Apology to the raccoon in my yard

animal-raccoon-whiskers-16605

You appear in my frame of vision as I glance out the back door
as I’m on the phone with a friend
talking about the hollow shell of our President,
and the crumbling ash of Lindsey Graham’s soul.

I interrupt my friend to tell her about you, and as I do,
you slow to a stop.
Then, cautiously step forward, and wait again
for several
long
beats.

It’s possible you heard me exclaim aloud at the sight of you –
the glass door thin; your senses keen.
It’s possible that my presence is as strange and exciting to you
as you are to me.

Or do I simply alarm you?

You look left, right, 
halfway over your shoulder, 
lower your head.
You begin walking again with what looks like trepidation, 
a hesitant skulk.
Or, is this the normal gait of a nocturnal creature 
inexplicably bathed in late afternoon sunlight?
Or, are you surveying the area for enemies?
Predators?
Am I them?

Which brings me to the issue at hand.
How sorry I am for how carelessly we treat the place we call home.
Forgive us for crowding you out,
For somehow deeming tract housing, strip malls, and traffic circles more important than your continued survival.
For leaving you with little more than patches of grass,
spindly new saplings in place of old-growth trees now leveled,
whose limbs stretched out and up
to support, sustain, shelter.
Now.
Gone.

I try to memorize you as you walk slowly and carefully through the side yard.
The bandit mask of fur around your eyes flecked with gray, gold, and brown
The light gray fur of your body dotted white, charcoal, and umber.

But it’s your tiny hands, gloved black
that seem somehow miraculous.
I imagine you using them to pop off the garbage can lid
in the deepest part of the night,
eager to dig into my leftover spaghetti,
and upon finishing,
upending the can and its remaining pungent, oozing contents
and leaving it
a ripe example of our carelessness,
reckless excess and wastefulness,
a mess we really ought to clean up.

I watch as you disappear into the drainage ditch,
in which lazy, passing drivers throw candy wrappers, beer cans, 
and once,
an entire Styrofoam cooler.
You deserve better than us.

Sometimes I think we should all die under the weight of all the waste 
we’ve ever created.
Look for me beneath 
a turquoise Frankie Goes To Hollywood t-shirt,
cassette tapes,
pounds of dirty napkins,
31 years of tampons,
and whole forests of paper.

Seem dramatic?
No more dramatic, I’d say, 
than forcing you out of your home
into the late afternoon sun,
seeking a safer place to snooze
until night falls,
and I finally say, I’m sorry.

Giving Thanks

It’s been nearly two years since I was diagnosed with aggressive, fast-growing breast cancer, and nearly a year since I completed “active” treatment. In my case, “active” treatment included four months of chemotherapy (1 drug for a year), a lumpectomy, and 33 radiation treatments. As of my last mammogram and check up a few weeks ago, I’m still cancer-free.

I’m incredibly lucky.

Four people I know died from cancer this year. I’ve had a difficult time making sense of their losses.

I’m so grateful to be here, even if I don’t understand why.

That’s what I want to write about.

When you survive cancer, everyone who knows and loves you is overjoyed and relieved. Collective deep exhale.

I’ve been somewhat reluctant to write about my cancer overmuch. Does the world need more cancer stories? We made it through so why, on some level, relive it?

Maybe because to fully understand my gratitude you need to understand the context in which I was given so much.

A week after my diagnosis, I had surgery to remove a cancerous lymph node(s) and to implant a port in my chest. The port, a quarter-sized catheter, was positioned just under my clavicle. Under my skin, the port had a septum through which my chemotherapy drugs would be injected directly into my jugular vein. Easy access for my medical team and no chance of collapsing arm veins for me.

I woke up from that surgery crying and saying, “It hurts.” And while I don’t remember that exact moment, I remember that for days afterward, I felt like I’d been kicked repeatedly in the chest.

When I had my first chemotherapy treatment a few days later (December 22), my girlfriend at the time, and a few dear friends, were with me. I had already been to “chemo class” as I called it, so I knew what the process looked like, and I had a notebook full of information, including three pages of side effects for each drug I’d receive through my port.

The nurse repeated the process to me and asked if I wanted the “cold spray” when she put my IV in. The “cold spray” temporarily numbs the skin. I said yes. Yes, please.

Needles have never really bothered me. I’m fine to have my blood drawn. But before the nurse put my IV in, I instinctively grabbed my girlfriend’s hand. In that moment, I think I needed grounding and connection and physical reassurance that I could endure everything that lay ahead. I think somehow I knew that once that IV went in, my life would change forever.

The nurse smiled, looked me in the eyes and said, “Take a deep breath for me.” I did and watched her arm draw back. She inserted the needle with the force necessary to penetrate the rubber pad beneath my skin. The sound it made going in was a deep, toneless “womp,” not unlike the sound a ripe melon makes when you thump it, which is actually the sound of your own body giving way to force, to intrusion. As she stepped near me to adjust the IV, I felt a wave of nausea wash over me, more from the sound than anything. I felt that sound deep within me, and I couldn’t believe how incredibly strange it was to have someone inside this most vulnerable part of my body.

In subsequent treatments, that wave of nausea was no longer an issue, but the strangeness of the experience itself remained. I realized later that whomever held my hand in those moments (a must for every treatment), always inhaled with me. We took that breath in tandem, I think, because on some level, we were all getting hit in the jugular.

Over the next four months, once my IV was in, we were in for a four to six hour-long process during which I received four drugs: Herceptin, Perjeta, Taxotere, and Carboplatin. Plus, we began with Benadryl to prevent any allergic reactions and a cocktail of anti-nausea meds.

While I was never able to tolerate Benadryl orally, it mostly just rendered me sleepy and slightly stoned intravenously. I got to know when it was kicking in. I’d feel like a veil was being drawn over me, some sort of strange Instagram-style cancer filter. My motor skills slowed; my speech slurred.

That was Day 1 of treatment.

I am so grateful to so many people, for so much.

When I see the people who were so present during my treatment now, they beam at me, hug me extra hard, sometimes with eyes glassy from joy. And I know we are all standing there thinking: “Can you fucking believe we made it?”

I just want everyone, everyone, to know how grateful I am for every moment, every email, every Tupperware of soup, every time you held my hand, or sent me good energy. Because here’s the thing: my gratitude hasn’t diminished. It continues to expand and grow.

It survives.

It endures.