12×3

12×3

First, listen.

It seems unfair that anything concerning you should be so easy for me to remember. Had it been another month, another day, another year, I can guarantee it would not have stuck to the walls of my brain the way it has. But as it so happens, we both showed up late for dinner on a Wednesday, a date that made the entire evening electric similar in the way that kismet might, if you choose to believe in that sort of thing. And here’s where I’ll let you in on a little secret: I choose to believe in that sort of thing. I’m something akin to the Grinch when it comes to romance. But put on a romantic comedy and my heart grows three sizes every time. As does the goofy grin on my face as I watch the inevitable and probably cliche meet-cute unfold before me.

So perhaps I had set myself up for failure from the outset. Perhaps the cards had been stacked against you from the moment we agreed to have dinner on December 12th, 2012. Who can stand up to destiny and meet-cutes and kisses set to the perfect song? Who did I think you were, after all? Someone who made me laugh, who fawned over Springsteen the same way I did, who had my ideal balance of controlled mess, and a dog, too? These were all things I had learned to be true about you before the 12th of December, of course. They were the things flying around my brain in the interim between our first and second date. They were also the things that remained in my brain as the little pieces that continued to endear me to you long after you had ceased to deserve any endearment from me at all.

You met me at a strange time in my life. I was a late-blooming 25 year old, and at 25, I had no idea how to fall for someone. So I began making charts and diagrams in my head. A breakdown of our dates, their locations, the lighting, tracking the hours we spent together, who texted first, the songs you hummed along to in the car, how many times you said my name, the jittery feeling in my stomach when our hands touched, if we spent the night together and where we had breakfast the next morning. It might sound crazy to you (and it sounds crazy to me, too) but for however literary- and creative-minded I am, I am quite a fan of being able to break down and analyze things, too. I thought I had been helping myself, drawing out a topographic map of our relationship for all its mountaintop highs and valley lows, giving me something to measure the current against. But in the end, it only constructed a detailed history of flickering giddiness, glimmers of love, and omnipresent self-doubt.

The difference between today and two, three years ago, is the feeling. The feeling of the day as a whole. In the past, I felt as if I’d failed at something, I felt a loss. But I could never name the loss, I never quite knew what it was. It has been a while now that I’ve been able to look at the situation objectively, to realize there was nothing for me there. All right, that might be overstating things. There was something. It was a sapling of something that was ill-advised and planted in the throes of the frosty winter months. It never stood a chance. But from that sapling, I learned what it was to fall for someone. I mean, to be smitten with someone. And I learned what it was to be blinded by feelings of love and intimacy. I learned that my radar for bullshit should always be trusted and I also learned that letting my guard down and running the risk of hurting myself is worth it, sometimes. Because the hurt can go away. And it has.

It’s no longer about the romance, or the feelings I once had. They’ve gone and disappeared with the bar we first met at, which no longer exists as the place it once was. To me, the marvellous thing about the situation is how two people who crammed so much something into so little time can look back after four years and find nothing at all.

Header photo by Anders Røkkum
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On The Street Where I Live(d)

On The Street Where I Live(d)

First, listen.

This morning I walked down a dawn-lit sidewalk on the street where I’ve lived. This is both past and present tense in the strangest and most marvellous of ways.

As I walked by each house that has colored my childhood, I realized that not much has changed except for the occupants of some. When I still lived here as a child, I had memorized every window, every shingle, every front door and the cement path that led up to it. I memorized every tree, every fence that (sometimes successfully, often times not) held in a friendly barking dog, every bump in the cement where I’d tripped and skinned my knee or bumped over with my rollerblades. And the big tree that stood like a faerie castle where most of us always ran to hide during manhunt, because if you could get in through the bottom level, the other branches above created a sort of natural fortress. If you were brave enough, you would climb to the highest limb and feel like the king or queen of the block.

I have vivid memories of the older kids camp-out on the patch of grass between my house and the house next door. It involved a massive tent and a co-ed sleepover and stories that became engrained in our memory as blocklore; someone licking a firefly and saying it tasted like peanut butter and the swirling tales of who had kissed who, something that I couldn’t fathom at the innocent and precious age of five. But I remembered it well, mostly because I was both mystified and disgusted by the idea of the prettiest girl on the block wanting to kiss my terrible brother.

