HOW TO LIVE IN IT

(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

Category: Relationships

Invasive Is A Spectrum

Last week, my mother had her final weekly chemotherapy treatment. She was diagnosed with DCIS — a “stage-zero,” non-invasive breast cancer — last winter. In typical cancer fashion, things got gut-sinkingly complicated.

I remember in November she first told me about the DCIS, and I barely held back tears, and she reassured me she was going to be okay, that even the doctor called it “the thing to have, if you have to have something.” Then I painted her toenails with this new bubblegum pink nail polish she’d bought.

I remember when I found out that her first surgery, the lumpectomy, didn’t go exactly as planned. I was at the grocery store, looking at fresh pineapple chunks, wondering whether they were really worth $5. My phone vibrated. My head felt swollen and heavy. I started this weird nervous habit where I clench and unclench my fists over and over. I developed psychosomatic chest pains, and went to student health over and over and over to make sure I wasn’t dying.

I remember in March, Ryan and I visited her in the hospital after her double mastectomy. She was drowsy, she ate pot roast and chocolate cake, and she had these noisy pneumatic boots that made sure her blood was still circulating in and out of her feet. The plastic surgeon in charge of her reconstruction came by, chillingly handsome and in full Army gear. He was happy with the surgery, and so was she.

I graduated in April. My mother wasn’t recovered enough to fly, so we planned to delay her visit by a few weeks. Then she told me that the doctors had found cancerous cells in her lymph node, that she would start chemotherapy almost immediately, and our plan, among many others, fell to the wayside. I masochistically read blog post after blog post, all devoid of scientific evidence but ripe with emotional rhetoric, about how chemotherapy is a conspiracy and how it destroys our bodies instead of healing them. I walked around constantly scared to eat or use hygiene products, because if I absorbed the wrong stuff I was convinced my body would break down.

I finally saw my mom again in June, when I went home for my brother’s high school graduation. She picked me up at the airport. She’d shaved her head, but her wig looked almost exactly the same as her old hair. I could barely tell the difference, even after a lifetime of watching her color, cut, and style her hair. When we got back to the car, she took off her wig and let me touch what she called her “hedgehog ‘do.” She said she took a fraction of the time to get ready now that she didn’t have to style her hair anymore.

This whole time, I kept expecting my relationship with my mom to change. I never knew what to say, because I didn’t want to burden her with stuff objectively less important than her fight. I kept expecting her to get hopeless or angry or resentful. She has done none of these things. She has remained staunchly positive, still recommending me books, still listening to my rants about my friend-squabbles, my frantic job search, my worries about my relationships.

When my mom drove me to the airport after my brother’s graduation, we stopped at Target first. She bought me a pair of shoes for job interviews. On our way out, I grabbed coffee and she grabbed some Pizza Hut breadsticks. In the car we talked about our relationships, our lives, and our futures. We ate Bit O’ Honeys and waxed poetic about how awesome and fresh they were.

Cancer rips lives apart, changes people from the inside out, oozes out saccharine sentiment or soporific bleakness. But soon my mom’s hair will start to grow back. She will start in with a weaker chemotherapy, one that she will get every three weeks. For all the things that have changed, and all the things that could have destroyed us, I remain most grateful for our growing sameness.

 

 

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See You Tomorrow

“I’ll write a blog post every week for a whole year,” she says! “It will be great for me and I’ll never miss a week,” she says! Oops. Hi guys. I’ve apologized a few times so far for my absence, but about a week ago my schedule opened up considerably. So here’s the real update, for real, really this time, I really mean it.

I graduated from Pitt a week and a half ago, and it’s been a real struggle. I imagine I’m supposed to be proud of myself for graduating. I imagine I’m supposed to be excited to start this next, big part of my life. I imagine I wasn’t supposed to break down and get into fights with Ryan every thirty seconds on my graduation day. I imagine I’m not supposed to stop eating for days at a time because I’m scared of my body breaking down if I eat the wrong chemicals.

I had to stop seeing my therapist of a year because I graduated. I was already taking advantage of the counseling center a little, as they’re meant to see you for a maximum of 6 appointments and then refer you to outside help as necessary. Because Jack knew I didn’t have money, I think he kept seeing me a bit longer than he was supposed to, and I completely shouldn’t be blindsided that I had to stop going sometime. And I’m not. But it still sucks to lose that one person who was supposed to be unambiguously on my team. It’s not like graduation is a notoriously difficult, confusing time for liberal arts graduates, it’s not like I need more help now than ever before. There are some other personal things I don’t feel comfortable talking about here, partly because they’re not exactly mine to talk about, that are weighing me down.

It just sucks. And I’m doing what I can, I’m applying for jobs and I’m looking at volunteer experiences and I’m continuing to work at Giant Eagle. I’m parceling out my poems for submission and I’m even thinking about submitting my 48-page manuscript to some contests. I’m trying to eat better, to exercise a couple times a week. I’m seeing Ryan this weekend, and as of this moment I have no plans to fight with him. I’m also going to try to write here more regularly and more honestly.

