Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How Reading Harry Potter (WAY LATE) Was The Best Path for Me

I never read Harry Potter when it came out.

Why?

Put simply: I was terrified of it.

A teacher in High School, whom I knew outside of school as well and trusted, said something about it when it first came out that made my head spin and my heart sink.

"It's about abuse, Jess. He's a prisoner under the stairs. It's going to end with him dying; Hogwarts was just his way of finding hope before he dies under the stairs."

I couldn't touch it. I've made no secret of the fact that I suffered abuse before I was adopted at age 4. I can't fathom what reading about the adventures of this child would be like if, in the end, it was all a way to save him from suffering.

I've had friends, and family, chide me for this denial of literature. More often than not, when asked about Potter, my response was a brisk, "I haven't read or watched it. I have my reasons." I was lobbied, bribed, threatened (in a loving way) and I remained unmoved.

Even after my husband tricked me into watching the first Deathly Hallows movie, I resisted the books. "How'd he trick you?" "Jess! Look at the Alan Rickman movie!" Yes, that's a more reliable way to get me to do anything I refuse to do than just about any other incentive. So suffice to say I was Team Snape before I knew what the hell that meant.

Two years ago, because of my husband's enthusiasm for Harry Potter, I bought him the boxed set of books. We already own the movies, because like I said, "Alan Rickman" is a phrase on par with "expensive dinner at prestigious place" and "all the ice cream/mac-n-cheese you want" in my house. I will stampede for that, given the right mood.

My husband was not, when we met, a "reader." I am proud to say that my influence has broken him down. He now has a bookshelf instead of a nightstand, just as I do. After a year, he was still on Chapter 3 of the first book, having been distracted by a bunch of other books I'd bought him and the busy life of working 60+ hours a week.

The summer of 2016 was a challenge for me. I can't say that it was any particular thing, but stress from a job that turned out to be toxic for me and the uncertainty of family members being ill led me to investigate escapist reading in a way I had not before. I considered, and intended to, start reading Harry Potter. Life intervened, and I found myself on a journey of both painful self-discovery and the horror of nearly losing my father.

I have written about the passing of my father here, and the grief is still very much with me, but in the summer after he died I began to look around and the things I considered the loose ends of my life. I wrote letters I'd been contemplating for years. I repaid kindnesses I'm certain people forgot they had paid me, but I thought of them at least weekly. I filled the world with a little bit of the joy I missed, and I turned my attention to the books I had been thinking about for a year.

Getting through the first book was not what I expected. No one had told me that J. K. Rowling does not write character-driven books. These were action/adventure books. I understood the age range for which they were intended, and I enjoyed the plain language with which the books were written. The tone was a hell of a gear change for me, having been on re-reading binges with Christopher Moore (Lamb continues to save my life) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods will forever have a place in my soul).

Gradually, I grew acclimated to the writing style. I began to understand the intricacies of the fandom (Book Ginny is vastly superior). I found the determination of my friends to see the movies on opening nights, maybe even in robes (miss you every day, Melissa Moses), charming and completely understandable. I even developed favorites of my own, with Snape a clear top contender. I marveled at the world Ms. Rowling wrought, and the people in it.

I finished these books in record time, finding myself sobbing through most of them but determined to finish. As I acquired this new knowledge, I realized most of my friends would laugh at my delay so I immediately set about telling my sister-since-we-were-8-at-daycare Melissa Bentley about it. She responded to my statement that I hadn't read them until now with, "Oh, too mainstream for yah?"

In fairness to Melissa, she's right. I tend to shy away from things that have mass appeal. Not because there's anything wrong with them, but generally I find them lacking in ways I consider vital. I explained the origin of my misapprehensions. Her instant response was, "Well crap, I wish you would have told me."

As I put down the final book, I remembered that conversation. I also thought of the mechanism I'd be given. Somehow, through the fight of the books, I had also slowly but surely processed the death of my Father. I also found the still-painful loss of my Mother had been processed again, in a way that felt easier to bear. For a moment in my life, my understanding of the world was made a little bit better and brighter for reading books that I could have read over a decade before but it wouldn't have been the same.

I find myself grateful for this gift. I have learned the short-hand of the books, and get teased with affectionate playfulness by many of those who love me about my late arrival to the Potter party. My affection for the books, and characters, will forever be linked to the words on those pages letting my loss and confusion find outlets. I have rarely been more grateful for literature, or more convinced of its healing nature.