I walked by the patch of grass where there had once been a massive tree trunk that seemed carved as a seat, for any runaway kid on the block. I remember trekking 100 feet from my front door to this very spot, feeling as if I had crossed the Sahara desert on what was a very hot August midday. The sun was at its peak and I had packed my backpack with all the essentials: a juicebox, my favorite doll, a packet of Smartees, and a chapstick. And with that, I was out the door. Why? Could have been anything. Mom wanted to brush out my tangled mess of hair (a big LB no-no) or I wasn’t allowed to have a playdate with my best friends or I was in trouble for not eating all of my lunch that day. These were cardinal sins against my five year old existence. Commit them and Hasta la vista, mis padres! 

When my name was yelled out the door for dinner, I decided my parents had learned their lesson. Tough love, man. It’s the name of the game. But I always ended up back home.

Home. Home was the tiniest house on the block. In all of my years of passing it by, I’d never seen it. It was only on this early morning as I walked by in quiet but constant acknowledgement of the house I had spent an important handful of years in that I looked to it, then to the house directly next door: big. The one across the street: huge. All around me, these houses seemed to rise up like they never had before. Big, big, bigger. I laughed because I realized I had never noticed it before. See, we had the big backyard. We had the most grass footage, and the long, strangely-shaped driveway that led back to a garage we never used and a patio we lived on, where we hosted block-wide barbecues and where the summer babies blew out their birthday candles. We had so much backyard, my dad had built a bunny run where we, a family inexperienced in the bunny world, ended up with a wayward brood of fuzzy creatures when our two “female” pets ended up mating. There in the yard, we even had a long clothesline that my mom used. The sheets would blow in the cool breeze of the day, and we’d play among the dancing sheets until we were told to stop, for fear of dirtying them up again. Because we were always covered in some tree sap, or maybe dirt, but definitely grass stains. We had a wall of morning glories that greeted us each new day with their purple faces, so beautiful I had as difficult a time as ever not picking them off the vine to mash into my “perfumes” (a recipe as simple as squashed up flowers and a dash of water from the hose).

Moving away from that house, we moved into a much bigger house. My brothers no longer had to share a room, there were one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining room, a basement and an attic. But there was nothing sadder than leaving our tiny house on our block. Because it had become our block, us kids, from different families and different backgrounds, who met in the street with the common goal of finding a way to have fun until dinnertime. When you’re young, you don’t notice if you’ve got the smallest house on the block, if you’re poor, or even if you’re rich. You just go on playing and living and laughing and crying. And if you’re lucky, you’re surrounded by others who don’t notice it, either.

I silently acknowledge the little white house whenever I pass by, seeing light through the windows and the latest occupants going about living within. I give a little smile in thanks, for giving me and my brothers the chance to have a carefree childhood, surrounded by other carefree kids causing trouble, breaking bones, having impromptu Frank Zappa dance parties; for irrational fears of the Mad Jogger, first kisses, and the “car, car, C-A-R” chant because without it, we would have all gotten hit by at least one car during a game of Spud.

To Jefferson Avenue, with love.

Fear and Loathing in Breast Exams

Fear and Loathing in Breast Exams
Note: I have been meaning to write about my personal experience for Breast Cancer Awareness Month for a while now and, well, I’ve finally gone and done it. Take care of yourself.

First, listen. (It fits, promise.)

I’ve had a fear of my own chest since I hit puberty.

From the age of 14, I had to deal with… breasts. I’d like to start off with saying that the idea of becoming a woman did not excite me, like it did some of the other girls I went to school with. I grew up trying to fit in with older brothers and their friends, so the notion of having cleavage and wearing a bra disgusted me. To put it more simply, I was more of a Roberta than a Teeny. I hid when changing for lacrosse practice and always wore high neck shirts (luckily, turtle necks were so in, thank u 90s/00s). And I never let anyone tell me that maybe I needed a real bra instead of the at-this-point-way-too-small cotton training bra I had been wearing in hopes that it might force my chest to regress back to flatness, the way I liked it.

Being a woman was scary, this was something I was aware of even at 14 years old. Every time something happened to me where I was maturing away from being a girl, I was struck with panic. Maybe it had something to do with being raised by my dad and not quite knowing how to start the conversation of buying a bra or maxi pads (author’s note: both were so awkward), but the whole idea of any of it scared the hell out of me and I would have taken a hard pass if it were at all possible.

Still, the gynecologist’s office opened up doors for me. Here was a lady who just knew things I wanted to know. Like information about birth control (can I get some?) and STDs (how does one keep from getting one?) and sex (what even?), all of these things that, by age 17, I’d heard of but never had before (thank goodness, amirite, dad?). Though this new woman in my life had become a beacon of hope and information, all of my appointments are riddled with anxiety and nerves.

