charlie (Taken with Instagram)
Accordion player and dog, Civic Center BART station (Taken with Instagram)
The night of the supermoon, I burned myself on a pan full of spinach and mushrooms and a bit of garlic, which I was cooking for my mom. I was rushing and when I went to set the spatula down, I didn’t realize how far down I was placing it and set my arm straight onto the rim of the pan. Immediately the burn went white as the moon. I ran some cold water over it, should have iced it immediately, but I wanted to get outside, wanted to see the big moon on the horizon, wanted to feel it at its Biggest and Pumpkiniest. It began blistering as I cooked.
As soon as I was done, I grabbed a bag of frozen peas and carrots from the freezer, the go-to bag for injuries. They’ve defrosted and been refrozen a hundred times over. I cradled them in my arms, the burn in an awkward spot on the underside of my wrist, and called the dog to head out with me.
We walked up the street, me looking up and around. A woman was heading down the block toward us, and as I glanced her way I could see her eying me warily. There I was, my jeans rolled up, one leg higher than the other, a dog wandering nearby, a bag of frozen vegetables in the crook of one arm, my head thrown back as I stumbled uncertainly along my way.
“Oh hi,” I called out, hoping to reassure her. “I’m just looking for the moon.”
She smiled, reassured of exactly one thing, and continued on her way. After almost 20 years since the day I first set foot in Berkeley, I’d finally become what I’d always resisted. Another Berkeley weirdo.
I kept walking and waiting. I did see the moon eventually that night, although it took me longer to find than I’d like to admit. I was behind the hills, behind a lot of buildings and trees and a playground and my own ridiculous normal head-in-the-clouds natural state of being. The burn is still a dark red. It hasn’t faded away. So I think about it plenty.
Sometimes I tell a story that makes people laugh, about being in a yoga class once, when a male teacher asked, “Are any of your on your moons?” It was horrible and gross and funny as shit.
But you know, the moon goes in cycles and so do we, not just women but people. For me, the supermoon came at the end of the second of two major ten-year cycles. The first was terrible. The second was fixing the terrible, but it was still very difficult. I don’t know what the third will bring, but so far some amazing pieces are falling into place. What I do know is that the burn seems in part to have both cauterized the end of the previous cycle - there! done! you goddamn did it - but also to serve as a reminder of what I learned.
Over the past two weeks I’ve experienced some emotional turmoil in something I thought, hoped was one of the remarkable pieces as I started this next ten-year cycle. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but right now, it’s difficult and painful. In the past, I might have let it throw me or derail me entirely, messing up everything else in my life, might have let it hurt me so deeply I have to focus all my energy on it. And sure, it has hurt me. But over the past two weeks, I’ve focused and relied on the other wonderful things I’m fortunate enough to be building, and made sure I kept those in full swing. More than that, I was delighted by them, even on tough days, and grateful to have them in my life. Those are just as important. Funny how building a solid base will keep you stable, isn’t it.
At first, when I realized I wasn’t being as tough or as strong or as graceful as I wanted, I was afraid I hadn’t learned anything from my past experiences. Hadn’t changed, hadn’t grown, hadn’t bothered to improve. Then I realized I had, because I’d kept everything else rolling along. We’ve always got stuff to work on and improve - at least I do - and now I know where to fine tune.
I also know it might be time to start a podcast called “Our Bodies, Our Moons”.
Two years ago today she was admitted to the hospital. Today we had lunch like it was no big thing.
Can you believe it? Two years. What a goddamn two years.
I love you, mama.
Happy 75th, gorgeous. You make me feel lucky every day.
* solo train trip to somewhere near the water
* drive-in movie (here’s hoping that this time it won’t be so bad that we walk—er, drive out like that time jon and i went to see the double feature of men in black ii and austin powers iii)
* organize one reading (maybe an outdoor one??? idk)
* move therapy appointment so that i actually have weekends to myself
* get organized so that i feel less sunday anxiety that eats up my whole days because jeez man i am just freaking out right now
start planning a trip to stay with Leah in the 1909 cottage she just rented in Oakland.
Last Tuesday morning I was packing my bag for work, as usual in a rush to get my laptop into the case and get to the train, when a piece of paper folded in half fell out onto my bed. It was a list of local notaries. I looked at the paper for a few seconds, opening it up and smoothing it flat, before re-creasing it with my fingertips. I stood awkwardly in my bedroom, wasting time I didn’t have, staring at everything and nothing. How had I not seen this paper in all the time I’d used the bag since then? It had been sitting in there, waiting, quietly. I didn’t have time to put it in one of the boxes, this list of notaries I would probably never use again, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Later I could put it with everything else, all the other pieces, everything else I was holding on to, until I figured out where it was all supposed to go.
