grey cat

Parting is not sweet sorrow

My father was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma while I was in high school. It went into remission and then came back. Then went into remission again. Then came back again.

One of the reasons I gave for leaving Japan was to be closer to my father while he battled cancer. One of my oldest students gifted me with a handmade Buddhist pilgrim figurine, her eyes filled with so much compassion. My manager told me that the student's sister had recently died of cancer. I felt disingenuous for speaking of my father's cancer playing any role in my decision to head home. It had come and gone so many times I didn't take it seriously any longer. The fear and finality that the word cancer had sparked back when he was first diagnosed, was long gone.

When I met my husband, I found out his mother had died of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I couldn't understand how something that had seemed so toothless in my life could have left my husband without a mother for most of his life.

When my dad moved to Arizona five years ago, my sister and I occasionally badgered him to find an oncologist in his new location. He always downplayed it, saying that his tumors weren't growing and it wasn't a big concern. Then last June, he told us that he had bladder cancer. His bladder had to be removed but they hoped that they also removed all the cancer. At first it seemed they had, but that wasn't the case.

In March, my father was taken to the hospital by his brother because his white blood cell count was low. He couldn't continue with his chemotherapy for a while, the new type, after the first round didn't have any effect. My grandmother was also in the hospital. She had been having some problems with her breathing and was on an oxygen tank. By the time we got to Arizona, my grandmother had been moved into a rehab center and my father was about to be released from the hospital. We stayed several days with him. He was still a little shaky on his feet and not eating as much as we would have liked. He never ate very much though.

The day we left, my grandmother was back in the hospital and we stopped by to say goodbye. It felt final. On our way home, my father called to let us know that she had passed.

As March blurred into April, the whole world was screeching to a halt. My father continued his chemotherapy, although sometimes he wasn't healthy enough for it. My uncle wasn't very clear on what was happening but he tried to keep us apprised as much as possible. Then the call came on April 27th. My uncle said my father was barely able to help him get him to the car to take him to the hospital. He hadn't been able to eat much of anything and everything was going right through him. Or actually it wasn't. At the hospital, they found a blockage. We only knew about it because my sister had the brilliant idea of calling the hospital and speaking to a nurse. At last we finally knew what was actually happening. They pumped his stomach in the hopes that his body would relax and pass the blockage. On Tuesday the 28th we found out there was a growth inside my father's abdomen that he had never told us about. It was pressing on his intestines, that was the blockage they found. My father could no longer process nutrients. He wasn't a good candidate for surgery. It was time to say goodbye.

We each called and spoke to him. Many people from accross the country and throughout his life called and spoke to him. He told me that he loved me and that he was sorry that he wasn't going to do the surgery and I assured him that was okay and we just wanted him to be comfortable. He was worried that he hadn't showed his love for all of us throughout his life and he hoped that it had emanated from him even if he didn't say the words. I assured him that we all knew that he loved us.

I cried. I cried so much. The nurse told my sister once they took him off all the machines and tubes he would not last very long. We would not be able to get there in time. But then after they moved him to hospice he perked up and spent the evening talking to my cousins and my uncle. So late that night, my sister and I decided to fly down to Arizona. This isn't a story about the trip but it was surreal and very very delayed. By the time we reached the hospice, my father was no longer conscious. Nevertheless, he hung on until May 1st. We came by to see him everyday but were not allowed to stay overnight in his room due to an abundance of caution with the virus.

He was so small, so frail, so emaciated. He just kept breathing though. We talked to him as though he may still be able to hear us. I prayed and anointed him and let him know that he could go home. He had told my mother during their phone call that he just wanted to go home to his Father. My dad went through times of atheism. He struggled with a belief that there was anything after death, even while he was a devout church member. I was glad to hear him find peace as his life neared it's close.

I have always believed that our existence doesn't end with our death. I still believe that. It does not offer me as much comfort as many think it must. I cannot see my father any longer. I cannot hear his voice. I cannot hold his hand. I can't remember the last time my father hugged me. I can't remember what he smelled like. He was never an emotional man. Conversations were mostly us chatting about current events or me updating him on my life and him saying that nothing new was going on with him.

