Tag Archives: dreams

7 July 2009: an ache

These dreams wherin everything is out of joint. Trying to take the Tube to impossible destinations, unfamiliar geographies. And a slapdash wedding, bald and ugly, the wrong flowers, no guests. Everything is wrong; I can feel it. Pain in my arm and my armpit, an ache. Meeting with the surgeon this afternoon to say nothing. Right now it’s raining, a comfort.

Four years ago now that I was in New York and people died on the London Underground. If there was a point to their deaths it is lost on me; most everything is.

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2 July 2009: die happy

Another horrible dream several nights ago of perpetual pursuit and eventual death–waiting for the poison to work to its purpose like Act V of Hamlet, and desperately wishing there were something to say to K., something to express love that would endure past death. More and more I consider the moment of death and am left fearful and shocked in a way I never have been.

Last night I lay on my back and looked at the sky, a thing I have not done in so long–yet how much of my adolescence was spent on my back in the grass? Ten o’clock in Oxfordshire, the perfect cool of summer evenings, wisps of clouds in a sky streaked purple, intermittent early evening stars. How shocked I was as a child to learn that that star was not a star at all but Venus, an entire planet masquerading as a point of light that appears after dinner, something that now existed not only in the abstract but became tangible even from our backyard in Pennsylvania. And how impressed I was that my father–my father–knew this. To be on first-name terms with a planet!

I thought last night, lying there beside him, whom I love, aware of my position on the earth as so removed–ocean-removed–from the place in which I entered it, that I do not understand the expression “I could die now” or “I could die happy” as an appropriate measure of contentment. Because what I actually mean is, I am so happy that I do not ever want to die, that I want to extend infinitely my possibility of attaining this feeling again, this treatment to peace, this invitation to live.

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26 June 2009: absence

Sleepless nights and strange morning-dreams. This free-floating anxiety shot into overdrive with the nurse’s call last night: yet another meeting with the surgeon on 7 July, and nothing to be planned until after. There is always this great sickness in the pit of my stomach; there is always this oppressive fog I can’t think through. Tomorrow I’m going to Paris, yes–and all I can feel is worry and discomfort. Guilt and bitterness. What is this compulsion for Paris?

This morning I rubbed some shampoo in the coarse fuzz that’s grown over my head–what unprecedented pleasure! The smell of the shampoo and comforting enclosure of soap suds. For an instant anyway.

A part of my body is to be cut off: the meaning, at last, of “absence.”

I dreamt of Vassar. In my dreams it is always so removed from me. Inglorious disarrray, columned like the Pantheon. And always this set of stairs I cannot seem to climb.

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30 May 2009: the Disease

Tired of The Disease’s distasteful interruption to my life. A coping mechanism, I suppose, to view it as a nuisance. Trying to quell the terror of the possibility of this new drug’s being just as ineffective as the last was. Nothing to do but wait–for that date, the next appointment, 17 June. I’m restless, uneasy; I don’t know how to approach the time til then. Yet I don’t have to “approach” it at all, I suppose–it will approach me, overtake me, as swiftly as the rest of it has.

I’m desperate to stay in the warmth of this moment, this memory, and without all the underlying anxiety–a still, hot Saturday with my bare feet in the garden grass–how could something like surgery, like death, be as real as this?

Mostly it’s the wistfulness of wishing this were ‘really’ my home, my life, that I could be cemented into it somehow without the feeling of wandering wraith-like through other people’s lives, the ghostly uncomfortableness knowing none of this belongs to me, nor do I deserve it.

My father has boked a ticket–four days I’ll see him, after an absence of years. His voice on the phone is tinged with desperation and worry. Both of us helpless, not knowing what to say to one another. The strange, enduring, inarticulate & inexplicable love.

I continue to exist with my imagined life of the mind while my real world recedes, its borders drawn in. I imagine expansion, and how wonderful it would be to have the money and ability to travel, as if, should I go far enough–or far enough away from my daily reality–I might be able to escape it.

How disgusting that news of more chemo would be a blessing. God, I am terrified of going into that room in two and a half weeks and being met with that assortment of chalk-eyed people.

I’ve become accustomed–appointments, pill-taking, exhaustion. The latest nurse who prodded my arms after asked, “How was the cannulation?”

