I Hate Being Stubborn

I don’t want a tattoo.  I’m no longer making any judgements on anyone who has one.  I just never wanted one and still don’t.  I have trouble giving blood without getting that weak-kneed woozy feeling.  I’m not a big fan of discomfort, either.  I can actually stand more pain than many people.  But that’s only when I HAVE to.  If it’s a choice, I choose the big comfy seat and the soft plushy pillow, please.

When I got Steven, he came with one little quarter sized Playboy Bunny head tattoo on his shoulder.  It could not be more inappropriate for his personality.  There is nothing “Hef” about him.  Of course like many a tattoo, Steven’s appeared in his teen years after a night of beers, buddies and bravado.  Funny thing with tattoos…they can be a permanent reminder of stupid.

In my younger years, I thought I was open-minded.  I’ve discovered that I was a lot more judgmental than I thought.  Tattoos, especially on chicks, were for lowlifes.  I never said it out loud, but I did think it.  And I’d always have some witty remark for women my age walking on the beach with leathery skin, wearing a bikini and sporting a hanging plant tattoo on her breast that probably started out as a rosebud at Woodstock!  Whoopie!  Flower Power!  I never liked tramp stamps or “coin slot tats” as we call them at our house, just because everyone has them.

But when I met Steven, this really grounded conservative business owner (we’re talking about Steven 1.0), I got it.  People change, situations change, you grow up and sober up, and tattoos are just body art, commemorative reminders, tributes, defiant markings and drunken mistakes picked up along the way.  And I am amazed at the stories that go with tattoos.  Either the art or the reason for the tattoo is quite often a landmark in human life.

THE NEW TATTOO

THE NEW TATTOO

Steven has gotten 3 new tattoos lately.  The one that I find to be incredible is a line from a country song that is now permanently recorded on his bicep.  “God must really love me”.  The implication is huge and tiny all at once.  It’s a simple thought  that has many complicated meanings but it really condenses the battle with lymphoma into a concise little package.  And it has warmed me to the idea of tattoos.  Alexis, our 21st century daughter, is contemplating getting one and I’m not even freaking out.  Her reason and art are meaningful to her, and I get it.

But let’s get back to the most important topic…ME.  I still don’t want a tattoo.  No reason, I just don’t want one or need one at this time.  However, yesterday I was joking with Steven and I said, “I’m going to get that tattooed on my chest.”  And of all the stupid things he could say, what came out of his mouth was the worst.  “I forbid it”.  Seriously?  Are you kidding me?  You really said that?  Now I have to get a tattoo…on my chest…that says YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.  I hate being stubborn!

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A Thank You to Cancer For Steven 2.0

Steven is in the guest room with a pretty young model.  Sounds sounds like the start of a porn, huh?   It’s not.  The guest room has been converted to “Studio B”, as he likes to call it.  The bed is stored in the garage for more space and we only bring it out when we have advance notice of guests.   He’s redecorated the room with lights, reflectors, fans, backdrops, props and a bunch of photography gadgets that look pretty cool even though I have no idea what they are. He is a very good photographer and he’s got a great eye for composition.  He loves the art form and has dabbled in it for years on a shoestring budget. But in his dream world he always wanted his own fully equipped professional set up “some day”.  Mind you, his dream was also so old that it originally included a dark room!

It’s too bad that real life makes you busy.  You put aside a lot of dreams in order to go to work, raise your kids, take care of your house and try not to drink too much!  But cancer sure changed that.  Suddenly work stays at the office, family becomes more self-sufficient, you don’t get your shorts in a bunch when the house is messy and you try not to drink too much, but if you do, you do!  Real life may make you busy, but real sickness makes you relax

STEVEN 2.0 WITH JAZZ HANDS

STEVEN 2.0 WITH JAZZ HANDS

We are firm believers that after a life threatening illness, you’re no longer right in the head.  I know it is questionable if either one of us was EVER really “right in the head”.  I am sure though, that we got really wacky after cancer visited us.  And we both think outside help is key.  (Of course when I say “we”, I mean “he” because I’m not at all interested in getting normal!  Being wacky has always been part of my charm.) Steven likes to joke that he’s so crazy that sometimes his therapist has to sit in when he visits his psychiatrist!  But both professionals have helped him realize Steven 2.0.

