11/22/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Whenever Grandbaby Maya Mae visits, she never just walks into the room. She makes an ENTRANCE.

A few days ago, when Maya Mae arrived, before she even took off her winter jacket, hat and mittens, she marched – MARCHED – over to me and held out a sparkly crown. “Gamma Kaffee,” she announced imperiously, “I am going to be a pwincess for the west of my WIFE.” She tore off her winter stuff, plunked the crown on her long-haired head, and sat with a huff onto my couch. She crossed her arms, her eyebrows V’d in, and there she was, ready to rule.

Yes, ma’am, Maya Mae, ma’am.

I’ve read a lot lately about little girls and princesses and forced expectations of society. This seems to be a never-ending discussion. In general, it seems that if a little girl wants to be a princess, it’s because she’s being force-fed girlishness from television and movies and toy manufacturers and so on. I admit, I thought about this and looked at the Maya Mae version of princess on my couch and I laughed.

Maya Mae wants to be a princess for the rest of her WIFE. This child on my couch did not recline in a gown, her hair done, her fingers manicured, waiting for a prince to come by and kiss her and make her Somebody. This princess was Somebody already. And she was a Somebody under her own power.

When I read those articles, I felt a bit guilty. Was I supposed to tell Maya that she isn’t supposed to want to be a princess? In this time (and all the previous times) of telling girls they can be whatever they want to be, are we supposed to add, “But don’t want to be THAT.” Is part of being whatever you want to be also NOT being what we’ve deemed unacceptable? Frankly, I think the princess nay-sayers aren’t seeing what today’s little girl means when she says she wants to be a princess. Pwincess. Princess.

She wants to be the BOSS. To hell with the prince. Just give her a crown, dammit, and let’er rip.

Maya has always been surrounded with other encouragements. Yes, she watches princesses on television, but she also watches shows about tools and building things and creating inventions and veterinarians and music and imagination. She has an aunt who is about to earn her PhD in math, and that aunt gives Maya all things STEM. She has a grandma (guess who?) who supplies her with books and art supplies and who cheered and clapped when Maya showed her new name-writing expertise. Maya appeared in a video the other day, filmed by another grandma, as Maya worked on making an apple pie and narrated how to do so, pretending to be on her own YouTube channel.

And through all of it, building, writing, drawing, baking, Maya Mae wears a crown. Because she wants to be a pwincess for the west of her WIFE. Princess. Pwincess.

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. As soon as I learned how to write my letters, I was off, writing stories. I wrote my first novel in the fifth grade. Started submitting when I was twelve, published for the first time when I was fifteen. And through all of it, I was told I couldn’t do it. I was told I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t good enough. Then I was told it had to remain a hobby because my work was worthless.

“What do you think, that you can write the Great American Novel?”

Yes. Yes, I did. I’ve sat on a couch with my arms crossed too.

Grandbaby Maya Mae smiled at me, a sparkly crown on her head, her arms crossed, her eyebrows V’d, her stuffed kitten named Hightop Junior beside her. Every princess needs a sidekick, donchaknow. To me, her inherent royalty just glowed. What a future she has. She can be whatever she chooses to be. Pwincess. Princess. Pwincess.

Nobody is going to tell this child what she can’t do.

“Maya Mae,” I said, “you just go ahead and be a pwincess for the west of your WIFE.”

She gave a world-weary sigh. “Gamma Kaffee,” she said, “I’m not going to be a pwincess for the west of my wife. I’m going to be a PWINCESS for the WEST of my WIFE.”

I corrected myself. “A PRINCESS for the REST of your LIFE.” I heard her.

She beamed. I bowed.

All hail, Princess Maya Mae.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

All hail, Princess (Pwincess) Maya Mae!

11/15/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A ludicrous love story. Between a woman and her car.

Well, maybe not so ludicrous.

I was in my late twenties when I first noticed the Chrysler 300. I was at a stoplight and I thought, Wow…look at that beast. I’ve never been attracted to sporty cars. I like classy, sophisticated powerful lines. I remember hesitating when the stoplight turned green so that lovely car could pull ahead and I could identify it. A Chrysler 300. Every time I saw a 300 from that point on…I stopped and dreamed.

And the Chrysler 300 was a dream. A car I thought I could never have. A car not for the likes of me. I would never be that sort of person.

Six years ago, when I had to trade in my pick-up, I looked into Chrysler 300s on a whim. And lo and behold…it didn’t have to be a dream anymore.

