning to dive. The little, not so little one has been worried about my safety. He’d heard something, maybe from the instructional scuba videos I was watching a few months back, to get my certification, that if a diver gets trapped, you shouldn’t try to save them, you’ve got to save yourself. I explained that I’m a novice diver, and not an adventure diver. I don’t go down very deep, I’ll be with R who’s a very experienced diver and with a group. We’re just going to see critters, I explained, no wreck diving, nothing dangerous or even near dangerous. I told him I’d email every night or two telling him about my adventures and letting him know I’m safe. I think that made him feel better, I know it actually, the kid audibly signed with relief and his whole self seemed to unclench.

Additionally, I was finally just plain honest with them. I told them it’s been a tough spell for me, I got divorced and while I knew that was hard for them, it was hard for me too and very sad, and then I got sick, and I have a lot of things to worry about and I have to start doing things for me, to relax and have fun. I hoped they’d agree that I’ve taken really good care of them and always put their needs first, probably too much so, and that they are the most bestest part of my life, but everyone needs a break and a change of scenery and this wouldn’t be my last trip and mostly, that I’d really love it if they were happy for me and that when I came home, we could work together to make life a little easier.

I’d spent the week figuratively dope slapping the big one and by the end of the week he seemed to turn around and actually listen to me a little and started being helpful and more pleasant.

I had to wake him up at 4:30 this morning to drive me to the airport. He’s a deep sleeper, it was funny, he kept looking at me with blank eyes and mumbling “I’m confused, I’m confused, what? I’m really confused.” Then he sprang out of bed and later he said that he had no idea where he was and then thought he was at camp and someone was pranking him. Camp is big on the pranks. He’d be an easy mark I think, with that deep sleep thing.

We had a great chat on the drive and he was able to recite all the things he’s supposed to do while I’m gone, (evidence of actually listening), feed cats, look out for potholes when driving my car, aka craters, cause that’s how we roll here in the smallest state, I think we buy our paving materials from the mafia who gets it from the dump and they charge us double and it lasts half as long. I told him that I would love to take him diving before college but that I just plain can’t afford it, that since the divorce, money is tight and he said, “yeah, I’m starting to get that, but don’t worry mom, once I’m set in the world, I got you.” Fantasy, but so, so sweet, I needed to hear that sentiment after the patch we’ve been going through.

I went to bed early last night and little boy didn’t protest, which is actually a big deal, going to bed sans emotional blackmail, an honest to goodness treat. When he climbed into bed with me later he said “I love you mom, I hope you have a really great trip.” So I’m leaving in good spirits.

I’m also leaving by the skin of my teeth, because I didn’t get to the airport as early as I should have and just made it onto the plane. Squeezed in as the last passenger, the plane was already boarded.

Take off was beautiful, condensation pulling across the windows, the moon and sunrise and all the snowy patches below. I’m flying to Baltimore where I’m meeting my beach buddy and by later today I’ll step out into the warmth of Cancun and we’ll make our way down to Playa del Carmen where our agenda is packed. Dive around Cancun, take ferry to Cozumel, dive there, find a Cenote to swim in and maybe see the ruins in Tulum. Then there’s the margaritas and lounge chairs and mostly the warm, warm, warmity warm.

I didn’t bring my laptop last trip, but decided to so so this time at the last minute with strict rules attached, writing and researching travel only. No facebook except to post pix, no emailing except to kids and once a day tops, no news, no web surfing, none. In a perfect world, we’d all have a 13” Macbook air for traveling, a 15” for home, an iPad for home and another to keep at work, as it’s my cash register. I don’t even have a sleeve, my poor metal baby’s been wrapped in a towel in my back pack.

