The Way Home

Look from the sidewalk into this home with me as we casually stroll our neighborhood, walking off supper.

We’re wearing masks. Not the kind made of wool sparing our noses and ears from frostbite, but a necessary covering for our noses and mouths. Hold my hands. It’s chilly outside, yet our breath stays neatly tucked inside the cotton hand sewn white facial protection from this last years’ pandemic. Will it never end, I think, as you think, simultaneously. How right Jung really was: the psychological mechanism that transforms energy into a symbol beyond verbal explanation. The mask forever imagined as a representation of all things bad in this world of ours, yet the symbol of doing the right thing to protect ourselves, everyone really, from spending another year inside a pink bubble.

We stop and look at one wildly decorated house, just a block from home. It’s brighter every year. Out in front of the neighborhood show-offs – I’d swear I don’t recall the Santa’s sled pulled by eight reindeer lit brighter than Krakatoa upon their newly tiled roof last year. We gaze amazed by the amount of careful work her husband puts into their gaudy block blinding display year after year. His wife is healthy and kept news of her recent negative mammogram results from us until one of their teenagers slipped and told our son when she saw him at work at Trader Joe’s. He said he was happy for her but he felt like she was showing off like her mother was better than his somehow, and he hugs me and heads to grab his keys. He spends the night at his gender fluid partners house nearly every night now. It won’t be long before the feathers in the nest begin taking off in the winter wind – no need anymore. But my thoughts digress so easily these days don’t they?

The family sees us gawking at the red, green, gold, blue, silver, and energy efficient extravaganza replete with articulated waiving snow people (political correctness applies to snow sculpture, does it not? I make you laugh as I consider creating a phallus to stick on Frosty the Snowman to adjust his anatomically correctness. You wait and then look away from me, the unsightly scene, frown and say you’ll miss my laughter.) From inside near the fire and 12 foot fresh cut tree decorated in peacock colors, the ten of them wave at the two of us. They wave very vigorously, almost too happy. Too many people inside. Unsafe.

We near our own home, slightly darker than in years prior. There in the picture window, framed by white flocking and boughs of pine and LED bright white lights stands a family. How sad, we think as the woman looks slightly disheveled, her hair very short, purple circles under her eyes even visible from 200 feet away. They cannot see you. It’s dark outside and light inside. Don’t linger long.

It’s a usual sight, should one be an onlooker into a Norman Rockwell painting, except it’s cut, burned, and poisoned without any a big deal being made of it by the family serving the terrine of food. The green tree’s decorations not quite right to those people in the know – still the comments will come, “it looks great,” as you reluctantly send some phone photos to your friend across the county. It looks fine. Fine for someone whose lost the spigot out of which flowed her usual unstoppable, unwavering holiday energy due to cancer. Breast cancer. Very metastatic breast cancer.

In the window three people look at the tree. It’s slightly slanted to the right. The gifts, wrapped only in the paper and plastic bags in which they left the stores they were purchased or the postal service boxes in which they arrived, sit on the apron around the base of the fresh Douglas fir. The fluffy white skirt appears backwards even to a stranger looking in on the scene. She forgot how to arrange it at the bottom of the tree. And the tree’s scent is unusually faint to her this year. The sense of smell she once used to catch musty odors under a bathroom sink, or determine the right amount of cinnamon in a pie is no longer useful, no longer part of the five senses she once controlled. This year her nose missed the lack of nutmeg in the pot of apple cider. No one dares say a word. It might be her last pot so who can forsake her as they would have before the diagnosis.

You look harder and notice there’s only one car in the driveway where there were two before. There hangs a plain but fresh green wreath on the front door. No lights outside and only a few strands inside lighting the top half of the tree. The halfway point is a marker of sorts to the point at which she ran out of energy. There’s an envelope under the tree in a Manila envelope showing off scans brightly lit of her body like a Christmas tree. Stable disease as a gift to her son and husband this year.

And it’s these pictures we will look back upon next year to remind us we were either better or worse off then, now. But the untied apron strings of you and your reluctant teen sous chef who’d rather be on Instagram or Tiktok keep him held safe to your heart for a while longer. We never do know, so sad so true, how long it will be before those independent souls free themselves from the kitchen; yet he will always remember how you showed him to cook, every holiday when he recalls to his own family, “my mom showed me…” and you live longer than that day this year. That day recalled in the coming years ahead.

We look down at our path to the front door of our home. I hope to see many many more evenings like this one. Such tricky business – to create an image of life as we know it and symbols that we all can understand – and we pass the test, looking “good” having so much energy for someone who’s terminally ill. Yet it’s not for those of us who remember every year’s commentary on the beauty of the wrapping paper, the decorations on the tree, the scent of the combined dishes at the door to greet every visitor. This image painted from memory of better days, healthier times is merely that: a facsimile of those memories.