As we packed his things up, we found out my father saved everything. Poems I had written in middle school. Art my sister wanted to deny she had ever created. A shell my mom had written on back when they lived in California in the 70s. The hat my newborn half-brother wore home from the hospital. Keys and coins and old children's toys and a buckeye with a date written on it. There was such a deep deep well of emotion reflected in these little collections of the flotsam of life. We didn't know what half of it meant. He wasn't there to tell us why these things were special. Thankfully my uncle could tell us some stories like the way my father made himself a fidget back in the 60s as a schoolboy. My sister and I found ourselves turning to its comfort again and again as the days went by. I wore one of his hats every morning when we went for a walk to connect to the vastness of this world that rolls on even when we feel broken.

We divvied things up among his children and his nieces and his brother and a few of the women in his life. We threw some stuff away and donated some more. We closed accounts and cancelled appointments. We reached out to the people we found on his phone and to the authors of the letters we found sorted into manila folders in his desk. There was more crying. Little by little we cleared out his room until, just like his cremains, his life could be packed up in a few boxes.

I believe I will speak with my father again. I believe he is at peace. I believe this deeply wounded, deeply scared, deeply flawed man is now surrounded in love and acceptance. I believe he emanates love now. I want that for him. I want him to put away all of his failures, all of his burdens, all of his regrets. I want him to be happy. But the man I knew is gone.

In all of eternity, this is our soul's one chance to live bound by time. Our one chance to experience decay, deceit, despair, loneliness. Our one chance to rise above that, to make an effort and reach out to others. Our one chance to not know things, to discover them. Our chance to be ephemeral, to feel how the end sweetens each moment we are given, how sorrow brings joy into greater relief. I want more time with my dad in this dirty, corrupt, divided world. I want that man who tucked away mementos like a dragon's hoard to let me hug him and tell him that he can cry, he can tell me any story and I will treasure it, any secret and I will forgive him. I want that man to know that I know him and I love him with all my finite human heart.
grey cat

Time rends all things

I have a difficult time throwing anything sentimental away, like letters from friends dating back over 25 years. I haven't read many of them since the day they first landed in my hands but every so often, as I sift through the layers of my life, I see them again and the faintest brush of those memories is sweet.

Recently I was thinking of a dear friend of mine from high school. This friend's life has taken a dramatic and amazing turn and who doesn't hope that their friends are noticed and rewarded for their awesomeness? At the same time, in classic rags to riches fashion, I feel like I have lost a friend.

We weren't in contact very often. As we got older, our lives were quite separate, but I still felt like I knew my friend. I had changed, my friend had changed, but when I saw the paper scraps of our teenage selves left in my keeping, I felt a sense of continuity between then and now.

I don't know my friend now. Or rather I don't know how my friend became the person who made that last leap, that dramatic and amazing leap. I know how they got started. I saw some things get set aside and other things become all-encompassing. I wasn't sure we would be able to have conversations with any frequency if we lived near enough to meet at a coffeehouse. What would we have to say to each other now? What would we have in common? Still, underneath it were those high school dreams, banked perhaps but still glowing, they remained, right?

The glitz and the glamor and the showmanship, it's great for all the world to see, I admire the ability to do it and do it well. In fact, it's what I prefer. I don't want reality when it comes to entertainment. Give me the puff pieces of yesteryear when they shot through diffusion lenses and we never knew what was really going on behind the scenes. Except when it's my friend. When it's my friend and I'm standing in line like a groupie telling this handler and that "I really know them," I feel like a phony. Like my little scraps of paper mean nothing. Like I once knew a caterpillar but no matter how many chrysalis pieces I gather, I have no claim on this butterfly.
grey cat

Moon Prism Power

I am considering backing this Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alina-alive/aligned-life-planner-align-your-goals-with-astrology


I have tried to get in the habit of making dream boards on the new moon. Not just because I am a hipster who drinks matcha au laits and owns a Fjällräven Kånken but because new moons happen every month so if I push it "just one day later" right on through another moon phase, I get a chance to pull it off again next month. Other natural "let's start something new" energy times are yearly and that's super stressful.