In a perfect world we all get more vacations.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


The Valentine's Day massacre was followed up by school vacation week from hell. I feel like every time I blink it's school vacation, blink again, someone is home sick, one more time and it's a snow day. The tall one can't make the effort to even speak after his exhausting days of sleeping until 1:00 p.m. "Who was on Fallon last night?" "People." Really? people, very informative, lovely conversing with you. The small one, my beloved, who has made such strides in the past few years in terms of coping mechanisms, has decided that homework assignments (especially for Spanish class), are the 10th circle of hell. I haven't seen him plunge head first, so fiercely into his misery cave in quite a long while, and I no longer seem to have the patience for it. I used to have endless patience and a constantly bleeding heart, currently, my nerves are frayed and I feel my heart hardening, which is alien to me and I don't like it.

We had two straight torturous days, from start to finish. Little boy is a drama queen and when he goes in the cave, it's just ugly and irrational and there's nothing I can do to help or make it better and I'm getting tired of everyone I live with taking their shit out on me. At one point, I just went up stairs, pulled the blankets over my head and went to sleep.

I tried to make myself feel better by googling all there is to know about diving off of Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel and discovered that February is Sea Lice season in Cozumel. Pesty little critters that bite you all over while you're in the water, charming.

I've never felt so in need of a break in my life. I mean, I'm the girl that lasted most of twenty years without a vacation, but now I'm spoiled. I am also lucky. I can't believe that when I most need to get away, I am indeed, getting away. In 48 hours I'll be sitting on a warm beach sipping a cold drink with a warm hand to hold, lifelong friends get to do that which is why everyone should have them. I can hardly believe it. Traveling often comes with anxiety for me, I really am a homebody, but I am just jumping out of my skin with the anticipation of a change of scenery. If I didn't know I'd be driving to the airport in a day and half, I think I'd be driving to the local mental hospital.

I went to the dive shop the other day to spend my birthday gift certificate and got all kinds of fun stuff. A dive mask with my prescription lenses in them, only $35 extra. I happened to have my Rx in my walled and they just pop in the corresponding lenses, wow weeeee! I got a cool mesh backpack to take all my stuff in, with a dry pocket, an essential luxury. I got lobstering gloves to make sure I follow through on my desire to be a bad ass, hunter gatherer this summer.

I've been telling the boys that if I keep picking up the same holiday gift cards from the floor and returning them to their owners with the instructions "this is valuable, put it in a safe place", I was going to confiscate them. So after returning several cards again and again over a couple of weeks, and I mean, again, and again, and again... I purchased myself a tropical weight wetsuit, and a mini Canon point and shoot camera because my phone camera is broken and I'm not buying a new phone and I might want to take a few snapshots in Mexico. A very enjoyable spending spree, I have no remorse. I also ordered some sea lice/jelly fish sting lotion.

My mostly black with a little bit of pink wetsuit came in the mail yesterday so I tried it on. Wetsuits are really hard to get on, it's not fun. I look like a Teletubby in mine, and I get that my big white thighs are not the most attractive, but when I went downstairs to prance about, those boys were not impressed "oh please, do you have to?" "Mom, stop it." They were finally in agreement about something, those guys are no fun these days, sheesh. So I went back upstairs to change and got promptly stuck in said wetsuit. I don't have grippy hands anymore and the zipper should be longer so you can kind of wiggle out, but I couldn't budge the arms, and had to go downstairs and ask for help, and more horrified looks.

Leaving the house at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday morning and not looking back. The question is... will I come home?

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Am A Businessman

Spending Valentine's Day sitting around a table with divorce lawyers is probably not the way to go, I don't recommend it. Our divorce will be heard in court on St. Patrick's day and many years ago, I came home from the hospital empty handed on the fourth of July. I don't know what the deal is with all the holidays, but no one I know better die near xmas or Thanksgiving because I'm running out of festive opportunities.

Opposing counsel is a greasy, little weasel. He's not actually small in size, just in spirit, heart, and intellect. I'd call him an epic sleaze bag, but this guy's not epic anything, he's just a smarmy little prick. He speaks like a telemarketer, reciting the script, over and over regardless of what anyone says to him. He speaks, he listens, but he does not hear. And he needs to wash his hair more often or use a different shampoo.