After the first time he aced his PET scan, he started wondering why he made it, when so many others don’t.  He started questioning why he was here…what was he supposed to do now?  Suddenly my husband became Sartre with a southern accent!  So when his therapist told him to find something to “express himself”, he jumped right into the digital age with his studio and equipment and just keeps learning each new technique as it pops up in the world of high-tech photography.

We probably never would have spent the money, made the space or opened our imaginations to this avenue had it not been for cancer.  However, when you realize that something bad might happen and you haven’t smelled enough roses, you correct that just as soon as you have the energy to start sniffing around.  And believe me, you sniff everything!

Life is different after cancer.  We’re both different.  But Version 2.0 of anything is an upgrade.  The bugs have been worked out and it all runs smoother.  Problems don’t go away, they just don’t seem as bad.  Even cancer.  Once you’ve done it and come out on this side of the dirt, you may not want to do it again, but you know you CAN.  It’s been said that every day without Chemo is a good day, and we try to make sure that we enjoy each one.  Hence, Studio B.  It makes him happy, which makes me happy.  Because he’s taking photographs, which he loves.  And while he’s busy, I’m writing, which I love.  When we’re done, we’re going to drink a glass of nice red wine.  He’ll have one, and I’ll probably have two…just because I can.  And both of us are taking the time to do what we love because we’re 2.0.  How is that for a positive spin on cancer?

Hey, Thanks For Marrying Me!

Most couples have little things that they say to each other that got started at the beginning of their relationship.  These little phrases come up regularly and are so meaningful that you don’t even think about them, you just enjoy the feeling you get.  If you’re lucky enough to be with the same person for a many, many years, sometimes neither of you can even remember why you say those silly little things, other than knowing it’s a code for your love.

I met Steven by answering an ad in a newspaper for a part-time job as receptionist.  (Thought you were going to get a juicy tidbit there, huh?)  As I like to tell it, by the next year I was president of the company.  Of course he and I both know I that’s just part of my schtick, because on my second day of work I came in a little early and discovered Steven tidying up the office.  Henceforth I referred to him as the “Vacuuming President” and I had no designs on that position.

We were both in our early forties and neither of us was interested in marrying again.  We were both very happy, secure and comfortable living without mates.  Neither of us was “looking” for anything more than a job and/or a receptionist.  Note to singles – I think that’s when it finally happens.  You find love when you stop looking for it!

We were both considered a “good catch” so I knew that our union was totally based on our connection and was not at all like that “LAST CHANCE-GAS” sign posted right before the long desert road to Vegas.  But I still liked to joke that it might be just that.  My cocktail party chatter had a bit where I used to tell people that I was so lucky that he saved me because at 42 and single, I was only months away from becoming a spinster who had to get a dozen cats…and I’m allergic to cats!  At which point I would look at Steven and say, “Hey, thanks for marrying me”.  And his reply has always been, “Hey, thanks for asking”.

Our first date wasn’t supposed to be a date at all.  It was a business thing.  Our accountants were having a Christmas party and he thought he should go, but didn’t like and wasn’t good at cocktail parties.  He recognized that my comedy club background made me a pro at those kinds of parties. At the office, I handled the books.  I had a lot of dealings with the accountants, so he asked me if I wanted to go…as a business thing.  Free drinks?  Hell yes!  Besides, I was starting to wonder if there was more to us than just business, so Merry Christmas and thanks for the gift horse!

We met at the office because it wasn’t a date.  It was the first time I’d seen him all dressed up in a suit, looking quite handsome, and I knew this was going to be an adventure, because it wasn’t a date.  It was the first time he’d seen me really coiffed and douched and girly-girled up. (Sorry-Comedy Club background requires some references to be questionably tasteful)  He told me I looked “stunning” and then seemed a little uncomfortable because THIS WASN’T A DATE, but our worlds were changing.