I investigated two. One was newer, but didn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles. The other, though already six years old, had low mileage, and did everything but make coffee for me. And it was a Chrysler 300C Hemi – the Hemi engine is a car-lover’s holy grail. I test-drove the Hemi first. I never got into the other car. Hemi solidified around me like the bodyguard he grew to be. Heated memory seats that roll back to let me in and out in comfort, but then when I’m seated, remember to put me exactly where I like to be. Automatic everything. He kept me at a steady 78 degrees – no need to wear a winter jacket. And that Hemi engine that told everyone to get the hell out of my way.

I fell so hard in love. And I suddenly owned the car I could never have. Somehow, that allowed me to start believing that I was worth something. That I was providing something for my students that they needed. That I was writing things that people wanted to read. I can’t explain why it happened that way – why a Chrysler 300C Hemi would give me the pat on the back I could recognize and not rebuff. But Hemi did. When I was in that car, I was invincible.

Until I wasn’t. During my breast cancer, Hemi became my comfort zone. When I couldn’t sleep and it was the middle of the night and I was scared or mad or sad or absolutely convinced I was going to die, I quietly slid out of bed and went for a drive. Hemi’s seat would close around me, his engine would come to life, and my lights would turn on for me. Those lights would split through the darkness like the darkness that was within me. Oh, that bodyguard car. We could drive for miles and I could scream and cry and no one else had to hear but me and my car. I came home feeling invincible again. Until the next time. And there were many times.

On the night of October 27, we were coming home from a family wedding when a car three up from me hit a deer. The car behind him bounced off the first, and the SUV in front of me swung into the left lane. When Hemi’s headlights let me know there was a deer in the road, I had no time and no choice but to go over it. Hemi’s underside was torn apart and stuffed full of deer.

I thought I lost my beast. My bodyguard. My comfort zone. Hemi is now 12 years old and I didn’t think the insurance company would believe he was worth saving. Just like I used to believe I wasn’t worth saving.

At one point, the insurance adjuster said to me, “I don’t understand how you weren’t airborne.”

I understood. It was Hemi. He’s my bodyguard.

Hemi’s underside was so packed full of deer, he had to be put up on a lift and powerwashed before the damage could even be seen. It took three weeks before I knew the outcome. And three weeks before I saw him again.

Hemi came home yesterday. When I walked into the body shop, they had him parked under all the lights. He glowed. And I promptly made an absolute fool of myself and burst into tears.

I can’t explain my love for this car. But we all find comfort where we find comfort. When I think of all those who helped me get through this breast cancer period, I have to include my car. My bodyguard who saved me again on October 27 by refusing to leave the road when he plowed over a deer.

Welcome home, Hemi.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Hemi.

 

11/8/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

We had an election on Tuesday. It was a very different experience this time around. The political ads leading up to it were the same – vitriolic, mud-slinging, saying more about what the opponent would do wrong as opposed to what the candidate would do right. But the atmosphere was different. Not only was there a feeling of excitement and change, but there was an incredible uplift in commitment, responsibility, and belief that voices should be raised and heard.

People voted!

For the first time in my memory, I had trouble finding a parking spot at my polling place. For the first time, I had to stand in line, and the room I was going into was set up in corrals, putting us in the correct line for our ward. For the first time, I had to wait, to receive my ballot, stand in line again for an open booth, AND stand in line to insert my ballot into the machine.

I don’t know about other places, but in my polling place, people were patient. We smiled at each other. There wasn’t any snarling, no glaring at what we were wearing or weren’t wearing (at the presidential election in 2016, I wore a Hillary shirt – before I left for the parking lot, I zipped up my jacket because of the glares and whispered comments I received).

This was probably the most positive voting experience I’ve ever had. And there was one more thing that made this particularly special – my newly 18-year old daughter, Olivia, was voting.

I remember the first time I voted. I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. My polling place was in an old church. I walked into my booth and yanked on a creaking handle that snapped a blue curtain shut behind me, leaving only my sneakers and the ragged ends of my jeans available for view. The booth was filled with rows of levers that I had to pull to say who I was voting for. I gazed wonderingly at these for a bit – I’d never seen such a thing. And then I saw the names. I only recognized a few. I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I only had the vague sense that this was something that I should be doing, now that I was 18 years old. So I pulled levers. I thought it was fun. And then I went back to my room. I don’t think I even paid attention to the results that night.