Because my husband refused repeated offers to go to mediation after my illness, because he chose to lawyer up and file for divorce six months after I finished my trip down the cancer hole, I had no choice but to do the same. Literally, you have to have a lawyer, so if someone files for divorce declining mediation, you have to hire a lawyer, you have to spend money you don't have, you have to be involved in a contentious process. We were about to conclude a mediated agreement just before I got diagnosed and so obviously, had to put things on hold. Certainties {not that such a thing really exists} had become uncertain, the facts had changed and so did my ability to think clearly or do anything other than go into fight or flight mode, in this case, fight. We have both just gone into terrible debt to get to an agreement almost identical to the one that we mediated. That is because after my illness, my ex decided to offer me a much smaller settlement, as opposed to larger, considering my new limitations. Nice. I had no choice but to accrue this debt, he had every choice, it's a terrible feeling of helplessness, but this is how the process works. Most divorce attorneys are not just grifters, but the luckiest grifters alive. Their marks walk right into their offices and hand them money and what they do after that is almost criminal. Some of it should be criminal because most of them are intentionally indirect and non results-oriented. They play games, rack up billable hours, talk in nonsensical circles, create intentional drams and trick you into padding their hours by asking about your kids and engaging in friendly chat at $300 an hour, but who doesn't answer when someone asks about your kids? And who doesn't then ask how their kids are? And you get to find out, yes you do, about their kids and their summer house and weekend plans for $300 an hour.

There's a special place in hell for divorce attorney's who find the whole thing a game, leaving a trail of devastation behind them and a fat bank account ahead of them. I'm not saying they're all like that, my current lawyer seems like a lovely human being, but the rest I've encountered, unconscionable, the havoc they wreak. The whole system is absurd, both parties hire someone to tell them what they want to hear, not what is realistic, or humane. The process or divorce when lawyers are involved dishonors every minute you might have cared for one another and dehumanizes the weaker party, which in this case, sadly is me, to a revolting, really sickening degree. I feel beaten up, hollowed out, like a seed pod you could crush in your hand and blow away.

Every lawyer  has told me that if I lived two miles away in Massachusettes, in my situation, 20+ years of marriage, putting my husband through law school, supporting him financially for years, jointly repaying his law school debt and his undergraduate debt, being a full-time parent while he built his career and earning power with long hours {or so I believed}, I'd be entitled to 30% of future earnings in perpetuity no questions asked. My health would be irrelevant. In Rhode Island, I'm entitled to a few years of what they condescendingly term "rehabilitative" alimony. I'm supposed to rehabilitate myself from financial dependency, but I'm also to remain the full-time caregiver, because being sans kids only Wed. evening and every other weekend, does not leave a ton of time for me to go to law school and acquire 15 years of experience and a big paycheck all within the next five years.

Hello divorce, goodbye self-worth. You get to actually sit in a room with a greasy weasel telling you you're lucky for getting what you're getting and that he would never have agreed to certain things. Well, I said, maybe you don't know the back story. You're a very lucky woman, he kept telling me.

Two miles, If I'd moved to Seekonk or Attleboro for the schools which I have considered, my life would be considered worthy, in my beloved little Rhody, I am disposable, in need of rehabilitation from my slothy ways.

I usually keep it together, but the sterility of divorce settlements, combined with the symbolism of the holiday, impending school vacation and vacation homework assignments looming and being fretted over, moody kids, some deadlines at work, I have to admit, I went to work on Saturday and went to pieces. I hate that. It's a hard feeling to have, that you spent your whole adult life with someone who you just didn't matter to, who didn't enjoy you, cherish you, that lied more than you could ever imagine, the extent of which you'll never know, leaves me feeling wobbly. The responsibilities of being a single parent, my fragile health and lingering physical issues are fraying my nerves. Again, all I can think about is just resting my head on someone's warm shoulder and closing my eyes, someone holding me, but not with sympathy.