We did the party thing.  We drank lightly and ate nothing and made the rounds shaking hands and making small talk.  He shook the hands, I made the small talk.  We were good together.  Our appearance was a success.   As we were leaving Steven asked me if I wanted to go grab a bite of real food.  We both let ourselves think food was a nice gesture from a boss as a thank-you for helping him out with this social/business obligation that wasn’t a date.

When it comes to getting married, I don’t really remember if I asked him.  I certainly don’t remember him asking me.  One day we were just picking a time to get married.  But I do remember that first non-date.  We were leaving Conchy Joe’s restaurant, and as he was opening the car door for me and seeming a little unsettled I said, “Do you want to kiss me?”. There it is!  It just became a date and another one of our love code phrases that has been around since the beginning was born.  Because he did kiss me.  And whenever I ask him that now, before he kisses me he says, “The answer is always ‘YES'”.

We’ve been through closing the business, teenagers, starting new careers, getting puppies, losing parents, kids getting engaged, unengaged, married and unmarried.  We’ve been through lymphoma, menopause, fabulous vacations, lymphoma again, after dinner visits to the beach to drink our coffee and a zillion other great and crappy things.

After 15 years that has gone by in a flash, all I can say is “Hey, thanks for marrying me”.  I’m glad I asked, and I am so happy that the answer is always, “Yes”.  Happy Valentine’s Day.  I’m loving you.

Maybe It’s The Dog Lick

I think I get away with that “trophy wife” farce because people think I’m much younger than I am.  (I’ve covered that topic already so either scroll down or take a guess.  Steven will be 58 next month.)  The biggest compliment I get is that I have great skin.  I never really considered what that meant until recently.  Now I notice other women’s skin.  And sometimes it’s pretty yucky. I don’t say that to be mean, but leather looks better as a handbag.

Genetically, I’ve been blessed with some fairly “unwrinkley” chromosomes.  I don’t know if that makes up for the dementia gene that’s swirling in the pool, so I’ll take what I can from the family crap shoot.

I’ve never been fanatic about babying my dermis.  When I was young, blonde, fair skinned and growing up in New York, I didn’t know from skin cancer.  I just wanted that Christy Brinkley “California Girl” tan.  Little did I know, Christy Brinkley now lives on Long Island and the tan came out of a Cover Girl bottle!  To compound the abuse back then I used to wash my face with the same soap I used to wash my hands, body, pantyhose and dog.

The only beneficial routine I did incorporate was a daily slather of Oil of Olay, original flavor.  It came in a glass bottle and was a pale pink color.  I got a sample once and became a loyal user because “it didn’t smell too gross”.  What a discerning customer!  The purpose of the lotion was to counteract the vigorous way I used to scrub my face.   It felt so tight and dry when I was done that the Oil of Olay was necessary to lube up my skin enough to be able to smile!

These days, when I look in the mirror I see a few blotchy red areas that were probably damaged during those summers on Jones Beach where my “suntan lotion” was Johnson’s Baby Oil, SPF 0.  There are a few wrinkles around my mouth from 25 years of smoking, but I deserve them and thank God that He let both my skin and my lungs off so easy.  And the crinkles around my eyes are laugh lines that I just love.  I wouldn’t trade those in for a free face lift.  Besides the lines go up, so I wouldn’t need a “lift”, I’d need a “drop”.  Do they even have that?  A face drop?

To get back on topic, people think I have great skin.  I’ve had a hundred different brands and products that I’ve periodically used.  But just today I had a revelation.  The one constant that has regularly been applied to my face since high school is dog lick.  I love my dogs, I let them kiss me and I kiss them back.  Sometimes they love me so much I need a paper towel to sop up the love.  Now before you get all “EWWWW” on me, keep in mind that some of the most expensive facial treatments are made from extracts of fruits, nuts, eggs, roots, mud and even umbilical cords…now THAT is gross!  So whether it’s the love or the kisses I get from my dogs I look way younger than I am.  Now, it doesn’t sound so bad that maybe it’s the dog lick.

