Beginnings, Endings, Circles in Between

Beginnings and endings. My life is filled with them right now. People coming in and out of my life, big openings and important closings, doors left a crack open so the light can seep in and old friendships bursting wide open with renewal.

Eleven days ago we had twin baby girls and they rock and they are called Luna Juliette and Sienna Skye. They are tiny and perfect and pink and funny. They make silly faces and sleep in awkward positions. Who knew you could love someone you just met so much? Who knew? What an opening they are, an enormous beginning, a tremendous amount of light and magic and wonder all flung into my life at once.

Together with these little beings, we are planning a move back to the Bay Area. As we prepare to leave Vancouver  I feel like we have so much to stuff into each day that its overflowing, brimming, so much. Friends to see, apartments to rent, plans to make, U-Hauls to arrange, and on and on. And as I finalize the details of my part time Assistant Professor position at Mills College (yah! when does THAT happen- a part time academic position?!?!? It’s amazing) things have sped up considerably. As in, we are leaving Vancouver, and soon. Leaving Vancouver, leaping into the Bay Area. Finishing up at UBC, heading to a small liberal arts college for women.

Last week I realized that Wednesday was my last ever possible YACN. YACN is the Young Adult Cancer Network group that meets at Callanish monthly and that has, in the face of cancer, pretty much saved my life, restored my belief in the brilliance of the world, and urged me to continue wishing on the stars winking in the sky. YACN is where I met and fell in love with Kristina and Aimee and Ashley, and so many others. YACN is where I found out about the retreat I went on that was mind blowingly amazing and where I met the art therapist that indulged my desire for acrylics and doll-making , and YACN is where I found a safe place, a place I felt understood and heard, a place I could see myself reflected, and a place I could heal.  YACN has blown open a thousand doors for me- I have found healing by telling my story and friendships that I hold so very dearly. And last week, it was, for me, the end of YACN.

The first time I went to YACN, it was January of 2014. I pushed open that door ever so slightly, letting a teeny bit of light into my life, but nervously so. I was newly bald. I debated for hours about what to wear on my head- how to perform cancer, in an explicitly cancer space? Go bald? Wear a hat? Don a wig? Would they think I was cancerish enough if I wore a wig? (Yes, I actually worried about how to look cancerish enough.) Would I look more political if I wore a hat? Would this just be another space that made me feel like raging political, because everyone was talking about how much they learned from cancer? Was it too cold to go bald? Would they think I was weird if I went bald? How could I perform cancer such that I could fit into this cancer group, because I didn’t fit anywhere else? I was nervous, and I didn’t want to have to make small talk at the beginning, so I I waited at the corner until one minute till starting. And when I walked in they knew my name and greeted me right at the door and offered me tea and I didn’t want to appear to needy so I declined the tea even though I wanted it. There was some other new people, and a couple, and a really funny Aussie who I haven’t seen since. Most people had hair, but there was one who I thought was wearing a wig, and one wearing a hat like me. And in their stories, I saw myself. They nodded when I spoke. They got it. It was overwhelming, all these young people with stories like mine, and I soon realized they probably wouldn’t care if I wore a wig or a hat or nothing at all on my naked pate.

What a beginning. It took me a few months, but slowly I figured out that I could fit into this space, and once I figured that out, I fast made friends, I fast figured out how to pour out the stories living inside my heart, and I fast figured out I should go as often as possible, because it was so healing. Since then I’ve gone to YACN almost every month, and my hair has grown back, and I don’t care if I’m performing cancer or not, or how I’m performing cancer or how I’m not. Since then, I’ve gone to YACN and I’ve made some of the best friends of my life, people I would literally jump in front of a speeding buss for, people who I can call on when I feel sad and who will immediately and always listen  and let me be upset, and who will laugh and love and gently remind me of the hopeful sparkle in my world. I mean really, when do you meet three young women like that, and become so close you imagine yourselves together as old, wrinkly women drinking spiked lemonade in rocking chairs after we have outlived our oncologists, in a period of fifteen months?!?! When does that happen? I a grateful for these people. So insanely grateful.

And yet, yesterday I said goodbye to Ashley, one of these incredible friends. We realized in horror that she wouldn’t be back from her trip until I had already left Vancouver. And so I drove her home instead of dropping her off at the Skytrain, and lots of tears fell onto each others’ shoulders even though we both swore we never cry at goodbyes. It was a sad end. An end to being close physically, an end to knowing she’s a bike ride away, an end to having this young woman with whom I have survived cancer, really close just in case I need someone to talk to or hold the babies. What heartache. Ashley and I bonded when the folks that (wo)man Callanish opened up their arms up really wide and took both of us under their wings. I am insanely grateful we found Callanish, and that we both got wrapped up in the embrace.