Hoo boy. Things have changed.

Now, I have an 18-year old. She’s my fourth 18-year old, actually. When the shootings occurred in Florida last February and so many teenagers stood up and said, “Get ready. We’re voting in the next election,” she took notice. She told me she couldn’t wait.

A month or so before the election, she told me she was worried. “What if I vote for the wrong person?”

So we talked about that. Olivia decided to ignore the political ads on television and to ignore the chatter going on around her at school. Instead, she went to the website of each and every person running. She read what they said. She weighed and measured. She thought and considered. And when she followed us into the polling place on Tuesday, she was ready.

Now remember – this is the child who wasn’t ever supposed to be able to speak. She was nonverbal until she was three years old.

As I waited for an available booth, I watched as my daughter stepped forward, on her own. She gave the appropriate information, handed over her ID, signed her name, took her ballot. She smiled the whole time.

I waited some more by the exit, watching her at the booth as she stood with one toe popped in her black sneakers, her back curved as she studied the ballot, making sure she read everything carefully. Then over to the ballot-eating machine, and she fetched her sticker, and she walked to me, beaming the whole way.

She smiled out to the car with that sense of having done something she was supposed to do, just as I did, way back in 1978. But she also smiled with the knowledge that it was her right to raise her voice, that it was a gift. She also smiled because she knew her decisions were knowledge-based, brain-based, heart-based. She researched, she deliberated, she decided.

I realized then what I was feeling, on this election day, that made it so very different.

Hope. I didn’t just raise my voice; my hope rose through the roof.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

We voted! All THREE of us!

11/1/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Over the weekend, I made an appearance at the Edgerton Sterling North Film & Book Festival. On Friday night, there was a very nice dinner and all of the presenting authors had to get up and say something. So I did.

The last time I was at this particular festival was 6 years ago. At the time, Olivia was 12 years old. She was in 6th grade and she’d just written her first story – in the horror genre. She was so proud of it. The day she finished it, I was out somewhere, and she called me on the phone, asking me to please hurry home because she couldn’t wait for me to see it.

Yes, it was THAT important. And you know what? It was GOOD.

I didn’t know that she decided to bring the story to school. She showed her English teacher. Without calling us or telling Olivia, her teacher showed the Special Ed lead. Who showed the principal. Who showed it to the school psychologist. Who hauled Olivia into his office, without her aide, without anyone, and still without calling us.

Olivia was grilled. Without an aide to help her understand what was going on and what she was being asked. The psychologist made her feel as if she’d done something wrong, something horrible, he made her feel, she said, “evil”. She was told that only mentally ill people wrote this sort of thing and that she should stop writing it immediately.

Olivia’s father writes mystery and horror. And I suppose the psychologist had never heard of, say, Stephen King. And to further the irony – the school was all reading Edgar Allen Poe, who was being read by the entire city for the Big Read.

That was when I was called. Before I even went to pick up my crumpled daughter, slumping her “evil” shoulders and feeling like she should never write again, I went ballistic and demanded a meeting with all parties concerned, on the next day. THE next day. No other options.

The psychologist did not show to the meeting, though he received quite the email from my husband. Olivia was given an apology, but she was told she could not show her stories to her classmates. She was devastated.

That weekend, I appeared at the Edgerton festival and when I had to speak at the dinner, I told them what happened to my daughter, who was sitting right at my table. “Please,” I said, “at some point this weekend, everyone, talk to my daughter and say, ‘Please just don’t give up. Don’t give up.’”

And they did. The response was incredible. The story spread and even visitors to the festival who weren’t at that dinner found my daughter and spoke with her.

At the dinner this past Friday, I told them the rest of the story. “Olivia is here,” I said. “6 years later. She’s 18. She’s a senior. She’s been accepted at every college she applied to. She is an accomplished artist and an accomplished musician. And she’s working on the second draft of her novel. She didn’t give up. Thank you for helping me to raise my daughter’s voice. I will be forever grateful to this festival.”

Oh, amazing what people can do when they come together.

The next day, after my presentation of Today’s Moment, I went to the table where I was to sign books. A woman came up to me. Olivia was standing by my side. “I heard you speak last night,” the woman said. “You’ve been through a lot. You’ve raised an incredible daughter.” Olivia giggled and said thank you. Then the woman turned back to me. “And you’ve been through a lot in the last year too.” She reached in her purse and pulled out a little plaster statue of an angel. “This is the angel of perseverance,” she said. “I’ve had her for a long time. But I want you to have her now.” She smiled and walked away.