Years later, I learn that my aunt (my mother’s twin sister) has fought and survived breast cancer. Suddenly, my breast exams leave me even more tense than before. I wait in agony as my doctor feels around, for her to inevitably feel the lump in my breast that I always assume is there, just waiting to be discovered. I plead with the universe, I never wanted these things, anyway!

Then, my mother is diagnosed with and survives ovarian cancer. My cancer riskometer (not a thing), rises exponentially. I’m in college and when a guy feels me up, I worry about him finding a lump that the doctor may have missed.

“Are you performing breast exams on yourself regularly?” Doctor Kathy asks me, routinely.

“Yes,” I lie, routinely.

I sit in my paper gown with sweaty palms during every appointment, unsure of whether Doctor Kathy could ever understand that I can’t feel my own breasts for lumps because I harbor so much fear of finding what I’m looking for.

Finally, it is suggested that I should get genetic testing. (And not just me, but my brothers, as well. Because the BRCA-1 and -2 gene can be passed through men but it also increases the risk of testicular and prostate cancer.) I sit on this information for yearsYears and years. (Fine, I’ll tell you. Eight years.) I spend hours breaking down in tears over the idea of it. As a teenager, I was so sure that naivety was the way to go. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. But man, that doesn’t work with cancer. It just doesn’t. The fear of my chest, that I have dealt with since I was a teenager, forced me into realizing that knowledge = power. Also, knowledge = health insurance covering more frequent screenings for women at risk for these vicious female cancers.

I made an appointment for what felt like lightyears away and began filling out paperwork with information I have just about memorized by heart — Mother: ovarian cancer at 47, BRCA-2 pos. Maternal Aunt: breast cancer at 45, BRCA-2 pos. Maternal Grandmother: breast cancer at 44. And there are other far-flung familial relations that I’d never met or even heard of who lived in the wake of this genetic material climbing its way through our family tree.

When the day finally came, it was as cloudy and gray as my headspace had been. It really only involved giving blood and playing the waiting game. And I waited in a kind of daze because 95% of me had resigned to the fact that I had this mutation in me. But it was the other 5% of me hoping to beat the odds that was left just a little bit devastated when the results came back:

POSITIVE FOR A DELETERIOUS MUTATION

deleterious
[del-i-teer-ee-uh s]
adjective
injurious to health

 

The word has stuck with me ever since I first read it. It’s just so fucking ugly. And yet, I found a strange amount of clarity in seeing it in my test results. I felt lucky that it’s not the more aggressive strain BRCA-1, lucky that I now know what I’m looking for (sorta), lucky that now my health coverage would allow me to be more vigilant. Because having the gene doesn’t mean you will get cancer, and not having the gene doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer.

Recently, I mentioned the results of the test to someone. Oh, I’m so sorry, they said, with a sorrowful click of their tongue. Don’t feel sorry for me, I wanted to tell them. If my body is a temple, then perhaps it can also be a fortress. In which case, I’ll need all the defensive intel and strategy I can get in order to keep these BRCA bastards at bay.

For more info on genetic testing and counseling: MSKCC
Header image is a gif from this video

On Sadness

On Sadness

First, listen.

Here’s the thing: sadness is crippling.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sadness you’ve got. It could be clinical depression, it could have come in with a colder season, it could be because of a nasty break-up. Whatever shape or size it comes in, it has the ability to cripple you, to force you onto a crutch, to curl you up into the shape of a fetus. Sadness has this insane ability to change everything about you; the way you hold yourself while riding the subway, whether or not you hug your jacket to your body, if you stare down at your feet, if you scowl or frown or pout or do nothing with your mouth. It brings down the number of true, genuine laughs in your day. Sometimes it can make the sound of your own amusement sound foreign, when it finally creeps out from the shadows.

Sadness has this way of hiding tears right there at the surface of your eyelids, skimming the top of your tear ducts, waiting to pour down the slope of your cheeks, to the chin, and (sometimes) onto the collar of a perfectly clean shirt. There’s that choking feeling in the back of the throat, that one that almost feels like a burn because the body is trying to fight off that crying yelp that one might be familiar with due to drunken nights in college, after that boy never texted or called and ignored you in the dining hall. You know the one. You know it exactly. And you fight it. You fight it because you’re sitting at your desk at work and someone says that one little thing, even if it’s comforting like ‘I want to call you and hear your voice, I miss you,’ but it’s that thing that’s going to make you cry. But you’re in public and none of these people have ever seen you cry. And they probably never should because your cry face is quite an ugly fucking thing. So you save it all. You stock it on the highest shelves in your mind, all that crying, all that sadness. You hide it behind your smile and the self-deprecating jokes and you file it away to remind yourself to figure out why you’re feeling sad in the first place. What that aching space in your chest is all about.

