Donuts, Plates, and Perfection

June 2 was National Donut Day. Everyone I know wished me a Happy Donut Day. I’m pretty sure more people wished me a Happy Donut Day than calls or messages I received on Mother’s Day. It wasn’t my day. I hadn’t previously celebrated it or made plans. Yet, friends and family alike messaged me and called me and wished me a Happy Donut Day.

It was all well placed because, you know what? I love donuts. I love them. It’s not simply that I love the fried, glazed, sweet pastry possibly filled with ethereal cream or decadent jelly. I love the box they come in with its’ folded corners, translucent plastic top, scribbles on the side and some franchise label holding the entire thin cardboard enclosure together. It’s the coffee that accompanies. It’s the lady working the retro orange-rust colored counter at 3am selling crullers and long johns. It’s the whole thing. Donuts are an experience.

I brought donuts to my office for patschke day. I ate most of them, but my friend Karen humored me with a photo before this one was devoured (by me).

When I was nineteen I dated a guy who had the metabolism of a giraffe (which I assume to be like this huge metabolism.) We went on a date at a park once, where we sat on a hill and polished off a dozen donuts from the local place down the street. Basically, I was pretty sure we were in love.

Donuts are simple. With them comes this implied sense of community as in “These are cheap and these are easy. These don’t complain and complicate.” They sit on the table in denominations of 12 and they wait, no questions asked, for you to take a few amid conversation.

It’s about perfection really. Donuts. Seems insane I guess. We all have idiosyncrasies and if donuts are mine I’ll reconcile the powdered sugar with myself.

It’s not ever really donuts though. It’s perfectionism.

I think back to my years with the airlines and the things I most loved. While I’d like to list the extensive travel and opportunities as the benefits I miss most, the truly honest answer for me is the perfection. The thrill for me was always the perfection.

Sometimes I miss the first class galley on the Boeing 747, and the service we prepared for international flights. There was a plate for bread. There was a cup for coffee. There was a fork for salad. There was a knife for butter. Each item had a purpose and each purpose had a place, both in time and tangible setting. Because this all happened on a plane, 40,000 feet in the air, every single item had to fit somewhere. It all had to come out, but eventually, it all had to be put away.

I miss the aircraft like I miss my favorite versions of myself. Everything was in order. I miss the fine lines of overhead bins, closed and latched. I miss plain white china adorned simply with a small grey logo, an aircraft or company name. I miss compartments, so many, where everything packed away neat and tidy, a door clasped shut, the weathered manila facade of general acceptance.

As I’ve worked through this pesky breast cancer thing, I’ve come to terms with the concept of perfection, this driving consumption that pushes and pulls. I struggle to define it. Do I refer to it as my battle with breast cancer?

I hardly think of my minimal efforts in this as fighting a battle. My idea of a battle is Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker jousting on the edge of the Deathstar reactor core. A battle is Verdun. A battle is some epic struggle of good versus evil. I didn’t struggle. I simply went to the hospital every day and had high doses of radiation beamed directly to a tumor in my breast. I even got to lay down on a special pillow while I did it. Total diva. No battle here.

Except, maybe there was a little bit of fighting? Maybe it wasn’t quite Luke dangling on the edge of the galactic abyss, but maybe there was a little bit of a scuffle? I know I felt tired. I still feel tired, now, even after treatment has ended. I push myself to continue life as usual, with my children, with home and with work. Still, there have been days when I’ve sat, head in my hands at the quiet kitchen table, when my house is sound asleep. I rub tired eyes and I think for a moment, “maybe I can’t do this.”

So, there’s been tired, and there’s also been this general lack of appetite, this nuisance telling me that I am not yet whole. I don’t want donuts. I love donuts and now I do not want them. Those perfect little circles of inclusive joy sit, packaged in rows of four on the table and I will not eat them, and to me, this is the hurtful thought that tells me I am not perfect. I am not columns of white china stacked away in preparation for turbulence. I am not pastry packed tight into consolatory presence. I am imperfection.

There’s magic in the art of embracing the thoughts in which we question our own strength. It’s human definition at it’s core. We’re not perfect. We get sick. We get tired. We can’t be neatly stored somewhere. We’re here, in all our faults and deficits.