I was speechless, holding that little angel.

That night, driving home, a car three up from me on the freeway hit a deer. The car behind him bounced off. The SUV in front of me swerved into the next lane. I couldn’t see anything, because of the SUV, but when he cleared my field of vision, there was the deer, stretched out right in front of me. I couldn’t go to the right or the left. All I could do was go over. In my beloved Hemi, my 2006 Chrysler 300C Hemi. Oh, the bump. Oh, the bang. When I spoke to the insurance adjuster today, he said he’s amazed I didn’t become airborne.

But you know what? None of my tires blew. My car kept moving smoothly, to the point where we all said, “Is it okay?” But then we heard things falling off the bottom of my car and he began to smoke. I pulled Hemi over, shut him off, and we all stepped away.

But we’re all alive. We’re all in one piece. Except possibly my car. I love my car. Anyone who has read Today’s Moment knows Hemi.

But we’re okay. Whether it was the angel tucked in my suitcase or the brute of a car wrapped around me, I don’t know. But we weren’t airborne. I didn’t lose control. Hemi and I worked together.

It’s amazing, what people – and cars – can do when they come together. Angels help too.

Wherever you are, woman who gave me the angel, thank you. And if there is an angel of cars, please watch over my Hemi. I honestly don’t know if I can handle another loss. But I do have the angel of perseverance by my side. Maybe that’s what she’s for.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Getting ready to write this blog, with the angel of perseverance beside me.

 

 

10/25/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

One of the nice things about doing these moments only once a week is there’s time to allow a moment to develop. Sometimes, different things happen over days and then they all combine into a moment of realization. That was this week. This will be a bit rambly.  I hope it makes sense.

This afternoon, I read from Hilma Wolitzer’s novel, An Available Man, where a character said, “I believe in God, but I just don’t like him very much right now.” I understood that. Most of us probably do.

Last Thursday, the book Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News debuted at a Southeast Wisconsin Special event. During the interview on stage, I was asked to explain what I said about my own spirituality on such-and-such a date. So I talked about how I consider myself a seeker, someone who knows there’s something out there, but just doesn’t know what, and keeps looking and exploring.

At that moment, and then again today, I thought of my own novel, Rise From The River. This will sound weird, but I learned more about faith from my own character, Doris, than I ever have from anybody (and yes, I am aware that I created her). Doris, a devoutly Catholic woman, runs to the church to find answers as to why her neighbor was raped, and why it had to occur in front of a 4-year old child. “Where was God?” she asks the priest. The priest answers, “They’re alive, aren’t they? Rainey wasn’t murdered? And the little girl…the rapist didn’t touch her? God was there, Doris. What happened is just unthinkable. But maybe what didn’t happen is even more unthinkable. Beyond it. God was there.”

I distinctly remember writing those words and then my hands falling still and I slumped back in my chair and thought, Where the hell did that come from? From me?

Then at the launch, I read a piece from Today’s Moment that ended with, “They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I’m still standing, aren’t I.”

Breast cancer was unthinkable. But maybe what didn’t happen was even more unthinkable.

And then I had a poem accepted yesterday. The first poem I wrote on the breast cancer topic. The title? What Doesn’t Kill You.

Let’s keep going. Yesterday, I was being interviewed on a morning television talk show. One of the hosts asked me, “Are you an optimist?” I immediately and gut-level replied, “No!” Both hosts were noticeably taken aback. I backpedaled and said, “Or at least…I wasn’t…”

And then I thought about that. I’ve always called myself a natural skeptic. Years ago, when I was in grad school, I was sitting in a meeting with my new adviser and his students. One woman noted that it was interesting that we were all redheads. “Even the one who always looks so skeptical,” she said. She was looking at me. “Huh?” I said. “You always look skeptical. No matter if you’re in workshop or lecture. Always.” So apparently, I wore my skepticism like other women wear make-up.

But now, I was being asked if I was an optimist, and in a way that it was clear I was supposed to answer yes. I said no. But…

A few days ago, a review of Today’s Moment appeared. It said, “Despite the difficult times in life, the book radiated pure joy.”

Last Wednesday, when I was Featured Poet in a poetry series, I read this line from one of my very own poems: “…And an underlying vein of joy that I rarely admit to.”

Good grief. Am I an optimist?

