Born in Houston, Texas May 12, 1972. Grew up mostly in northeast (Connecticut) went to Choate Rosemary Hall (1990), Georgetown University (BSL 1994) where I majored in French Literature and Harvard Law School (JD 1999). Law clerk 1999-2000 for federal judge in New Orleans. Worked as a corporate associate at a large NYC firm from 2000 to 2004 at which time moved to Boston area. Began design studies at the BAC in Boston in 2009. Currently living in London with husband, Bill (fellow HLS class of 1999) and two fabulous daughters, Isabel (7) and Charlotte (5).
Every year as the holiday season thrusts itself upon us I drive to my annual cancer check-up at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston. Although last Wednesday marks the eighth time I have participated in this ritual since moving back from London in 2015, I nonetheless marvel at the DFCI building looming in the distance. I approach this behemoth as a patient. And that continues to seem weird.
It is more or less the same deal every time. I park, which takes longer than expected, because they have every imaginable cancer specialty so lots of people with cancer equals lots of cars in the parking lot. I check in, go up to the breast unit on the ninth floor, get a tracker and a bracelet and have my parking validated. I take a seat in the waiting area and glance around the room. I spot a wig or really short haircuts indicative of recent or ongoing treatment. But I am just here to tick the box until next year. So mostly I don’t look around too hard and keep to myself.
The tech calls me in for weight, blood pressure, temperature and to ask whether I have any pain. No, I say. Then I go back out and wait to be called in to see the nurse practitioner for the physical exam. Once in the room I strip from the waist up and put on a gown and then she comes in, asks some questions and does a very brief exam to check lymph nodes and the implants.
And that’s it. I think this year we spent almost as much time talking about my outfit and in particular how cute my new boots are.
No blood work, no scan, just that and then I am done until next December.
But this year was a little different. In July I stopped taking a medication called Tamoxifen which is given to premenopausal women for ten years following some hormone receptor positive breast cancers. My ten years were up and so I went off it and I am now at long last, legitimately, a graduate of breast cancer treatment that involves putting any chemicals, medications or radiation into my body.
You may congratulate me on the ten year mark but guess what? It is a sham because the risk of cancer does not actually decrease until fifteen years out. So the ten year mark is kind of bullshit. I ask the NP about this and she confirms. And then throws a curve ball. She tells me that after ten years I don’t have to come back for check-ups anymore. “I am not pushing you out,” she assures, “but you should think about it.” I ask whether that is a little odd considering the actual risk shift and the answer is just that this is the policy of the DFCI. By the way, even after fifteen years the risk doesn’t go away completely, which is sort of obvious but, you know…
Huh, I think. Do I want to graduate now? Or do I want to come again in a year, or for the next four years, or forever? I put it to her. So what exactly do you other than ask some questions, feel me up and check lymph nodes? Nada. I think about it. I tell her I am not sure whether I want to come again or not. So I check out, return my tracker, and make the appointment for December 2023. I will, in fact, think about it. Whether I am ready to graduate. For now I won’t decide one way or the other.
Still I consider the reasons for returning. What if there is something I might miss that she would pick up on a routine check-up, I wonder. And then on the other hand would continuing to come be silly, like being a professional student because you can’t decide what to do with yourself.
The answer is that I don’t fucking know. The deeper answer is that no one fucking knows. At this point I reckon I am leaning toward not going. Maybe just so I can add that credential to my current list of graduations. High school, check. College, check. Law school, check. Interior design certificate program, check.
Here we are at the beginning of another year. A year already marred by which Greek letter of the alphabet is coming to wreak havoc on us next. Conversations at home and with friends (and with strangers) focus around words like peak, surge, test, mask, variant and my personal favorite: “close contact.” My perpetual optimism and good nature have given way to patience and resignation. I feel like the world has hit pause and I am waiting with my finger poised on the play button, fingers on my left hand tapping, tapping, tapping, wearing a veritable hole on my desk.
Two years ago I had this notion that it would be excellent to throw a really big fiftieth birthday bash (for myself) in the back yard, complete with tent, dance floor and live band–or at least a really good DJ. When COVID hit I figured things might be okay(ish) by May 2022 but also being a realist, I wasn’t sure. So I didn’t plan anything. Now in the run up to this milestone of birthdays, I am still not sure. So I still haven’t planned anything. I am waiting. Waiting and seeing with my finger on the button. But it occurs to me that this may be a mistake.
For the second time in my life I feel–acutely–that my greatest adversary is what I would call “The Time Thief.” Oddly, the first time I stared with hatred into the eyes of this villain was exactly ten years ago, in the run up to my fortieth birthday. Our young family had recently relocated to London and begun an adventure that I had always dreamed of: life in Europe. Not a vacation, not a long sojourn, but a real, honest-to-goodness life for an indefinite period of time. The Time Thief had some additional plans for me, it turned out. We did get our life in Europe for four years but it was altered by a cancer diagnosis and treatment that spanned the better part of a year and temporarily limited our ability to go full throttle.
Let me take you back in time to understand how I experienced this first pause.
It is one day after my diagnosis and the first time I have been alone since we got the news, I am riding the Tube, having left Bill in Hampstead, the girls safely occupied at school. Seated facing the doors, I am staring straight ahead. In my mind is a swirling mixture of fear, anxiety and sense of urgency to research a plan and set the plan in motion. I feel overwhelmed. That’s when I realize that I am still sitting there, on the upholstered seat, watching the doors close at my stop. Like the man in the Beatles song, A Day in the Life, I “didn’t notice that the lights had changed.” So I just sat there as my stop came and went. Mind blown out.
Then of course, I came to my senses, leapt up, alighted at the next stop and doubled back. But this is when the idea first hit me. This is unbearable, I thought. The train is moving and the people are all getting on and off at their stops and life, life is moving ahead as it always does, Without me. I am not part of this. I am sitting here, observing people living their lives. And I am stuck dealing with this bullshit cancer diagnosis. I am being left behind, I thought. Yet again I am the child hovering at the edge of play while the other children all run and leap and scream on the playground, making weekend plans and having fun. I am the loser, the one missing out.
Of course I did not always feel that way. When I did experience the feeling it was in glimpses, and then I would push it away as useless and self-indulgent. This is a ridiculous way to view things, because the reality is that the person on the train next to you could be suffering from a much graver fate. Everyone has their problems. In the end it is all about perception. I figure it is pretty normal to have these invasive thoughts when dealing with an illness or other horrid life event. Thoughts such as “why is this happening to me?” And “this is not fair,” are understandable. But I wager that the former is the wrong question, and the latter though it may be true is irrelevant. Both, then, only perpetuate suffering, which doesn’t do anybody any good.
Lately I have have been thinking about how the pause I experienced after my cancer diagnosis differs from the one I am experiencing today, during the pandemic. I have wondered which was worse, if you can hang a value on such a thing. The greatest difference I perceive between these pauses is that in the first one, I felt the Time Thief had interrupted my life while the rest of the world continued to move around me. Now, in the pandemic, we all seem to be incarcerated by the Time Thief. The entire world is–to some extent–in the same boat.
So which is worse? You might think that the answer is obvious. Misery loves company, after all. But that is not the answer I arrived at. For me, this second pause is much much worse. The collective angst of an uncertain future as real time continues to tick along is almost unendurable. People are confused, angry, depressed and exasperated. They have in many cases forgotten how to interact, courtesy and curiosity replaced by rage and impatience.