I actually like making dream boards. I've been making them from time to time since I was in Niigata. (Let's not think about how long ago that was...) However, I don't do it as often as I wish I did. I have unused boards stowed away. I have saved a plethora of images. I just balk at the starting gun.


Maybe this planner would hold my hand through paying more attention to moon phases so that it becomes old hat to paste some pictures down once a month. Plus it has hints about eating in season which is another somewhat pretentious interest of mine...

grey cat

Autumn memories

When I was little, my grandma and grandpa lived in an old farmhouse that, if I remember correctly, dated back to the time Michigan achieved statehood. The yard and the house seemed remarkably large to me. It was by no means a mansion, rather a dull, square, sturdy thing made to house the size of family you would need to farm a good-sized plot of land. The fields next door no longer belonged to it but my grandma had a large garden that included several rows of corn so I think it was content, if one feels houses have a spirit to make content.

The water there was so high in iron the dishes we used at Grandma's were stained with a rusty hue. (Each girl had her matched plastic set of plate, tumbler and bowl: Micky Mouse for us eldest, circus themed for the youngest and whatever design fell to my overlooked middle cousin.) From the window above the kitchen sink, you looked out on the biggest most beautiful lilac bushes you could ever hope to see (with a septic tank hidden amongst them).

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grey cat

Moments

Do you ever find yourself, at some point during any given day, thinking, "This is the moment the reenactment is going to flash back to. This is where everything starts to go wrong, even though I am unaware of it yet."

Do you ever think thoughts like that keep disasters at bay because actually you are aware of it and disaster has to strike when you aren't?

Do people ever tell you that a) you read/watch too many stories and/or b) you probably, definitely have a mental problem?

grey cat

Dates

Part of my job is to double check dates in the letters we send out. It's one of the vital things I can't skip (unlike most of my editing that, in a time crunch, can get shoved to the side) because the date of the letter sets all the due dates of the required responses. So most days I spend a while staring at dates.

Like most things you stare at for too long, sometimes the dates stop making sense. I have miscorrected and then recorrected dates to ten years ago and to the future on rare occasions. I sometimes find myself staring at today's date and thinking, "Wait, that can't be right." When did it get this far along in this century? The Y2K scare was over 15 years ago. I graduated from university last century. Last century. Children born when I graduated from high school are completing university themselves now. None of this seems the slightest bit real.

I started this journal 14 years ago. I joined communities and friended people who have disappeared (and some that haven't). I wrote a lot more back then, everyone wrote a lot more back in LiveJournal's heyday. I lived in a different country. I was in my mid-twenties and now I'm right up on the big four-oh. I went from crushing on unattainable Japanese musicians to being married. I've had a plethora of middling jobs. I have rolled through more fandoms than any of my lovely readers can fathom since 1) I rarely write here and 2) I try not to fangirl on here after my first few years of utter silliness.

I know time has passed. I can even tell you some of the things I did with it. I don't even regret a lot of it. Still, 2017? Really? Really?
grey cat

Love letters

When I was about 14 years old I did something I cannot believe I ever found the courage to do. It still seems like a memory from a TV show rather than from my own life, but I actually did this.

I wrote a long love letter to my crush confessing my feelings.

We had only attended school together for one year, sixth grade. I hadn't seen him in the intervening years but I kept track of him as well as one could back before you could facebook stalk someone. I knew he had gone to live with his dad and sussed out his middle school. I heard about him on very rare occasions from a mutual friend. And, I looked up his dad's address in the phone book so that I could do this big thing, send him a love letter.

I had never told any of my crushes that I liked them, and I think I never did so again but somehow this idea got ahold of me and it seemed like a surmountable risk...

I suppose I thought I was very adult and mature as a high school student (or almost) and that I would impress him with my no pressure affection. I would just tell him how much I admired him and let him know I expected nothing from him (of course, after years apart) but that if he ever wanted to write me, he totally could.

I chose my very prettiest stationery. (I am fairly sure this involved some notecards with pastel floral patterns and cute forest creatures.) I wrote out the letter several times to make sure my penmanship was as beautiful as possible and nothing was scratched out and every word was perfect.

Then I popped it in the mail.

