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.