So what is the solution? I think we have to keep hoping. Keep the finger hovering over the play button. Make the plans even if we have to cancel or reschedule them. In the end that’s what we ended up doing when I experienced my first pause. It’s got to be “okay so we might not be able to go to Paris tomorrow, but we probably can in two months…” And so forth. So does this mean the party is happening? Honestly I don’t know. It isn’t that I am afraid to take my own advice. It’s just that there are so many ways to celebrate a birthday. And having spent so much time staring at my own back yard, maybe it is time for another adventure. Either way, the Time Thief can kiss my ass. Because the reality is that until someone invents time travel, there is no pause button. There is only play. Onward.
Too many times over the years have I stared at my screen, fingers hovering over keys, threatening to dust off my blog and post something new. I have begun to compose in my mind, never to set my thoughts down “in ink.” Stirring moments that before felt so urgent and sticky have lost their texture and slipped away.
It only took a pandemic and the death of my father to get me writing again. I would like to share with you the story of his passing during this bizarre time and what it has taught me about love.
My father celebrated his ninety-first birthday on March 7, which turned out to be the last time I would see him in person. Novel coronavirus was rapidly hitting the fan in the Boston area and I decided that I would visit Dad in his long-term care facility by myself. Why risk bringing the kids or other family members in case, God forbid, we tracked something in there or picked up something that was already circulating within? So I brought our new dog, Pickles the Norwich Terrier. Dad had always loved dogs and I hoped that my gentle, four-legged companion would distract from the absence of other family members.
I had brought Dad corned beef on marbled rye, reminiscent of the sandwiches we used to get at Alfred’s Delicatessen in Houston when I was little. He devoured half of it before losing steam, juices dripping down his fingers, which necessitated my wiping his hands down multiple times with wet paper towels. I also brought a large chocolate cake with coconut frosting. There was enough to feed the whole unit, so after our lunch I handed it to the kitchen manager who carved it up for everyone. We sat around while residents enjoyed cake and clamored for a stint with Pickles. One lady whom I had never once heard speak (nor seen smile) called me over and asked to pet the dog. He was such a hit that I promised I would return with him soon. Alas, within days of my visit, memos landed in my inbox limiting visitation to primary caregivers, then to circumstances when residents were seriously ill or dying, then to none at all.
Dad was suffering from multiple health issues, including Parkinson’s, and had been declining for several years, but more significantly in the last months. I had noticed his increasing inability to express himself, sort of like the words forming in his brain could not quite make it to his lips. He began a lot of thoughts only to repeat the beginning again and again, never reaching the punchline. “You wouldn’t believe…” he would start in his Texan accent. Or, “I have to tell you something very important…” Or simply “Oh God.” I know it was excruciating for him not being able to tell me things, but I became used to it and we would just sit and eat lunch or I would tell him stories about what the kids and dog were up to.
He needed a lot of help, including dressing and bathing and was often incontinent. However, he was still mobile thanks to his special Parkinson’s walker. And being a clotheshorse he was always dressed to the nines with button-down collared shirts, creased corduroys, matching belts and wool knee socks, all of which were completely impractical to put on and take off. The only sartorial outliers: his dull, black, orthopedic shoes with velcro straps, which I am certain he hated, yet accepted, knowing that his regular shoes presented too much of a fall risk. Each morning he would shuffle to the dining room to have breakfast, his favorite meal of the day. The staff joked that he was always the first to arrive. If he was lucky his buddy was manning the counter and would give him two–not one–sliced bananas on his oatmeal. Breakfast was followed by watching the news with the other “inmates” (Dad’s joke) in the so-called “cove,” a pleasant seating area with a decorative electric fire and large flat screen TV, and waiting for the next meal, or maybe for a concert, a visit or other activity planned by the life enhancement coordinator. And so on. Until bedtime.
I know that his life had become tedious and mundane, and that he was never particularly physically comfortable anymore. “How are you?” I would inquire. “Don’t ask,” was his typical response, though he occasionally sprinkled in an “okay.” Nevertheless, he relished my weekly visits and loved hearing about the girls, and during his time at the facility he got to know the staff and the other residents, and they him. They developed a bond. And he seemed more or less content with his routine.
When visitation was no longer permitted I continued to call him on the phone in his room, checking in to see–as best I could–how he was faring. He managed only snippets of information, but at least seemed to understand what was going on and why I could not visit. Then one day I got the call.
The facility had finally secured enough kits to test the entire unit and Dad along with three others had tested positive for coronavirus. He was, however, completely asymptomatic. I indulged myself with the notion that he had likely been only minimally exposed, and was not going to develop symptoms at all. Knowing how fragile he was I still told myself that he might well ride it out. The nurse who informed him of his diagnosis said that she had become emotional due to his reaction. He expressed surprise, understanding and then sadness as he realized he would not be allowed to leave his room and go to the dining room for breakfast.
For a few days our routine continued as “normal.” I would call and check on him and then call the floor desk to ask the nurse what was actually going on since he was uncommunicative. Eventually he simply stopped speaking. The phone would ring and he would answer it, maybe manage a hello, but not right away, and then nothing. After a couple of days of this I asked the nurse what the deal was. “He is doing okay, still sitting up and feeding himself,” etc. “but very tired. You can see it in his face. It is the virus.”
Before he tested positive I had asked his floor to arrange a FaceTime call with one of the tablets they had circulating in the unit. I was afraid that the staff would not allow a FaceTime call now that Dad was infected, but they said that we could do it provided they did all the negative residents first, leaving those with COVID-19 for the end of the day. We set a call for 4:00pm Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning the nurse called and said that he was in a terrible mood and had taken a turn for the worse. When 4:00pm rolled around and I saw him, supine and white as a sheet, my heart sank. He had developed a fever the night before and had stopped eating, drinking or taking any of his medications. He was on an oxygen drip. It was a precipitous decline. Trying not to process his appearance too much, I spoke to him and attempted to soothe him. We set up another FaceTime call for the following afternoon and I called the nurse to find out when the doctor could examine him.
On Wednesday the nurse practitioner called and at my prompting we had a very candid conversation. We had long ago put in place advance directives and there would be no subjecting Dad to hospitalization or invasive measures. When pressed, the NP said that she did not think he would recover and that he probably had only days. Still I am not sure I believed it. I asked how we could make him comfortable and she prescribed Ativan and morphine.
We had our 4:00pm call. They had elevated the head of Dad’s bed so that he was more or less facing the camera. His color seemed marginally better but this did not disguise that he was painfully thin, his mouth agape and weariness in his eyes. I detected fear and sadness. I think he knew he was dying. My husband and I told him we loved him and at one point the aide held the tablet up close to him and said “Richard, do you want to say something?” After a moment, he managed, in a weak voice, “I love you.”
For Thursday’s call I gathered everyone in the kitchen. Dad tried to smile when Bill held up the dog. We all told him that we loved him, not to be afraid, and that we knew that he loved us. It was haunting to see him like that but it still did not feel like goodbye. Our children (thirteen and fifteen) and in fact my husband had never seen anyone in this state before and yet they remained steadfast, looking into the camera with compassion.