I Was A Cancer Snob

I kind of cringe a little just looking at those words.  But if I’m honest then I have to fess up to the truth.  When Steven was in the midst of major chemo for lymphoma,  I could burst into tears while I was trying to grocery shop.  Believe it or not, that was one of my hardest tasks.  It took hours scanning the shelves looking for the things that he would find tasty, be able to hold down, provide nourishment and be relatively odorless, so he wouldn’t turn green before it was prepared!  I’d spend an hour in the store and come home with one small bag of mostly liquids and foods that looked like I was feeding a toddler.

One day I ran into a former employer who I was never too crazy about anyway.  I gave him a weak smile and a forced, “Hi, how are you?”.  I didn’t really care how he was and certainly didn’t feel like wasting time. But he felt like chatting.  His cart had a 12 pack of beer and snacks that looked like a party in the making.  He mentioned a little jaunt around the river in his boat.

And then he got really dramatic as he announced that he had prostate cancer.  Suddenly he was Sir Lawrence Olivier as he explained the procedure his doctor did, inserting “radioactive seeds”.  The over acting was lost on me.  I was still stuck on the “going boating” part of the tale.

I was so busy stewing and mentally critiquing his scene simultaneously that I guess he thought I was intently listening.   So he just kept babbling.  I just kept boiling.  Finally he asked how I was…by then I was mad, and I was mean…really mean, and I kind of snapped.

I told him I wasn’t so good because Steven had “REAL” cancer, not the kind where they could plant radioactive seeds in his pubic hair and water them with Bud Lite.  OUCH!  And as much as I’d like to stick around to chat up boating and nacho recipes, my husband was at home bald and puking and I really had to run…But great to see you.  Surprisingly, I didn’t even feel bad at the time.

In all honesty, I still don’t feel really bad about that little interlude.  I see the guy in Publix every once in a while, buying cocktail party snacks and fiesta food, and he looks pretty good. And we still exchange pleasantries, although we don’t stop and chat, more just nod and smile.  But I do give him credit for one thing.  I always thought he was a jerk.  But on that day, he let me be the jerk and never even flinched.  So maybe he’s not such a jerk after all.  Because if he is, than I am too!

Rather than be a jerk, I think I’d like to put a positive spin on this.  Cancer is a scary thing.  It doesn’t matter what kind.  You can live through some of the worst and die with some of the most curable.  Treatment, drugs, doctors, knowledge and blah, blah, blah are all factors. But attitude is on the top of the list.  And sometimes you might have a great attitude and still be a jerk or a snob.  The best you can do is to try not to be either. Cut yourself a break and get on with it.  Everyone who has ever crossed path with cancer knows, we’ve got lives to live!

Maybe It’s Not ‘Chemo Brain’

There is a well know side effect that cancer patients wrestle with both during treatment and after the recovery process begins.  It is referred to as “Chemo Brain” and  it is a memory loss that comes and goes at the most inopportune times.  In our house, we treat is as a humorous inconvenience and try to be mindful of it so the milk doesn’t stay in the pantry closet ALL day.  I try my best not to take advantage too frequently when I get lazy and say, “No, I’m not making dinner, you said you wanted Chinese food tonight.”  Ten years ago, Steven would have said, “I don’t think so”.  Now he just say’s “OK” and drives down to pick it up.  I’m not a bad person, I’m just tired of cooking sometimes!

Unlike me, a really good wife would probably not take advantage of “Chemo Brain” as often as I do.  But then a really good wife wouldn’t have slowly brainwashed her husband into thinking she was a much younger “trophy wife” when in fact they are only 10 months apart in age…not 10 years.  On the other hand, why be frustrated by “Chemo Brain” when you can use it in your favor?  Until it starts to backfire…

Some of Steven’s memory loss is not, in fact, “Chemo Brain”.  It’s just good old-fashioned aging.  Anyone in their late 50’s knows that sometimes you just barrel into a room with great zest and speed only to find you have no idea why you’re there.  Last Friday I was reviewing some paperwork in my office and realized that I had clients two weeks ago with whom I spent in excess of 5 hours, and I couldn’t remember ONE THING about them.  All their papers were in order, and I did some really nice design work for them…but I couldn’t remember what they looked like, if I liked them or what we talked about…in 5 hours!   Seriously?