“Great,”I said, and meant it. A relief not to have needed multiple needle pricks, to the point at which it was almost a pleasure. I’m at the point of becoming another one of those doe-eyed women in the ward, bored but unfazed by it all, allowing it to happen because there’s not other choice–realizing your own powerlessness, your insignificance in the system.

And I’d be happy with that, too, truly–all of the hospital bullshit–could I be assured this treatment were treating the disease. I wish I could perceive a difference, not constantly feel it, hard as a peach pit, cruel and unmoving.

If there is no just reason for having gotten cancer in the first place, is there any just reason I should recover without pain or even inconvenience? Most of me refutes entirely the possibility of a mastectomy at twenty-four–but what force will prevent it, not having protected me in the first place? (I cringe at my blasphemy–but it isn’t exactly a doubt of God, but rather the realization that any sort of Calvinistic predestination is not under my direction or at my discretion).

I get embittered by old women. Walking to East Hendred this morning I momentarily hated her, a grey-haired stranger in an overcoat, hands clasping Cadbury’s chocoaltes in their purple metallic wrappers. An overcoat! What right had she, I wondered, to live so long? And of course I was immediately ashamed of myself; God knows what she’s been through. What kind of discretion dictates existence? What sort of sick insistent logic might I apply?

Apocolyptic dreams last night, blood-red streets and starvation. Something about a cult concerning Jade Goody. And Anne Frank preparing to hide in an attic.

Waking knowing what the end would be; feeling cheated.

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an abstract insight wakes

Oh my God, I thought: I’ve been happy. Happy like a human being.

And it makes me want to not take my pills. I’m not scheduling any more appointments; I don’t want to set foot inside a fucking hospital. I went to UPMC last month and the cancer ward waiting room unnerved me so much that I cried and cried in the parking garage and hated us all: the dead-eyed doctors, the pathetic bald patients, myself. 

Last night I dreamt I was having chemo–and when I woke it seemed so distant, so disparate from my own experience of being dull and dumb and ordinary here, going to the grocery store and watching television and feeling almost at home in myself, even without alcohol or weed or benzodiazepines. And I feel that spark of wanting again in so many ways. Perhaps I am not entirely resigned. Perhaps I am still electric, alive and insatiable.

Wouldn’t that be something.

At night I recite Auden like a faithless prayer–

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

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still looks like cancer: or, reality bites

A confession:

I really love this movie.

I used to so adore and identify with Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her angsty smart girl Big Gulp post-college existence. But now it’s Vickie (Janeane Garofolo) with whom I identify, or this part of her character anyway:

“It’s like I’m on Melrose Place and I’m the AIDS character and I teach everyone it’s all right to talk to me or touch me and then I die and everyone goes to my funeral wearing halter-tops and chokers.”

Substitute something vaguely 21st century for the mid-90s cultural references and cancer for AIDS and this is so apt. It’s what I feel I’ve become to most everyone I know: the “cancer character.” People who had no interest or investment in me suddenly came out of the woodwork when they heard I had cancer–even my “best” friends, whom I’d emailed a week previously with good news about my Ph.D; I heard nothing from them until the C-word. Part of it is genuine concern, but, however cynical it seems, I believe there is the thrill of the exotic in it: being able to say ‘My Friend Who Has Cancer.’

Kind of like My Gay Friend, but harder to come by.

And I’m tired of playing the cancer character, even though the whole project of this blog is doing precisely that it’s ok to talk to me, it’s ok to touch me kind of thing. Trying to de-mystify and synthesize the experience of having this disease.

But it’s all a sham, or most of it is anyway. Because what I feel a lot of the time is sheer panic and terror and a loss of the will to live, and you can’t de-mystify or synthesize any of it in handy blog posts for people you don’t even know to peep in on.

So,  

A confession, pt. 2:

No matter how much I tell anyone I’m okay, I am not okay.

None of this is okay.

And I know I’ve been in denial about my level of okay because of the way things have been breaking to the psychological surface.  

Like the other day, after coming across this–Kylie Minogue: Still Looks Like Cancer–I just lost it, and hacked off all the hair I’d regrown in the past several months with a pair of blunt scissors, leaving a sinkful of coarse curls and the remainder a shorn, uneven crop peppered with bald patches.

And it wasn’t that some jackass who writes a stupid celebrity hairstyle blog had really gotten to me, but that I needed a catalyst to act out something irreparably psychologically fucked-up in myself (like cutting your wrists, but with ugliness instead of endorphins), something I have to spend every day repressing and ignoring and pushing away so that I can get out of bed, go to my stupid hateful mindless job, and exist.