So while I'm way past late to enjoying Harry Potter, I certainly delight in the magic given to the world. And yes, before you ask, I've read The Cursed Child and seen/read way too much Pottermore. Also, if you didn't fall in love with the Niffler in Fantastic Beasts there's something wrong with you. I'm a jumble, I admit, but I am certainly a grateful one.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Perspective

I traveled this past weekend. For the first time, I walked into the house I'd known for more than 20 years and knew I'd be taking keepsakes, momentos, pieces of my history.

There were books, and a statue, some tea cups (yeah, I know it's weird) that I wanted. Pieces that held little to no monetary value but ones I had cherished. In some cases, I felt child-like awe returning as I handled them with extreme care.

The pictures were at once both the hardest and the easiest. I took the school photos that documented the march of time in my life, as well as two images I copied.

One was my father, in July of 1984, swaying in a hammock on our farm. He looked relaxed and playful. I've always loved that image of my father.

The one I cried as I took from its frame meant the most to me. To a casual observer, it looked like a little girl pouting as a mom chuckled, cajoling the child into something.

I am not the casual observer. I know what's happening in that image.

My adoption made me feel like an outsider. I lost a lot of the confidence 4-6 year old children often have, knowing that my parents were, and weren't, my "parents" in the usual sense. I grew up terrified that if I did anything wrong, I'd be taken back to where I'd been. Returned as defective, or unwanted.

My Mother was an incredibly intuitive woman. She and my Father had taken in many foster children, but they'd adopted me. Somehow her empathic nature told her that my insecurities needed unique reassurance, so she devised a game.

At the camping grounds where the image was taken (around 1987), I would race ahead and sit on the large rocks lining the path to the bathrooms. I would pretend to cry and be sad, all the while my parents making their way up the same path. When they reached me, my Mom would ask why I was crying. I would say I was lost, and didn't have a family. My Mom would say that they would love me and keep me forever, and we would agree to keep each other forever before bundling off to the bathroom together, hand in hand.

My relationship with my Mom and Dad was ironclad, and by my twenties I looked like both of them. I somehow managed to develop my Mom's voice over the phone. But looking at these images of the two people who took such amazing care of me, who raised me and taught me all they could - I hope a tiny portion of the legacy of love and compassion they left behind lives on in me. I will forever be in awe of the lengths my parents, particularly Mom, went to so that I could feel safe and loved. There's an incredible power in that kind of love.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Island Scenes, Mountain Retreats

There are things that keep me awake. I can't keep having the same dreams. Too much passes for reality when my eyes are closed. Faces, ghosts, memories... my restless mind combines so much, and I find more solace in the dark of night than I do in my sleep. JK Rowling had plenty of inspiration for the Mirror of Erised in dreams. 

It's late, again. Thoughts wind back to the conversation earlier in the day - the dichotomy that provides me comfort, the yearning of my heart to split my life between cold snowy mountains and a quiet, desolate beach. My daydreaming (night dreaming?) keeps creating scenes, moments that I could dwell in forever. But, as cautioned, it would not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.


***


For a moment, though I don't know how long it lasts, I'm walking on the beach. It's late - the bars and clubs are expelling their caches of the drunk and lusty. For a span, I am swallowed in the humanity as pairs and singles as they wash the soundscape in intermittent beats and the murmur of determination. I meet no eyes, I find no conversation pulling me. I am a ghost amongst crashing waves and chilling breezes, unbidden and unwelcome in my otherness. My skirt is long and skims the tops of my feet, my hair blown and battered by the fingers of my companion the wind; even the most amorous of couples are bypassing the dunes and hiding places for some other den of lust tonight. My lips curl in recognition, a smile for remembered beats and rhythms when I danced myself to pleasant oblivion years ago. 

I give privacy to the retreating humanity; they are on a journey different from the trail I walk tonight. I am in search of something they would not value, even if they found; the same could be said if my feet found me walking anyone else's road. I taste the salt on my lips from the ocean spray, and watch the changing colors of surf as it sighs itself in and out. The sand is still warm under my feet from the day's sun. The women who went into the clubs without jacket or sleeves are surprised by the cool night's breath. I chuckle at the sounds, words shapeless as they reach my ears, expressing surprise. They cannot see what I do; I leave them to their own devices as I am left to my own. 

