Pride and Prejudice

June 26, 2015 was a tremendous day. I finally had enough money to secure car insurance (no small feat when you have been uninsured for 5 months), renew my driver’s license, and my car’s registration. My income had been reduced since the Spring college term ended, and I knew money would be tight. A series of errors in my payroll check for my summer gig at another community college made it even tighter. I knew I was going to have trouble paying. I knew I had to ask for help.

A week or more prior, I woke up one morning and put on my glasses. Unfortunately, they snapped and the left lens came flying on the floor. My father witnessed the aftermath and offered to buy me new glasses on the spot for my birthday. It was generous and was offered without the type of grumbling I am accustomed to dealing with in such matters. As the date of my birthday continued to draw near, and I continued to deal with payroll issues, I realized that I would not be able to pay the Secretary of State.

The boys suggested that I skip the glasses, wear contacts, and ask my father to spend the money on car insurance. It was logical. It was practical. I had an appointment at the optical department at Walmart the next day. All I had to do was tell my Dad and cancel it. When I woke up the next morning, I tried to build the courage to have that conversation for an hour and just couldn’t. I went to the appointment with my father and got glasses.

I felt horrible that I couldn’t do it. I was embarrassed and afraid. Eventually, through conversations with my sister and the boys, I realized that I had to come clean to my father. We had a brief private conversation where I told him that I didn’t want him to perceive that I was just trying to mooch off of him. I felt horrible about asking him for anything, inconveniencing him, but I needed help. Being honest and vulnerable was the only way I was going to get the help I needed. With minimal grumbling, my father helped out with funds.

So, I was sitting at the Secretary of State when the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage was announced. I knew it was coming, but was surprised to see that it actually happened. It was hard to maintain my composure. With so many people around me, did they know? No one talked about it out loud, but I furiously surfed Facebook and news websites for the details. I was so consumed that the hour and a half wait seemed to take only 5 minutes.

I went to hang out with the boys for the day. We were going to celebrate my birthday. I could tell that they were a little off. We didn’t talk about it for a few hours. When it was addressed, it was related to posting a line of the doxology in a comment to my former pastor’s post embracing the same sex marriage ruling. The boys thought it was inauthentic of me to post, “Glory be to God from whom all blessing flow,” because my current religious positioning was less than traditional doctrine. I told them that I thought it was appropriate because it was a very Presbyterian thing to do in response to a big decision, the election or church leaders, offering, etc.

What this started was a catalyst to talk about needing to be open. I have a side of me that was raised Presbyterian. I have a side of me that sees my home church as a second family, but I rarely have talked about this with them. It is like I categorized things in my head, and if I wasn’t in that section…I don’t normally share it. It is not intentional omission. It does sort of feed the concept of being different things to different people. That is where the struggle is real. You build relationships with people at work, at church, at the bar…..but what happens when those people come together? Who knows the real you? I know it is possible to be authentic all the time, but I hadn’t lived my life that way until recently.

The boys also seem to point out that I was more excited by the day’s ruling than they were. I was flying the pride flag, but I didn’t mention that I was also part of the LGTB community. I had thought about posting something earlier in the day, but waited until we would be together to do it. I had even done a draft of what it would be. We shaped the final draft together, talked about the pros and cons to posting it, and eventually I cut and pasted it into a status update. It was the moment that I had fully come out as a lesbian on Facebook.

We went swimming for an hour. We found a way to toss each other up and out of the water several times, sending massive amounts of water out of the pool. It felt great. It felt like a celebration. I felt weightless for a moment in time. When we came back, several people had liked the post and some left sweet comments. I felt a ton of love.

The love continued over the weekend. Several people sent me lovely birthday messages, my father said he was proud of me and loved me, and I even got to go to my favorite pizza pub and eat my cake too. It was a great birthday weekend.

On Monday, I felt like I was riding the wave until the boys shared with me that Max’s sister’s fiancé had posted some anti-gay stuff on his Facebook page. He even added an American flag filter to counter the pride flag filters that people were adding to their profile pictures. Knowing that Max’s sister had talked to Max on the Friday of the Supreme Court ruling, asking if Alex and Max wanted to get married with them on the same day the following week, at the same ceremony, because now they could, they felt compelled to bring it up to her. She immediately said that she couldn’t take sides, brought up a stupid free speech argument, and ignored any discussion with her brother, even though he was hurt. She did have her fiancé take down the post, but he just replaced it with a picture of a flag transposed over a wave at the beach scene. Whatever.

It would have been left there, but the next day she decided to post an article on “Jesus’s Response to the Gays” with a comment that thanked her fiancé for showing her the “real truth.” In the article, it clearly stated that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Alex was compelled to respond, asking if she really thought that his relationship with her brother for the last 14 years was sinful and what was he supposed to do as a gay man in the situation. I took another tactic. I told her that before she decides to start pointing out the sins in others, she might want to look in the mirror. Last time I checked, she had a long laundry list of her own sins that would keep her busy. I also made mention that her value system seem to shift as often as the weather. She was neither better nor worse than anyone else.

Max’s sister replied to the comments from Alex and me. She mentioned that she had only posted the article and wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone. That provoked another response from Alex and I. Alex offered nothing but love and I offered her a “bullshit.” Later that day, a call between her and the boys confirmed that she did think they were sinners and that marriage should be between a man and a woman. She played the victim. Why couldn’t she exercise her right to free speech? Why couldn’t they come to her church and confess their sins? Why were they always trying to put her on the spot and cause drama?

The boys tried to calmly explain that she was the one posting this stuff. Shouldn’t they have a right to tell her, as her brothers, that it was hurting them? Other people read this stuff, and it didn’t reflect well on her. When confronted, all she could spew was her recently acquired opinions that she had been taught or nothing at all. She couldn’t take responsibility for her words or her actions.