Friday just before noon the nurse manager called and said that he was struggling and did not have long. She wanted to arrange another FaceTime right away. Again we gathered and repeated our messages of love. We told Dad not to be afraid and that we were all with him. Somehow, I really don’t know how, through tears, my thirteen-year-old managed to retrieve her guitar and play for him. After about half an hour, he began to look very tired and the aide had other calls to do, so we said goodbye. When I replay the events in my mind, it seems to me that something in his eyes had changed in that call. Maybe I just want to believe it. But I think that the fear had lifted.
Friday evening I called the nurse to check on him twice. He was hanging on, so I finally went to bed. I slept poorly. In the morning I called and things were the same. The nurse said that she would call me if anything changed so I decided to join my regular Saturday 8:30am yoga via Zoom. This way I would not be alone, since the girls were still asleep and husband was working. The nurse phoned a little before 10:00am and was choked up. She said that he was struggling with the breathing and that she was going to give him more morphine to make him comfortable and then call me from his room phone.
I left my yoga Zoom and a few minutes later the phone rang. The nurse put the phone up to Dad’s ear on his pillow and told him that it was his daughter, Emily. I could hear him breathing.
The nurse had other patients to attend to but was distraught about the prospect of leaving him alone. The call enabled me to stay with him and her to deal with her other charges. She returned every hour to give him more morphine, squeeze a little water into his mouth with a sponge, do mouth care and check on me. I had no idea how long he had so I just kept going, talking, singing and playing music for him. And crying. I sang the Beatles, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I made it up as I went along, and when I couldn’t remember lyrics I looked them up on my phone or just hummed the tune. A number of times I did not hear him breathing and thought he had drifted away. “Dad, are you there?” I asked. Then in response the breathing would get louder.
We were on the phone that way for four hours.
I told him that he should let himself float and that I was with him in his mind and in his heart. I told him not to be afraid and that I loved him and knew he loved me. I took him outside because it was a beautiful sunny day and I wanted to feel the warmth on my body and hear the sounds of nature and the neighborhood. Next door our neighbor was working in his garden and another neighbor’s children were bouncing on a trampoline and playing with their dog. As I described these sounds and sensations to Dad, I wondered at how odd it was that I was sitting outdoors among these ordinary happenings, on the phone with my father while he was dying. Listening to the birds chirp. Listening to the kids laughing. Listening to him breathe.
I had just played Debussy’s Claire de Lune into the phone when the nurse came in and said that Dad was starting to look very sleepy. I was afraid that he was hanging on for me. Also, I needed a break. We agreed that we would hang up for now and I would check in later. I asked the nurse if she thought he knew I was there. She said that she was certain he did because when she came to put the phone on his pillow and he heard my voice his eyes welled up. And I feel sure that he knew, from the breathing. There was just something — somehow we were communicating and we were there together.
I said goodbye and that he should drift off to sleep and I would check on him later. It was getting close to 2:00pm. For a couple of hours I distracted myself with the family, playing in the yard, but at about 4:30pm I couldn’t stand it any longer and called to check in. The nurse answered. She had just come from his room. She had clipped his nails, bathed and turned him, and given him a clean shave. The tenderness with which she described all of this care was beyond anything I could imagine. She knew how much he had always prized his physical appearance and in doing these things she was respecting him and allowing him to leave the earth in a dignified manner. She had given him Ativan and said that he was very sleepy, which was a relief.
At a little after 6:00pm I went to draw a bath. As soon as I turned the water on the phone rang and it was the nurse. “Emily?” She said. “Yes?” “He’s gone.” “Thank God,” I replied. But the overwhelming feeling I had was not the relief I had anticipated. It was sadness. We cried together on the phone. Then I sat on the edge of the tub and let it really hit me, and went to find my family. I was greeted by my older daughter who enveloped me in her arms and kissed my forehead.
So many have expressed sorrow regarding the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding my father’s death. And I have asked myself: Will I forever be haunted by my inability to be physically present with him? Will I replay my memory of the fear and sadness in his eyes, expressing perhaps his regret that important words were left unsaid?
But then I tell myself that we were among the lucky ones. Dad was not alone when he died. He was attended by familiar caregivers whose first thought was to make him comfortable. These compassionate professionals who knew and cared for him heroically took up the extra emotional burden in the absence of family members. And though I may not have been sitting by his side, I was very much with him in the days prior to his death and on that day itself. I have thought about those moments and in particular about our last call and how it would have been different had the world not been turned on its head and instead I had been there holding his hand. I imagine I would have sat in silence for much of the time. On the phone, however, my voice was a constant presence for him. I like to think that he closed his eyes and felt that I was in fact there, holding him.
And what of regrets over words left unsaid? An old friend of mine who lost his father years ago called me on Sunday. He offered that all that really matters is that you have told someone that you love them and that you know that they love you. It is true, isn’t it? Those words contain everything. Forgiveness, compassion, sadness, hope, acceptance… That is all that matters in the end. How fortunate we were to have exchanged that sentiment over and over in Dad’s last days. My hope is that he released any final regrets he had as we walked along together on his final journey, as he drifted off into the universe.
Today after spin class I lay on the gym floor and rolled out my IT band for what seemed like an eternity. As I tried (and failed) not to groan and pull faces, I imagined a creator deciding to put together a person resembling a human being but so tightly constructed as to defy human form, just for shits and giggles. That would be me. Bad grammar intentional.
This made me think about the limitations with which we live. The obstacles we face and how we face them. And for some inexplicable reason it reminded me of when I used to take horseback riding lessons in Connecticut during my middle school years.
The facility — I forget what town it was in — was pretty expansive with both a large indoor ring and outdoor spaces for dressage and hunter jumper courses. One day we were shown a competition course that involved riding through the woods alone for a decent stretch. It also required memorizing directions and turning the correct way at a fork in the woods to stay on path. And finally, emerging from the wooded trail and jumping some fences. There may have been some other shit in there but I don’t recall.
The day of the competition was upon us. I was assigned a horse named Petey, a Dapple Grey, slightly long in the tooth. He was not very tall, had a sweet temperament and was generally a pleasant horse to ride. At least in my experience.
He was also completely blind in one eye.
And now for a little side note.
Despite my passion for riding and horses — a love affair that lasted for many years — I nevertheless experienced anxiety before every lesson. Sometimes I felt flutters in my stomach and a rather unpleasant creeping feeling. I shared this with no one.
Furthermore, I was a directional moron and not very good at learning the way or knowing which way to turn when faced with options. Some might argue that I still am and that I am able to function at a somewhat acceptable level only due to GPS and smart phones. But I actually think I have improved. Anyhow, I digress…
The day of the competition arrived. Off we went, Petey and I. We cantered into the woods. Petey, with his impaired vision, stumbled over a tree root, which caused me to lose one of my stirrups. Somehow I managed to get my foot back into the stirrup mid-canter, but as soon as I had done so I realized that I had caught the reins under my leg — I had managed to put my foot through the loop of the reins and then back into the stirrup in my rather spastic scramble to correct the SNAFU. Do you like that alliteration? Yes I thought so.
A cold finger began to poke at my intestines as I realized that I did not have proper control over the reins and because the horse was still cantering I couldn’t easily remove my foot again and get them. And the fences were coming up after the woods portion. The horse would not be able to jump with the reins tucked under my leg.
To top it off, Petey was nonplussed by the stumbling incident and his blindness made him paranoid. He sensed that something was amiss with the reins and his rider and so he began to turn his head all the way to one side to try and see what was going on with the good eye. All the while still cantering. Through the woods.