In my last appointment with Jack, I didn’t say any of the right things. He said we’d made a good team, and he was proud of the work we’d done. But I barely talked. I kept thinking about all the stuff I couldn’t even bring up because I can’t keep working with him anymore. And most of all I kept picturing the episode of The Office when Jim and Michael finally say goodbye to each other, and instead of actually saying goodbye, they say “see you at lunch tomorrow,” because that hurts less.

 

On Dating a Comedian

It’s time for something I’ve been trying to write for a bunch of months now.

At some point before Ryan and I were together, I googled “Dating a comedian.” I guess I just wondered what the internet had to say on that matter, or something? Shhhh, don’t worry about it.

Turns out, (almost) nothing nice.

First, let’s be real, it’s not just women that date comedians. Sarah Silverman, for example, has definitely had boyfriends. Also there are gay male comics. Also a whole brilliant spectrum of queerness!

Second, I have so much to say on this that you can consider this post a “Part 1,” to be continued.

Look, here’s what I know about Dating a Comedian, or at least, the one I’m dating. He’s as good as I am, if not better, at gauging how I’m feeling. He gets so, so excited when he can make me laugh. At shows, I get to see his jokes land well and watch him at his most proud. He makes me laugh after I come down from a sobbing fit. I get to help him think about his jokes and his path in comedy. I get to pretend I’m his Jeannie Gaffigan, his Jessica Seinfeld. He knows when a joke “works” or doesn’t, so he is capable of adjusting with feedback from me about my comfort zones and needs. He’s incredibly communicative. We have the same taste in comedy (most of the time, sorry Weird Al.) So far I’m only in one joke of his, and certainly not an integral part (It’s an autocorrect joke, I’m the one he was texting.) I’m so fucking proud of him as a comedian and as a person.

I don’t get why someone would write off all comedians as potential partners.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m some relationship guru. I’m not saying my relationship is perfect for anyone, maybe not even me. I am saying, though, that I think I know how to effectively communicate and how to maintain expectations in my relationship. If Ryan and I don’t work out, I’m not going to write some scathing personal essay about how comedians are terrible people and I’m not going to go back and communicate the things I wasn’t happy with in the past in some new, connected light based on a fundamental aspect of my partner’s personal identity.

There are people who act douchey. There are comedian douchebags, there are writer douchebags, there are unemployed douchebags, there are corporate lawyer douchebags. I’m sorry if you dated someone who treated you douchily. I know that sucks, I truly do. It makes you act like a different person, it makes you scared, and it sometimes worms its way into your brain pretty permanently. I have all the sympathy in the world for people who have been used in mean-spirited jokes against their will.

If you don’t like comedy, or if you know there are topics you’re iffy on (we all have them, whether they’re political issues or personal experiences you’re triggered by), or if you don’t want to be around comedy all the time – don’t date a comedian. But don’t forget that it’s nobody’s fault you’re not compatible with a person.

But here’s the thing – I love comedy. I hear about pretty much every comedy related news story, I go to so many open mics I can confidently tell you 75% of some of my friends’ material. I could certainly tell you 99% of Ryan’s. (Tell you, not perform. Haven’t got that performing thing down yet.) I think my boyfriend is hilarious.

If you like comedy, but someone has made a cruel or mean-spirited joke about you onstage – tell them that was shitty. Explain to them precisely why it was shitty. Tell them that supporting their comedy is important to you (unless that’s a lie, then see that other “if you don’t like comedy” paragraph) but not more important than your relationship. Talk about what the joke meant to your partner, whether they truly feel what they’re saying, what the joke means to you, and whether it matters to you if the joke is “true” if they’re still going to tell it. Talk talk talk, figure things out, and if their responses are sub-par, you’re not compatible with them.

If they knowingly hurt you again, then the relationship was bad. Comedy’s not at fault for an inconsiderate person.

Ryan made a joke that hurt me yesterday morning. It wasn’t in front of anyone, it was just between the two of us. He was trying to scare me, and after saying “boo” to no avail, he said “the fuuuuuuture.” It should be noted that I now actually think this is very funny, but in the moment I was in a li’l baby rotten mood, I hadn’t had coffee yet, and it hurt. I semi-calmly explained that I didn’t find that joke funny. Ryan felt bad. I felt bad for coming across as humorless, like I take myself too seriously to be with a comedian. (It was “just a joke,” after all.) We both felt bad and we both explained why. When I later talked to my therapist about the whole thing, he pointed out that it’s okay for there to be a moment when a joke that would “normally” be kosher doesn’t pass.

It’s okay feel shitty about something your partner did or said, and it’s okay to ditch someone for disrespecting your boundaries. It’s not okay, though, to stay silent and resent who they are as a person because they don’t change their behavior.

And hey, look at that, I used my partner in an essay. Never date a writer.