While the boys were going back and forth with Max’s sister, I was burning a little. I was glad that I had a chance to voice my opinion to her but it didn’t feel right. Max and Alex deserved better. They have always been “out.” Max’s sister knew this about him. For years, she had been vocal about supporting him. She would share that her brother was gay and that others should be tolerant. Now, all of a sudden, she was singing a different tune.

I contacted some friends privately on Facebook, and asked them to send Alex and Max a love note. They did, and I think it did touch them. I was often included in them, and was really moved by the love and support. I tried to take a nap to forget about it. I tried to get lost in an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance,” but the momentary relief was replaced by a nagging feeling once I left my mind unoccupied.

I texted the boys to see if there was anything else going on. Apparently, she blocked them from her Facebook. She also defriended me. The boys seemed okay. In a way, it gave Alex fuel to proceed with his drag queen career. If he feared that others would throw similar fits, and this was what it was like, than proceed ahead because he knew he could handle any bully. It feels better to live an authentic life instead of caring how others perceived you.

There was a question of whether or not we would attend the wedding. After the initial confrontation, the boys felt like they were going to go so she couldn’t throw it in their faces latter. Now, I am not so sure where they stood. Why would you want to go when she has gone out of her way to make you miserable? For someone who repeatedly plays old tape about how the men in her life keep abandoning her, she really tries to throw a fantastic fit so life follows suit. Why wouldn’t she vow that love is conditional? In order to be worthy of love, you had to fit all the conditions in her world. That is all the love she feels she deserves. Needless to say, we ended up not going.

I thanked the boys for handling the situation with such dignity and class. They confronted her with love, even though she couldn’t handle it. Instead of getting swept up in hurt and disgust, they made peace with the situation and forgave her, knowing that she was fighting her own demons. Less than a week ago, I feared that I might have gotten such a response. Seeing them actually get one, made me feel that I could handle it too, so I need not be afraid. I blocked Max’s sister so I never had to see her words again.

I woke up today hoping that I had finally shaken the bad vibes off. For the most part, I had. What was odd was that she hadn’t deleted my sister as a Facebook “friend.” My sister noticed some alarming things on her news feed. I told her to not show me, but I couldn’t resist. There were six stupid posts inferring that we were “intolerant,” “assholes,” and “judgmental.” I told my sister that she was never to tell me about any of her posts again. I went to my room to get ready for work. When I came out, my sister told me that she had posted some things on her news feed, mostly clips about how the Bible shouldn’t be used to beat people with and that the most important commandment was to love your neighbor. I smiled. It was sweet. My younger sister, one of the most devout people I know, was defending her lesbian sister and her gay sudo brothers. It goes to show that there is more love out there than hate, and siblings can get along….even on Facebook.

The Legacy of Not Being Good Enough

As an American, I realize that many people don’t think we have a class system in the United States, but we totally do. Each and us buy into it everyday by the life we lead. Somehow, we expect those who don’t have much to work like dogs 40 hours or more, 5 days a week for some form of pay that is regular, expected to be raided of payments to other entities, and the illusion of benefits. To keep us from questioning whether or not this is in our own best interest, we are bombarded with images and stories of what is perceived to be normal, good, and or bad.

Our schools sacrifice the talent of our youth to shove doctrine and conformity down their throats. We buy the idea that every child should be exposed to the same tools, lectures, teachers, and tests; but we completely forget that no two learners are the same and that each of us were designed to learn and grow in our own way. In an effort to keep any child from falling behind, we alienate and limit others from going at a pace that is right for them. No Child Left Behind = Every Child is Forced to Stay In Line.

When you go to church, you are surrounded by a make shift family. You connect on joint beliefs and customs. When someone in the family experiences their greatest joy, you celebrate it. When someone hits their greatest low, they are there to help you. Along the way, there are power struggles about who can make the decisions for the family. The personalities of different members clash, and cause rifts. Lines are formed, cliques form.

Those families that have more cash are wooed to donate more. Gifts are acknowledged, power is leveraged. Members that are nonconformists, ungifted, broke, and slightly ravaged are accepted with a little disdain. Depending what church you are in, children weave in and out of this picture, or they are held behind glass because they are expected to be seen, not heard.

Some church families are sexist and/or racist, others have tried to diversify. Membership can be exclusive, even if it is not in print. Members try to match the quality of their cars and home to the level of their pastor. If you can’t keep up with the Joneses, you better say goodbye to your standing in the community.

Even church governance reflects the family and class. Some are hierarchal. Straight top-down decision making. Others have committees or democratic votes. After a while, the only people interested in serving are either in it out of perceived obligation, power, or guilt.

Our parents guide us through our community and teach us how they have learned to survive.

Some parents are completely comfortable and authentic. They teach the same to their children. There is a healthy respect for the diversity and value of each member in the community. They are supported to follow their dreams and aspirations and celebrated when they achieve them. Even when it all goes bad, they are still welcomed back into the fold and loved until they are healthy enough to try again.

Other parents are like mine, petrified of the world around them. They teach their children to be anxious and uncomfortable connecting with others. They teach their children to be suspicious of their neighbor, to dwell on the protection of their pride and the family’s honor. They are taught to keep secrets and to look the other way. They hate divergent thought. They hate people who are overly happy. They hold grudges and take aggression out passive aggressively.

These same parents show their children how to value others. Communication with those of a similar social-economic class or higher is perfectly acceptable. It is acknowledged that if a parent came from a higher class, that they were the most worthy. If any family member was perceived as being higher up, then you must humble yourself before them or ignore them for being snotty. There was a definite pecking order, and you better know your place.