You realize of course that horses’ eyes are on the sides of their heads so being half blind is a different animal, so to speak, from having an unseeing eye when the eyes are right next to one another on the front of your face and the other eye can compensate. You get it, right?
In my frantic attempt to fix the reins and stirrup I stiffened up and my seat was all over the place, my ass slapping the saddle inelegantly. What’s more, during this turmoil, I am pretty sure I turned the wrong way, taking the incorrect path to the jumping course which would cost me time and cause points to be deducted once the instructors/judges realized my error.
As we tangled mess of horse and rider hurtled out of the woods, I finally had to stop and fix the reins so that Petey could extend his head to jump the fences. I was a jumble of nerves and so was poor Petey, still craning his neck in a futile attempt to see what was going on on his blind side.
The entire time this was happening I was experiencing anger (at myself for having lost the stirrup for I would not have done so had my knees been properly snug around the horse), embarrassment (for my ineptitude at losing the stirrup and turning the wrong way and the resulting poor time) and general unhappiness and disappointment and shit like that.
Basically I felt like a loser. I was a loser. I am a loser, I thought. No, even worse, I said to myself: You are a loser. J’accuse.
I remember the feelings so well.
You know, it’s funny. In retrospect I find the incident amusing. Ridiculous, really. And I remember that at the time I was not even aware that Petey was blind in one eye. I asked one of the instructors at the end what the deal was with him turning his head around and freaking out and she said, casually, “oh he’s blind in one eye.”
What the fuck, lady? But you know, it was the 80s and people weren’t worried about full disclosure and shit.
Some days I kind of feel like I did on that day. Everything goes wrong. Not the way I planned it. I take wrong turns. I feel like a loser. Or act like one. Or both. Sometimes I call myself one. But that’s ok. That’s life, isn’t it?
Do I need a theme? Something elegant, well thought out? Bright and witty? In order to write…?
I’m just going to post some random shit.
That occurred to me when I was getting out of my car tonight after pulling it into my too small garage (or depending on your perspective, my too big car in my just right garage — perspective is everything).
Thought No. 1: My car has a really excellent sound system. It was a good decision. Sometimes when I put it away for the day I turn off the ignition and sit there for a few minutes listening to really loud music. Just me in the too small garage. Rocking out. Then reality hits and I realize I have to make dinner and deal with people and shit so I shinny between the barely open door and the garage wall (which involves being a size 4 or smaller in order to extract self without injury). It’s a pain in the ass but somehow amusing and ritualistic. I won’t miss it when I have a better garage yet I find it amusing. The little things the little things.
Thought No. 2: I tell my kids to make their beds every day before school. Most of the time or maybe half, they don’t do it. Most days I make my own bed. But sometimes I don’t do it either. I wondered the other day whether that makes me a hypocrite. I decided it just makes me human. Fuck it fuck it.
Thought No. 3: Locker rooms are weird. Generally. They get weirder when you are wielding a pair of reconstructed tits following a double mastectomy. Earlier this week I ran into a former neighbor who hadn’t seen me in ages and I don’t know if she “knows.” I was standing there in a towel for a while, smiling and making polite conversation and ultimately decided not to change in front of her because I didn’t want to deal. But I am starting to get less worried about that. Maybe I should just parade those puppies all over the locker room — could be an enlightening, eye-opening experience. The long and short of it is that I think I have come a long way, To wit: Once, following my reconstruction, I was showering at my gym in London and I realized that I had forgotten to bring my bra and panties into the stall so I could walk out semi-clad as was my custom. I had a tiny towel that was way too small to cover both T and A. So I weighed my alternatives and decided to cover the top half and walk out of the shower bare assed. Should I have hyphenated that? Decisions decisions. And of course. Perspective perspective.
Thought No. 4: A few weeks ago I was horsing around after maybe a couple glasses of wine and ran after my 9-year-old who was carrying some dark chocolates. When carpet changed to hard wood (I had on socks) I bit it hard and smashed onto my left elbow and hip. I eventually went to the orthopedist who informed me I might have broken my elbow but if I had they wouldn’t set it anyhow and to just wait it out and deal. The arm is better and doesn’t limit me much. I can work out, lift things, Do burpies, planks and push-ups, etc. However, I still can’t open a bottle of wine without putting it on the floor between my feet for leverage. Irony Irony.
Final Thought of the Night: In the summer I bought a nice ficus and a king palm and kept them on the screened in front porch where they seemed relatively content until one fateful day when I guess I overwatered them and they started to look poorly. Then when the weather changed I moved them into the living room and that really killed the fuck out of them. Oops. My husband informed me that I was not to purchase any subsequent indoor house plants following this incident. He did not know that that very day I had been scoping out an expensive fiddle leaf fig tree at Winston’s which is probably one of the fussier indoor plants to take care of. Ha ha.
So I haven’t written a damn thing in months. I started to write some depressing piece about how down I was feeling a few months ago called “Demons” but the feeling passed and then the moment passed and the few incoherent dribblings I managed to eek out will forever fester in the land of blog post drafts where they belong.
It is now May. The month of my birth. And swiftly approaching is my 44th birthday. 44. A nice round number. It feels like ages ago that my 40th was approaching. We had a party at an Italian restaurant in London. Bill, who suddenly took deathly ill the day of the party — he was literally green and nauseated — managed to drink a Coke, rally and give a heartfelt speech about how great I am. There are pictures of me embracing him following such speech and veering to one side (because I did not want to catch whatever the fuck was ailing him in my delicate condition).
Never in one million years would I have believed you had you told me in advance that I would be as bald as a cue ball for my fortieth. It was such. A weird. Thing.
Moving right along.
When last we met I was going on about how hot I was planning to be super hot this year following Marjorie’s scar revision. (Read my previous post if this is not ringing a bell). Forever the optimist, I kept thinking that “this time around” Marjorie might be okay. That she would come out of it and be better. But the reality is that I am just not sure about Marjorie.
She is not what I would call behaving 100%. You see, radiated skin does what the hell it wants to. It is never the same following the radiation, which affects, among other things, the blood supply, and tends to make things fibrotic (think tight and painful). So when the swelling from surgery subsided and the scar went from looking like Frankenstein’s monster’s forehead to a discolored horizontal line, I noticed the skin around the incision starting to harden up. And telltale signs of the tethering that we were trying to fix in the first place.
The turn of events went something like this: There I was minding my own business abstaining from upper body exercises for what seemed like an eternity and then I had a post-op check-up and got the all clear and then it snowed. Not a little.
So I took it upon myself to go out and shovel the hell out of my considerable driveway, which was the first upper body workout I had done in about 6 weeks. The day after that, I noticed that Marjorie was starting to hint at being up to her old tricks. It was like finding a lighter in your kid’s room after you caught them with cigarettes (or worse) and they swore they would never smoke again.
Shit, I thought. Marjorie is up to her old tricks again. I am assured that shovelling snow did not suddenly cause this behavior, but naturally I began blaming myself for this possible development and wondering why I didn’t just leave the snow and let everyone make fresh tracks in it.
The good news: Marjorie looks better than she did before. She does. I have not dusted off the chick fillets or resulted to spackle and I can wear stuff sans padding and be pretty happy with the result.
The bad news: there is definitely some misbehavior. Marjorie is not, in the esteemed words of Taylor Swift, out of the woods.
