Three Pillars.

28 04 2008

This morning, after a short 45-minute flight from JFK to Burlington, I arrived home. It is the first spring I’ve seen here in two years and it was green and rainy, not at all out-of-the-ordinary for a Vermont post-mud season day. The turbulence in the air between the states was not unlike that which I felt in my core and I was thankful for Jet Blue’s personal entertainment system so I could flip through channels that I didn’t care to watch anyway. It was the first time in a long time that going home didn’t necessarily mean “vacation” and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that change.

Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years ago, when my dad was sick, home didn’t feel like a good place to be. It was a place where I felt awkward and unsure, isolated and confused. I spent as much time as was possible looking for other places to be and other people to be around other than my parents who seemed wrapped up beyond imagination in the disease that was slowly taking over my father’s body and which eventually took him away entirely. You can imagine my discomfort, perhaps, at returning to a place that I have only recently been able to reclaim as my own rather than associating it with the unfortunate event of my childhood.  Hence, the turbulence in my stomach over the 45 minutes in the air, where it seemed so much already was.

I would be lying if I said I greeted my mother honestly and sincerely when she met me as I got off the plane. Had I been honest, I’m sure I would have wept and drooled in puddles. Instead I put on a brave face and greeted her with a hug and a smile and quick conversation. It seemed we both were comfortable with the talking. The more words, the less silence. The less silence, the less room for acknowledging the impossible. But nothing is impossible and so here it is: stage four metastatic melanoma in my mom’s lymph nodes. There are reasons to celebrate, which I won’t go into now because the story is long and it’s also not set in stone, but trust me I will be the first to pass along the good news when I know it for sure. 

But for now, this is what I know: the three of us in our house, me, my mom, and my step-father, all are veterans-of-a-sort of this disease. We’re all pros, in a way, having been down this road before with different loved ones. And who better equipped to fight in a war than those already trained for battle? The three of us in our house are pillars. We are tall, thick, granite pillars and I can feel our strength and stoniness. While this might at first seem cold and silent, I think instead it is a preparation for a fight. We are readying our hearts and minds, putting on our game faces, and steadying our voices. We aren’t green and this is our advantage.

In the meantime, we are fluctuating between peace and laughter. Most of the day today was quiet; Mom was on the computer writing and doing business and I was flipping between “Bridezillas” and “America’s Next Top Model.” It is good to be watching American television, soulless though it may be. I washed dishes and unloaded the dishwasher, a chore which I absolutely despised as a teenager but one which today brought me a great sense of accomplishment. It was also during this time when I thought of a tagline for a blog I am setting up for my mom: “Cancer: It Gets Your Dishes Done.” I shared it with my mom and she laughed. Later, when I felt my throat hurting, I told her maybe I had sympathy cancer, which I think is a pretty decent way to show support for her. She felt my neck’s glands and assured me I was not suffering from sympathy cancer. When she placed my hands on her neck it felt like there were jelly beans lodged beneath her skin and I could only hope they were Jelly Belly’s, the pink flavors, which are the best. 

So here we are, hoping for the best because when it’s all up in the air there’s not much more you can do than that. We’re waiting to take more tests and to hear from the doctors about a course of action. I guess at that point I’ll know better how to react, but for now it’s washing dishes and cracking tasteless jokes.

(Also? Our house has heard a lot of swearing recently from me and my mom, which is actually kind of funny because when I was eight and said the word “crap,” she rinsed my mouth out with a brand new orange-colored Safeguard bar of soap for a good three minutes and then made me apologize to the woman who owned the house in front of which I’d said the word. But I really had been talking about crap, considering the woman who owned the house also owned a dog who had defecated on the lawn in front of the house and I was simply stating the obvious. She was the staunchest anti-swearing mother I’d ever met. And until the day I overheard her let loose a stream of swears such as no sailor has ever dreamed of saying, as she was bent over the living room rug scrubbing out more crap (literally, from our dog who’d not been able to hold it), I hadn’t known she even knew how to pronounce swear words, let alone say them in the sanctity of our living room, mere feet away from her child’s ears. (And by “child,” I mean I was 21 years old when this happened.) Ever since that day, we’ve been much less selective with our words, and certainly now there’s a kind of pleasure that comes from these little verbal explosions. Helps lighten the mood. Also good to know the soap is staying on the shelf.)

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13 responses

29 04 2008
Catherine

Gina, you and your mother are in my thoughts and I will continue to send my most positive vibes all the way from Alaska!

29 04 2008
Mark

Thinking of you all.

29 04 2008
Nilsa S.