This lends someone to buy the idea of the corporate ladder. Schools teach that the only way to improve your social-economic status is to mold yourself to someone else’s perceived notion of value, delight with your charms, educate yourself and be smarter in order to gain success. It is believed that you can change your identity to get the life everyone else wants, just so you can brag about it when you get there.

Of course, all of this perceived value is just that, perceived. Every now and then, you catch a crack in this fairy tale to see that it is all an illusion. No one is better than anyone else. Your parents are damaged and just taught that damage to you, just like millions of other parents are screwing up their children in a slightly different way. You were born to those parents with the purpose of receiving that particular damage so you can go about your life’s business to achieve your purpose.

What that is, is so specific that no one can tell you what it is. Yet, so many people try to mold others’ opinions of what that should be. All the time my insecure parents were scaring me about others, they were informing me of exactly how they viewed themselves. In my case, that was unworthy, unlucky, incapable, frustrated, angry, uneducated, and unsuccessful.

Transmission worked well in my family. I drank the Kool-Aid. I stayed near my parents, stopped my life to take care of them. I had jobs that I know they valued more than others because of prestige or pay. My happiness was trumped by obligation and tradition. My perceived failings were met with pity and passive aggressive retribution.

So, yes, in America we do put ourselves into classes. There are socio-economic markers that can take on traits of what we perceived as preferred or less than. The thing we can also do here is completely throw those rules out of the window and completely dance to the sound of our own beat. We can wake up to see what we really believe and take action to create our own lives, shape our own identities, and develop our own families and communities. We can shape our own culture.

The first step is to not judge anything. First, we shouldn’t judge the path or the journey of others. We should celebrate their joys and grieve their sorrows and give support. Second, but most importantly, we need to stop judging ourselves by the false guidelines and markers people in our lives have shown us to this point. To listen to God, we need to only listen to our own voice from within. It is the most authentic and fulfilling guide and gauge to how we should proceed with our lives. It does not let judgment or class stop us from obtaining the experiences we desire in life, nor the enjoyment of those experiences.

May 2014 be the year to stop blaming the past, replaying old tapes, and judging everything around us; and instead be the year we become bold enough and brave enough to be authentically and unapologetically ourselves.

Bah Humbug

This Christmas was going to be a little different anyway. I am going through cancer treatment and have had a crazy year. I wasn’t supposed to be in charge of the holiday meal. Everything was taken care of…

This winter has been crazy so far.  The receptionist at my chiropractor told me that she saw a fully black caterpillar this fall and that we were going to have a long winter. The weatherman said today that we have had nearly 27 inches of snowfall, where as last year we had .4 inches at this same time. I am beginning to believe her.

During last weekend’s ice storm, my father had lost power at his house. He has a generator, so they still had power for the most part, except that the stove/oven/microwave was not connected because he chose to wire the garage opener instead. My dad had already bought a ham and everything for the meal and now didn’t have a way to cook it.

My sister called me on Monday in a panic. Dad was raising a ruckus. I was on my way to radiation and didn’t have time to chat. After my appointment, I called her back and she explained the dilemma. She had vacated with her husband to run to the movies while my dad stewed.

I decided to go visit him and try and make him feel better. As I drove out to his house, I had the brilliant idea to make a crock-pot dinner. Beef roast, mashed potatoes and gravy. The oven didn’t work at my house, but Alex and Max were gone for the holiday and I was house sitting their fully equipped house. I could prepare it there and plug it in at my dad’s. I would have my sister come over to help me and I would cover the cost because I owed him some money anyway.

He was keen to the idea. So, I told him I would call on Christmas Eve and see if the power was still out. After my radiation appointment, I called and plan B was still on. My sister came over and we shopped for a holiday meal for 11 people.

By the time we had stopped shopping, I was already pretty exhausted. It took us 10 hours to shop and prep everything. I packed my sister up and she took off.

During the day, my sister talked to my half-brother Allen and confirmed that he was bringing a dessert. I texted my brother Samuel and his wife to check and see if they wanted to bring rolls. I got a strange series of texts from Sam’s wife asking if the roads were bad because of the power outage. I assured her they were fine, it was just from the previous storm.

My sister was gone for a while when I got a text from my brother, Sam. He wrote a simple text, “We will not be coming over for Christmas. We are worried about the snow forecast. Please give our best to everyone. We are sorry and will look forward to seeing you guys some other time.”

My heart kind of sunk a little bit. I couldn’t remember the last time I spent a Christmas without him. It was weird to let a little snow get in the way of our holidays. No shit, I teared up a little bit and reflected on how bummed my father was going to be.

I texted my sister the bad news. She called. I told her to tell dad not to take it personal. I am sure that it wasn’t because of the power or the meal change. She said he was still upset. We hung up and I got another call a few minutes latter. The power was really out now. Their propane had run out.

I chuckled. As she was about to freak out, I told her we could have the meal at Alex and Max’s because they were with their relatives. Their house was smaller, so we called Allen and explained the situation and that they should stay home. They agreed, especially since they were being pounded with a foot of snow an hour.

My sister returned to Alex and Max’s house with the meal so it could cook. My dad came with her. He had already gone to Christmas Eve service without us and just wanted to spend time with at least some of his children. He looked like a sad puppy. I smiled and told him that we have had crazier holidays. I reminded him of Christmases spent in hotels, at others’ houses, at a buffet when everyone had the flu. This would just be a more memorable one.

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Come the next morning, I crack my laptop to see what gifts my nephews got. Allen’s wife lamented that our regular Christmas gathering had been canceled. At least they would have tried to come. I got a text from Sam’s wife. When were we expecting them?

I paused. Sam said they weren’t going to come because of the weather. I wrote her back as such, but told her that we could make arrangements for it to work if they came. She texted that she would check and then texted that they would schedule a different time to see us.

