|Not a real tattoo. But real cleavage! Those were the days...|
After I found the lump in my breast but before I admitted to myself or anyone else that I might have cancer, I felt as if I stood in a golden twilight, as if all my life thus far was deeply precious and suspended in honey. Time slowed. My attention turned to friends, to adoring the unique and earnest battle they each waged with everyday challenges - in the world, with their families, and in front of the mirror. True adversity, the specter of death seemed mythical, or perhaps real but much too remote to consider with more than the most fleeting acknowledgment. Our collective innocence glowed warm and sweet.
During this time I attended a party to celebrate my friend L's upcoming wedding. It was a simple bachelorette affair, just us girls applying temporary tattoos, drinking toasts to the bride-to-be and sharing Chinese take-out, throwing our heads back with the brand of raucous laughter reserved for such occasions. Emulating an old-timey sailor, I applied several skull and roses tattoos to my bicep, and, as a secret nod to the darkness I knew I must soon face, a single butterfly to my chest, smack on top of the lump.
At my request, L recently sent me pictures from that night. I was stunned and smarting at the sight of them, of myself with my body whole and my innocence intact, or almost so.
These days, I'm in the light again, a crisp and brilliant light full of color and spark. But there are shadows here, inky black, and I stumble into them often. For instance, I've had three dear friends die in the past month, one of breast cancer, one of a rarer cancer, and one quite suddenly after a lifetime of illness and a morning of housecleaning, noting, "Oh, I don't feel so good," before collapsing dead on the floor. These losses catapult me into despair in a way that leaves me stranded at my desk unable to reach out for support, focus on work, or devise a pleasurable alternative. It's a combination of realizations that gets me - both that these dear ones are truly gone from the world, never to crack a new joke or laugh again at an old one, never to share a hug or smile for the camera, never to speak another word; along with the knowledge that one day it will be me too that has to go and miss out on the fun.
In the meantime, I'll do my best to stay in the light. When I stumble into shadow and do what I did tonight, what I often do in that circumstance when I can't finagle a good cry – eat too much chocolate – I'll stay up late writing to you, dear readers, wishing you long lives rich with love and good times. And I'll remind you (and myself too) that no matter what we're struggling with – in the world, with our families, or in front of the mirror – we're doing just fine.