We know how different this years’ preparations, meal, and decorations are as we shift our weight from one foot to another, one arm to the other, fewer people but the love, the love, the love is all that really matters and all anyone remembers. All those “things” represent the love. And we are set free of the resolute duty of the ties which bind us to the responsibility of yet another year of stuffed stockings filled with love.

Wasn’t that always what we really meant anyway?

Community Born of Solitude

Maybe it’s the pressure of all the rain washing the clay away from the roots of the fir trees along the border of our land. Behind it, a horse trail runs parallel to the front of the house. Four weeks have passed since any horse and rider trotted by, leaving our cat with his head crooked to the right or the left, wondering just what the hell that big dog is doing carrying a person down the street. How undignified. He’s not seen a horse before. He’ll see one again.

It’s all about perspective. This entire global debacle, even from the cat’s point of view, indelibly changed the daily regimes of everyone, everywhere, with everything we do. Normally my writing calms me down. And it is. As I write these words my cracks that just began showing this week slowly begin to close, like a scar forming on an open wound. It’s not that I go out a lot during flu season anyway but the point is now that I can’t. Not that in any event I had to I still can’t.

My husband’s psychiatrists office was out and he was without medication adding to the super amounts of stress-ure (stress and pressure) on us. It’s been resolved and he’s better and stabilized. But it’s fallout that none of us suspected being told late in the second half of the game that we should get extra prescription medications. Our Walgreens was robbed twice by violent offenders who threatened the lives of two pharmacists in broad daylight to turn over the pain killers and opioids. I’m short 60 tablets as a result of not enough to fill up my entire prescription.

The cracks are showing. I suspect the months that will have ensued by the time COVID19 finishes raping, pillaging, and marauding our world, our scars individually and throughout entire counties and continents won’t soon fade. Like after a radical mastectomy.

Post traumatic stress disorder won’t spare a soul even in some small way.

Anyone who took advantage of others financially or emotionally or otherwise shall find a fresh form of hell that awaits them. Probably in this life, too, if you believe in that kind of thing. My take on karma is people who do terrible things walk this world looking back over their shoulders worried about what’s coming after them, rather than looking forward so as not to trip over something – missing fresh opportunities or stumbling over things in their paths and falling flat on their faces. Anything from small instigative acts like hoarding eggs up to exceedingly serious and life threatening acts of deception. Lies involving propaganda, and in this case concealment of the whole truth so everyone can prepare accordingly. I do not believe it’s as all bad as it was projected to be, albeit too late in the game to save New York. Sadly this virus carried by many who remain home without symptoms will be measured in numbers of the sick and the dead. This is the kind of thing I like to call “social treason.”

Social Treason

“Social” etymologically defined best on Wikipedia. Which makes sense because of the social input to the definitions themselves:

“Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary.” And treason, but in this case a phenomenon known by those fans of the inscrutable, infinitely quotable, late Douglas Adams as Somebody Else’s Problem, or SEP:

SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams,

The books narrator explains:

The Somebody Else’s Problem field… relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain. If [he] had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else’s Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

Ibid.

Sometimes we don’t want to see what may hurt us, and I think in the beginning of this coronavirus crisis in the United States we suffered from SEP. Now, realizing it’s our problem too, we are becoming depressed as a social organism called a “community.” People kidding themselves into thinking by hoarding toilet paper or hand sanitizer the resulting soft walls will provide m protection against what’s lurking on that head of lettuce they brought in their reusable bag from the green grocer.

We are alas, a global community. It’s a small blue planet. Some of the inhabitants may feel lonely and scared right now. Uncertainty is like SEP at times. But far more frightening than not seeing is overthinking what’s not known or not seen.

But I’ve seen so many good things happen too. Offers to go to the grocery for neighbors who are home bound. Seeing face masks for the medical workers abc grocery store workers and those deemed necessary for basic survival. And I read about people talking to one another, eating meals together, having walks with their spouses. Betcha there are a lot of babies born nine months from now.

I hope I’ll be around to see the upside of all this. I know it’s been difficult on us but also made my husband understand he can do way more than he thinks without me. Is it a good thing? I suppose a dry run for when I’m no longer here couldn’t have hurt, or maybe it hurt more than either of us want to acknowledge.

SEP saves the day.

Viruses and Assholes

Assholes. There I said it. You who were too selfish to even comprehend that viruses beg for crowds to strengthen them. The more the better, and you just couldn’t stay put for a couple of weeks to save humanity. 3,000 people in the United States are dead as a result of COVID19, as of today March 30, 2020, or so we’re told. If there are too few people to take hostage the virus will become less deadly because a virus, like a parasite, won’t kill off all of its potential hosts. To survive with less the virus weakens. So with fewer to infect so it can remain alive only far less deadly. Much unlike stupid metastatic cancer, which will eventually kill its hosts.

But such assholes probably won’t die. The ones who will die are the aged and the infirm.

I fall into the category of “infirm.”

