In twenty-two years I believe I have obtained (and later misplaced) at least seven copies of the My Dog Skip soundtrack. I fell in love with it in only fourth grade—somehow moved by the eloquent quiet of William Ross, I recognized the emotional pull that is possible through music. Later I discovered Thomas Newman, the brilliant composer for both Pay It Forward and Finding Nemo. Throughout high school and early college, whenever I wrote these three scores were my go to for subtle, pervasive inspiration. Never did I develop a desire to learn to play any instrument; my deep appreciation and affinity for all instruments, particularly the piano, seemed to be enough.
I don’t listen to those things anymore. Sometimes I wonder why. Perhaps they are no longer relatable; lyrics in music almost become necessary as we grow and experience the less spectacular parts of life. Don’t Swallow the Cap by the National was the track playing when I received that fatal phone call from my mother.
I imagine a strained esophagus, swelling and stealing your words before you can get them out. Her throat was closing in on her from 1200 miles away. Why might a doctor scribble the words ‘inflammatory breast cancer’ before actually meeting his patient? How could a stranger, oncologist or not, know the ugly truth without looking my mother in her eyes first?
Later that week I arrived at the cozy home in Centennial where I have nannied three beautiful children for over a year. Despite being internally paralyzed, I was physically able and took one of my favorite two-year-olds outside to enjoy moments of play and of freedom. Earbuds accompanied me this time, my iPhone shuffling through my collection. Within very few minutes Don’t Swallow the Cap was back, almost like a reminder. I disappeared into every single lyric, startled that Matt Berninger himself was articulating the beginning of this nightmare.
Everything I love is on the table.
Everything I love is out to sea.
I’m not alone,
I’ll never be.
Into the bone,
I’ll never grieve.
I have only two emotions,
Careful fear and dead devotion.
I can’t get the balance right.
Throw my marbles in the fight.
I see all the ones I wept for
All the things I had it in for
I won’t cry until I hear
Cause I was not supposed to be here.
My appreciation has shifted to the artists that somehow evoke the same inspiration that I felt when I was younger, while simultaneously speaking of the struggle. Lyrics are adaptable: we can all find common ground in devastating melody.
Recently an individual dear to my heart found herself right smack in the middle of cancer’s hell. Much like a tornado, it eradicates authentic joy and happiness in a whirlwind, leaving one shell shocked, debris at their feet. Her mother’s health and future suddenly became ambiguous—threatened by the chromatic monster. Cancer is all natural disasters. It is the quicksand that swallows you alive, and it is the rigid wave that takes you under. It is the avalanche that freezes you to the point of permanent numbness, tumbling all the while.
Somehow we still hold hands. We stand up, concerned not about the dirt or scrapes that cover us. It is like learning to walk and to feel all over again. I am deeply saddened to know that this struggle has reached yet another undeserving individual. Yet there is light in the instant embrace and connection my friend and I will know and share.
Yesterday anesthesia did not take my mother from us. I understand this happens rather often. Apparently every nine days an animal dies on a commercial airline. Cancer has forced me to respect and to equally acknowledge the unknown, as it is omnipresent. The beauty is in living despite it: the beauty is passing the unknown as you travel down the street and refusing a second glance. Attention is not given where it is not deserved; evil will enter your battlefield when it is time and when you allow it. Until then, prepare.
Just remember to really live….as if the bloodbath will never be.