You, my dear, are an incredibly strong, devoted and loving child … one that any parent would be lucky to have. Your description of the three of you as pillars reminds me of the chuppah in the Jewish tradition (it’s used in wedding ceremonies). As a rabbi explained to me, the chuppah represents the home. Sweets and I thought of asking our parents to hold up the chuppah to represent our support system as we enter our new home. In any case, my point is, the three of you form a very strong foundation for what lies ahead. You’ll most certainly be in my thoughts.

29 04 2008
Jennie

Wow.
I’ve fallen in love with your mom and the relationship you two have simply by reading her comments on here.
I don’t know what I was expecting the awful news to be, but it wasn’t this. I am so, so sorry.
I know your mom is so grateful for you and the support you give her. You will all be in my thoughts and prayers.
(Oh, and I absolutely agree that pink jelly beans are the best. I loved that sentence so much.)

29 04 2008
Harold

Gina, you and your mother will certainly be in the thoughts and prayers of so many people who read your blog.

29 04 2008
ginacoggio

Thank you so much to all of you who have chimed in with cheerful or supportive words. I know also when you don’t know what to say it’s easier not to say anything at all, and I understand if you don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say half the time, but right now, I really, really want to say thank you to all of you who have read and left a note, or who have read and sent some positive energy out into the world. We feel your love.

29 04 2008
luanaspider

Ms.C,

You said Dennis would help support you, I think millions and I mean millions of people who read your blog are supporting you and the whole 7th and 8th grade and me, also you have luck, you are courageous and your one of the most incredible persons I ever met. Im sure your going to win that battle.

29 04 2008
ginacoggio

Oh, Luana, thank you.

29 04 2008
Susan

I cried. I couldn’t help it and then I giggled about the pink jelly beans. That was the best. We went thru this situation with my mom’s best friend and oh my heart hurts thinking about it all. I love you and your mom so much from just reading here and will be thinking about you guys constantly.

29 04 2008
tico

As your mom’s little brother, I want to tell you something about her knowledge and use of “bad” language. Firstly, how did she ever get off as “the staunchest anti-swearing mother”? I didn’t realize you were raised under those conditions, Gina. Had I known I would have set the record straight much earlier and perhaps saved you the Safeguard fiasco. Maybe called the authorities.
Let’s go back in time to the mid sixties. It is the end of summer vacation. I have a Fender Bassman amplifier, purchased in NYC, and there’s a problem with it. My dad rather unfairly tells your future mother that she has to drive to a repair shop in the outskirts of the city with me and drop it off. Now, I’m not defending his action. In a day or two she had to return to school and she would have to spend this glorious sunny morning fighting traffic, but there was no denying his will (sound familiar?) So she and I got in her VW blue hatchback wagon and began our journey.
Back in those days there were no such things as feedback loops but there was in that car. “Sh__! F___! God____it___! S_n __ _ b___ch!! In unending progression, Merrit Parkway- Hutchinson River Parkway- Cross Bronx Expressway… The hotter the temperature rose so did the pitch of her expletives. I think I had melted into a pool under the passenger seat by the time we got home.
So, don’t ever let your mother give you any crap about swearing.

29 04 2008
Tina (aka Mom)

Oh ____, I just KNEW one day that story would come back around and bite my ___ !! (Little brothers have quite the memory, don’t they? But I guess it WAS a pretty unforgettable scene….. yuck – sorry ). I fully admit to my actions back then, but you really SHOULD give me credit for “reforming” and ending up to be the good example that I was to my sweet daughter over all these years, right?

30 04 2008
ginacoggio

Mom, you are the model mother. But just like you passed down to me your anal retentiveness and love of list-making, there is also no denying you gave me the Bad Words and My Love Of Them.
Tico, thank you for clearing that up. I knew all along, or at least I’d suspected, that a wealth of foul language lay beneath my mother’s pristine and pure-mouthed facade. It’s good to know you were witness, as was I, to the Old Faithful of expletives that is sure to explode because she keeps them all pent up for so long. (I’m a believer in a steady stream of foul language, dropping f-bombs and assholes here and there along the way (kind of like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs) just to avoid a big Swear Event like you and I witnessed.

Yesterday was a big day as we researched the History of the Word “F—,” and it was just delightful to hear my mother leak out some of those beautifully inappropriate words. In the name of research, of course.

3 05 2008
Andrea P

Gina you’re far away, (not for long) but never alone….
I know you are thinking back upon Dad’s time through his cancer and eventfully his death, but remember he still held on to the positive, would still tell a joke, laugh a bit and would say, I’ll fight to the end!
I know you’re Mom is a very positive, real lady…. she will too hang on to the positive, laught a bit and will say I’m fight it!!!

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