Last year this time my dad had recently died. I believed the worst of things had happened, that the rest was all just grief. I thought I’d be moving forward with life and, among other things, blogging more. Then I took my husband to the ER one July day and discovered he had cancer.
Last year no longer really exists for me. Not as a year, not as discrete periods of time filled with seasonal chores and a vacation and time spent breathing fresh air. It became months of survival mode, a whole year of it, if time had existed that way. Bad food, bad sleep, bad dreams. Bad times–there’s no reason to put a spin on it.
The part of the story that you’re wondering, I’m sure, is how things are now. My husband’s well. The odds are very much in his favor that he will stay cancer free. That didn’t come simply. From July to January he had two surgeries, one port placement, and three months of chemo. He’s got scars and the port remains for now, just in case, and we have stacks of medical supplies everywhere and every twinge of anything feels like like a potential prelude to something worse.
It’s hard, though, to say he’s cancer free at this point. The obvious reason is that it’s hard to trust he’ll remain that way. Not after the shock of going from very healthy to very not healthy so quickly, not after watching the up and down and down and down of my dad’s illness. Statistics are a way to make sense of the world, but in the end, they are belief, not certainty.
Beyond that, though, is the fact that we are currently very much not in the okay category. The idea that life goes back to normal is a fiction that serves none of us. We are dazed–he and the kids and I–we stare at one another, we spontaneously cry while walking, we remember long drives back and forth to the hospital before we knew the cancer was contained, we carry untapped grief from my dad’s death, we take every step as though the ice might give way beneath us. Now is not the okay time. Now is the assessing and healing time.
During the winter of 2021-22 we had a single room addition to our home. Roughly 190 sq ft, it increased the size of our house substantially. It was a terrible time to build anything–costs had just shot up, we couldn’t take any chances with COVID because of my dad and would need workers in–and I was gone for much of it. As for the structure, the builder suggested putting in lots of windows. I hesitated because I worried it would be too cold in the winter months, but in the end we followed his recommendation.
This room has become the space in which we can exist. It is not cold, never, other than last month, when the power lines up our street were taken out by falling trees during a terrible storm. The power was out for thirty-six hours, during which time we pulled our mattresses off our beds and the four of us slept in this room, heating it with breath and blankets and candles (while we were awake–don’t burn candles while you sleep), a string of fairy lights wrapped around one window. This room is where we saw the storm blow in, shaking the trees all around us, and then blow on out again. It’s where we watch the barred owl sit on the bean poles I never took down in the garden, waiting for voles. It’s where the four of us play Mario Kart together, because I quit avoiding things I was bad at, and where I always come in fourth. It’s where the dog sleeps on the couch and the cat has taken over the good chair; where I have boxes of yarn and multiple knitting projects; where the Christmas tree that we never had space for before now stands in the corner, tinder dry and waiting until we’re ready to let go of it during this time when letting go has been so hard. It’s where we are together, as safe as we get to be in a very uncertain world.
It is where we work on healing.
That, in a nutshell, is where I’ve been and why I’ve been silent once again. I started this blog because I’d been told repeatedly that writers were supposed to have an online presence. I’ve stayed (holy carp, for over a decade!) because it reminds me that I’m part of the world. Because I like and care about the people I’ve met here. That doesn’t make it easier to make entries during desperate times though.* I’d like to say it will be clear sailing now and I’ll post regularly. We’ll have to see how it goes.
Aside from here (and the emails I owe people), I’ve been more productive over the last few years than I have been in a while. My silences around my work are pregnant pauses, not indefinite hibernation. Writing can be stabilizing, can be solace, can be healing, when it’s given appropriate space. I’ve craved even the tedious parts of it. There have been times when I’ve been ready to go door to door in search of anyone needing help with a manuscript.**
A bit of housekeeping: writers still are supposed to have an online presence of sorts. I quit Twitter last fall, for my sanity and in keeping with my desire to wean away from social media and its commodification of our existences. This blog, while open to the public, feels a more personal place to me, and I plan to maintain it that way. If you’d like a more regular and somewhat more writerly connection with me, you can find it in my new newsletter. Sign up and past letters are available here. Same name, yes, confusing, but I do confusing best.
I think that’s all for now, dear ones. I’ll be back. Be well, be wild, be you. We’ll meet up again before long.
*I did write posts during desperate times, on the Caring Bridge journal I kept for my husband. If we are connected in some way, if we’re internet friends or in person friends and simply haven’t been in touch and you’d like to know more about what happened, contact me. I can invite you in.
**This is actually realistic in this area of Massachusetts. It may be harder to find people who aren’t active writers than people who are.