So, maybe it is a battle, but maybe not on any level I ever might have anticipated. I know there will continue to be those inner conversations, the aching product of fatigue and weakness, but there will also be those moments, the ones when I feel a sense of order and completeness, the ones when the coffee cups and plates are set away, the ones when I am powerful and I am whole.

And donuts.

There will also be donuts.

 

 

My Dad’s Brother

My Dad’s brother died yesterday morning.

 When I was younger, maybe 12,  I spent a month one summer living with him and my aunt and cousins in Idaho. My cousins and I spent our days going to the nearby pond and playing in the lake that was formed from the rinsing of the trees that were cut down for lumber. I remember we had to wash off afterward because our bodies would be covered in a layer of green/brown sediment and silt.

 I also remember hot dog eating contests with my cousin David. I won sometimes but does anyone ever really “win” a hot dog eating contest? Whenever I’m sick I think “yep, summer of 1991 is catching up with me.”

A chronic insomniac, even then, I would wake up and go downstairs to find my uncle Mike pouring a pot of coffee. He always had coffee on. In fact, to this day, when I find myself wandering the house in the middle of the night, I will think of him and his midnight coffees.

There was something special about waking up and hanging out with my uncle in the middle of the night, in the quiet of this house in Post Falls, Idaho, with it’s porch- perfect for sitting and my aunt’s rose garden the highlight of the neighborhood.

It’s nice to be awake with people. It makes you less alone.

As I thought about times with Mike, or my own experiences with him, most of my memories are in a kitchen in Idaho, a coffee pot burning all night. He wouldn’t scoot me back to bed or dismiss my wakefulness. He would talk to me. We were all reading books, all the time… John Grisham and Michael Chrighton. We’d talk about that or he’d just tell me some funny story about my Dad growing up.

I can’t pretend to have known him the final years of his life. I remember that Mike was light-hearted and kind. Quick with a joke, he always made you smile. I remember one day we took a surprise last minute drive to a beach with smooth white sand, and he watched and smiled as all of us kids played until sunset. 

Last night I was thinking about this idea that it’s just nice to be awake with someone.  All my life I’d spent countless nights awake, and unlike my departed uncle, I did not keep a pot of coffee going all night. My mom likes to tell me that as a child I wandered the house like a ghost. I’d spend the hours rearranging the furniture in my bedroom or reading or watching late night tv until the Mormon Tabernacle choir sang and the screen was just a row of color bars. (only certain generations of insomniacs know about the color bars)

I used to get bored and try and wake my younger brother. I’d pick up the cat and bring her into his room and toss her onto his bed so she scrambled to get her bearings and wake him up. Then I’d pretend to be  walking by. “Oh, you’re up! Want to play Monopoly?”

Insomniacs love Monopoly. The game never ends and by the time we’ve let you purchase all the red properties and put up a few hotels, you will not have noticed we’ve entrapped you all night. It’s 4am and you either need to land on Free Parking or cash out one of your Railroads, but you will not leave us and go to bed.

I am often accused of being cheerful. I say “accused” because sometimes there is this assumption that maybe I keep a positive outlook out of naivete, as if I simply don’t know to be angry or disenchanted, as if the world looks ok to me because I just don’t know better.

I think I am reminded, as many of us are, and cruelly sometimes, that life is very short. What we do should matter, and because we cannot always do what we want to do, we should make our present state matter. Throughout my days I hear “I’ll be happy when…”

But I think “why can’t you be happy now?”

Life is happening now. It’s not happening when you lose weight or when you get another job or when you have a little more money or when your partner is doing x, y, or z. It’s happening now, when you are awake… when you are awake with someone.

It’s a series of rants, I guess. I didn’t really want this to become my Cancer Death blog. Sounds so intense. Better get back to Matt Damon fan fiction.

When someone dies you consider your own humanity and you remember the past. Life is hard sometimes, to be sure, but every day (or night in my case) is a chance to be awake with someone, and how unique and powerful is that human experience?

I’m happy I knew my Dad’s brother enough to spend a few nights at a kitchen table not alone.

 

I Did My Hair In Case Matt Damon Showed Up to My Lumpectomy

I did my hair in case Matt Damon showed up to my lumpectomy. I did. I woke up and curled each strand, smoothed it out and pinned it back. I did my eyes too- but only eye shadow, not liner. I didn’t know if they would need to put me under anesthesia and if Matt Damon really did show up I didn’t want to look like the Crow, with black streaks running down my face. I looked pretty, I thought, pretty enough for surgery and possibly Matt Damon.