As the sounds ebb, the tides stubbornly come in. My path veers further inland, avoiding the tips of the surf's fingers as they reclaim bits of the beach. I shrug my shoulders, wrapping my hands in the cuffs of the shirt extending to my thumb. There's a storm offshore. That explains the edge to the breeze, the way it shifts the trees and tousles my hair carelessly. I needn't strain my eyes to find safe passage in the night. I can see forever in the moments lightning touches salt water. Even if the shower reaches my deserted haven, it might wash away any tears that fall and such friendship should not be turned away. I will cry myself comforted in the falling salt water as its ultimate destination stands judgeless and vast. I will find peace between the rain and waves.

***


Deep breaths carry evergreen and cold to my nose. I find myself wrapped in the silence of the world as it gathers itself before a storm. My boots crunch the crisp, established snow. I think another blanket will fall soon. I listen to the few leaves determined to hang on hibernating limbs, protesting another bout of rough treatment I would not spare them. There's a name for the silence that comes with a snowstorm - it escapes me as I smile into the dove grey underbelly of the threatening clouds. The path remains in my mind as I see the first large clumps of crystalline ice tumble onto my trail. I know the way without thought, without directions. That does not stop my breath from catching. Somehow I am home again, known even in my solitude by the wind and weather. Unyielding ground beneath the snow strains to touch my shoes, to reassure me that grass and tree wait to rise when the time permits. This is my reset, my chance to let loose my hidden breath. I can find my pace, hidden among the evergreens. The heavy sweater under my parka, the boots, even the hat I wear are no barrier. 

I don't spin. There are catches of a song on my mind, calling from the depths a ship and its captain as winter waves beckon. No snow angels, somehow an affront to the temple in which I wander. My reverence tells me that full-throated song is disrespectful in this space. I learn my own stillness in this cathedral of whipping cold and spiraling fractals. There is a place for the geometric precision of each array of angles, the alignment of water and imperfections tumbling to me from heights I do not imagine as I watch them gather on my eyelashes. Melting into my ungloved fingers, the touch of delicate chill followed instantly by pooling water calls to me. It sings of the stillness I may borrow but do not own, the pristine beauty this place holds without any of the scars, the damage of learning and living. As the dripping former snowflakes invade the warmth of my sleeve, I recall the trek back to hearth and home. My journey will have been better for these steps caught in the storm, instantly obliterated by the falling fluff. I will curl into an oversized chair next to the fireplace, a book awaiting my attentions as tea steams in my cup. I'll listen well to the rare thunder that accompanies some snowstorms. I'll smile as its deadened rumble recalls the rain it had been at lower elevations, warmer temperatures, and I welcome its changed touch on my lips, my eyes, my mind. 

***

I can't explain why both ideas swim with meaning and value in my mind. There's so much about each that is inexplicably real to me. Part of it is my own memories of less idealized moments. Some of my life is wrapped in holding such moments, finding instruction and comfort in the vividness of such moments. It is remarkable the lengths to which the mind seeks comfort, refuge, peace. There are such different tactile experiences in each, their differences of primary importance to me. 

So I'm caught somewhere between jagged mountainscapes and shifting sandy seascapes. Needing both, missing both. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Absence

"In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."
~T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

When we last left our heroes, there was a new year barely 3 months old and a world of change ahead.

Today, precisely, is 3 months before my 35 birthday. So much has taken my breath away since March of 2016. So many great gains. Such world-stopping changes, losses.

It has been 6 weeks since my Father passed away. Almost a full year since the surgery that removed his lung cancer and the following month+ of downturns, near-death ICU stay and slow, persistent, less-2.5-toes recovery. Watching my sister worry until she couldn't sleep, finally getting brave enough to travel to be with them and feeling relief as they all improved. Spending Thanksgiving with my Dad, and marveling at his determination. Fighting to find time to be with him around his birthday. And being with him in the last days, that no one knew were his last. Watching "The Magnificent Seven," and its remake. Watching "El Dorado." Talking about John Wayne. Holding him as he passed out in the living room. Trembling as I called my sister, feeling helpless for the first time in a medical situation because regardless of how much I understand about medicine, I couldn't make sense of what was going on. This was Dad - my Big Sister's best friend, and the man who cried when he dropped me off at college when I asked if I'd still always be his little girl. Bob, who adored my husband and checked on Jon more than I knew, particularly after Mom passed away. Mr. Invincible, whose stoic and bullish presence in my life kept me grounded, and I bit back every inch of my political ideas so that our time together could be happy. It was selfish, and small, but I wanted to just enjoy the time we had left together, however long that was. The only thing I would change would be to have my sister at our side when we held him before he passed. I was closer to my Mom, and I would have given anything and everything I have to let my sister hold my Father's hand to say goodbye just as I'd had the opportunity to hold Mom's. He loved us. Imperfectly, impossibly at times, but loved us just the same.