After my breakdown at work, near the end of the day in my tiny, quiet shop I was standing at the counter with my studio-mate chatting. She was crocheting, we were talking about that, just rambling chit-chat which we often do. It's not uncommon for someone to come over with a question and still be there ten minutes later having joined in. It's a small, friendly little place, open during a farmer's market, it's somewhat intimate. Apparently, we'd not noticed a man browsing and leaving, apparently in a huff, until he chose to come back with a flourish. A small, rotund man, a self-important dope encapsulated. He was probably in his late 30s, early 40s, but looked older, likely because of his portliness and attitude. He marched right up to us with purpose and said "I have something to tell you both." I thought he was going to be a salesman who was going to try to sell me something ludicrous, as sometimes happens. Instead he slams his palm down on the counter and says "I AM A BUSINESSMAN... and I was just in here shopping and neither of you broke from your conversation once! you didn't break once to acknowledge I was here and I was going to buy something, so you just lost a sale and I will definitely not be coming back!" As he turned to leave I said "well okey-dokey then." I thought it was the funniest thing to happen to me all week. It was so absurd it broke the spell. My partner in crime, who is tough to rattle, on the other hand, was madder than I've ever seen her, she was epic mad, she was turning purple, she almost ran after him which just made it funnier. It was the first moment of levity I'd felt in a while. I usually care what people think, and god knows I'm desperate for sales, but I just could care less what this idiot thinks. I keep repeating in my head "I Am A Businessman!" and it makes me want to laugh instead of cry. I also have a large chunk of gratitude who were in the right place or the wrong place at the right or wrong time depending on your perspective, who did a beautiful job of lifting me up off the floor earlier in the day.

I wish I could say I feel fine, I feel all better, but I don't. I feel rather beaten and bruised and quite fearful of the future, financially, and health wise. I can feel my frayed edges, and my lack of patience with the kids, usually endless, dwindling as if my capacity is full. I feel like a car who's seen better days, my tires are low, I need an oil change, I'm out of wiper fluid and the window is all smudgy as I realize that with complete certainty, I will not have the nuclear family I always wanted, I won't have a partner in crime to egg me on and hold me up. I spent twenty years trying to do that for someone else, I got stiff-armed and here I am, more than a little worse for wear.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Phew. Cancer markers stable, misc. labs heading in the right direction. I didn't realize how tense and nervous I was over the test results until I was waiting in the office, gown on, opening in the front. When I left I was all choked up, I'm still a little choked up. I was supposed to go into work afterwards, but instead went to Wildflour, got a green drink and oatmeal apple square and went to a friends house to play with their puppy, in other words, smelled the roses.

Scuba power, I think it only lasts six months or so, so it's good I'm going away soon to recharge my anticancer power packs. Warm, salt water therapy, that is the secret to long life, I think. My oncologist thinks my shoulder pain is Bursitis. Whatever, don't care, I can deal with pain or discomfort that isn't lethal. I've been extended to five months between oncology visits so that's progress. Ha, I can be in denial in five months increments now. Just kidding, can't catch me, I'm a jellyfish, jellyfish.

As I've been every afternoon for two weeks, I'm listening to the on-hold music on speaker phone of the HealthSource RI help line. This far in the troubleshooting is as far as I ever get... Lots of holding, lots of repeating myself, more holding and eventually, I'll get cut off or be told someone will call me back. I don't want to diss the system, I'm so completely in favor of the healthcare exchanges but I am feeling the pain of this website and understaffing. Rhode Island isn't even the messed up Federal System, it's supposed to be one of the best.

