Home Away From Home
On January 15th Kathy and I drove to my home for the first time since I left to visit my mom on December 22nd.
I am a person who values her “things.” Paul has tried unsuccessfully to introduce me to the principles of feng shui. I have nearly every book I ever bought. I have every journal I kept since childhood. I still have notes I passed with a friend from seventh grade. I have the first romance novel I wrote in high school. I collect things: pink and green glass, blue and white porcelain, pens, and other items.
It’s been a month since I checked on my things. We have never been apart so long. My first thought was that I should have taken out the trash. I retrieved mail and dumped it into a bag to take it with me. I changed my clothes, which had suffered the agonies of my bladder’s injuries. I needed to find something to wear. I pulled a pair of pants from a bag of clothes I intended to contribute to charity. Those pants are an inexplicable collapse of good taste. They are black with a white design on them. The only thing that could make my behind look bigger than those pants make it look is if my behind grew larger. I did not realize that my behind had to shrink quite a bit for me to wear them. I just pulled them on. As we drove back to Mom’s house, I realized that I had lost quite a bit of weight.
My life has changed so much since October.
Most of my apartment is a mess as I have been hunting for my birth certificate. I need to find it to apply for charity benefits under a plan for people with cancer and no health insurance. The week before Christmas I ordered from Peapod. Due to a miscalculation I ordered 81 rolls of toilet paper. They are stacked in my hallway. I will eventually use them.
I brought laundry to my mom’s house on December 22nd. I have been wearing those clothes ever since. They have proven sufficient.
The truth is that I no longer “need” my things. This is a profound change in my life. According to Kevin, my now deceased naturapath, my Southern node is in Taurus. I am programmed to resist change and stubbornly attached to my things.
I sometimes dream about sleeping on the sofa from my home, but have not felt much of an attachment in some time.
I still refuse to sleep in a bed at my mom’s home, but I otherwise have settled down there. I have been living with my sister Kathy companionably for more than two weeks. I am much more attached to her than my things.
Cancer has changed many of my priorities–for the better.
I need my computer, my horseshoe-shaped pillow, a few pairs of warm socks, my phone list, a watch, and some clothes. Little else matters. Good thing. I’ll probably have to sell most of it to pay medical bills. As I opened all the Christmas cards that arrived during my absence I cried. There were pictures of former students with their new spouses or babies. There was a picture of my favorite law school professor with her husband, three children, and their dog. There were newsletters from friends from far away. Most of them do not know I have been sick. My “people” have always mattered more than my things. I brought their cards with me back to my mom’s home to remember the blessings I have in my life.
Cancer can take my health. It can take my “wealth.” It can turn a person who loves her things into a nomad who is at home if she has her favorite pillow. But it cannot diminish my attachment to my family and friends. I am at home where I can connect with them. With a phone and a computer, home is any place I want it to be.
Nevertheless, in those final moments of wakefulness at the end of most days I recall what life was like before October, and I long for it to my bones. I had cancer then, but I did not know it. I felt instead that life was slowing down and that I was tired. I let that exhaustion lull me into sleep each night. I lived in a place surrounded by my things. I could open a box and dress myself in another time of my life. I could open a journal and relive an experience. I could open a photo album and recapture an expression or a shared experience. I could wrap myself in a quilt and float on a softly rocking sea of creature comfort.
Someday “Cancer” will be an experience in a box in a closet. It will be something I can (but most likely will not) open and try on for a moment. What will I remember about these times? I hope that I remember that it was people who bolstered me. I hope that I will remember the people who stood by me through times of fear and despair. I hope that I will remember that no “things” mattered as much as the things that preserved expressions of others’ hopes and dreams, like Christmas cards sent before the person knew that I had cancer. I will save my cancer sweater. I wore it to every treatment. It was a coat on cold days, a blanket during those scary moments when the Taxol flooded my veins with its waves of poison. It wrapped me in softness when I felt like there was a needle coming at me from every direction. It hid my hair as strands fell from my head day after day. I hope I throw out those pants that make my behind look big. Who cares how big it is? I just care that it stops bleeding. I hope I discard my fear of cancer’s recurrence and embrace the prospect of survival. Can you trap happiness in a box? I wish. Maybe I’ll save that red wig I have yet to wear and have it represent the sense that Cancer should not be answered with getting things back to normal. It should be answered with getting comfortable with change.
I think my Cancer box should have a sound track. I have a bunch of old cassettes with music for road trips. I should save some tunes for this ride. Eva Cassidy’s People Get Ready, Sting’s Fields of Gold, Josh Groban’s Awake, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Helen Reddy’s A Candle on the Water, Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through the Rain, Sam Harris’ Moon River, Dan Fogelberg’s Part of the Plan, Linda Ronstadt’s Shattered or her song about still being within the sound of someone’s voice, Vanessa Williams’ Sweetest Day, and Carly Simon’s The Garden.
The box should contain the sense of ambivalence that Cancer has brought into my life. I am hopeful and fearful at the same time. It has disrupted all my “plans” at the same time as it has helped me to drive without an itinerary.
Cancer has changed me, but I don’t expect to embrace it for the lessons it has taught me. I doubt I will need my memories to remember how it changed me. I expect my life to bear the marks of its coming and passing like a tree’s trunk reveals its experiences in its rings. I don’t know where I am headed any longer, but that’s okay. Wherever I am, there will be changes owed to Cancer. Whereever I am, there is my home.