Solution: Marjorie goes to rehab.
That’s right, the bitch, in classic attention seeking fashion, is demanding all sorts of special treatment. This includes being massaged with expensive body cream from France and a special scar tweaking rub that I do about twice a day, time permitting, to try to loosen up that area. And we even see a specialist physiotherapist who deals only with problem children such as Marjorie. This is weird because every time you cross paths with someone coming or going from the PT’s office you know this person is a member of the same club and she knows you are too. It isn’t discussed. It is a silent understanding, hanging heavily in the air. All of us ladies and our Marjories.
We are not praying for perfection or even really hoping for normal. Rather we seek improvement; we are just trying to make these casualties of war “as good as they can be.”
This is where a bunch of people will chime in that we ladies are just lucky to be alive and that this is what’s important and we should be thankful for that because it could have been worse.
Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t you ever even THINK of saying that to me or someone like me. It’s dismissive and ridiculous. As if we, of all people, do not understand that having a sightly dented boob and some pain and tethering from scar tissue, or even NO BOOB, is preferable to being six feet under. Ask yourself why you would say such a thing? Is it to make the recipient of the comment feel better, really? Or is it a nice tidy end to an uncomfortable topic that you have decided is no longer worth discussing?
Hell to the NO.
Seeking improvement is a normal human behavior and part of the process of getting on with one’s life. So this should be encouraged (unless of course the person at issue becomes obsessed or unrealistic about what is possible at which point it might become unhealthy behavior).
But just let me try to make her a little better. I can settle for “good enough.”
At the end of the day, the irony is that Marjorie is getting by far more play than her predecessor ever would have on a daily basis, and she cannot even feel it.
Here we are another year older. And another year wiser. Or not. But I like to think so.
My New Year’s resolution is to try to give less of a shit, generally, which is bound to fail. But I’m really going to give it the college try. Well, selectively. How about this: I will give less of a shit about shit that I deem is less worthy than other shit.
This has been a strange six months for me. I alluded to some of it in Reentry: Part One (no that is NOT a porn) which, sadly, is the last post I wrote and is dated October of last year. I could now go on and on about how I never write anymore, enumerate the various mundane pressures in my life that I feel have kept me from being able to write and have left me feeling inadequate and be all apologetic but as part of my New Year’s resolution, I have decided not to give a shit, right? Besides, I am now writing and that’s what matters.
I remind you that this started as a blog about, among other things, dealing with breast cancer. Incidentally it turned into a blog about whatever, generally, was on my mind and I felt like writing about at the time. It has evolved into a series of posts that are maybe more about the latter and less about dealing with cancer. However, once in a while I feel it is necessary to stir that shit up again. Just in case you thought (hoped?) I had forgotten all about it.
January, they say, is characteristically a difficult month to endure. The pine-scented jingle jangle of the holidays is over, evidenced by discarded carcasses with browning needles here and there. The days are colder and shorter and the bills are higher. It is a time to reflect on what we accomplished and failed to accomplish and we are all suddenly supposed to be better, eat healthier, drink less, exercise more, be more like Tom and Gisele.
For me, it has the added fun-filled benefit of being the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. January 3, I believe, is the day I received a call (and an e-mail, actually) that “yes there is a cancer… but totally ‘routine’ and ‘treatable.'”
There is “a” cancer. Is this supposed to be better than telling someone, “you have cancer?” It sounds like some politician’s passive announcement after having just ordered fighter jets to drop bombs on the enemy. “[Insert middle eastern location] has been bombed in an airstrike. Civilian casualties were sustained.”
This year marked the fourth anniversary of my diagnosis. You might be thinking: “well, that’s cause for celebration! Another year and you will reach that magical five-year mark.” First of all, I think the five year mark is properly acknowledged on the anniversary of the termination of treatment. And let’s face that it is somewhat arbitrary. Second, forgive me if I am not all excited about the reminder that at age 39, I discovered one night in the shower a lump in my breast, underwent a number of stress-inducing and physically uncomfortable tests, and found out that in fact, yes, against all odds I had a life-threatening illness that would affect the quality of my life for the next who-knows-how-long. Do I sound bitter? Sorry. I’m not. Just keeping it real. It was a sucky, terrifying experience.
One of the hardest things about it, which I endured in waves rather than as a constant, was the feeling that I was damaged goods. The feeling when standing on the street and observing passersby that I was being left behind while everyone went on with their marvelous daily lives, clinking glasses, traveling to exotic locales, being carefree, running up hills in Primrose Hill Park. Of course a lot of that is bullshit since everyone has something they have to deal with — some a lot more serious and unpleasant than my lot. If life were as pretty as everyone pretends it is on Facebook and Instagram the world would be a different place. But if all it takes is a few minutes of looking at social media (come on you know you felt like pretty girl’s fat ugly friend after you looked at your skinny rich friend’s latest [photoshopped?] vacation pics) to make you feel bad about yourself, is it any wonder that, standing outside, pale and bald (albeit clad in a headscarf and slathered with makeup to disguise such things), I felt a little bit like a loser?
There was something about being in that group that made me feel decidedly uncool, like a misfit, a reject, someone with an issue “normal” people politely inquire about but don’t really understand. What’s more, they generally don’t want to be bothered with it because it is uncomfortable, undesirable, “unfun” and just “un.”
As I said, I didn’t always feel that way. And I don’t feel that way any longer. Maybe other people in that situation never felt that way at all. I think it is my nature to want to be included, to join in the party. So that likely predisposed me to experiencing what I did. That and being teased a lot as a kid in grammar school. Fuck you, all of you zeroes who gave me a hard time back in the day. I forgive you. And in any event I don’t give a shit — my NYR, remember?
But anyhow, I will continue with the point of this whole thing, which is really about feeling better about myself.
As my plastic surgeon friend Beth told me years ago on the eve of my treatment, once you are done with all the draconian life-saving nonsense, you are left with your cosmetic appearance. And thanks to the radiation that I was never supposed to need on my right side following my bilateral mastectomy/reconstruction and chemo, my right boob (remember Marjorie?) ended up healing a little less than ideally. I must interject that implants and radiation do NOT mix well and there is about a 50% failure rate (meaning complete failure) so all in all my result was pretty damn good. I don’t want nobody misunderstanding and failing to be impressed by my rockstar surgeon in London. Because he is a badass, though understated because he is so polite and English and wears nice grey flannel suits and shit.
Anyhow, my right “boob” a/k/a Marjorie kind of looked like Rocky Balboa after a few too many rounds, the main offender being a scar that was tethered and caused a significant dent in the middle. For years now I have been covering that bitch up with good, lightly padded Chantelle bras and those stupid lulu lemon oval pads that come in their wouldn’t-fit-anyone-with-normal-tits-that-I could-never-wear-before-anyway exercise tops. Think ultra-thin chicken fillet sitting on top of that dent to smooth it out.
Without the chick fillet, the dent was clearly visible, particularly from a three-quarter angle. Not ideal.
After I moved back to the US I decided to pursue a more permanent remedy and went to see a couple of plastic surgeons. They decided that what I needed was a scar revision, in which they would open the original incision, remove scar tissue, release any tethering to the muscle beneath and sew Marjorie back up with thicker, better skin a couple milimeters on either side of the original scar.
So that is how I decided to start 2016. And on January 5, I went for it.