Oh my god, just spent almost an hour between hold and helper, she told me my application was cancelled and to start over. I knew that wasn't going to work, I knew after I did that it would tell me I already had an account. She insisted not, but lo and behold "you already have an account, please log in". When I log in, it tells me my account is closed. And now I'm on hold again, starting fresh, I'll get a new operator, really, I could cry. Tears of joy and then tears of frustration, it's been a full spectrum day.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Butler

While the cold isn't bothering my newly desensitized self, the arctic wasteland that is the omnipresent vista, the cooped up feeling, is getting to me. Getting to everyone I know, it seems, a pandemic of cabin fever. I went out for dinner with a friend last night, and had a long, tall drink and I needed it, which is uncommon as alcohol doesn't fit with my vision of health, I usually refrain. I've started to think about cocktails every day, I don't have them, I just think about them which seems to do mostly as well. I've been falling off wagons all week... haven't been to the gym in about five days, have been eating chocolate, and now margaritas.

We wanted to see a movie afterwards, I haven't been in an actual movie theater in ages, settling for whatever is on cable for free. Our timing was off, so we went to my house, boys at their dads, I purchased The Butler On Demand, but immediately noticed it was letterboxed. If I'm going to finally watch a recent release, I want it filling my screen god damn it, and I'm perplexed why I had to go to a different section to buy the HD version and yes, pay again. Too many options.

The Butler, was that a drama or a comedy? OK, I know it was a drama and on a fascinating subject, but the way they fictionalized this man and his family to make it a docudrama about the civil rights movement was so absurd I had to laugh. The Butler's eldest son, was a lá Forest Gump, everywhere. He left home for college and wound up at one of the early meetings of the Freedom Riders, he sat at the first lunch counter sit-in, rode in the bus that got bombed, hung out in a hotel room with MLK, was a founding member of the black panthers, ran for congress (and lost) and ultimately wore an African shirt while leading a rally against apartheid. Wow. Everything that happened in this movie we could see coming a mile away. I said "the doorbell's about to ring", meaning, by Army reps bearing bad news and within seconds, ding-dong. We did this through the whole movie, "one of them's about to kick", and Oprah slumps over on cue. No chemistry between this couple with deep and abiding love, no nothing. Great subject, fascinating story, in theory, but eeesh, that was some bad story telling. Poorly shot, paced and edited and most of the character's mumbled and were hard to understand. I don't understand all the good reviews.

Tomorrow is my four-month check up with my oncologist. I graduated from every three, to every four months. I feel comparatively good, I can't possibly imagine getting anything but good news, but then I remember that I felt great when I was first diagnosed. I had my blood work done last week and that looming cancer-marker result is nerve wracking, I'll be glad to get the appointment over with. I feel like I'm living in four month increments. I get the ok from the Onco and I get to assume I'm fine for the next four months, although really, assuming is all we're doing. It's a strange way to live, it makes planning hard, envisioning large life changes impossible, it's like being on a leash, venture too far and it yanks on my neck.

I'm still at PT, or lymphedema therapy three times a week, so I don't feel far from cancertown. But I assume I'm working towards recovery, and higher functionality, quality of life, until these check in's happens and then my mind wanders to places it shouldn't go. If I didn't have my creeping, oh-so-close-on-the-horizon trip to Mexico to focus on, I think I'd lose my mind. I think my medical insurance should pay for twice yearly scuba diving trips because I can't think of better therapy. Physical therapy, psychotherapy, perspective therapy, endorphin therapy to boost my cancer fighting immune system, just therapy for all that ails. Thankfully, I have a plan, plane tickets, reservations, a destination and the best travel buddy, a suitcase waiting to be filled is my current vision of a beautiful thing, yippee, yah, yay. Just need my good news to take with me.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Pete Seeger

I went to a tiny elementary school in suburban New York. Four classrooms of K-3, Kindergarten had their own room, but the rest of the grades were mixed. The gym doubled as a cafeteria and tripled as an auditorium. Every morning we gathered in the gym, with the lunch tables all pushed to one side and sat in a semi-circle for morning announcements and the pledge of allegiance. The semi-circle faced the wall where the teachers stood, or whoever it was who ran this morning ritual and there was a plug-in portable record player on which, every morning played Pete Seeger singing This Land Is Your Land. That song was just part of life. I thought the "New York islands" were the "New York highlands" and the "gulf steam waters" were the "ghost stream waters" which leant a nice mood. Likewise, I didn't realize until I was an adult that there wasn't a person named Glory and she didn't have something called a Luyah (I thought it was, perhaps, an instrument of some sort). Glory, glory hallelujah.