I've struggled with the pain of losing him. More than that I've felt mystified by my relief - a breath held I did not know I was holding - knowing that he wasn't alone, that he had loved ones around him constantly when he went.

It has been 15 months and 1 week since my friend and sister, Melissa, passed away. Unexpected. Completely. I'd spoken to her every day for so long. She was a bright light in a weary world, and in each other we found safe passage. She was the quintessential older sibling; she knew when I was screwing up and would patiently tell me exactly why I was being an ass. She also let me be devastated without the nagging echo of "I told you so," or the disappointment of misplaced hero-worship. She saw my flaws, and let me stand beside her even in the face of them.

It has been 2 years and several weeks since my Mom and older brother passed away, within weeks of each other.

Even in the face of these scars, beautiful moments and new friends have brought love into my life. I've had magnificent moments, spectacular adventures and quiet restful evenings. I've learned more every day. My health is stable, which is a small miracle. I fight every day to keep it so.

I've seen one of my favorite people marry her long-time love. I've had an afternoon/evening as Cinderella. I've dyed my white hair a tanzanite purple-blue. I have started wearing thermal nail polish so I can tell when my toes/fingers are colder than they seem. I laugh too loudly. I kiss my husband in public. I'm reading Harry Potter for the first time, after 20 years of resistance. I am looking forward to once-in-a-lifetime memories with once-in-a-lifetime people. I am planning a dinner for friends. I'm watching movies in theaters again. I am writing again.

I'm still here. At a moment my world can change; in a second it will change again. But I have lived, up to now, and I will make even more memories in the days, weeks, years to come. I will have a rich and varied life to look back on, and I am grateful for all in it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

... and Many Happy Returns

We all have little traditions for special events.

In my family, you always got to pick dinner on your birthday, and if it was feasible, you got your favorite flavor of birthday cake. Or, icingless cupcakes... or whatever weird thing creeps into your brain, like a bowl of spinach instead of ice cream (yes, I preferred spinach as a late night snack as a kid).

March 2nd is my Mom's birthday. She would have been 72.

It's been difficult for me without my Mom. Lynn was a force of nature, fiercely loving and loyal. She filled the room with her laughter, or biting sarcasm. She raised so many people - foster children, friends of her own children, grandchildren... My Mom loved so many people who loved her without reservation or restraint - I wish I could tell every one of them how much she loved them, because she talked about them all with love, and hope. I am so proud of that; she loved with such energy.

And yes, she sucked sometimes. We butted heads more than once, and had to have a 'Come to Jesus' discussion more than once about what our relationship was, and how it was going to work. We hurt each other, without ever meaning to hurt each other. My Mom wasn't big on saying "I'm sorry," but she would go out of her way to make sure you knew she still loved you.

My Mom was my template for strength, and grace, and love. Sometimes she took my breath away with how absolutely perfect her comfort fell like a blanket over my heart. She was a Best Friend, and my biggest fan.

I celebrate my Mom every day. I talk to her every day. Sometimes, I have the best dreams - simple ones, where I'm sitting in the kitchen with her and we're talking about nothing special. Those are the times it takes me a moment to gather myself when I wake up - but I know I smile a little more those days, and feel comforted.

So, March 2nd, I remember the piece of my heart that was so full for 33 years. I was so very lucky to have Lynn as a mom, a friend, a confidant.

"It has been said, 'Time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone."
~Rosemary Kennedy

Friday, January 29, 2016

New Scars

Wednesday, at approximately 9:00 eastern standard time, I had surgery to remove a tumor.


You have a thyroid gland in your neck. It wraps around your trachea/esophagus (air and food pipes) like a butterfly. There are four smaller glands, about the size of the end of a writing pen, that are called your parathyroid glands.


The parathyroid closest to my jaw (rather than my collarbone) developed a tumor. Normally, when this happens, doctors go in on the side of the neck and remove the gland so the other three can work normally.


My thyroid has been severely damaged by all the attacks from my immune system. This made the anatomy in my neck differ from normal necks.


My tumor had been growing for so long, it drooped down. My low-hanging tumor pushed itself around my throat, trying to determine where it wanted to keep growing.


My surgeon is the head of surgery at the hospital where my surgery took place. I'm grateful that I had such a seasoned crew.