This morning I just had my follow-up post-op appointment. Marjorie is looking pretty good. Much better, in fact. She is not allowed to carry more than 5 lbs for another two weeks, and she can’t spin or do boot camp class with the other suburban mommies. But if all goes to plan and Marjorie behaves, it will be so worth it.
I told a couple of ladies at my younger daughter’s new school about the procedure and one said, aptly, “that’s good — it won’t be a constant reminder of what happened.” I thought about it and said, “well, I don’t really give a shit about that — there will always be a reminder… I just want to be hot.”
If all goes well, terrific. If it doesn’t, well, then, I will dust off the chicken fillets and try not to give too much of a shit about that either.
Whatever happens, 2016 is taking shape, people. Happy New Year.
If I had a nickel for every time I thought about writing this post I would have, well, a hell of a lot of nickels. But reentry is too complicated for one post. It will have to be done in installments. You know what? That is okay. I have done installments before and sometimes it is good to break things up and even to revisit them. In non chronological order. Meanwhile the British spellcheck is reeling. Tough shit, I say. For I have come back home to the US of A where we spell installment with two “l”s. Enrollment too. Suck it, Brit spell check.
On June 28 2015 we closed the door of the terraced Edwardian house that was our home for four years (my daughters would correct me that it was actually three years, eleven months and a day, or something like that). We headed to Heathrow with one-way tickets in hand and a fair number of roller bags containing, among other things, digestive biscuits, my favorite everyday tea, a bottle of oak-aged Polish vodka and several bottles of wine acquired from various ports of call, each wrapped in an old sweatshirt or similar for extra padding. I am happy to report that all of the above arrived relatively unscathed, aside from some breakage of the first few digestive biscuits in the roll, at which I feigned outrage because I happened to open them in front of my new English friend.
No matter how prepared you think you are for a departure like this, for some reason it always seems rushed, unfinished, abrupt. That could be because I am perpetually attempting to do more than is physically possible for one person or because I am never quite as organized as I mean to be. (As an aside — even though I am unable to squeeze in everything I mean to do, on those rare occasions when I find myself with some time I am often paralyzed by the inability to do anything. Explain that to me. Perhaps I need to consult a shrink. But I digress.)
The difficulty of such a departure may also be the nature of the beast. Transporting a family from point A to point B, particularly when those points are on different continents, is kind of a big deal. Cue the people who, well-meaning or not, have asked me whether I have “renovated” our new house already. Really? Give me a break. I’d like to renovate your face. Maybe I will the next time I have some free time. Although we both know what I’ll be doing. Staring into space…
Since our arrival, I have been faced with another question: how has the reentry been? Have we “adjusted?” And I don’t really know how to tackle these questions. Because I am not at all confident that I have really adjusted. And how the reentry has been warrants much more than a simple “good,” “hard” or “fine.”
In some ways it has been easy. We live in a town we already lived in for seven years prior to our stint in London. We live in a familiar house, having purchased the home my husband grew up in. (I know, cray-cray, right?) We are much closer to family. And we have returned to very close friends. All of that is major. So, aside from the fact that many of my nearest and dearest are now not an international flight away, a lot of little things are easy too. I know where the grocery store is (and bonus — Wellesley is no longer a dry town — how lame was that — so the Roche Brothers (local grocery chain) even stocks wine and beer and shit. Hurrah!). And I know where to get the car washed and fill up with gas. I know where the public library is even though I never go there anymore and whom to call at DPW if the street lamp is out and stuff like that. But what does any of that really mean?
Sometimes I think that I have avoided adjusting altogether. Not intentionally, as in deliberately turning my head and and refusing to confront it, but more like I’m subconsciously occupying a parallel existence. Do you remember when I wrote about partitioning one’s internal hard drive? See http://killingitblog.com/american-summer/ It is sort of like rebooting and holding down the “USA” button and just existing on that side of my brain. I know the London part is still in there but it just isn’t in session right now. It’s asleep. I ask myself, is this some sort of trick — some way of avoiding the real issue and the real transition? Or is this just the way I function? Maybe I have two selves. USA Emily and non-USA Emily. But you know I have thought about it and that doesn’t quite capture what we liked to refer to in law school as “the totality of the circumstances.” Sorry. I couldn’t help it.
I think I know what it is, in fact. It is the same with any other thing I have been through and it is not the way every individual approaches life, but it appears to be my way. I exist in and am focused on the present. But more than that, I am forward-looking. And forward-moving. I am here now so that’s where my head is. Here now and thinking ahead to tomorrow. The other part of me is not gone. It just isn’t active. It’s back there. When I go back to London for a visit, it will wake up. I think.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the two “partitions” are so divided that it is like severing the two hemispheres and one side has no idea that the other side even exists. There is a marriage there, or a relationship, anyhow. There is communication and inevitably, comparison.
It occurs to me that most humans probably function this way. It makes sense that we are most focused on the present and that things in our pasts fade into the background. I realize this is a gross generalization and that many of us continue to revisit the past and be affected by it. It raises an interesting question though. Which type are you? And is the answer age-dependent? Do we focus on the past more as we age because we realize that the future is more finite? I dunno. I am getting too philosophical now.
But the whole thing got my head spinning about adjusting and how it is a “process.” Maybe my idea about the partitioned hard drive isn’t right at all. Perhaps, instead, the adjustment is taking place so quietly that it is almost imperceptible to me.
Like boiling a frog.
Did you know that if you put a frog into cool water and slowly bring the temperature up the frog will not perceive the change and it will in fact not jump out? Until it boils. Actually this may just be an anecdote. I have no evidence and am not planning to try it because eww and poor froggy if it works. But still. Maybe that’s what I am doing. Maybe I am adjusting, minute by minute, without even knowing it. And one day I will wake up and be… fully cooked.
I think I could be onto something. Because I forgot to mention that although the location of Roche Brothers may be forever ingrained in my muscle memory, the first couple of times I set foot in there I had to leave after five or ten minutes because I was overwhelmed by aisles and aisles of merch, supersized grocery carts and stony-faced, aggressive suburban ladies dressed in Lulu Lemon and The North Face. I kind of missed the tiny local grocery in Belsize Park, the unexpected European and Middle Eastern treasures lurking around every corner, things that you can’t easily get here or can’t get at all. Carrying a couple of bags to the store and buying only what I could carry home on foot. I even missed the weirdos I always ran into: the woman who decided to pay for her groceries with one pence pieces and the smelly old man who always blurted out something inappropriate… and Helena Bonham Carter.
But here I barely think of them anymore because I have moved on. They have faded into the background. Not forgotten but not in the forefront of my mind.
I guess the answer is that I continue to “adjust.” And that it has been easy, hard, good and bad, expected and unexpected, pleasurable and painful. Just like the rest of life. The partitioned hard drive doesn’t quite capture it. And neither does boiling a frog. Because it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and occupying a different part of your brain. And at times it is pretty damn perceptible and not at all like turning up the temperature in minute increments at a snail’s pace.
So where does that leave us? Partially cooked, I would say. And still looking for answers. Stay tuned for installment deux.
Cuckoo… do you remember my post many moons ago about the bats? Well if you don’t or if you are reading this blog for the first time check out Like Father Like Son. Why, you might ask, and justifiably so, is this relevant? I’ll tell you. Because I fucking bought my in-laws’ house — that’s right — the bat house. Except that for the past five years there haven’t been any bats, because finally a miracle happened and some genius from the local pest control company figured out where the bats were coming in and plugged up the holes. Or so we thought.