I leveled my nerves to get the house and the meal ready. I made a mental note of where everything was so I could put it back. I got a movie hooked up. I put my gifts to my family members under the tree. This could work.

My family got here some time after noon. As my sister walked in the door, you could tell that she was already tired and grumpy. She told me that my father’s temper was in rare form. As my father walked in, I could tell that he was just hurt and disappointed.  He felt like he had let everyone down.

I kicked in to make him comfortable. I fed everyone a snack and my sister and I got to finishing the meal. We just had to make gravy, which is kind of a task in its own right. I made due with what I had in a strange kitchen. I set the table. I poured the drinks.

As we ate the meal, I thought….this is pretty good. My sister was still in “work” mode. I could tell she was having trouble relaxing. I tried to convince her that dishes could wait…but all she could do is think of what she needed to do.

To make her feel better, I let her clean up after supper and kept dad busy. I showed him around the house, shared our drag videos, and conversed with him. I could tell that it was lifting his spirits. I texted Alex and Max a pic of us at dinner with a thank you note.

My family was grateful for the heat and the flushing toilet. After my sister finished cleaning up, we sat down to open some gifts.

Now, as an adult…I don’t really expect much in the line of gifts. But truthfully, doesn’t everyone want to feel like they did as a kid on Christmas? The biggest gift is a surprise of a touching gift. Maybe it doesn’t cost much…but you know that they thought of you.

I would love to feel that way again. To know someone cared enough of you to genuinely want to surprise and please you. It is easy for someone with a partner or a family of their own. There is an excuse to go through the expense. It is like another form of love.

I have been disappointed on so many Christmases that I have tried to stop dreaming this dream. It hurts too much. Max suggested maybe since I had cancer this year, it would be a little different.

Well, I received a wallet sized photo of my father, the dogs, their cat, my sister and her husband; a wallet photo of just my sister and her husband with their dog; and an 8X10 framed photo of the first photo again. Oh, and a craft orchid lapel pin which unintentionally resembled a vagina. My sister got a gift card to Amazon and her husband got a duck caller.

I smiled. There is no sense in expecting any more. We cleaned up and I put in “My Fair Lady.” My father was kind of excited. We got about half way through the first act when my brother, Allen, called. I paused the video and got cake and hot cocoa ready while my father and sister talked to him and his family. My sister kept on lamenting about what a piss poor Christmas it was, searching for sympathy.

They finished the call without asking me to be a part of it. Weird, but okay. My sister asked if they should call Sam. A part of me was like, shove it! I hadn’t told her about the morning conversation and kept my mouth shut. I said, “sure.”

While she called Sam, she sent her husband off to call his family in another room. My sister got through and said a few words before she passed off the phone to join the conversation with her husband’s family. My nephew told me about his gifts, a tablet and an airplane. He asked if we stilled have gifts for him, and I assured him we did. When my brother joined the conversation, I asked what they were having for dinner and he said they were just sitting down for a meal from McDonald’s. Great.

We finished up the calls and everyone enjoyed the cake and cocoa as we finished the movie. I could tell that my father’s attitude was lifting. I helped Julie pack the car and take out the last of the trash. She helped me make sure everything got put back and we tried to leave everything better than how we found it.

As everyone was getting close to leaving, my sister informed me that she was going to come to my house early to take a shower before she had to go to her husband’s family Christmas party. It quickly went to being just her, to her and her husband, then both of them and my father.

My house was a disaster area: dirty clothes piled everywhere, unpaid bills strewn all over the house, lesbian literature, how to become a witch books, and pot out in the open. As she told me that she planned on being there at 9am, I quickly realized that I might have to travel to my house in a new snowstorm, spend the night cleaning my house, and still make it to my morning radiation appointment.

When they left, I began to cry. Do I leave now? Do I try to sleep? Why does this holiday suck so badly? If there was any piece of me that thought my family would value me more because I was ill, it was made more than clear that I could go and fuck myself. The only thing that pleased me was that I made my dad’s holiday a little better.

I can’t do this again. I would hang out with my family. I might even cook another holiday meal, but I have got to do something different for myself. I am tired of feeling invisible during this holiday just because I don’t have a significant other. Sometimes I wish I could just forget about the whole month of December.

If this were my last Christmas on this planet, I would be bummed. I would be bummed because I didn’t feel valued or treasured. I would hate myself that I once again was forced to take charge, make it happen, and spend the entire day making sure that everyone else’s day was special while no one really gave a shit if it was special for me.

Still, I know that only I can control how I feel. As disappointed as I am, I did feel happy that I made my dad’s day. I forgive my siblings for their failings and hope that they forgive me for mine. I also promise that even if no one else on the planet wants to acknowledge me on this day, I can and will make it special for myself.

As I sat down to begin writing this, my sister called to let me know that their power was back on. They wouldn’t be crashing my house in the morning. A wave of relief passed through me. I pulled out the cream sherry and poured me a glass.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Thanksgiving

This year was an unusual one. Because of my diagnosis and treatment, I decided not to be the family chef this year. I figure I have been making the Thanksgiving meal for over a decade. I started a few years before my mother died in 2001. On some level, I enjoyed cooking the big meal. I would review recipes, get different tricks or techniques to try, and worked to preserve the family favorites.

I have fond memories of helping my mother out in the kitchen, which transitioned into her telling me what to do, and making the meal, to being the only one who really knew what to do when she died. The last Christmas my mother was alive, I remember her and my aunt sitting around the table peeling potatoes or cutting something up while they watched me conquer the meal mostly on my own. I think it soothed her to know that I had remembered what she had taught me.