Those women at Callanish embrace so many of us, even when we are bald and angry and snotty from crying, and even when we can’t smile and when there’s nothing to say and our nails are cracked from treatments or our bodies decomposing from hormone therapy and when what we need most is for everyone to shut the f*ck up about how its all gonna be fine, and even when the news never gets better. But once you’re in that warm embrace, then you’re also allowed to celebrate like crazy when something goes right, and everyone is beyond overjoyed for you- like really, just genuinely, hopefully, lovingly happy for you- when dreams manifest. It’s a kind of palpable love that is there in the best of times, and in the worst of times, and that surrounds you and lights up with you when bright spots start to glow and twinkle and wink. And because they took us in when we were at our worst, their caring and joy at the best of times feels like unicorns pooping rainbow candies as they frolic across the sky and goblets overflowing with warm, syrupy, golden liquid. It’s a glorious love, one all humans deserve to be surrounded with, one that makes me a better person.

But this too, has an ending looming for me. Next month when YACN rolls around I’ll be jealous of my buddies who get to bask in the unicorn-syrup-golden-goblet-love, and I’ll sadly miss the company of the girls who get it the most. They’ll be in my heart, for they’ve changed me. This last YACN, I convinced Sam to come with me, and to bring Sienna and Luna. I emailed and asked if it was OK, and she said we must come, and we must bring the babies. And so we did. And so we bundled up the girls, and we picked up Ash, and we headed to Callanish. The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Acrylics and Sparkles and Sand opened the door for us, and the look on her face as she hugged us and cooed over the sweet four day old bundles in our arms warmed my heart. Janie The Wise, too, kissing and loving. Our babies were getting surrounded by the golden liquid flowing from goblets while unicorns prance love, and it was awesome. We settled in for our two hours together, and they were really special.

And during that last YACN, we all got to sit together, and the babies snuggled in, and Sam was there, and everyone shared. And I sat close to Sam and to Ash and to Aimee and to Kristina. And I sat across from Gretchen, The Art Therapist Who Presides Over Acrylics and Sparkles and Sand, and to the side of Janie The Wise and diagonal from a few less familiar faces. I ached to hold those less familiar faces in with Kristina and Ashley and Aimee and I, to tell them we love them and invite them to dinner, to make sure they felt loved– but I also knew this was my ending, and they’d have to forge those friendships without me, make them happen even though I was far away.

My heart broke into a thousand pieces when a dear one said she realized what a loss it would be when I left. My heart broke into a thousand pieces again when Janie The Wise spoke so beautifully about my participation in YACN and how she would miss me. My heart broke into a thousand pieces each time someone spoke and I could relate, each time I looked into the eyes of my comrades and I could see myself, and each time all I wanted to do was surround each of these beautiful beings with love and magic and all the friendship in the world. My heart broke into a thousand pieces each time I realized, again and over again, that this would be my last YACN, the last time I got to love these people in this way, at least for a while. My heart broke into a thousand pieces again when Sammy spoke. My heart broke for me- for these relationships, and for my friends- for their tough times, and for my future- for the shining beacon this group has given me. My heart broke for my baby girls, who will only know these awesome people once in a while, if we make it back to Vancouver, and through photos and stories.

And so it goes- we keep saying goodbye, and the endings break our hearts wide open, cracking them to reveal what’s inside, and it only hurts because there is so much love pouring out. And with each goodbye, we acknowledge there was a special beginning, something nascent we nurtured together, something that became so special it needed a heart-broken goodbye. With each goodbye, we step a little closer to the new beginnings, to settling with our babies in California, to always holding these people and this place close, but to a life in which we have to fly back to visit. Vancouver has been so good to us, and YACN has made my life richer, more full, and enriched with friendships.

So here’s a few baby pictures, which is why you’re actually reading, I know.

On Silence

We are still waiting. And waiting. And waiting. My patience skills are way underdeveloped. I’m crappy at waiting. And so I thank goodness for the trips to the river and the pile of interviews to code and the silly texts between friends and for my sweet Sammy who makes me see movies like Mission Impossible that don’t even pass the Bechdel test (that the movie has at least two woman characters in it that talk to each other, about something other than a man. Mission Impossible didn’t even have two women characters that ever spoke to each other, and one of them was on screen for only 10 seconds). Anyways, so we wait.