I wondered just how confident my in-laws were about this development. I was not surprised but simultaneously not comforted by the discovery, upon moving in this past June, that a tennis racket still hung on the back of the bedroom door on a hook, “just in case.” If you don’t know what I am talking about then stop, do NOT pass go, and immediately read the post I referred you to in the first paragraph!!!
There’s nothing like bat tennis, let me tell you. Ridiculous, I proclaimed, and promptly removed said tennis racket and relegated it to the basement. We certainly won’t be needing that, I thought (and may have even said it out loud). A couple of weeks after moving in an invoice arrived from that local pest control company for the special “bat” service, which was an extra annual fee. I called my father-in-law. Do we really need this, I inquired? He convinced me to keep it “just in case” for one more year. What the hell, I figured, and sent in the check.
Fast forward to three nights ago. I was home alone with my father who was staying over so that I could drive him into Boston for cataract surgery the next morning. I came down the morning of the surgery at about 5 o’clock to make a coffee and saw what appeared to be fresh animal droppings on the counter. Shit, I thought (literally). A mouse.
And then it occurred to me that although it might be a mouse, it could, in fact, be… yes, you guessed it, a bat. Dang.
I texted my FIL. He responded with a barrage of inquiries concerning the size, texture and general nature of the excrement. The gist was that guano (a/k/a bat shit) looked very similar to mouse shit (a/k/a mouse shit) and that it might be that we had a bat. That they had returned. That we were foiled. That the five bat-free years were simply a fluke. Fuck.
I contemplated a (potentially rabid) bat flying around on the third floor with my 86-year-old dad. I contemplated it swooping down and heading for his newly operated eye. Not great. I thought about retrieving the tennis racquet from the basement. It was so old it didn’t even have an oversized head. Just a Dunlap or Wilson circa 1978. Jesus.
Given the task at hand, however, (cataract surgery), I pushed these thoughts aside, cleaned up the rodent poop with spray (Mrs. Meyer’s, of course) and a paper towel, threw it in the trash, and drove my dad to the eye place for surgery. Meanwhile en route I phoned the local pest control place and asked them to come over at some point that day to investigate the “situation.”
Fast forward again to post op and the afternoon. Dad was asleep on the sofa or in there watching Serena Williams play (real — not bat — tennis). Meanwhile, my FIL called and demanded that I save the droppings. “It’s very important!” He stressed. Ok. I said, and fished through the trash until I uncovered the paper towel and a couple of the minute turds I had wiped up earlier. I put the things in a plastic baggie and proceeded to wait.
My FIL had explained how to look for the bat, which would be sleeping, seeing as it was daytime and bats are nocturnal and shit. “It will be very small, like a chocolate.” He informed me of the usual places to look (the main directive being UP HIGH) and I set about scouring the house for something resembling a salted caramel stuck in a window or hanging upside down from a light fixture or curled up in some draperies. To no avail.
The pest control expert showed up around 1:30. I exhaled, thrust the plastic baggie at him and said, Well, is it a bat or a mouse? You could hear my pulse. Time seemed to stand still.
“It’s definitely a mouse,” he said. PHEW. I mean, PHEW, I thought. And then I thought it was pretty sad that I was so excited about having non flying rodents in the house and that I probably need to get out more. But still, a mouse is better than a bat. Believe me.
The pest dude poked around the house and plugged up a hole, replaced bait and found a (mouse) body under the basement stairs. I was assured that all would be fine and that I should call if there were any further mouse activity. I breathed a sigh of relief, and stopped worrying about it.
That evening, my FIL called and said that “just in case,” I should fill up the sink with water because sometimes the bats would fly into the sink and if it were a bat I might find it there in the morning. I declined to do this, given the confidence of the pest control expert that we were dealing with a mouse. “I am so not doing that,” I snapped. And didn’t.
And I am happy to report that the next day there was no evidence of further activity.
But this morning I came down and was in for a rude awakening. I began regular coffee-making procedures and then I ran my hand over the counter at issue just to check. And there it was. A fresh dropping. I then looked all around and found a number of similar droppings on the floor in front of the counter.
I wouldn’t say that I was horrified, but I was somewhat nonplussed, at this discovery. Again, I cleaned the counter and swept up the floor, carefully preserving the evidence in a zip bag. I made coffee, drank it, and climbed the stairs to report the incident to my husband. I wondered if the pest place was open on a Saturday, and prepared to call them. Then I returned to the kitchen and held the bag up to the light to determine if bats might, after all, be at play.
And that’s when I discovered that the droppings this morning were cylindrical in nature, more tubular in appearance and less like grains of rice with pinched ends.
This could only mean one thing. I bit my lip. These droppings, were, in fact, not mouse droppings at all. They were… wait for it: chocolate sprinkles, a/k/a “Jimmies,” which the children had spilled on the floor (and one on the counter) while making their ice cream sundaes with the babysitter the night before. Just think of me as a regular Sherlock Holmes, although perhaps a bit slower on the uptake. All that time in London really paid off, eh?
I smiled. I mean it really doesn’t get any better than discovering that what you thought was shit is in fact, Valrhona chocolate sprinkles, does it people?
Now don’t get all excited. This isn’t going to be pornographic, unless maybe you consider the Liverpudlian fashion choices a few paragraphs down (though I’m thinking less “Boogie Nights” more “Night at The Roxbury” (if you don’t know what that is it’s a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit making fun of B&T types going out for a night on the town. Oh and if you don’t know what either Saturday Night Live or B&T is then you really will need some help won’t you?). Anyhow, let me just tell you about the family trip to Liverpool and Oxford. I may have to do it in two (or more) instalments (there goes the British spell check on me — instalment with one “l” — never did get used to that). Because the two places are rather non sequiturs. Big time.
So why the heckety-heck did we haul ass to Liverpool one Saturday morning on a three-hour train ride with our daughters, aged 8 and 10, you might ask? Well, because about two years ago the then six-year-old watched a football (soccer people) match on the telly and Liverpool FC happened to be playing. They crushed Tottenham 5-nil and the rest is history. She became a football — and more specifically — a Liverpool (LFC) fan overnight. Suddenly, this child, who spent her early days in a fuchsia, polka-dot ballgown and tiara, was obsessed with and immersed in all things football. So much so, in fact, that my husband, who for years decried soccer “a stupid sport” unwittingly became a huge fan. Fan enough of the sport that he watches random matches just to see how they will turn out. More on the ambivalence he feels about admitting he is a soccer fan and the fact that changing his mind about such and admitting having done so totally rocked his world anon…
So, this is how we found ourselves, large roller suitcase in hand, about to board a (very crowded with Liverpool fans) Virgin train to Liverpool. Because there is never a dull moment, at the eleventh hour I realised we had no specific seat reservations on the train so when the platform was announced I catapulted myself and my ten-year-old into the first unreserved car (I’d been told by the snippy woman at the counter that the two unreserved cars were “F” and “U” which caused me some concern…) and scored four adjacent seats. After our heroic sprint to secure desirable seating, they announced the train had arrived so late that no one would be in their assigned seats anyway. Typical.
