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.)