There is an overhang in Kellogg, Idaho. It’s where my heart goes when my mind is tired and my body is weak. Every day, during the very few minutes I am in radiation treatment, I close my eyes and I am there.
I stand at the top and beneath me is a depth of fog that always deceives me into thinking I’m standing on clouds. Trees, the most evergreen of greens peak to touch blue skies. I reach down and feel rocks and earth around my feet. They’re smooth granite sandy, a brown sediment trace along my palms. There’s a cool breeze and I wrap myself in my own arms and watch warm golden sun peak over the distance
I go there and I feel alive.
I am alive.
I remember when I first found this place. I was driving to Washington from Illinois and there was a lookout off the side of a mountain pass, a place where gondolas ran the length of the wooded valleys. I sat and finished a cup of coffee on a stone ledge while watching the sun rise. It occurred to me that when I die, I would like my ashes spread there. I don’t know if I believe in heaven, but I at least believe in northern Idaho.
I guess you could call them relaxation techniques? I’ve tried it all lately. Someone gave me a candle. I lit it and nothing happened. Maybe I wasn’t using it right? Was I supposed to throw it at something? I remember when I was in labor with my daughter a few years ago. I held off on pain meds and an epidural before the nurse came to me during contractions and said “here, smell this stick.” Aromatherapy. It stunk.
The incredible anxiety that comes with waiting during this treatment is excruciating. I asked my Oncologist for a hint. Does he think my breast cancer went away? She’s seen so much. In cases like mine, does this seem right? Wait and see. It’s always wait and see.
So I wait, and I see.
I close my eyes and I see the places of perfection that I imagine to be the best places in the world, quiet spots where I can think. I stand on a cliff in Idaho or I sit and look out over the Atlantic on a cold, clear night, only ocean waves around me, stars above me.
Sometimes I think about the plane. In my former life as a flight attendant, I appreciated the perfection that came with the overall uniformity of a Boeing 747. Everything had it’s place. Compartments close neat and tidy. Rows line up. Sometimes, hours into international flights, the aircraft would be tranquil and still. In radiation, when I close my eyes I pretend to hear the subtle sound of recycled air, and see the night sky from an oval porthole style window, the occasional glowing city below me.
It’s not even about escape. Who escapes to a crowded plane for stress relief? It’s about my life. I want to live. I will, I know. I feel like a super hero waving my fist in the air “ha ha you didn’t get me this time! I’ll be back.” Of course, I think that’s more of what the villain would say.
I lay and think about the places I’ve been, the experiences, and how they are uniquely mine. I want them. I saw my 18 month old son running through my yard this past weekend and it occurred to me that I want this life. I want grass stains and smiles. I’ll take tears and tired. We spend so much time lamenting where we are, that we forget to be somewhere.
So life is hectic with radiation, and stressful and exhausting and strange. My new home decor can only best be described as “there appears to have been a struggle” with a bedroom theme of “medical claims and paperwork” but I’m here, and when I go away it is to these places seeded in my loft of memory. It is to my version of heaven, and fascinating enough, is the realization that my heaven is here on earth.