Earlier this week, I said to someone, “I feel like I was supposed to learn something from the breast cancer. I can feel it. But I’m not sure what it is.”

Tonight, I opened up an online fortune cookie that I get every day for fun. It said:

It is never really a bad thing to have your eyes opened or to learn. Just be sure that you remember that there are always bright spots and room to grow.

And I laughed out loud because I was just walloped upside the head with the obvious. And the infusion of joy I felt left me trembling.

What doesn’t kill you…I’m still standing…Am I an optimist?

I had something to learn. It was in me all along.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Joy. Yeah, I can see it. Now.

10/18/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Last night, I was Featured Poet at a poetry and open mic series in a lovely coffee shop in the middle of a small village in Wisconsin. A small village, yes, but a great one that supports a poet laureate, and their current poet laureate happens to be one of my students. Who didn’t think he was a poet.

I told him differently. Multiple individual publications, three poetry books and one poet laureate-ship later…

So I was Featured Poet. As I’m primarily known and asked to appear as a fiction writer, this was a lot of fun. It gave me a chance to share work that many readers aren’t aware of. Because I knew the crowd was likely to be small, I threw in poetry of every type. Formal poetry (haiku, villanelle, prose poem), informal poetry, long poetry, short poetry, mentions of penises and asses and breasts and sex and food and love and everything life has to offer. I had a ball. And I think I further proved that this idea of writers needing to “brand” themselves is ridiculous. The only thing brandy about me is what I like to drink on cold winter nights. You never know what’s going to fall out of my mouth or onto my page. That’s how I roll. And that’s how writers should roll, in full possession of the creative process.

I also used this presentation as an opportunity to carefully slide out poetry from my newest chapbook, When You Finally Said No, which will be released by Finishing Line Press in February. Carefully, because I know this will be a difficult collection for some. The title should give you some idea as to what it covers. It follows a story – my story. And it follows it through some hard situations.

So for me, this was a chance to read from this book, out loud, in a crowd mixed with people I knew and some I didn’t. It gave me the chance to fight through the fear of doing so, to reassure myself that it will be all right, I can do this, and also to watch and listen to reactions.

There was an open mic after I was done. The last person to read was a young woman who helped to organize the event. Right before she read her third poem, she said, “I’m going to read a poem that I wasn’t planning on reading tonight. But because of what Kathie had the courage to read, I’m going to read mine too.”

And she did. Boy, did she. Incredible. BAM.

And just like that, my poetry chapbook did just what I wanted it to do, even before it was released. It reached someone. It touched someone. It gave someone courage. It helped her to raise her voice and shout her truth and get it all out in the open. No more shadows. No more hiding. And with that…no more burden.

Writers don’t often get to see their words in action. We write and we put it out there, but unless we stumble across someone reading our stuff, we don’t get to see what we’ve accomplished. We don’t get to see the reach.

I saw the reach last night. And it made every bit of hard work and fear and pain of putting that chapbook together worth it. More than worth it. And it can only go up from here. Just wait until it comes out.

Just wait.

I’m going to hold this moment tight to me as I walk on stage tonight to launch Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays. I’m going to watch – and listen – for more reaches.

I’ve made a difference. Oh, man. Hallelujah. Amen. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The cover of When You Finally Said No, a poetry chapbook to be released in February by Finishing Line Press.

 

10/11/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It’s been a dead birds couple of weeks. For some reason, we are finding little dead birds scattered on our sidewalk. They’re the little bitty ones – sparrows? And they are always lying there neatly, wings tucked to their sides, as if they landed and just fell over.

A friend told me that the fall berries birds are eating have fermented, causing birds to get drunk and act crazy. Crash into each other in midair. Fly into things. Sit in the middle of the road despite traffic. We have one of these berry bushes behind our building. The birds have been raucous lately.

If you know me well, you know that I am terrified of birds. If they fly anywhere close to me, I scream and duck. I trace this fear back to a few sources. First, I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds when I was eight years old. Enough said. Next, there were nasty birds – mockingbirds, I believe my mother said – that attacked my father while he was mowing the lawn. I remember watching out the window as my dad mowed with a metal colander on his head, and behind him, my mother, wearing my brother’s toy army helmet, marched backwards with a broom, prepared to swipe at any bird that swooped. And they did.