After she died, there were moments were I still enjoyed cooking the meal, but I began to use the excuse of cooking to avoid having to deal with my relatives. I had a growing anxiety about being the only child with no significant other at the event. I used the holiday to beat myself up about being “alone.” Why was I not good enough to have a family of my own? Plus, there was a sense that because I was single and lived locally, that it was almost expected that I should play a great hostess and work to make everything as pleasant for everyone else as possible.

This grew into resentment that I was expected to do it all. Granted, there was a part of me that wanted to do it alone because it seemed easier. I claimed the kitchen as my domain. I drank enough to feel as little as possible, and tried to not let comments about the food, the timing, the cost, or any of a multitude of other shit bother me until I had left and could bawl all the way home.

So this year, after I was diagnosed and knew I would be going through treatment, I told my Dad to figure it out. I didn’t know how I would feel by the time the holiday got here, and I didn’t want to have to worry about it.

As the holiday drew near, I tried to stay out of the planning. The hard part is that I have been doing it for so long that everything was like second nature to me. It would have been too easy to insert myself. The thing about preparing such a big meal is that you want to take pride in accomplishing it. I wanted whoever did it to feel that they had me as a resource, but to also feel free to “own” it.

Much to my surprise, my father decided to prepare the meal. My sister also made three classic dishes. Of course, my sister is the kind of girl who can blow up an egg trying to hard-boil it. I thought they did an admirable job with it.

You could tell my father was nervous going into turkey day. He put in the turkey at 10am. Instead of folding the wings behind the turkey, he skewered them onto the breast. I guess he spilled some stuff and accidently threw away the chopped celery instead of the leaves. I wasn’t there for it, but when he told me about it I told him that he just did what any other cook would do. I reminded him that the meal needed to not be perfect. It would be tasty no matter what.

At 2pm, the turkey was cooked. My father and I both were a little surprised. I told him to pull it and put in all the side dishes to warm up. I asked him, “Did you let all the guests know that dinner would be early this year?” (I usually didn’t serve dinner until 5pm) His banter suggested no, so I sent my sister off to call everyone and figure out where they were. One party hadn’t even started their two-hour trek.

I smiled and helped Dad get everything in a “keep warm” state and just released it. I didn’t feel any anxiety, but I confess that I was medicated. When the whole family did get there, I was finally able to sit back and just watch them. I saw quarks in personality that I hadn’t before. I answered a lot of questions about my health.

I don’t feel like a sickly person, even going through treatment. It is a little strange to hear people constantly asking me how I feel. It is like they want me to complain, but I don’t. I feel fairly good. Deal.

As we sat and ate dinner, I really appreciated all of the effort that went into the meal and the fact that they went out of their way to let me sit back and relax. I think my father and sister discovered on some level what an undertaking it is.

I didn’t feel lonely this year. I realize that my life was never meant to reflect the Hallmark version of the holiday, and that is okay. At the end, it is all about creating an excuse to be together and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t know if everyone that was there was excited to be in that situation, but it did feel great to leave and get back to normal life.

Taking Action

My third round of chemo came this week. There was no real fanfare. I am kind of use to the drill. It did take a lot longer than normal. I had a full examination by my doctor, which looked good. The infusion room was packed, so I was placed in some small back corner. It took a half hour just to get the IV in and another half hour to hang the first bag of pre-chemo meds.

I kind of felt like I was on the second string’s team in the back. I missed the nurses that I normally bond with, but I had my buddy Max with me to keep me distracted. Around noon, my father swapped out with him and brought me some lunch. All was normal until I started feeling a wave of heat flush through my body. I threw off any blankets or excess clothing and felt my scalp and palms clam up. The nurses came and stopped the IV. They took my pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and blood glucose readings. I got some extra oxygen because my pulse oxygen was a little low. I had to have a doctor come down and check everything out. We never determined if it was a reaction to the chemo or something as simple as a hot flash.

By the time we got back on track, I noticed that I was one of the last patients in the building. I expected to be held there for 6 hours, but I left after 8 and a half. I am pretty sure I was the last patient out of the building and it was a crazy feeling. I felt bad for my father but he didn’t seem to mind. I passed out early that night. I was exhausted.

I am now off for about four weeks. I go in mid December for a simulation for the start of radiation. I am a little scared about it. It will be every day for 4-5 weeks, right during the holidays. I am going to get my first tattoos ever just so they know where to irradiate me.

I am now on day 3 after the chemo and am feeling the bones again. This has been the worst part of the chemo for me. I may be a little more tired than normal too. Over all, I really feel lucky. I know so many other people have a worse time with this treatment. I am annoyed by certain side effects of the treatment but in so many ways it has not been a huge deal. Giving myself the time and space to recover can almost be more difficult.

I feel like recovery includes focusing on what I want my life to really be. So many people look at cancer as a death sentence or a huge loss, I am choosing to look at it as a way in which I can gain everything I have always wanted but made too many excuses to actually take action.

I don’t even know if I would have sought treatment if I hadn’t started this year with the focus of releasing judgment. I had so many strange opinions or perceptions of what I thought things should be. I was the meanest self-critic, and I couldn’t even see it. I knew I felt miserable, but I didn’t realize how much I was playing a role in it.

After you make a huge shift in such an area, it isn’t like you are immediately cured. Constantly, I have different events come back up to test me. I feel like the more I confront my bad tapes and faulty thinking, the easier it becomes. I equate it to building a muscle memory. Thoughts can be super powerful, or they can be nothing. It depends on what the feeling is behind it and how much attention are you going to give it.

I have been working super hard at confronting my negative thoughts. Having witnessed my parents’ journeys with cancer and mine, I think it is really normal to worry about your longevity. You might be doing something mundane and then think about what someone might think if this was the last time they saw you. Stupid thoughts. I have learned that when I get a thought like this, or one that is just not pleasant, I thank the Universe for showing me the contrast and flick it away or send it off.

