Happy 37th Birthday to me… and the year I thought I might die

Life, to me, is a series of details. I remember the subtle nuances that make up every day and gradually these touches become cataloged into years.

The color I painted the living room in my first home was called “Moonscape.” It was the closest to yellow I could get my partner at the time to agree to, this sanitary shade of manila. Today, when I drive by the place, on the cutest little brick street in the most working class neighborhood one could imagine, I wonder what color the new owners chose. Were they careful to paint around the old fireplace? Did they keep the  crown molding white?

I wanted yellow, a bright golden hue to bring in light. Sunflowers. They’re my favorite. When I was younger I remember a painting hanging in my grandmother’s living room, an abstract picture of orange and yellow sunflowers in a vase, framed in shiny gilded wood. Her walls were a far cry from “Moonscape.” That little apartment she had on the boulevard near the river was the happiest place in my childhood and when I see sunflowers I think of her. I remember making my grandfather’s coffee with her early mornings and I remember a large tin box on a old decoupaged dresser in a room off her kitchen, adorned with folk art and the word “BREAD.”

Sunflowers are vibrant. They grow tall and proud. They’re naturally deigned to withstand the harsh winds and violent thunderstorms that christen their prairie homelands. Beaten-down and leaves a little torn, they still reach high.

Moonscape, on the other hand, is safe. It is the sterile risk taken by the blank page. A color of accommodation and compliance.

I think of these details, paint dried onto the metal rims of old brown brushes, and the box marked “BREAD” today, as I celebrate my 37th birthday. The calls and messages tumble in. I drank my favorite Americano from my favorite coffee shop and treated myself to the darkest chocolate, and I simply thought of yellow versus moonscape.

I considered that I might have died.

A month into the scan results showing remission of breast cancer and I am still working to catch my breath. When I got the call I was in my office, and before I could share the news, I simply needed to sit outside on the little landscaped wall next to our old building and breath. I cried.

I thought about the many phases of cancer, the series of feelings I felt the past few months, and where I am at now. I don’t think I was ever moonscape. The color betrays me to the core. How could I have painted my walls with this compromise? It’s life. I think. We may want to let the light in but we worry about how others view brightness.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I made about 100 meatballs and stored them in my freezer. I baked a quiche and wrapped it in foil for some morning down the line. I located important paperwork; my birth certificate, marriage certificate, my social security card, insurance policies. I thought about how quiche seemed like funeral food and meatballs could go with anything. I thought about who my family would need to call if I died.

It was entirely morbid, and yet, the practice made me feel as though I had control of what was the most impotent position of my life. In the past, even on a plane 40,000 feet in the air, piloted by two guys in suits and ferrying 300 passengers, I still maintained this sense of control as a flight attendant. I still felt responsible for my own destiny. Cancer was the first time in my life that I felt powerless. Making sure my family had food to eat in the event of my untimely demise- was just the ultimate organizing experience.

Now I am in remission. Once I am in remission for five years, I am cancer-free. So, I’m not cancer-free yet, but I managed to turn 37, and no moonscape for me, I am yellow paint on walls with bright orange petals reaching for the sky. Those details I remember, the hues of gold that mark my childhood and life, burn radiant for me now.

My leaves are a little torn, but I stand brighter and taller, a storm subsided and 37 years on which to grow.

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SaraDorner

Sara Dorner is a labor representative and community activist living and working in her hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Her two young children keep her busy and make life fun!

6 thoughts on “Happy 37th Birthday to me… and the year I thought I might die”

  1. Another beautifully written post. So glad that you are in remission. I so admire your positive attitude – I always feel more optimistic after talking to you. By the way, I like yellow a lot. We are getting a new front door, and I made a push for yellow, but no dice. Judy and I compromised on a bright green, which is better than the really dark, ominous sort of green we have now.

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