Merely exist.

And then the other night I dreamt of the surgery–of the whole thing repeated, for the left side, with a smattering of cruel and unhelpful hospital staff, and awoke so traumatized–not from the dream, but from the reminder that these things had actually happened to me, and I haven’t processed or made peace with them.

I’m getting to feel like Elwood P. Dowd, and my health is like Harvey. I’ve wrestled with reality for twenty-five years, and I’m happy to say I’ve finally won out over it.

I haven’t won yet, but when I sense reality getting ready to rear its ugly head I have to slam it in some drawer or another. Sometimes literally; I found I can’t wear the pajamas I wore when I was in the hospital. Even seeing them, I start to panic. So they’re stuffed to the back of a bottom drawer. I can’t toss them out any more than I can toss out the cancer.

After all, I “still look like cancer.”

But I can’t deal with it.

Because doing so would probably involve turning my life, for whoknowshowlong, into a vortex wherein I would not be able to function–to get up, get dressed, take my Tamoxifen, spend all day moving Microsoft’s data from one place to another, and come home to no one.

So maybe–what’s the point of functioning at all, if that’s what you do?

I think: what would happen if I died now? And the answer is: some of Microsoft’s files would be delayed getting down to archives, and the temp agency would send someone else immediately.


This summer, someone asked me, How are you coping? How are you getting up, walking around?

I admitted it was with a generous dose of denial–but then I had England; then I had K.

Now the only answer I can supply besides denial is

I don’t know what else to do

or–I know what else I can do, and am scared to.

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31 March 2009: The euphoria of near-normality

A kind of reconciliation with loneliness, as in realizing that I am not alone entirely, and am ok with the places that I am.

The weekend was head-clear, a complete relief. Films and pizza and chocolate, laughter and closeness.

A catalogue of blessings. Swimming. Official deferral from Michigan. Finding Ritter Sport Knusperkeks in a convenience store on the corner. Strange, this swing. Feeling calm and happy–after those bad days. I’d call it a fair enough trade could I be sure it would be the same with each cycle.

 The continuing farce of my existence: K.’s mother may have chicken pox. I’m due to move in with them in five days, but may have to keep my distance for “a couple of weeks.” I dreamt up taking temporary residence in a holiday let by the seaside– On Margate Sands, burning burning etc.–but bookings don’t allow for spontaneous decisions, it seems. Nothing agrees with the things I dream.

To R, I wrote an overly hopeful, endorphin-induced email defending too vehemently my position, which is for the moment nothing but stasis. My Cancer Vacation. My beautiful delusion, half-homeless and waiting for the sun to come. Too many projects partially planned, as is the case with every stretch of time I’m ever allotted.

I clarified my hurt at his having told me, “I don’t want to come. You don’t have any business being there.” How I don’t know where this leaves our relationship. But where was it in the first place? Trying to communicate virtually. To believe that you can keep people that way. That you can keep people at all.

R. trying to force me into the role of “cancer patient,” whatever he thinks that is. Lovely young women dying smiling. I still remember the “Race for Life” those years ago, and the poem I never wrote–my embarrassment at these one-breasted women circling the high school track in pink t-shirts. Calling themselves “survivors” as if their lives were their own achievements and cancer had a thwarted vendetta. A moustached villain, tying you to the railroad tracks. Foiled again.

Pink bracelets. Marie Curie’s daffodil. That trashy paperback I read over and over when I was eight years old: a brave young woman dying of cancer. O, I thought, the brilliant tragedy of life!–which it seemed would always only happen to me in my imagination.

I can barely fathom sentences these days. They require too much commitment, too much foresight. Subject and predicate, connected. Things only occur in fragments and images. Yet my dreams have become elaborate, bizarre narratives with startling geographies–the expanse of the US from PA to Austin, Texas (all vivid and fantastic like the Lisa Frank covers of my elementary school folders), some realm that brings together Erie, Oxford, London and West-Hendred. And the people who have surfaced in my subconscious. My life flashing before my eyes every night with various surreal backdrops. I am dying in some way or another I suppose. And each time I wake up I feel like I’ve fought my way back from death–aching like I’ve been drugged or am emerging from some heavy hibernation or cracking open a coma.

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