Stepping Away

Note: All you need to know about Proust is the part about time travel - a cookie, a little cake, or a coffee can take you back. Merci Ron Davis for the Proustian intervention.

In the middle of everything – everything being cancer, my kids, my house, a now relatively predictable routine of oncology and therapy appointments, chemo and post-chemoness - a TV location scout comes knocking. It's about a series, she says, that centres on a psychic single mom just out of prison.

Like finding out you have cancer, once a bunch of people have poked and prodded your house, and you’ve been selected for a shoot, things move very quickly. Two days later, a bus pulls up to my house and disgorges 30 tech planners who respectfully cover their winter footwear in orange paper booties (the equivalent of surgical gloves) and scour the place, doing specs.

Then I leave, with most of my furniture and personal effects that don’t fit the character of the psychic single mom, and in they come with a whack of what does. Some other life now inhabits my home.

It’s March break, and the TV people have sent us to a suite at the lovely downtown Marriott. It's devoid of character, but otherwise perfect. I have bought a baby trampoline, because two people – one, a friend, the other, the woman who knocked on my door scouting the location (neither health experts, of course) - have mentioned rebounding. Not the kind when you date the first person you fall over after your recent break-up. This rebounding is the kind that involves bouncing. On a trampoline. Excellent for the lymph system they say. And that’s what ails me, my lymph system. Sort of. Bouncing up and down can only be good for you, right? Although I have to say, it’s challenging in the urinary department. Didn’t I just pee?

I visit my other-life-inhabited house. The bedroom has been transformed into a twinkly purple fairyland. I go to Kensington market, only minutes from my home, and wander. It feels like tourism. I order a decaf latte, repeating decaf twice, because caffeine will completely alter the nature of my day. For a moment, the coffee tastes like my life before cancer.

I have stepped away. I am in a Proustian world, where objects like the decaf latte bring me back to past remembrances. My life before cancer.

Grown up Eloise (she was at the Plaza, I'm at the Marriott) has great fun soaking in the hot tub and being picked-up-after for a week. But a psychic discombobulation sets in, and leaves me watching too many episodes of Freaks and Geaks in a row. My Proustian nostalgia follows a trajectory from exciting, to addictive, to mildly depressing and guilty. I can’t allow myself a vacation because, in some fucked up way, I see my cancer-ridden life as full of breaks I’m not entitled to. My body tires of restaurant food. The week I foresaw of getting piles of writing done, because I don’t have to make my bed or cook  (oh right, I barely do those things anyway), doesn’t pan out. I’m scattered.

I return home to chaos, some of it found (45 holes punched into my bedroom ceiling from which to hang twinkle), much of it chosen by me. Inspired by change and an empty bedroom, I decide to strip my floor, paint blue and reposition my bed. This leaves the place not restored to its original glory, and smelling like varathane with the three of us on mattresses in the basement – literally, a big step down from the Marriott.

As frenzied and messy as it all was, this TV shoot was a gift. Some cash, some lovely people, some chosen changes, some unexpected ones, some broken bits, some fresh paint.

You can’t step away from cancer, but now and again, for a moment, your coffee can taste as though you did. As Proust said: "The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling."

And as both Jon Kabat-Zinn and Buckaroo Banzai have said: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I like to think of that as reassuring.



a beautiful raw post.

Thanks for pointing out the link between Kabat-Zinn and Banzai. I may never again think of one without thinking of the other.

"You can check your anatomy all you want, and even though there may be normal variation, when it comes right down to it, this far inside the head it all looks the same. No, no, no, don't tug on that. You never know what it might be attached to." - B. Banzai

I just found your blog via The Globe and Mail. Wonderful writing.


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