Unfortunately, now I see that I’ve boxed myself in pretty good, but I hate to admit it!  I’ve never had chemo, and I’m allegedly a “trophy wife”.   Looks like I’m going to have to go blonde!

Thanks, Aunt Jo’Hanna

When I was in my forties I was lucky enough to be able to take my daughter to spend several weeks at my Aunt Jo’hanna’s seaside home in Montauk.  I felt incredibly lucky, since this was how I spent summer vacations with my family when I was her age.  The little town had grown and modernized a lot, but Aunt Jo’hanna and her home had pretty much stayed the same.

There was a downstairs apartment always available for visiting relatives.  It was quaint, like an old inn or summer camp for grown-ups.  There were lots of beds but few rooms.  Because we all would converge as a pack and needed space to sleep, it was like barracks, but in a good way.  The rest of the “communal areas” were small because all the daytime antics took place on her beach or the back patio.  I wanted Alexis to have those same warm memories, and I am so happy that we were able to do just that.

Even as she got older, Aunt Jo’hanna still had that ridiculous yellow hat that covered her head like an Afro made of daffodil colored rose petals.  It was her trademark though, immensely quirky and out of date, yet everyone loved it.  Her herb garden was amazing! She would walk us through giving the history and uses of each plant, picking off leaves here and there for us to taste, smell and take back to the kitchen for salads or tea.

Needless to say, and with no disrespect to any of my other lovely aunts, Aunt Jo was my favorite.  Because I always felt she “got” me.  She was educated in a time when most women just got married and popped out families.  She was a nurse in her younger years, back when they still wore crisp white uniforms, caps with stripes that actually denoted something, and those white-white stockings that always set them apart from waitresses on the “trolley”.  Yet for her age, she was always pretty hip.  She read everything and retained quite a lot, even though she hadn’t yet discovered that she was swimming in the Alzheimer gene pool.  (FYI – I think my toe has dipped into that pool, so if I post the same thing a few times in a row, get the net)

When I was in high school, I would write her letters in the winter when we didn’t get to see her.  I really don’t remember much about the content.  I do remember my Peacock Blue ink and stationary with the pink flower border.  And I even had “sealing wax” with a happy face.  That really screams “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees”, huh?  But the paraphernalia was just the exclamation point to the realization.  I really liked to write!  And even then I knew I gave good letter.

I remember that summer in my forties.  We were in the herb garden and Aunt Jo was picking lemon verbena leaves for Alexis to taste.  And out of the blue she said, “I still have all your letters”.  At first I didn’t even know what she was talking about (see gene pool above).  But then I realized, she had saved all my correspondences from high school and college.  At first I thought that the off-season in Montauk must be WAY more boring that I imagined.  But then she told me she liked to pull them out and read them every once in a while.  They made her laugh, they cheered her up, they made her think and they made her happy.  That was pretty intense.

I never had a diary or journal.  I didn’t get it.  Why write secret stuff that you didn’t want anyone to read.  You already know the stuff, so isn’t that redundant?  If the content was so sensitive you needed a lock on the book or a hiding place hollowed out in the back of your closet behind the Goodwill bag, why take the chance of discovery by your little sister?

So this new blog thing is great for me.  It’s like a diary that is addressed to someone, like a letter. And as long as I leave out the “diary” type stuff like, “I’m stalking a man” or “I killed a man” or “I want to be a man”, my wish is that these entries are like letters to Aunt Jo’hanna.  They make you laugh, they cheer you up, they make you think and they made you happy.  I hope I can do that for you.  How am I doing?