And finally, at a time when I was apparently not yet afraid of birds, I carefully carried home a dead robin, wanting to give it a funeral. When I showed it to my mother, she screamed and knocked it out of my hands. “That’s filthy!” she yelled. “It’s full of bugs and parasites and maggots.” What followed was a hot-water hand-washing that seemed to last forever. And it has, in my mind. I don’t know what happened to the dead bird. I never dared to look.

So now, dead birds on my sidewalk. My husband took care of a few. But then he somehow always found himself in too much of a hurry. So with my skin crawling, I pulled on a pair of garden gloves, got a big plastic bag and lots of paper towels, and I picked them up. I felt bad about putting them in the dumpster. But we don’t have a yard – there’s no place for a burial. I did whisper, “I’m sorry,” as I let them go.

So today, I was pleased that there were no dead birds when I took my dog, Ursula, outside for her first trip. But as we headed into the city parking lot, I saw one of these little birds sitting on the pavement. Just sitting. “Shoo,” I said as I grew closer. It didn’t.

Hours later, the bird was still there. Upright. In the middle of a parking lot, it was sitting in doomsday. Someone was bound to pull in and hit it.

I have a hard enough time picking up dead birds. Now I had to pick up a live one? Ew ew ew.

But it was just sitting there. So vulnerable.

I put the gardening gloves on again. Then I stood in front of the bird. “Hey,” I said, braced in case it suddenly took flight, right into my hair. “Hey, are you okay?”

Nothing. Though it looked up at me. “You can’t stay here.” I pondered how to approach it. From the front? The back? Wait and let someone else do it?

I chose to approach the back.

I can’t tell you how freaked out I was. I mean, I was going to touch a BIRD.

I wrapped my gloved fingers around the little body and lifted. I tried not to think about bugs and parasites and maggots. He was so light, if I didn’t see his head poking out of my fingers, I would have thought I was holding air. I marched him down the street at arm’s length, across a parking lot, and to the river, where there was a nice grassy spot. There was a bush with berries. There was water. And it was quiet. I placed him just beneath the bush.

“Here you go,” I said. “It’s safer here. It’s quiet. It’s a better place…for what’s happening to you.”

When I got home, I threw the garden gloves into the wash. Hot, hot water.

But I felt pretty good. I did a good deed. I recognize the bird will likely not survive – he wasn’t acting the way a healthy bird acts. But I have to think that if death is inevitable, dying next to a river, on bright green grass, under a bush filled with red berries, is preferable to a paved parking lot where a car could come along at any minute.

Rest in peace, little bird. I’m glad I could help.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Image from the internet. This is what the little guy looked like.

10/4/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

One year ago today was the one day that I did not write a Today’s Moment blog, in the year I vowed to do so every day. It was the one day that I failed; I simply couldn’t find any words to write. I’d made it through the cancer diagnosis, the surgery, and radiation and I was embarking on long-term oral chemotherapy. While things were still difficult, we thought we were on the way back up.

And then my husband suddenly and with no warning was let go from his job. And of course, that meant we were “let go” from our health insurance as well.

You know that children’s book, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Yeah, it was like that, but worse. We were completely blindsided.

And so I didn’t write my moment. Something I’ve regretted.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from my Today’s Moment year was that happiness isn’t always obvious. Sometimes you really have to look. And I mean LOOK. Over that year, my perspective changed from believing that happiness is a gift to believing that happiness is a choice. You choose happiness. You reach for it.

And right now, up to my, well, breast in an acute infection that showed up a year after surgery, an infection that isn’t cancer, but is there because I had cancer, an infection that is basically under control, but is resisting going away completely, and an infection that occurred at a time when I planned on going insurance-less until Michael’s insurance from his new job kicked in, rather than continuing to pay the ridiculous COBRA costs – well, I could very easily choose to skip a week of This Week’s Moment Of Happiness. But I’m not.

I choose to be happy.

I choose it.

So I was blindsided again yesterday, when I went in to see the surgeon for a follow-up. The drain in my breast was gone, but the bandages had prevented me from seeing what it looked like. The night before my appointment, I took the bandages off as the adhesive was starting to get to me. I looked in the mirror. And what I saw was not anything like what I’ve seen in the last year, a view, a difference, that I’ve grown accustomed to.

The removal of the tumor left me with what I called an ice cream scoop taken out of my breast. I didn’t like it. But I could live with it. Now, it looked like a part of my breast collapsed. It’s like someone took a golf club and slammed it into the side of my breast. It looks misshapen, mangled, unnatural – I would even say butchered. The nipple no longer looks forward. It looks to the side, away from its healthy twin.