I went back to the woman at the bookstore today. It was time for another monthly Shared Circle of Enlightenment. The energy was a little different from when she talked to Alex and I about our spirit guides, but I still felt like I gained a lot from being in her presence.

I talked to her about feeling the need to release resistance. I have grown so much, but I still resist doing things that I know I need to do or to relax and surrender more.  Besides confronting negative thought patterns, we had some dialogue on faith and trust. After my surgery, I knew the Universe had my back. I was so sure that the Universe was supporting me and giving me all that I needed. Now, a few months out, that same solid faith and trust had softened a little.

Alex and Max continued the conversation with me at home. One of the things that they hate about me is that I trust so very little. They even think I don’t trust them. In reality, I trust them implicitly. I trust them more than I do myself. That is where the a-ha came. It does seem a little backwards. I than asked Max, how does one build trust? He said, “through your actions.”

Sometimes when I read all these self-help books or meet these interesting people who help me see things a little clearer, you’ll feel better initially because you feel like…oh, now I understand. There is a little relief. But if you don’t put those lessons into practice, the Universe places little tests in front of you to see if you really get it. One way you might get ahead of the surprise quiz is by changing your actions to match what you believe.

Okay, I am the worst at this action-based thing. There are a million things that I should probably do or I know I should do…why aren’t I doing them? If having cancer doesn’t make me lose weight, what the hell else will? Good point. I know the biggest block for me is feeling worth the effort. As much self-confidence as I have built up over this year, I am still lacking crucial components.

I don’t know why I feel like I am so different. Everyone goes through this, but somehow I feel like I am supposed to suffer alone. I feel like everyone deserves love, but I often question if I do. If I felt abandoned during other portions of my life, which may have had nothing to do with me, how can I release that I don’t have to feel that way now? How can you have trust in faith that the people who love you aren’t going to hurt you or abandon you? How can you have faith that you won’t hurt or abandon you?

I can’t say I have any answers for these questions now…it is just what my mind is pondering. My goal for this week is to take some action steps to be kinder and more giving to myself. I want to celebrate who I am and feel like I am taking fruitful action to allow more to follow.

Overcoming the Disconnect

Life gives you a lot of opportunities to learn lessons.

The beginning of this week wasn’t bad, but I was definitely not on my highest flying disk. I know that I had slipped off after my hair was cut, but I couldn’t figure out what to really do about it. Monday came and I had to do a bunch of errands to pay some bills. It felt good to take care of some things that I had been neglectful of taking care of, but it left me with less than forty bucks to stay a float for two weeks.

Money has been a sore spot for a while. I have been so lucky that my school has had my back while I am out on leave. The union has been paying for my short-term disability. I am so grateful that they have my back, that I feel horrible when I feel like I am coming up short.

Like most cancer patients, I am sure a lot of us weren’t in a good spot financially before we got sick.  I was laid off and unemployed for a few years. How I was able to keep my house? I still don’t know. My bank account is in the perpetual red. I haven’t had money to buy clothes or shoes in years. All those times I bitched about money when I was younger, seem stupid to me now.

Anyway, whenever I pay what bills I can…I sometimes see the rest of the obligations I have and feel like a loser for not knowing how I will ever be solvent. Sometimes I don’t even know where to begin. It can be another cause of slipping off a high flying disk.

Of course, if you listen to the Law of Attraction advice, one of the best ways to stay in a place where you don’t have money is to focus on what you don’t have. So, for now I am trying to stay really grateful for what I do have…which is a lot when you think about it.

Yet, this little mental mind jockeying combined with a little self-conscience about my hair and nerves about getting a second infusion this week made life a little blah. I tried to make it a point to do some activities for fun, but I was thrown for a big curve ball on Wednesday.

I got home Tuesday night to find that my furnace wasn’t working. I knew there was no way I could afford a repairman, and my father is not always good in these types of situations. I covered up in every blanket I could get my hands on and found a way to sleep through the night. Michigan was getting cold. I could hold out for a few nights, but it isn’t like I could go through the whole winter without heat.

When I got up the next day, I had an appointment for a free massage. As I drove out, tears just streamed down my face. What was I going to do? I had to try and see if my father was interested in helping, but I hated the idea of asking him for money again.

I used my massage to calm me down. I was so sure that he would shoot me down that I knew that I had to reframe my thinking or I would get exactly what I feared. My energy and vibration lifted. I drove back home to find two packages and two cards in the mail. I had signed up with a group of Chemo Angels. Each cancer patient is assigned two angels who would send cards and letters to lift their spirits while going through treatment. It was an unexpected surprise from strangers. I opened them up and let the awe of knowing that these people really cared about me wash over me. I believe the massage earlier helped me to receive these gifts.

After I felt a little cheered up, I called my father. He asked me how I was doing and I said I wasn’t great. I told him about the furnance and he went into a mini tirade about bills and him being broke. I found myself begin to sob…I couldn’t even ask him for help. I felt so bad for needing help. I think he was thrown for a loop and kicked in saying that he would take care of things. It felt like he finally understood that I needed him to act like a Dad who knew his daughter needed help.

I love my father. I took care of him when he was diagnosed with cancer. I became his sudo wife when my mom died. I hung out with him a lot. Sometime after my sister decided to move back from Virginia, I began to distance myself from him. I spent so much time with him that I felt like I couldn’t have a life. I had taken a loan out for school before he got sick and used it to live on when I took a leave of absence to take care of him. When I became unemployed, I couldn’t pay the loan. This kind of became a sore spot. The funny thing is, he had just paid for my sister’s wedding and it was the same amount.

