Yesterday the weather was weird. Sunny and spectacular in the morning, MetService predicted a front at 3.30 with wind and rain and hail and a 10 degree Celsius drop in temperature.
My emotional weather was weird too. Working working on the plans and slides for a tricky gig next week—my last time out of town for a while. A research team meeting that turned significantly more interesting as our answers dwindled and our questions multiplied. A walk through the park with now Dr. Melissa who had begun her internship. And then, a front at 3.30 with emotional wind and hail and a sudden drop in temperature.
At 3.20, Michael and I headed out to the hospital in the sun, and by the time we arrived, the wind was lashing and the rain falling in fist-sized drops. We wandered around the hospital, looking for the radiotherapy place. First to the Blood and Cancer Centre where I have my appointments and had my chemo three years ago. Then down to the radiation part where I have had scans to see how bad things are (never as bad as they could be, but the scans are always scary). Then finally to the Blood and Cancer Radiation Centre to be ten minutes late for my appointment with a young and handsome doctor named Aidan.
Was it the name that was my undoing? Did it somehow open my emotions when I saw that he spelled it with the closing A as we chose for our Aidan in the first week of his life? Or the kindness of this Aidan’s approach, his walking me through the ways the treatment might be horrible—or might not be—the ways they would try so hard to let me live as much of my life as possible while in treatment, and the hope that the treatment would increase the odds that I would have a long life afterwards. Anyway, it was a caring and gentle meeting with no new information at all, so it was a surprise to me when I found myself sobbing in the little changing room.
This part was a mystery to me. Why was I suddenly falling into such deep sadness? And why was I so careful to wipe the tears and try not to look like I had just been crying? Why, as Aidan and his colleague talked and measured and drew on my body, was I trying to chat about this trip next week and the places they had visited when all I could feel was the well of grief inside me? Where did it all come from and why did I feel the need to hide it?
Keith reminds me that fear and grief and sadness are not linear, and they do not arise on schedule just when we expect them. Like most complex phenomena, they are not even obviously caused by anything. These days I am as likely to cry because Trump will soon be president or because of the grief on the faces of the mourning in Istanbul or the haunted in Aleppo. And fear and grief and sadness are also not easily shared, not with the strangers who try to keep the cancer away nor even with my loved ones who try to make sense of what’s going on for me. In the parking garage after the appointment, I just put my head on Michael’s shoulder and cried, and neither of us had words for quite why.
Nearly two years ago, I got the tattoo that I changed the way I saw my cancer-changed and scarred body (I wrote about that here). I thought that the creative—and then painful—process of designing the tattoo and then having it inked on me was a kind of a ritualized ending—Ok, cancer, this is my body back again. I’m drawing the designs now.
I did not know, of course, that the lovely curving vines would hide the scar lines of the new surgeries for a new cancer. I did not know then that the tattoo I love so much would give me a new thing to protect, a new thing to mourn if I lost it. But love is like that, right? Love and loss are conjoined twins, always, whether we attend to them both or not. And life does not unfold in the ways we plan or expect.
So perhaps it was that. Perhaps the aching sadness was about the three tiny black tattoo dots that Aidan marked me with so that they will be able to line up the machines so carefully for each one of my twenty-five treatments. I’m being marked again, but not by choice, not by beauty. Cancer and doctors back again, showing me once again that we don’t write our own stories in a vacuum—not even the stories we ink on our bodies. There’s time which makes its own marks. And accidents. And sickness. And joy (or wait—does joy leave marks?).
The southerly front blew through over night, leaving the air cold and glitteringly beautiful. In the shower this morning, I scrubbed off the pen marks, leaving these three little dots behind—odd freckles with much more meaning than size. I will head off to this tricky gig this week, and will bring my Aidan along with me to explore a new place. Naomi will go back into her wintery life on the other side of the world for her second semester at college. I will come back and begin this next chapter of my treatment. Twenty-five trips to the hospital. Twenty-five times holding still on the table.
And sadness and joy will sometimes flood over me in unexpected and non-linear ways. Then the wind or the clouds or the seasons will change again, and something else unexpected will happen. Through it all, time and life will continue to mark my body and my meaning.