Calling a notary from the hospital and asking—borderline begging, I suppose—if he, she, anyone can please come to notarize your mother’s will because your mother is suddenly dying: This isn’t something I ever imagined doing. I don’t mean illness, death, loss. I’d thought about those. I mean the details, the unknowable sudden onslaught of details that must be attended to when you discover someone you know and love is so sick with cancer she is dying.
Not just dying, but sprinting toward death. Still, you try and control the details, keep them from blowing away in the wind, as if somehow this way you can keep her safe.
I never imagined standing there in the hallway with the notary I finally found, after a series of calls to unavailable notaries, notaries too far away, notaries not in the office. He held a big, leather-bound book. He was very professional, very courteous, very out of place in the white hallway where I had of late found myself trying to maintain control of a train that was careening over a very terrifying abyss.
There are a lot of things to learn when you’re faced with illness and death. You have to learn them if it’s an emergency or a slow-building process. You have to learn them if it’s you who is ill or someone you love. You have a lot to learn, often in a very little period of time. So little you feel like yelling about how unfair it is, all of it, everything, shaking tiny fists at the universe in futile anger and yelling about the great unfairness. Instead you switch on the light of the day room at the end of the hall and sit, at 5:00 am, the world waking up and going about its business as if nothing is wrong, to sit and talk to a lanky, bespectacled hospitalist about how exactly the doctors should interpret your mother’s do not resuscitate orders now that treatment has started.
The paperwork is astounding. Forms, coming and going. Lab reports. Booklets about what lymphoma is, what types there are, what the treatment options are, what a person going through chemo should expect, what a person-going-through-chemo’s caretakers should expect, what the types of stem cell transplants are, what will happen, what the person can and absolutely cannot eat, what the immunization schedule is, release forms. On and on and on. Even menus, from hospital stays, although to call them menus is sort of cruel. I have folder after folder of it all. A huge binder. A box full of booklets. You should see them. I should find a way to show them all to you.
In just under a month it will be two years since that first week in the hospital. Two years since I discovered what dark humor really is, how jokes an unfortunate cohort people can understand will somehow get you through grim hours. Two years I have thought about what it meant to go grey, all emotions and sensations inaccessible, to shut myself down in order to contend with something that was so much larger than me. Two years I have quietly hoarded away paperwork. Two years of learning there is more than the simple black and white of cancer, more than lived or died. Two years of nearly every emotion save paralyzing grief. Two years since my mother very nearly died, and then didn’t.
Two Mother’s Days. I count them now.
Summer in San Francisco
As you may or may not know, due to the incredible generosity of you wonderful people, we’ve raised over $2300. Even after Pledgie takes the standard 3%, we’ll still have a remarkable amount of money. I am astonished.
Lisa, Bailey, and I have been emailing back and forth, coordinating. Michaela, who is an absolutely amazing person, went above and beyond: She drove to Seattle to get the cats. We’ll be covering her expenses (and buying her a drink).
In one email, Lisa let me know she spoke with Jeff’s aunt. As you may know, his few family members live on the other side of the country. The aunt said his mom is, quite obviously, devastated at the loss of her son. She is also dealing with many other difficult situations at this time. We immediately decided, rather than donate the extra funds or give them only to the cats, to help his mom in the only way we can and alleviate one tiny burden, which is a financial one. Lisa explained about the money we raised and offered to help pay for Jeff’s cremation.
I hope this is okay with all of you. This is your money you have freely given, but I want to be very open about where it goes. I am fairly certain we can pay for it in its entirety. Even if we do this, there will still be plenty (plenty!) of money left to take care of the cats’ transport (again, major, major thanks to Michaela) as well as any vet bills, etc.
When Lisa told Bailey and me, we knew immediately the right thing to do, and we hope very much you will agree. If you do not, please let me know, and if any of you change your mind, I am happy to work with you to give your money back or to make sure it is earmarked in some way.
This morning I spoke with someone who was very close to Jeff (I won’t say who unless she tells me it’s okay). I told her what we planned to do and she said she thought it wonderful and absolutely what he would have wanted: He never, ever would have wanted to burden anyone, and this makes things the tiniest bit easier.
Your money allows us to help his mother and it’s also helping his cats, which is what he asked us to do. Thank you.
It seems inevitable, in almost any situation, that someone will take umbrage with a decision you have made. Most certainly we live in the age of “you’re doing it wrong”.
This is particularly painful when you’re doing something you think is not only right but right in a bigger sense. Right because it’s morally right. Good. The right thing to do. But as I am eternally fond of saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”.