I couldn’t say a word. But I covered my breast with my hand.  I held it the way you would hold a stunned bird who just flew into your window.

When I saw the surgeon, I asked her what was going on. She said that apparently, there’s been a pocket of fluid in the surgical site pretty much since the day of surgery. That pocket of fluid gave me a more rounded appearance, and somehow, a year later, it became infected. The fluid has now been removed.

“So…” I said slowly, looking down at my breast, bared in the examination room. “This is it? This is the way it will look? This is the way I will look?”

My surgeon, who has gone through breast cancer herself, put her hand on my shoulder. “Yes, Kathie,” she said. “This is it.”

She left the room. I fell apart.

When I pulled myself together, I left the office. As I waited for the elevator, a mom and her young boy joined me. He was probably about four. He glanced up at me and I smiled at him. He looked at his mother, then back at me, and he took his free hand and slid it into mine.

“I like you,” he said. “You’re pretty.”

“Thank you,” I said. I don’t think I’ve ever meant two words so sincerely before.

It took gargantuan effort to hold the tears back until I got to my car. I didn’t want to alarm him. I didn’t want him to think he’d said the wrong thing. Because he hadn’t.

Last night, after an evening of googling prostheses for partial mastectomies and being thoroughly turned off by their colloquial name of “chicken cutlets” (why don’t we ever just call things what they are?), I got ready for bed. I stood in front of the mirror and looked again at this battered breast of mine. This breast I refuse to call a girl, a tata, a boob, whatever. She’s a breast.

She’s a part of me. Still.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I still like you. We’re still a team. I will continue to hold you as you heal.”

I wrote this today. I choose to be happy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Choose it.

9/27/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

You know, it ain’t easy to find a moment of happiness when you find yourself, a year after finishing treatment for breast cancer, with a drain sticking out of your breast.

I thought I had the flu. Bone-rattling chills, body aches, fever. But then 24 hours later, I woke up with a breast that looked like a stop sign and was giving off more heat than my space heater. And pain? Holy cow.

On September 25, 2017, I finished radiation for breast cancer. What remained was long-term oral chemotherapy – swallowing a pill every day for the next five to ten years. So…the crisis was over. And then, on September 21st 2018, after a trip to Urgent Care, the ER, and the surgeon, I ended up with a drain, removing an infection from the surgical site where the tumor used to be. Turns out that the space left behind doesn’t fill in for years – and sometimes, it fills with fluid, and if there’s bacteria in the body, it travels there, and bam. Infection.

So it’s been a shaky week. A week of memories and flashbacks, of feeling like I’m going backward instead of forward. Compounding this is the anniversary of the launch of my novel, In Grace’s Time dovetailing with the release of Today’s Moment of Happiness Despite The News; A Year of Spontaneous Essays. Grace’s launch: 9/26/17. Today’s Moment’s release date: 9/27/18. When Grace came out, I was too sick and exhausted to enjoy it. I had to cancel appearances and a midwest book tour. With Today’s Moment, I swore I was going to get that time and enjoyment back.

And now, there’s a drain waving like a red flag.

In and out of the surgeon’s office and the Breast Care Center this week, I was walloped with reminders. Last Friday, as I waited to see if I was going to have to have the drain, a woman came from the examining area. She was rail thin and wore a stocking cap. And she was beaming. Her mother stood to meet her and the woman exclaimed, “They got it! They got it all! The surgery worked!” and the two burst into tears. So did the woman sitting across from me in the waiting room. And so did I. Group hug. Congratulations all around. The woman said she was going to go home and eat cake.

On Monday, I returned to the Breast Care Center because the protective wrap they covered the drain with where it entered my skin was peeling back. They very gently put a new one on for me. As I walked toward the elevators, another woman came around the corner. She was wearing a v-neck shirt, and I could see, from the redness of her skin and the apparatus poking out, that she’d just received her port for chemotherapy. Her eyes were full. She looked at me and I looked at her. I lifted my shirt, just a little so she could see the tubing for the drain, and then I held my arms out. She fell into them and sobbed on my shoulder. I couldn’t say it would be okay. I couldn’t say it would be all right. But I did say, “It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge after challenge. And you’re going to have help and support the whole way.” And then we parted.

Today, I went in for another ultrasound, to make sure that everything is healing. A young woman sat near me in the waiting room, looking at her phone. She didn’t wear a stocking cap, and her skull was just the most elegant smooth curve. When I sat down, I think I sighed. She looked up at me. Huge brown eyes. And then they filled. She held her fist out to me, and I bumped her with mine. We didn’t say a word.

