If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am Ms. One-Hundred-And-Ten Percent in addition to having a tendency to obsess, which is a frightening combination for all of those in close proximity to me. It’s what compelled me, though, to belly crawl across campus in the Tennille wig to teach through chemo last semester. And now that it’s over, it’s as if I’ve stared into the abyss and the abyss said, “Stop wasting your life! Go do more crafts! More crafts! As many in as short a time as possible!” And, okay, the abyss might have been Pinterest. I started with completing a project I’d left languishing for almost a year – doing something with the old shutters my dad had taken off of their house. First, I made a headboard.
That turned out so well, I decided I needed to also paint, on two shorter shutters, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill running from the crop duster dusting crops where there aren’t any crops in North by Northwest.
Thus a convergence of my obsession with milk paint and my obsession with film.
I might need to back-track a little here to tell you that it’s entirely possible that I was staring into the abyss in the first place because my ovaries died. That is to say, chemo killed them. I mention this because I had no idea it was a potential side-effect of chemo or that my hormones would go all wonky as a result in the aftermath. No one told me, so I’m telling you. You’re welcome! I also mention that to explain that I’ve been reduced to two emotions and a need to express myself through gifs.
When I’m happy, I decide the North by Northwest panels turned out so well that I need to paint over my color-block canvas with a scene from Roman Holiday like a teen fan-girl, complete with bubble handwriting and pages torn from a Vanity Fair article about Audrey Hepburn and a figure that Joe says looks like Guy Fawkes on a Vespa.
When I’m sad, I paint over it and try again.
When I’m sad, I give it 110% effort. For example, when I was sad after taking Hannah to see The Fault in Our Stars, I entwined myself with the kitchen barstool and thought of every sad thing I could possibly think of: the Shih Tzu who was born on my birthday and died while we were on vacation, Air Supply’s Greatest Hits, that scene in Up when Carl finally flips through Ellie’s old adventure journal, my grandfather’s funeral, every funeral I’ve ever been to. I thought of the Firecracker’s last day of school.
She’d pleaded with me, after I’d melted the wig beyond use, to wear a scarf to her kindergarten graduation.
“But it’ll hurt your feelings when all the kids laugh at you,” she said.
“No it won’t,” I told her. “Some kids don’t know how to react when they see something or someone different, so it’s true – they might laugh at me. And it won’t hurt my feelings because I understand some kids don’t know better.”
“But it’ll hurt my feelings,” she said.
And because I wanted her to feel okay on her last day of Kindergarten, I acquiesced, wearing a scarf that was in itself a kind of compromise. I’d tied it so across the hairline at the top, around the ears, and at the nape, the soft, new growth still showed. Covered and not covered.
In her classroom, the kids didn’t seem to notice. The kids were fine. Some of the parents, though, took pains to look away or shuffle aside. It was like the day I wore parachute pants and gladiator sandals to school in the eighth grade. My ears suddenly burned with an urge to disappear. The Firecracker, on the other hand, was sitting on the circle rug, amidst her peers, yelling with glee, “My mom’s bald! My mom’s bald!” Overhead, the projector played a slideshow of class moments from throughout the school year. There I was, pre-diagnosis, kneeling by Pirate Firecracker at the Halloween party, my old self in that other life glowing on the wall.
I thought of all this, burrowing all the way to the bottom of the sadness pit, and then Joe walked in.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Hannah thinks I’m the ball-cancer guy!” I said.
That had been Hannah’s feedback as we’d left the theater, anyway: “I’m a little worried you’re going to end up like Patrick.” This would be Patrick, the “ball cancer” survivor, as Hazel calls him, who lives in his parents’ basement playing video games and making gigantic latch-hook rugs of Jesus. I have no idea why Hannah would think of me as a Patrick. Unless it’s because I’d just spent an evening in the garage painting Cary Grant on two large wooden pallets.
After a pause, Joe asked, “What?”
Which was an invitation to really dig deep. “I was prepared for the thing, you know, the thing we read about where treatment’s about to end,” I said, “and the patient realizes she’s on her own without anything to keep cancer from recurring and all that, but I wasn’t prepared for feeling alone alone.” You have to hook an Acme anvil on the last syllable of that last word to really feel the pathos in my voice in that moment. You have to hold your hands up and grimace-pause like William Shatner, and you’re there.
“No more sad cancer movies for you,” Joe said.
So what I’m saying is, the craft outburst is at least one way to keep me off the kitchen barstool of gloom. At any rate, I’ve covered one kitchen wall with chalkboard paint and drawn dangling birdcages on it.