And as we wait, I’ve been thinking so much about silence. Some people in my life have recently approached me with utter silence. They have dropped away completely, to the tune of no response to emotion-filled texts and no responses to missed FaceTime calls. Sometimes, that’s welcome. Some kinds of silence make me feel safe. Silence from drama is generative. The ability to turn away from people who stir tension and worry feels really fucking good for right now, for this sensitive, raw, time in which we are waiting for our sweet baby girls. And sometimes, there is an echo in the silence, an echo of “why on earth is there so much silence?”

I am definitely someone who likes contact. I love group texts. I like to hear voices over FaceTime and am apt to meet up with friends in the middle of the night at the 24 hour cafe. It’s really hard for me to say no to social events, even if my plate is already piled high. I’m sad to miss a musician-friend’s concert tonight and I wish I could have all my dear ones here with us in Nanaimo while we wait. I’d piled them on the futon and make them sleep on the floor, and I’d make us all pancakes and I’d rub their backs with sunscreen while we swam at the river. I like people around. All of them. All of the time.

So sometimes, the silence stings. It stings when I put something out to you- a text, a call, an email, a coffee-date- that describes this joy-filled-hard-as-fuck-really-weird-and-awesome experience, and you don’t respond or you forget to respond. I am so grateful for the many folks who have called, messaged, chatted, laughed with me over the last little while, because I need you. But each of you had a you-shaped imprint in my heart, and I need all of you, and you can’t and don’t replace each other.

So why are you haunting us, silence? Is the person on the other end jealous? Does she feel left behind, left outside of having babies? I think so. But does she remember, that we have a surrogate, because cancer? Can I share with her, how this feels like tearing my heart out and making me whole all at the same time, all at once?

Being and becoming a mama creates wide open gaps among different people, for some reason. Jealousy. Anger that women flaunt their baby making success. Feelings of invisibility. I too felt this, once. When I was mid-chemo, my dear friend Jennie came to visit. Only days later, she confirmed what she suspected: her first pregnancy. At a time when my hair was falling out and everyday felt like someone was slamming my face into the fact that my baby making plans were derailed, I was sad. I told her. I told her I felt jealous. She told me about how things in her life were hard, too. And then after I said it, after I let those words out into the space between us, I could be overjoyed for her. Happy she was expecting a wee one, who she aptly named Grace. Jennie’s enormous, sun-sparkling smile carried us all through. She cared so much, and when it was finally my turn, she was overjoyed for me, and it meant even more because she knew how sad and jealous I felt when I was getting chemo and she was getting pregnant.

It’s not all peachy, this pregnancy. Trust me, I’ve sat with my cancer-friends and raged, oh yes, raged, about fertility. We have screamed because our Facebook feeds are filled with newborn announcements and we feel like we are on the outside, looking through a glass wall, a glass wall that won’t let us through because, cancer. A glass wall that, when we bang on it, doesn’t transmit a single sound of our distress to the other side. A glass wall that makes us mute, our traumas invisible, our desires impossible. It feels like a fucking glass wall, sometimes.

And so we get creative. We claw our ways to what we want. We draw on family and friends. We are relentless and strong and broken and tired, all at once. It’s beautiful and fucked. I still want you here with me, even if you’re hurting. I think it hurts a little less, when you can say, “dude, this hurts and I’m jealous.” I said that to Jennie many months ago, and you know what she said? She said something like, yah, and also…. and then she let me into her life, which isn’t perfect either. And then we connected, because we were both vulnerable and raw and real. It’s better that way. But it takes work. It takes risk. It takes reaching out and wondering, and listening, and being honest.

I don’t know, maybe the silence is moving. Maybe the silence is protective. Maybe the silence just is.

But when a friend doesn’t respond to the calls I make for connection, when the silence echoes and echoes and my heart is in the middle of it, at some point I have to turn inward, to protect myself, and I have to reach instead, for the hands that I know will grab my fingers when I reach out. I don’t do silence well. It’s too echo-y. It’s too painful. I need voices and hands reaching out and little giggles. I need cute emoticons and funny emails and late night visits.

So I’m learning still. Learning about the kinds of friendships I want to invest in, figuring out when I can throw my whole heart into friendship and feel secure that I’ve given my heart to someone who will protect it and shower it with care. I’m about to move, and then I’ll have to build community. And I know who I’ll be looking for. Heart-full, sparkly, thoughtful, safe, creative, joyful, real, complex, silly, honest, full of feeling. It’s what I want, what I need, how I think I’ll be. So communities of mine, I am grateful to you for showing me who to surround myself with, how to build the community I need and love and want, but mostly, I am grateful to you for offering silence only when it’s safe and peaceful- I am grateful to you for being heart-full, sparkly, thoughtful, safe, creative, joyful, real, complex, silly, honest, full of feeling.