I am part of a club I never wanted to join. And I am surrounded with grace, with strength, with compassion, with support. This week’s moment of happiness, #1.

During the ultrasound, I asked the technician and the radiologist if they thought the drain would be gone by October 18th, the day of the Today’s Moment launch. I explained that if the drain was still going to be there, I’d have to get a new outfit. The one I chose would not cover the tubing. After the radiologist assured me that he thought it would be gone, the technician said, “Anyway, with your personality, I’m sure you could find a way to make it work. Some bling. Wrap it in a feather boa.” And the radiologist said, “Bedazzle it!”

Ohmygod.

I added that maybe I should just appear topless and wrap a pasty or tassel around it – though it’s coming from the side and not the front.

For a moment, this week’s moment #2, we laughed. And then they both hugged me.

Again.

This club I’m in. This club that reaches out and fist-bumps, hugs, smiles, wipes away tears, without even asking, without a word. I am lifted up. And I do everything in my power to lift right back. I’m still here to do it.

This week’s moment #3.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Some weeks, your focus has to widen and you need to take it all in. In everything, there’s a moment.

 

 

9/20/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

When you’re a parent, there are all these moments. Some of them are obvious: first time sitting up, first walk, first run, first day of school, and so on. I remember with each of my four kids, I had a “baby’s first year” calendar that came with stickers that you could put on the date that your child met one of the calendar-maker’s “moments”. I was always so excited with these, and may have even fibbed on a few: “Well, he sat up for three seconds before falling over, so that’s sitting up!”

But as I lived my way through each child, I became aware of the other moments that maybe aren’t so obvious and that I’ve never seen on any calendar. When your kid suddenly shoots beyond you in height, grins at you, pats you on the head, and says, “Hi, Little Mommy.” The first argument that ends in its usual way at first, with the child stomping off to his or her room and slamming the door, but then that door opens and the child comes back with tears and an apology. The first serious talk that isn’t about toys or other kids at school or even what’s for dinner.

When you’re a parent, there are just these moments, some that can’t even be verbalized, when you look at your child and you see a person.

Over the weekend, I became my daughter Olivia’s personal shopper. She is going to Homecoming and by the time that decision was made, it was only two weeks away. With our different work schedules, there was no way we could go together before the big day. So while Olivia worked, I went to Goodwill, my favorite fancy-dress-you’ll-never-wear-again store, and brought home armfuls. On Sunday, I took back the rejects and came home with another armful.

The dresses covered many moods, which reflected my daughter, because when you’re almost 18, your life is many moods. Some were sexy, some were fru-fru, some were kinda silly.

And then there was one.

The dress is different for a Homecoming. But my daughter is different too. The dress is a dark chocolate brown, silky, flowing. It’s a halter top, and the straps of the halter come up over the dress material and are sheer and wide. The dress is classic, romantic, reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn (and Olivia knows who Audrey Hepburn is), beautiful, gentle. Stunning in a way that makes you turn and look again and whisper, “Wow,” instead of popping your eyes wide open and shouting, “Holy cats!”

When Olivia tried it on and looked at herself, her left hand came up and rested naturally on her hip. And the smile that crossed her face was just…oh. There’s that not being able to verbalize it. But that smile. Maybe it’s the smile that shows she recognizes her own beauty, but also knows that beauty isn’t the only thing. Maybe it was satisfaction with how she’s turned out, but also the determination to do even more.

Maybe it was just Olivia. My girl.

And I found myself thinking, Oh, look at her. Just look at her.

Moment.

Then, last night, I came downstairs to find Michael and Olivia in a deep conversation. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Olivia looked up at me. “I’m going to be voting soon, so I figure I better know what’s going on and what to do. I asked Dad to explain liberalism and conservatism to me.”

Another Wow whisper. Moment.

On Facebook this week, a friend who has just become a grandmother for the first time posted a photo of her granddaughter. And my friend’s caption was, “I’m in love.”

Me too. I’ve been in love since January 18, 1984. March 12, 1986. April 8, 1987.

And October 17, 2000.

(not to mention my own granddaughter, since January 21, 2013.)

That moment. That smile. That dress. That desire to know.

Oh, that girl.

And yes, that helps. SHE helps. Despite. Anyway.

The Dress
The Smile