Now that I have faced the fact that I am a lesbian, I have trouble feeling like I am nothing but a big disappointment to him. In some ways, I am sure he already knows. Still, the dream that I was following for most of my life was one that I knew would be acceptable to him. Have a great job, a guy, maybe some kids. Be an upstanding citizen. Go to church. It was the path I am sure everyone feels like they are suppose to follow. The problem was, it was never my path. It is what I thought I needed to do, not what I wanted to do.

Still, I feel like staying true to myself is like becoming an embarrassment to him. Would he still be proud of me? Would he think less of me? The pain in having these questions answered is what keeps me away along with the fact that the reason I don’t drive out to his house is because I don’t have enough money to pay for the gas.

The boys are well aware of this dilemma I have with him. Max was getting pissed off because I didn’t want to ask my father for help in the first place. He was rather short with me during that day and than invited me over. Max apologized for getting frustrated with me, but he said that he saw me slipping into old patterns and it was pissing him off. Part of the reason why my father would get pissed when I called him in an emergency is because I never tell him what is really going on in my life. I have shut him out and it put Alex and Max in a strange position. It puts them in a place where my father would feel animosity toward them where it wasn’t necessary. My desire to protect my father from any obligation toward me is what makes him feel bad. The point is he wants and deserves to know me more and I am the one who is hiding, avoiding any display of the true me.

In order for me to continue to grow on this path, I need to be authentic and vulnerable in all areas of my life, not just with the people and places I feel most comfortable being it. Of course, the thought of being that way with my family was excruciating. So, the boys told me that they wanted to see my father at my infusion appointment. Immediately, I thought no way. First, how would you like to be tethered next to someone you have been hiding from for 6 hours with no way out? They said, maybe he needs to see his daughter hooked up to IVs and bald to understand that I am human and vulnerable. Maybe he needs to feel like he is contributing to my emotional needs and not always the financial ones. Maybe he still needs to know that I need my Daddy.

As the Universe usually knows how to manifest these things, my sister decided to spend the night in my cold house. Maybe to get away from her husband, maybe to feel like she was giving me some support. She took me to my appointment and drove back to my house to meet the furnance guy. She had already scheduled my father to come a little latter, but the furnance guy was done and gone before the original appointment was scheduled to even start.

I did my labs and met with my doctor per usual, without my posse with me. I knew that someone would join me at the infusion room, so I wasn’t too worried. They started with the pre drugs and I got a little sleepy. When I woke up, my father was there. There is a one person maximum guest policy in the room. He had brought me some lunch. It was nice to see him there. The thing is that I do enjoy my father’s company. We are buddies. I don’t have to say all the shit that is on my mind. What he needs to know is that I still enjoy his company and I still care about what is going on with him and his life, just like he wants to be a bigger part of my life.

We hung out for three hours, and my brother showed up from out of town. It was a pleasant surprise. They swapped out and had a great time. It was one of his last vacation days and even though he was having car problems, he still made it over. I got a beautiful picture from my nephew, and my brother made me into a zombie with a Walking Dead app on his ipod.

My brother suffers from the same painful lack of vulnerability that I have. We totally got it from our parents. We are so busy trying to keep up appearances that we kill ourselves a little bit. I have had a Renassance, and I feel like he may be on the verge of one soon as well. I believe that part of the mix needs to be us sharing what we have been feeling and doing with one another. The thing about sibblings is that we are genetically connected and we carry the same family drama and tropes from childhood. We can use each other to heal from those wounds so we can live more fulfilling lives.

When the infusion was through, I had my brother drop me off at Alex and Max’s. That way, I had someone to watch me until I feel a little more comfortable being alone. While my brother was there, I could feel him completely open up. We shared our drag videos with him, my recent art work, talked about all kinds of things and just saw him relax and unwind. He didn’t feel like he had to be anywhere or answer to anyone for a while. The release of responsibility is sometimes a bigger vacation than a trip around the world.

When it was time for him to leave, I basked in the day that I had. Just 24 hours earlier, I had dreaded the idea of what would happened…but now I realized it was exactly what needed to happen. In order to really heal, I need to be me. I need to have my family in my life.

The boys and I had some great conversations. We are a unit, maybe a dysfunctional one. I don’t have to worry about losing Alex and Max, but we do need to open ourselves up to more people and more experiences in our lives. We had been doing it, but when I slipped up…they got tripped up too. One of the favorite places for me to be is in their presence, but they made a good point as to say that I need to feel like I can achieve the same amount of happy with them as without them. My enjoying my house, my family, new friends, and/or new experiences should not suffer because I am afraid of not having it with them. In reality, having a great time without them is giving them a gift. The same goes for the two of them. They should be open to having experiences by themselves individually, or even together with out me. It is what fuels us and makes us enjoy each other even more when we are together.

It is not as if I didn’t know this, but I had always assumed that they placed it on my head like I was the desperate one. In reality, they told me that it is as hard for them to do things without me as it is for me to do them without them. One of the biggest ways I could help out is to be more assertive. I need to not be always available to them. I should voice my opinions more and take my leave when I know that I am drained as opposed to when I think they want me gone. They had become as dependent on me as I was on them. This had served us well recently, but now we want bigger returns on our growth journey and this is the next step.

It is not meant to be sad, it is meant to be expansive. This is what can get us to our next level of success and enlightenment. We have filled out trivial pursuit pie hearts with our pieces to an overflow capacity. Yet, there are still empty spots waiting to be filled with the contributions of others. We can’t do that for one another.

Because of the love I was feeling from everyone, and the increasing amount of a-ha moments, I have to tell you that I felt very little pain from my infusion. Even yesterday I felt great. And, as a big surprise, I got another visit from my whole family. Unannounced, they showed up to check on me and we even went out for dinner. I can’t tell you the last time that happened. Instead of feeling put out, I really enjoyed it. I even let my father drive my car for the first time. Not because I wouldn’t let him drive it, but because in a round about way he asked to.