You go for more than 12 hours pushing the sadness to the back burner, even through the sad song on the subway that has you staring down at your folded hands, willing the tears to go away. But you’re almost home! Just a few minutes away! And you finally get in and it’s like you’ve got a full bladder, the way your foot is tapping, the way your hand fights to get the keys into the lock. Except, when you get inside and you drop your bag on the floor and you throw your jacket off to the side, you’re not releasing your pee. The tears start flowing, the breathing is labored. It’s more an hysterical hyperventilation than anything else.

You’ve held it in for so long that it’s almost hard to just let them all go, all those tears. They had become such permanent fixtures, gathering cobwebs on those high shelves somewhere in your mind. But they’re leaving, now. And the sobs are shaking you. And you hide under your covers and feel the eye make-up burning but you can’t stop. All while asking yourself why: Why am I sad? Why am I crying? Why do I want to stay under these covers for at least the next week? And maybe you don’t know the exact answer, maybe you are keenly aware that things aren’t terrible. Of course they’re not terrible! You have a job, you have a roof to live under, you have a bank account that (sort of!!!) has money in it. You could probably write a longer list of the things that are going well. Plenty to be happy about. The air in your lungs, an able body. Yes, you are equipped with all of your senses. But there’s a cloud. You don’t want to relate yourself to Eeyore so maybe it’s a fog.

You’ve been through this before feeling that nagging, terrible word: lonely. And with a little closer examination: Alone.  And you don’t want to go back there.

Suddenly, the intercom rings – a delivery guy – and you realize your roommate has been home the entire time you’ve had a panic attack by yourself in your room.

empathy and the city

First, click.

This evening I was changing from the M to the G at Court Square. This entails a rush between two separate ends of a train station. In the morning, there is a moving walkway that goes from the G to the E/M, but evenings, we are left to our own devices. We must walk. We must hustle.

On this particular evening, I found myself with a bit more pep in my step, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the mounting headache, or that my day had started so incredibly early that all I wanted to do was get home at a decent hour and maybe go directly to bed. It could have been that I wanted to try to beat a new roommate back to the apartment, a roommate who does not understand how valuable it is for me to be able to relax on the couch alone to watch an episode of Jeopardy over my pathetic single-girl dinner. Whatever it was, it had me weaving quickly in between strangers, trying to anticipate whether or not they might veer right so I could step left.

I came up on a man who was very clearly elderly. He walked a bit slower, he had long white hair and a ball cap on. As I stepped around him to hustle past, I glanced down and noticed that his shoe was untied. A silent siren went off in my head. Tell him! Tell this man his shoe lace is untied! But I didn’t! Because I was in a rush. Because in New York we are constantly in a rush.

And so I moved on past him and I ran down the steps because I thought the train was leaving. It wasn’t. I grabbed a seat and hugged my bag to my chest and I worried about the man and his untied shoe.

But lo and behold, look who’s come onto the subway car to sit right beside me? That same man.

I sat with my eyes ahead, and I tried to will away my headache, and I hoped and hoped that he had stopped to tie his shoe. I didn’t check, I don’t know why. Would it have been odd to point out that his shoe was untied, as we sat together in an unmoving train car? And so we carried on this way, sitting in close proximity, my peripheral vision giving me the perfect angle to see his fingers rubbing together in what I had supposed to be an anxious sort of way. Because in New York we are constantly in a state of anxiety.

As the train lingered on through Queens and into Greenpoint, I had my hopes set on getting off at the same stop as this man. I could check his laces and give him the mental a-okay to go on his way. But at Nassau Avenue, he pushed out of his seat and walked to the door, and my eyes fell to the floor where his shoelace remained untied and his feet shuffled and my heart jumped into my throat hoping no one would step on the rogue lace. I swallowed back my self-hate for the moment as I tried to find him through the closing door. I kept willing him to stop and tie his shoe. Please, please, please. But I’d lost him. Perhaps because he’d knelt down to fix his shoe?

And there he was again, the lag in his reappearance in the train car window just long enough for someone to have retied their shoelace. I felt a little wave of relief, but I felt a lot of sadness. We continued on, further into Williamsburg, and my eyes were stinging with fresh tears. It was something so simple as telling someone their shoe was untied, and yet I didn’t have the time. Right? I didn’t have the time to be kind to a stranger. That’s what it all came down to. And it really broke my heart.