My parents who I spent my whole life trying to get away from, were big Pete Seeger fans and we went to myriad concerts where the kids all got shoved on stage to sing with Pete. I hated it. I hated those concerts because I was shy, and awkward and inhibited and I did not want to go up on stage to be adorable for the grown ups, and once forced up there was mortified and didn't know what the heck to do with myself. I was a sullen kid, I didn't twirl or dance or sing, I wanted to disappear, but deep down, I did like the music, would have enjoyed it much more if there hadn't been expectations of participation.

It wasn't until I got older that I rediscovered Pete Seeger and learned about Woody Guthrie and found out Pete wasn't just a strumming old guy into group sing-alongs, but a spectacularly, one of a kind human being. When I had kids, I bought a Pete Seeger CD and I laid in bed with one and then the other, every night listening to This Land is Your Land, and Michael Row the Boat, and If I Had A Hammer, I'd lay there and wonder what I would do if I had a hammer... I still didn't know all that much about Pete Seeger until I saw a documentary on PBS which is one of the best things I've ever seen. I can't think of another person with more integrity or authenticity than Pete Seeger. He was courageous, he stood by his principals and he paid a high price. But he never lost his joy or idealism, he never stopped contributing and he seems to have created community wherever he went and that is an incredible thing. Pete Seeger could have capitalized on his fame, his living-legend status, and lived in a mansion, lounged in the tropics, but Pete {because I doubt he'd want to be called Mr. Seeger}, was not affected by fame and how many resist that lure? How large is blue collar Bruce's house? Pete Seeger stood in the snow with a picket sign until his last days, he lived in a farmhouse, sang around a campfire and invited all of us to light campfires of our own. He knew in his heart what was right and he spread his gospel day in and day out by how he lived his life, by the work that he did.

I saw Pete Seeger play at the Newport Folk Festival a few years ago, he was so old and it took him a while to get his banjo on and his voice wavered, but he had such a rare and beautiful soul it was something to see. Living history. When I heard he died last week, I heard a lot of people comment or post things on social media about how sad it was, but I wasn't sad at all, I felt joy and sunshine, seriously, it occurred to me to be sad, but I wasn't, I felt a ray of sunshine on my face. Pete Seeger was 94-years-old and lived as fully, I think, as anyone can. He left an indelible mark on our culture, on our world, left an incredible body of work that will live on, he left children and grandchildren who he had the privilege of seeing grow. He had talent which he used fully, and I read he was chopping wood six weeks before he died. In his eighties, he was out in the snow with a picket sign protesting the Gulf War. What is more beautiful than living a full, long life, a complete and joyful life and then dying well? Nothing sad in that, nothing at all, that is a fine example of the circle of life. I have no doubt Pete Seeger will rest in the peace with which he lived his life. If there's anything beyond, then he's reunited with his beloved wife. Rejoice. Pay tribute, be inspired, but a good life and a good death are fine things indeed. That's something you learn from cancer. You long for and crave a good death, an elderly, quiet death, all the while knowing they're unlikely. You see and hear of too many people dying too young, prematurely, unnaturally, you see their bodies go through way too much. Natural death becomes a beautiful, beautiful thing. Every birthday becomes a victory, every milestone a winning lottery ticket. We fear one kind of death, while celebrating another. We don't worry about getting old, we celebrate it. Here's to you Pete, well done sir, well done.