Thursday, November 09, 2006

The other anniversaries

When young the months of the year have few associations, mostly days off from school, your birthday, the major holidays your family celebrates, mostly benign. As you get older, memories of events get added in, with some month’s being laden more than others. There are months that have lots of great moments to remember when they come around, but somewhere after you have lived a few decades, it becomes hard to find a month that doesn’t have at least one bad association. Sure, every month holds happiness in a day or a string of days but there are months that hold images, words that echo outlining the scars that fade with a flip of the calendar but never go away.

A very long time ago November just meant Thanksgiving, seeing family. When I was quite young it was hosted at Cousin Fritzi’s house on Long Island (Kings Point maybe?)– the part of the family that had money. There were two grand pianos in the living room, on the lower level were maid quarters and a dressing room for the pool parties we had in June. Every year there were gifts, as if it were Christmas but being Jewish we made no such reference, for the young children. One year I was too sick to go and my parents brought home the doll that I would have been given by Fritzi herself had I not a raging fever. I think was about 5 years old. While I was happy to still receive my toy, even then, I missed the experience of trays of hors d'oeuvre passed around by women in lovely starched uniforms allowing me to feel as though I was in a movie from the forties.

In my house politics were a hot topic. I was taken to anti-war protests and women’s liberation demonstrations, our house was among the first subscribers to Ms. Magazine, thus November became about elections as well. I ached to be older enough to go into the voting booth, tugging the curtain around me and pulling levers, making an impact. Ah, youth. The first election I voted in my candidate lost. Every year I have hope, but plan for the lesser result.

Then November became about my siblings. Yes plural. The year I turned eleven my stepmother unexpectedly gave birth to twins. Everyone just thought she was carrying large, neither she nor my father are exactly small folks. When folks asked if they had a boy or a girl, my father had fun saying “a them”. So then the month became a new birthday to celebrate and marked the beginning of my identity as an older sister.

There November sat for years, decades even, as I cannot think of anything else that carries the weight of visceral memories. Now November marks the beginning of a season of rollercoaster changes and deep love. In 2004, I flew to Ohio to meet TGF, gather necessary belongings (later things would arrive via a moving company), chief among them Grace, the feline grand dame of our household now, and drive west. We left with the Purple Beast packed to her gills (or whatever the equivalent is for a car) on Election Day, after TGF voted of course (I had voted by absentee ballot). We crossed the country listening to various elections results in the car during the day, looking online at night in hotels to check our respective “home” returns – horrified by the presidential results. We whispered plans, and shouted our nervousness. Tuesday this year was Election Day and the two year anniversary of our arrival to the Bay Area. How did that happen? Two years already? Or is only? Mostly it’s both with these types of feelings, in my experience. There is no way to square the levels of intimacy achieved with the glaring levels of growth still needed to make a relationship blossom.

Last fall developed a new level of memories that I really thought I could live without but a year later I am not sure I feel quite the same way. In the middle of October last year my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer*. There is no way to know how one will process, assimilate that sort of information and every individual goes through the experience in a unique way. I was blown away by how it affected me. By twists and turn I told myself it wasn’t that big, that things pointed to the fairly minor in the world of cancer, that last part was true, but my emotional life shivered in the warm sun and left me tired but unable to sleep. November 8, 2005 my mother had a mastectomy and the next day, per her request, I flew east to take care of her for two weeks. In part I handled it well, took care of business when I needed to regarding my mother, however school fell deeper into the abyss. There was a deepening of connection between my mother and me, a clarification of boundaries, and a huge learning experience of what we do when we are faced with something we cannot prepare for.

Once again it is hard to know whether to think of it as a year already or only. TGF remarked that she could not fathom that a whole year has passed because that time is so frozen for her. This November becomes the first year that we will count how many years cancer free. This is year one and all signs point to no cancer and we all breathe a bit easier. Of course the statistics say the real margins are two years and then five years. So while I am breathing well right now, I realize that we still have another year, another November before something like safe returns. Another year before I can start to fully believe again that my mother will always be at the other end of the phone, that she will always talk about one day being up for traveling to see me (she has some issues that have nothing to do with last year), that I will always laugh at her puns, that I can hear her say “I love you” the way only a mother can. Because the reality is that until we lose a parent, we hold a belief they will always be there, though logically, rationally we know it’s not true. It is one the childlike things that guide us and hold tethered to a foundation that we need to launch from daily. I learned that I will handle losing that foundation but I prefer it to be a date very far away.

November represents new levels of beginnings, changes, and endings thanks to the last two years. In marks now how we guide our destiny, how fate intervenes, how karma can both seduce us and bite us in the ass.

(*For new readers, Sunny’s cancer had not spread to lymph nodes, she did do one of the two recommended courses of chemo and is in good shape overall.)


Marianne said...

This is a beautiful post, truly. I enjoyed it so very much. What a childhood!
I'm very glad, *very* glad to hear your Mom is doing alright, and may she continue along that path.
November changed for me in 1997 at which point my father died suddenly and unexpectedly, he was young (67) and I still miss him like crazy.
So yeah,I really am so glad your Mom is alright.

Andrea said...

excellent post, you have a beautiful way of describing things, i can almost feel the emotions you felt as you tell your story, as if i were there.

sweetisu said...

I'm glad your mom is doing fine. Cancer bites hard. I hope you will celebrate many many years of cancer free with her.

cancer-free for 5 yrs now.