I have one of the diseases metastatic cancer along with diabetes, AIDS, and other lovely human killers have repressed the immune systems of the human beings who walk around with those assholes. Those jerks who couldn’t stay home just for the sake of their fellow Americans to avoid such an imminently high death toll.

And the slow burning down of our Economy is their fault, too by the way.

Having metastatic breast cancer means jumping from one therapy to the next until they no longer work. Right now the very Immunosuppressive chemotherapeutic medications ingested into my body to hunt down cancer cells and save me, could kill me. Good luck to me for trying to find a lab willing to draw my blood for the four major blood tests I need to know if the Verzenio and aromatase inhibitors are working and if I’m suffering from liver or kidney dysfunction. Oh and how bad my white blood cell count really is right now to see just how open my system is to this corona virus. I’m not too happy to have been home now going into the fifth week.

I had two telemedicine visits last week with my palliative oncologist and my medical oncologist. My palliative oncologists and I are just in the “getting to know you” stage of our relationship. He’s a great guy, and I hope he lasts in the role longer than the previous four I’ve had at Stanford. I don’t think palliative medicine is still taken as seriously as it should be for those with terminal and chronic illnesses. But what a great time to educate yourselves if you’re at home like I have been.

Dr. B and I had a laugh or two on our call. He’s not as techno savvy as he will be when this is all said and done. I hope for his sake and mine he stays well. He’s in the “aged” category and I am in the “infirm” category so we run similar risks although mine’s a bit worse than his but he was in clinic doing our call. I need some ascites fluid drained off – the new protocol I’m on doesn’t seem to be getting rid of it as we’d hoped. I have a hard time breathing and I can’t button my jeans and the rest of me looks thin. It’s making my back ache where I had the L5 stress fracture in my lower back. That was two months ago when I had my CT scan. It’s showed a slow accumulation of fluid and it needs out. We will try to find a place to have it done but chances are I’ll have to go to the cancer clinic – alone. No use anyone else getting sick if I do.

But I’ll do what I have to to keep myself alive and well as long as I can. Every time Craig and our friend S leave the house they are the only ones wearing masks and gloves. They assure me the looks they get are like two men about to commit a crime. When the opposite is true – those assholes who refuse to take this situation as seriously as it should be are the thieves and crooks. The thieves of lives and the crooks of humanity.

Every time they come home from the grocery store, the post office, or the pharmacy and the occasional trip to the hardware store – we procure most of what’s needed online and the rest we try to buy from local small businesses when and if at all possible – they remove their clothes in the garage to be washed later and shower in our downstairs bathroom. They keep me safe.

I do get out for my walks and for some much needed gardening, too.

Our friend has been staying with us for the past three weeks and knows once he leaves the house he cannot come back due to the high incidence of the virus in the Bay Area and specifically to his neighborhood. He is the opposite of an asshole: the Yiddish word mensch comes to mind. He’s here to help complete what’s necessary to bring our house up to move in ready. It turns out our dream home wasn’t as move in ready as we were led to believe.

So people reading my blog aren’t likely in the part of the Venn diagram labeled assholes. And there’s a few who should stay home or face a ventilator and take a hospital bed away from someone who couldn’t help it, like a nursing home resident. If it was your mom or grandmother I doubt you’d think – well they already had their lives…fill in your own blanks. I know Americans. They love their freedom, but freedom at what cost? The cost is detrimental this time. And to those who least can afford a virus as deadly as COVID19. I don’t care if the conspiracy theorists are right and it was unleashed by the Chinese on an uprising in Wuhan province. I don’t care if it came from Mars. I’m a native New Yorker and I know the venom from the fangs of the rabid individualists. It’s deadly too.

But hear my plea. Don’t, for the love of those you love, take risks on our behalf. Don’t be an asshole. Assume no one can fight off a very strong virus. And don’t assume you don’t have it right now. You might. The massive campaign to politicize this virus is only now becoming apparent. Shame on those assholes, every last one of them. But here I sit, happy in my bath of green tea, macha powder, frankincense, and Epsom salts. I’m lucky to have telemedicine, immunotherapy, people who love me, and a house far from the madding crowds. And if you’ve got metastatic cancer and need to get away for a couple of days drive in and stay. My house is open to you.

But the rest of you – don’t be an asshole. Stay home, please, because this too shall pass and all will be well after the dust settles. I just hope I’m still here to see that first sunrise on that first day we can all breathe in the same air and heave a collective sigh.

PS The photo is of three donkeys who live up the road from us. They look rather unbothered by this fiasco and I take solace in their existence every day they come down by the fence when I am walking by. They see me and trot quickly down to say hello to me no matter where all three of them are at that moment. Craig said they don’t do that when he walks by without me. They come to the fence and shake their manes at me as though they’re inviting me to hang with them for a while. Maybe next walk I will, too. They’re asses not assholes. 😜