The following are exact quotes from my surgeon, post procedure. "That was a huge tumor. We almost didn't find it. I was about to give up and take the inferior (lower) gland, but I saw something way in the back. It was lodged between your esophagus and your spine. Most people would have given up a while ago. But we got everything - when we started, your parathyroid hormone levels were over 400 - after we got the huge tumor out, you immediately dropped to 80. That tumor was HUGE!" Typical parathyroid tumors are about the size of an almond. "Yours was gigantic. We started just below your right ear, and hunted until we found it - it was bigger than a giant olive!"


I have a four (or so) inch surgical incision at the base of my throat. I've already noticed differences in drinking, eating, swallowing and my voice even sounds a tiny bit different!


I wish I could say this has been an easy recovery - the pain has been some of the worst I've ever had. Including the colon removal. Turning my head is not allowed, leaning my head back is peril-filled. Bending over threatens all kinds of danger.


Jon has been helping me so much. I hate being a burden to anyone, but when talking on the phone for 15 minutes exhausts me (it was worth to talk to you, Melissa), I don't trust myself to be alone for long periods of time. My balance is not solid - I would flinch if I fell and you'd be amazed how many neck muscles running directly under my surgical scar are required for catching yourself when you slip.


I'm not sleeping well, and I'm hopeful that as I continue to heal, more rest will come. Having a raw throat from the tube they put in to keep you breathing during surgery does not pair well with a healing surgical scar. Inside and out, my throat is unhappy.


I am grateful for all the love and support. Having aunts wave me off and promise to keep Jon in line was a sincere relief. My mother-in-law has been checking on me every day for the past two weeks. My dad and sister are cheering for me, and the family I got to pick (my closes friends) have been magical. Even long-distance loves like my cousins and Aunt Rachel have been a vital portion of my cheerleading section.


Thank you with all my love and gratitude for the wonderful cheering squad. I was more scared about this surgery than any other. It's been a far more difficult recovery than I expected. Hopefully I can rest enough, and get my healthy legs underneath me. Looking forward to more rest, and healing. I think I may stock up on scarves for my neck, though. Feeling a lot like the Monster from Frankenstein's lab isn't my idea of awesome.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

One Hell of An Example

Today has been the perfect, breath-taking example of what my life means now.


8:00 am - seeing a doctor. I was told it was a quick follow up. Half an hour, maximum. I go into the appointment daydreaming about what I'll be able to accomplish at work today.


9:00 am - I'm exiting the appointment, being ushered to the "set up" window. I'll be setting up the laboratory tests that have been ordered, so we can explain what I thought were normal, not worrying symptoms which now have raised The Eyebrow of Concern. Great.


9:15 am - The doctor I haven't been able to get an appointment to see is called. His staff apologizes for my inconvenience. I am given an unexpected appointment this afternoon, at 4:10 pm. I'm also given a second appointment this afternoon. It's starting to dawn on me that my day at work is gone.


9:20 am - I'm scheduled for a CT Scan on Friday. With contrast. In the middle of the day because that's all they have. I'm given the prep (barium), the instructions, and wished well before I'm sent to get my laboratory testing.


11:30 am - I'm sitting down, trying to remember who else I need to call, or text, or whatever. I have to take Phenergan (anti-vomit medication) because I've been swallowing, trying desperately not to throw up. I am aware that I will be asleep by 1 pm, but I will not be driving at that time, so I'll be okay. I drink water, have some popsicles and try, in general, to settle down my stomach. I'm not winning.


(other appointments you really don't want to know about)


4:10 pm - Checked in, sitting quietly in the waiting room, taking notes from my day. I'm not seen until after 4:30, but that's not terrible. The Doctor was more personable than usual. He raised The Eyebrow of Concern, after realizing I've been missing for 6 months. He explains that he wants to perform a twilight anesthesia requiring procedure, because he's concerned about what's going on with me. He's coordinating with my liver specialist, and will be forcing me into his schedule this week. THIS WEEK. This week.


ADDED BONUS: I have been presented at Cleveland Clinic as a "remarkable" case. Per my endowed chair of a physician: "Jess, you are an outlier. Completely."


I did not get home until after 8 pm. I've submitted paperwork for my job, done ALL the dishes in the kitchen and had a shower. I am ignoring all other adult things at this point because my ability to cope is gone and I do not give a damn.


I will not be able to eat until this weekend, except for popsicles and juices and jell-o and air. I'm not happy about it, but I'll take it as easy as I can if it helps keep me out of the hospital after all this irritation. I anticipate sleeping through the weekend.


This is a normal week. This isn't even a BAD week.


This is my life.