It gives me hope that new beginnings are starting. The hierarchy and false pretenses of the past may be finally falling away. Maybe this whole cancer journey was just a catalyst to make these important life changes, a huge moment to stop the crazy spinning of what we perceive life is (work, work, and little play) and focus on our truth, our love, and our path.

My First Infusion

So, Thursday finally came. I was scheduled to be at the cancer center at 7:45am. I hung out at Alex and Max’s house the night before. We had fun and did everything we could to keep my mind off things. When I left, I felt the momentum of the world pushing me to this appointment and just stopped resisting it.

Alex drove me to the cancer center. I had two bags, one with all my doctor paperwork and one with items to keep me busy. I signed up for some resources from the LIVESTRONG foundation, and one of their guidebooks gave suggestions on what to bring.

  • Sweater
  • Music player and headphones
  • Reading materials
  • Crossword puzzle or other activities
  • Lip balm
  • Water bottle
  • Body lotion
  • Peppermints
  • Calming teas
  • Notepad, journal, and pen
  • Bootie socks or slippers
  • Cookies, crackers, or other snacks
  • Stress ball
  • Something to cover the head

I got most of my supplies at the dollar store.

Upon entry, I had to get my blood drawn. I checked in with the receptionist. She said to me, “Good morning, Joann.” I was taken aback. That was my mother’s name. She has been dead for 12 years. She was probably last there 13 years ago. I corrected her and sat down. Alex pointed out that Rosanne was on the TV. It was an episode where Darlene was in the hospital after an appendix burst. Rosanne was all kinds of crazy, but you knew she was concerned and loving to her daughter. Alex was like, “I think we are in the twilight zone.”

When my mom was scheduled for her first chemo infusion, I actually went with her. I remember them hooking her up. She was so scared. I made her come with a stuffed animal. It was the last thing I did before returning to Chicago to end my FMLA leave. Maybe she was just letting me know that she was there for me too.

After the quick and painless blood draw, we saw my doctor. She is a wonderful woman. She made sure I didn’t have any questions, checked my incisions, and went over my CT scan results – which were good.

The last stop was the infusion room. Usually the cancer center is bustling with activity, but we seemed to be the first one in. We had our choice of where we wanted to sit. The patient got a nice recliner and the poor guest had to sit in a hard chair. My infusion was scheduled to last for 6 hours.

The care that these people put into your experience is exceptional. They put my arm on a pillow and warmed it up with a heating pad to get the blood vessels ready. A big IV stand hovered next to me. The nurse got me in one poke. The first medicines were anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, anti-histamine, and steroids to help prevent allergic reactions.

I sat as restfully as I could. I had swapped my shoes for comfy slippers. Alex was having some difficulty in the hard chair. He had some intestinal distress for the last few days, and he was feeling it again today. He had brought knitting needles to re-teach me how to knit, but the IV placement limited my hand moments. He went to the bathroom and spilled stuff on himself. You could tell he was getting uncomfortable and bored. Still, his spirit put me in a great mood.

Too often, these cancer centers feel like funeral homes. People aren’t really happy. They have cancer. I have walked in the building alone and have felt the weight of this dark energy before. It isolates, it terrorizes, and it can make uncomfortable situations feel worse than they need to be.

Walking in with one of my friends is the best way to counteract this. Alex and Max are always my first go to. They are my best friends, soul sisters. They know where I am at and what will trigger me into another thought pattern. I have noticed that our humor always puts the doctors and nurses in great moods as well. This can be a huge benefit.

My first chemo drug was Taxol. The whole infusion for that drug was 3 hours, but they were going to test it with 2 fifteen-minute batches. I was doing well with the first batch. I even got up and went to the bathroom. When I returned, I started to find it harder to breath. It felt like someone was starting to sit on my chest. I than began to feel pain in my hipbones. Not sharp, but achy. It made me want to get out of my chair to get pressure off of them.

I hit the nurse call button, and soon I had two next to me. They stopped the infusion, which immediately ended my symptoms. I had a reaction, but it was at the end of 15 minutes. They gave me more Benadryl and steroids, let me rest a half hour, and tried again.

I was pretty good. Alex traded out with my sister who brought me lunch.  This is a great plan. Having a back up switched things up and made my helpers feel less pent up. I tried to get a little sleep. The liquid Benadryl gave me restless legs. Apparently, I almost kicked my sister a few times. My legs didn’t hurt; I just could keep them still.

I completed the Taxol and finished off with 30 minutes of Carboplatin. This was the drug that was going to take my hair in 15 days. At some point, I saw my sister and asked her if she was cold. She had a sweatshirt on, and I was feeling warm. A nurse overheard and poked her head in. ”Which one of you are hot?” I said I was and I had two nurses around me again.

I got my blood pressure taken, pulse oxygen, temperature, and glucose measured. One nurse brought me cold wash clothes for my forehead and neck. Apparently, my blood sugar was high. They supposed that it was from the steroids. One of the side effects is overheating. They chose not to give me insulin because it wasn’t super high, but they kept watching me. No more cookies from the volunteer cart. J

At the end of the infusion, I got a little gift (a plastic cup) and the nurses joked around with me. They pulled out my IV and my sister and I took off. I was tired, but feeling halfway decent. She dropped me off at the boys’ house so someone could watch me.

I felt a little bit like a space cadet. I wasn’t super tired. I wasn’t nauseous. I didn’t taste anything metallic. Being tired has been the biggest thing, and even that hasn’t been too bad. I have to saw, I am surprised. I really thought it would be a lot worse. Of course, side effects can be accumulative. I am going to be hopeful and try to wrap my brain around it staying this easy for now. Worrying just wastes good time for nothing.

So, one out of 3 infusions are done for this session of chemo. I can do this!