Don’t Swallow the Cap.

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.

The Rainbow Storm.

I stopped fiddling with and publishing posts on Nestingfly after my mother was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. This may not really come as a major surprise to anyone, I’m unsure. I had a follower somewhere in Iceland that perhaps wonders where that carefree, evolving writer that I was went off to.

Nestingfly is dead—I’ll be completely honest. Last night I browsed through my entries on the forum, finding the content meaningless and laughable. In seven months my entire being and perspective on life has drastically shifted, catalyzed by a featherlike evil—an energy that brushes over you and extends infinitely. My life ended and began again on April 18th, 2013. Tennessee is an interesting place for such a moment to take place: it is green and thriving with life. That day the vibrancy felt like a complete façade. No circulation remaining in my left hand, I stared back into the eyes of a terrified, shrinking spirit. It was that of my mother.

Excusing myself from the room, I caught a glimpse of the ultrasound machine being pulled from its ominous corner; I proceeded to phone my father alone from a hollow restroom. My voice oddly echoing, I felt as if I were speaking through a tunnel. I explain that tests are being run immediately—urgently—and that it does not look good. The line is dead but I know that he is still there. A part of him: a substantial part slips out as he exhales, not to return but unbeknownst in that moment.

Developmentally, a parent does not typically switch roles with a child until he or she is an elder—until they have really lived. Foolishly I have for some time dwelled in the depths of assumption, as many of us must do. I assumed that in my forties and fifties I would still be chatting with my mother two hours out of each day, perhaps arranging to relocate her nearer to me. My mother’s mortal nature slipped past me entirely for twenty two years in fact; during that time I was overly confident in our future together, as mother and daughter. A premature idea: I imagined that she would evolve into a poised, adorable character, huddled over washing dishes or vacuuming. I’ve envisioned holding aging hands, the very ones that once bathed me and brushed my hair. But existence alters instantaneously. Her hands look exactly the same as I have always remembered.

Assumptions exist primarily in our future when one really pauses to consider it. We either assume that something is or that something will be. Today I assumed my iced coffee would be a fabulous shopping additive until I turned a corner and bumped into someone. My thrifting adventure quickly turned into twenty-five minutes spent on the floor scrubbing instead of browsing. I never tasted the coffee. Assumptions are empty, cognitive traps.

Cancer seems to come with bungee cords included. Implanted right between the shoulder blades, they allow one to make progress—to emotionally transform and to fight for understanding. On a good day, however, they will readily snap; rather violently you find yourself back where you initially began. The cords themselves are of course pastel—warm like the symbolic ribbon—but quickly we discover that feelings typically associated with beautiful colors do not apply in the realm of serious illness. Gracing billboards nationwide and greeting us as we sign for an electronic purchase—“would you like to donate?”—the breast cancer ribbon is the chromatic monster. It will not blanket a single soul or color your reality a brighter shade. Despite its lovely disguise, I have peered directly into its evil interior.

As for my mother, she has emerged without the swimmies that she has worn throughout much of her life. Day by day her fears are being obliterated through her fearlessness and willingness to do whatever it takes to fight this with grit, not sparkle. One must pack his or her own punch throughout the battle, relying on the army behind them as a secondary source. Luckily for us, she’s on the offense and has the equivalent of thousands behind her.

 photo