Our seats were behind some mixed age LFC fans who had come prepared for their journey with a dozen or more supersized cans of Fosters which they had lined up on the table. A side note: you cannot bring beer (or indeed any alcohol) into the stands at the football stadium itself so you have to pre-party. Thus the heavy train drinking and drinking at the concession stands prior to and up to about half time during the match. Yup. If one desires to get “propah annihilated” — please don’t pronounce the “t” — one must plan ahead. Of course, this is England so they don’t make it too hard for you. When later I walked through about a zillion train cars to get to the cafe car I was greeted by rows and rows of self-serve refrigerators stocked with snacks, beer, wine and revolting alcoholic drinks in cans such as Smirnoff Ice. The clincher was a nice sign over the till (cash register) that read, simply but oh so eloquently, and in cursive (because that’s classier): “Booze Glorious Booze.” You cannot make this shit up, people. I felt rather abstemious and a tad out of place as I slunk back up the aisle with my still water and my tunafish sandwich.
Back-up a minute. I neglected to mention that after we settled into our seats, I geared up for a competitive game of Uno with Charlotte, at which point a man came onto the train with a small roller. As he passed the rowdy bunch with the Fosters, he apparently struck one man’s leg with his suitcase whereupon the aggrieved fellow bellowed, “‘old on, aht’s me fuckin’ leg!” I thought it might get ugly, but it seemed to work out after said individual freed his fuckin’ leg from the roller bag and the other fellow went on the fuck down the aisle. This was not the last time he and his mates dropped the f-bomb. Good thing my kids weren’t a couple years younger or it might have been somewhat disconcerting for them. As it was we all sort of looked at each other and giggled, with an eyebrow raise and a shrug.
The remainder of the train ride was uneventful and upon arriving we stepped out of the station and walked the five minutes to the Liverpool Marriott. Along the way I took in the city. There was a weird radio tower thingy that looked like an air traffic control tower. Apparently it used to house a rotating restaurant in the 70s (or at least that is what I’m told but I hope it’s true cuz I bet it was totally excellent). And there was a very attractive old civic building with columns and lovely manicured green space, a statue of Lord Nelson (for minute I thought I was in Trafalgar Square), an oxidised statue of a dude with really good posture on a horse and, in the distance, a theatre advertising the musical “Dirty Dancing.” All that and the most complicated intersections and cross walks ever making it sort of hard to take the hypotenuse from Lime Street Station to the hotel. But we made it. Phew.
After being checked in by a trainee during which I nearly weed in my pants because he was so inept and it took him an eternity to do ANYTHING (and plus one of my kids spilled water all over the floor because she was trying to punch or kick — I can’t recall — the other child) we left our bags and made for the door to take the local bus to Anfield, Liverpool’s home stadium. A moment before leaving, the entire QPR (Queen’s Park Rangers) football team came down the stairs right in front of us. My eight-year-old was speechless. And Bill and I weren’t quick enough to suggest taking photographs with some of the players, so they boarded their fancy coach and headed to the stadium, leaving my little soccer hooligan starstruck and even more excited in anticipation of the LFC v. QPR match.
We took a bus to the stadium and I chatted with a local dude and his son to scope out options for getting back to the centre of town following the match. “Don’t even bother, love,” he said, or something like that, “there will be 45,000 people leaving at once so you might as well walk. Just leave the stadium, turn right and follow everyone.” Later, we did that, in the cold drizzle, and it was a fucking forty-five minute walk. Oops. At least we got some exercise and — shockingly — no one really complained. But damn.
So we got to the stadium and had a light dinner of hot dogs, chicken burgers and for Izzy, a meat pie (she’s fond of savoury pies). I was tempted to wash my meal down with a lousy beer just to be festive but decided against it. We entered the stadium and climbed to our nose bleed seats (at which point I asked Bill how much he had actually paid for the tickets, gulp). But, the entire stadium was not that big and we still had a decent view of the pitch and could distinguish players much more so than we could at Wembley Stadium a few weeks prior (the latter holds twice as many people).
It was very moving when they played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which if you are not a football fan you won’t know is the LFC song. We sang along (sort of because we don’t really know all the words) and fans held up game day scarves, etc. Then the action started and to sum it up it was a terrific match. Liverpool won 2-1. And we saw Stevie G score his final goal at Anfield (he is now playing for the LA Galaxy). So we departed in a great mood after having taken a lot of ridiculous selfies in front of the pitch and photos of the scoreboard and what have you. And started that absurd trek back to the hotel, past some pubs and shops and people selling scarves, hats and other LFC memorabilia. Past some buildings that were mostly rubble. Not the most picturesque walk. But unforgettable.
After chilling in the hotel room for a stretch we dressed for dinner and headed out to Hanover Street Social, a “hip” local restaurant with decent reviews. We were shocked at how much better the prices were than in London. But that didn’t hold a candle to the shock we experienced when the locals started to file in, all done up, Scouser style. I honestly don’t quite know how to describe it. There was a lot of pouffy blonde hair and make-up, and major false eyelashes. There was a large-print floral strapless jumpsuit that might have been at home on the set of Dynasty, only the wearer was somewhat less glam (and ahem, less fit) than Joan Collins. There were a number of dresses that would have been at home at a cheesy prom about 30 years ago, and another bunch that looked like life size Barbie outfits. By the time we left we were all laughing pretty hard and then we ran into some even more excellent numbers on the street. There were a couple of hen parties, the participants of which were wearing dresses with various parts cut out or crop tops with copious amounts of flesh bursting forth. And of course, more big hair, bionic eyelashes and makeup.
But the pièce de résistance was when two dudes passed us wearing what I can only describe as denim sausage casings under billowing white shirts, untucked, of course, and made of some unknown synthetic with a slight sheen. I can’t really do it justice, I’m afraid. And that’s even before I mention the hair gel and cologne.
The fun didn’t stop there. At the train station the next morning we were passed by an attractive blonde woman with heavy (but flawless) make-up in a tight, acid-washed jean “suit” pulling a small roller bag. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Because her hair was in rollers. Not little ones. Big’uns. Huge. Big round rollers all over her head around which her meticulously highlighted blonde locks were spun. It made me stop in my tracks. Then three or four others similarly attired passed us, also with their hair in rollers. It dawned on me that this was a thing. Going out with rollers. But it was a foreign to me as going out with your fly unzipped or your skirt tucked into your panties. What the hell, I thought. (If you don’t believe me Google it.)
After we settled onto the train to Oxford a nice, attractive young couple with their adorable 2 and 5 year old daughters boarded and we struck up a conversation. The woman was from Liverpool and she commented on the hair and rollers deal. It is, in fact “a thing” for Scouser ladies. So important is beauty in this town that — she claimed — there are more beauty parlours per capita than in any other place in the world. Now I don’t know if this is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. These gals get all dolled up and then they go to their destination, only to remove the rollers at the very last minute for maximum hair drama. Doing such has become a status symbol “like, hey I’m going out on the town for a big night so look at me.” Another popular fad is apparently hitting the supermarket (Tesco) in pyjamas, which is frowned upon even by locals.
As I marvelled at some of the differences between London and this city only a few hours northwest of it, I said to myself, well, at least we met a nice normal couple on the train. At that very moment the nice young woman whipped out her boob and started to nurse her 2.5 year old child. Oh well. You can’t win them all.
Stay tuned for an instalment on Oxford at a later date.
Meanwhile check this out. It’s worth it. I promise. Explains the roller phenom and also A+ example of Scouser accent.