I seem to recall later, (how much later I am not sure) that same mutual friend told me he thought it was a very sweet gesture. (What a gentleman!) He never wrote. I have never seen him since I was eleven years old. At the time I consoled myself that it was not such a bad thing to have made someone feel better about themselves. Who doesn't like being told they are loved?

Today I suddenly remembered that letter and I wondered, is it still out there? Probably not. I have boxes and boxes of letters and notes and old birthday cards but that's not the norm. It probably got tossed over two decades ago. But is it possible that he remembers that letter? Does it come to mind once in a great while? Does he recall that once upon a time there was a little girl who thought he was peachy-keen? I hope he does. I'd like him to have that little boost on a day when nothing is going right. On days when I doubt my own strength and passion, I'd like to remember that brave little girl too.
grey cat

Unpretty

I recently found myself watching the video for TLC's 1999 hit Unpretty on YouTube. In the way that one does when one is very adept at wasting time online, I thought to myself, "I wonder what the actress playing the bulimic teen has gone on to do." This seemed like a simple enough question to answer so I looked at the Wikipedia entry for Unpretty. The young actress portraying the girl getting her breast implants removed was identified but that was all.

I am not one to give up on a whim that easily – especially because it struck me as ironic that a video celebrating the beauty of this young woman had not ensured that anyone knew who she actually was. I spent well over an hour trying to find some site, somewhere, that identified this actress. At last after trying any number of search word combinations I came upon someone posting on Yahoo Answers decrying Tamika Katon-Donegal's appearance in an infomercial for Barry's Boot Camp weight loss program. The poster thought in the Unpretty video Katon-Donegal was "beautiful almost perfect" and as a "fat admirer" was "heartbroken" by her boast that she could no longer wear the shorts from the video.

I was a woman on a mission and tracked down Katon-Donegal's SAG resume (her appearance in the video is not listed on her IMDb profile) so that I could get the Unpretty article on Wikipedia updated with her name and a verified citation. Mission accomplished.

It's a very small accomplishment but it gives me a feeling of satisfaction to see her name there. It makes me happy to see all her subsequent accomplishments as well. Still the little research I did gnaws at me... What does it say about our society that an established actress' debut was not mentioned in page after page of articles and commentaries about a video promoting her transformation into a body-positive role model? What does it tell us about the values we internalize when the only person who noted her name was someone who found her figure extremely attractive?

I don't know how to feel about it. I don't want any woman to feel that she must be "beautiful almost perfect" in order to be remembered. I don't want any woman to feel that she can't be perceived as beautiful either. I don't want any person to feel that way. For now that newly delineated belief is just there, sharpening my perception. Perhaps that is all it will do or perhaps I will find a new mission. Silly as this one or far more serious, I hope it makes the world a little bit better.
grey cat

Giselle

Saturday evening my husband and I went to see the Colorado Ballet's performance of Giselle. Both of us are nursing colds and the car won't currently start (it's a finicky not so little thing) but we wrapped up well and took the bus (surprisingly much more convenient).

Giselle in the first act reminded me of a dear friend from my college days. Giselle's sweet, exuberant personality was hers as well. She is a happily married mother now so thankfully Giselle's fate was in no way hers but watching Giselle cavort about on stage really brought her teenage self back.

The pas de deux between Albrecht and Giselle in the second act (before he tires) was so beautiful – haunting and romantic. The Wilis moving entirely in sync were amazing to see.

During the intermission I happened to overhear a man and woman discussing the ballet as she read the short synopsis in the program. They had been guessing about the plot and were surprised to find where they had guessed correctly and what they had missed. Suddenly the man asked, "Who was the guy in brown (Loys/Albrecht), other than a dick?"
grey cat

Wildlife

About ten years ago I posted about my encounter with a tanuki. Last night, biking home from work on the Cherry Creek Trail, I saw a grey fox for the second night in a row. There are numerous bunnies around so I suppose a predator shouldn't take me by surprise but it did. It felt like magic.

The creek and its surrounding wooded area is a slight green smudge on a landscape of shops, apartments and office buildings. It is lovely to bike along listening to the creek gurgling and admiring the dappled light but it never seemed untamed enough for a fox's hunting grounds. I am oddly thrilled that a fox has decided we have left enough wilderness to support wild things.