Here’s my latest essay for a book project I’m working on for friend Bathsheba Monk’s Blue Heron Book Works. The working title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.
I’ve been avoiding mirrors and l look the other way when I pass a plate-glass window, lest I glimpse my reflection. But I just held up my iPhone and accidentally glimpsed a reflection of my puffed up face and bald head and watery eyes — and I cried. Not the loud sobbing kind of crying. Just tears, sudden and unexpected.
All in all, I’m actually feeling surprisingly well. I haven’t lost weight, I’m handling the very intense chemotherapy treatments, and the doctor keeps giving me good news about how well the treatments are working.
But I still worry about what the future holds. So far, so good. But what if something goes wrong again? Two unexpected health crises early on — my initial brain surgery and, one month later, a near-fatal loss of blood — have never escaped my mind.
And the side-effects, albeit relatively minor, are affecting me more and more, mostly emotionally. My feet and legs are swollen, which often makes it difficult to walk, especially walking up stairs. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that food has hardly any taste. My eyes keep watering –because my eyelashes are half-gone. Likewise, I haven’t had to shave for weeks. And I’ve been more or less unable to talk since February, which leaves me even more isolated and cut off from the world — although it looks like a throat specialist, and an out-patient procedure, will finally restore my (melodious) voice in just a few weeks!
So why am I being such a gloom merchant? Why am I succumbing to self-pity?
I’m extremely fortunate that my illness was caught while it was still treatable. Thankfully, my daughters, one in Brooklyn and the other in California, somehow knew that something was wrong with me, and twice got me to the ER just in time.
And I’ve never been blindly optimistic: I’ve faced difficulties before, and I’ve always faced them head-on — and I’m still here to talk about it!
So why was I so weepy tonight? I think part of is my nature. I’ve always tended toward melancholy. I once told a friend that I was optimistic about life, despite all the accumulated evidence to the contrary. And there’s still a part of me that vibrates like a tuning fork when Dylan sings ‘Everyone is wearing a disguise/to hide what they’ve got left behind their eyes.’
But I think it’s mostly that I’m not super-human. Throughout, I’ve been upbeat, and calm, and resolute. I’ve continued to be charming, and witty, and creative, and kind to kittens and puppies, and…the list goes on and on.
Yes, I’m fine now. The mood has passed.
But sometimes it!s just too goddamn much to deal with, and I’m overwhelmed by the reality of things. Sometimes — not a lot, just sometimes — you just can’t help but cry.