I invite Matt to everything. He’s pro-union and a humanitarian, and basically, my most-favorite-actor-ever. But that’s another blog post, perhaps another blog entirely. I could call it “Things I Invite Matt Damon To.” (Parties, rallies, protests, the births of my children…)

Anyhow, my point is, I prepared for my lumpectomy like anything else. I sat and tried to preempt every possible scenario. I tried to anticipate every feeling both in me and around me. I tried to control the experience.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I made a gigantic batch of meatballs and put them in my freezer. The logic was, if something happened to me, my husband and two young children would have dinner for weeks. This way they could go a while before noticing I was gone. I imagined them looking for the little foil packets one night down the line and suddenly realizing, wait, Mom is dead.

It’s morbid. I know.

I tried to keep the people around me from worrying. I made jokes… awful jokes. People don’t laugh at cancer jokes. It’s like they have no sense of tumor. (Last one, I promise.) I tried to show how very much “ok” with all this I am, how very much on top of it I can be.

Then, yesterday morning, an hour before my procedure, after dropping the kids off at school, it dawned on me that I have cancer. I pulled the car over and thought about it for a minute. All the prepping and downplaying in the world wouldn’t take away the reality as I sat with it alone. For the first time in a month, it occurred to me that maybe it was serious.

Cancer. Yikes. They should really call it something else. Cancer needs a new PR team.

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I was afraid to fly. I was a flight attendant for several years and this question comes up often. I think there is an assumption that when you know more, you have more to fear. As I thought about the question, I had this moment of clarity when I realized that I am actually not afraid of anything. No. I am not afraid to fly. I am not afraid of heights. I am not afraid of life.

This admission, of a life unafraid, made me feel powerful and peaceful. What is there to fear? Will I get sick? Maybe, but if I do, I will be ok. Will I die? Hopefully not, but, hey, there are a ton of meatballs in my freezer, just in case.

Matt Damon did not show up to my lumpectomy, but my hair looked fabulous and had he arrived, he likely would’ve noted my amazing conditioner.  I would’ve told him not to worry, like I have everyone else. I would have made an inappropriate joke, and knowing Matt (which I don’t), he would have laughed uncomfortably. Most of all, I would hope he’d notice me there, in that hospital bed, not able to control what’s next but not afraid to live.

But mostly the conditioner.

 

On Cancer

A couple days ago I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. While I have opted to share my diagnosis, and positive prognosis, I have made a conscious decision to keep my care plan, diagnostics and details to myself. This is not only because one woman suggested to me that perhaps it’s just a gluten allergy (which made me laugh uncontrollably for ten minutes straight) but also because I don’t want this to become who I am. Cancer is not my new hobby.

I’ve come to feel that a cancer diagnosis is the eye of the storm. It is the quiet tunnel through which chaos swirls outward and yet does not disturb. It is the wind knocked out of you. A moment, watching the people around you scramble and rush to your side while you lay breathless, stunned and still.

They panic and I think about bare feet.

I think about bare feet on cold wooden floors, one my favorite feelings, stepping out of bed on winter mornings. I think about bare feet on fresh cut grass, crushed beneath but still cushioning each step from dirt and rock. I think about bare feet in oppressive sun, warm and raw with anticipation of cool water compromise.

I think about bare feet and I think about my humanity, so much more than this mortal coil, and yet the culmination of every touch and sensation I’ve known, all those bare footsteps. Oversteps. Missteps. I am my interpretation and response to my experiences. I am efforts. I am successes. I am mistakes, but I am not defined by a disease.

I will be ok. Everything will be ok.

I will be bare feet on a warm brick path. I will be a hand placed on the small of my back. I will be my son’s head resting on my shoulder. I will be my daughters grasp of fingers. I will be the brush of hair away from my face, tucked behind my ear. I will be the touch and embrace of all my life’s yesterdays.

So, I won’t share a bunch of numbers. If you ask how I’m feeling, I’ll probably say “I’m fine.” I’ll still be myself, and for me, that will be the “win.”

Everything will be ok. Cancer is the eye of the storm but storms subside.