Someone found their way to my original post via twitter and, in a series of comments, let me know this decision to ship Jeff’s cats, Bert & Buddy, was dumb. Worse than that, our asking for help in this endeavor was shady. There are shelters in Seattle, people who adopt cats in Seattle. The person who’s adopting Bert & Buddy, if she’s such a good person, giving them such a good home, then she should be able to pay for them all alone. The guy who owned the cats, the guy who died, if he loved them as much as we say he did, he should have taken care of them before he killed himself. His family, what about his family, they should be taking care of everything. Right? RIGHT????
So here I am, spending my lunch hour, writing this so I can explain a few things.
Jeff loved his cats. That’s something we know.
When I read Jeff’s note on tumblr, I felt sick and helpless, in that chest-searing way that feels like someone has carved out every bit of insideness, as if they were making a smooth canoe in the small cavern of my ribcage, the wood tight and too hot to touch. Totally helpless. Could I have done something? Could anyone? Could I do something now? Anything? Nothing? I didn’t know. The last line, the aloneness, was the worst, the most painful, the most white-hot.
A few hours later Bailey and I texted, and we thought about his cats. We thought about them because he mentioned them, and because we love cats. Lisa had tweeted about trying to find a home for them, and Bailey mentioned adopting them if she could ship them down here. Without a second thought, I told her I would help her get the money.
I don’t think I should have to explain this but I will because this is how we do things now:
These cats are a part of a friend, who we lost.
If we scatter them, put them in a shelter where we hope they will be adopted, give money to the shelter to support them: We could do that. Who knows what would happen. We could work to find them homes. They might stay together, they might be adopted separately. We’d probably never know. Then we move on, and that’s that.
But here was a friend, a part of this internet community, this funny thing we have that is sometimes wonderful and sometimes horrible and sometimes neither of those things but just is, who was offering to take both cats. And here I thought: We should all pay for this. Not just one person. We should all pay to take care of these creatures Jeff loved because that is the least we can do, goddammit. I was hoping we’d raise enough to ship the cats. If there was a little extra for food and litter, then that would be great.
But then a crazy thing happened. You guys happened. By the time I started writing this post, we’d raised over $2100.
I think what happened is our collective sense of helplessness poured out. Maybe. I don’t know. We didn’t know what to do so we tried to rescue these cats and support them and put them somewhere they’d still be in the circle of people we knew, where we’d feel like, “You know, maybe that would make Jeff happy.” And we are all paying to support those cats. Not just one person. All of us. Because in a way we’re all coming together to try and honor this person in the way that we hope would mean the most to him.
Because I do not like to be called shady, and because I really didn’t expect to get more than a few hundred dollars, I want you to know what we plan to do with the money. Our plan with the funds is as follows:
If there are excess funds, we are going to figure out a way to donate the money to something that makes sense. Possibly an animal shelter in Seattle, possibly a mental health organization. Open to suggestions.
Truly, neither I nor Bailey (and this was not her idea to ask, it was mine) had any idea you would all be so generous. We thank you for being amazing. In my mind, I think we want to help Jeff’s cats have a happy life in a good place because we couldn’t help Jeff have a happier life, as sad and uncomfortable as that is to think, and this is the best we can do and a way we can honor him right now.
For those of you who do not agree with bringing the cats to San Francisco, who think we should have left the cats in a shelter, who think whatever it is you think: Please familiarize yourself a little more with Jeff’s story and please, please have a little bit of respect for friends who are trying to do a good deed for a dead friend.
Updated the original post with the pledgie, but here it is too.
Let’s give those cats a good home and make sure there’s no shortage of photos of them, too. Right Bailey?
So. Bert & Buddy need a home.
Bailey, the best, has offered to adopt them if we can ship B&B down here. It will cost at least $200 per cat to ship, which of course doesn’t count the costs Bailey takes on as cat mom.
Internet, I’m asking you: If we shipped B&B, Jeff’s cats, to San Francisco, would you help pay? Please? I really don’t like asking for money, because I feel like someone’s always asking for money, but that guy loved his cats and for god’s sakes people, the least we can do is keep them together and give them a good home with a good cat mom.
Please let me know. If yes, say yes and also maybe tell me how much in my ask box if you want to be private I’ll set up the thing I’m supposed to set up or you can PayPal me or whatever. Something. Ok?
ETA: HERE IS THE PLEDGIE. THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING GREAT.
His is not my story to tell. I wasn’t going to say anything here. Then I remembered this. Jeff submitted more sunset photos to this little blog I started and abandoned than anyone else. The best ones, too. Whatever his reasons, I’ll say this: Mental illness is a real motherfucker. Your heart was huge, Jeff. Thanks for seeing the beauty in a lot of things.
Golden Gardens in Seattle, August 14 2008 @ ~ 8:30pm