Why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it didn’t have cancer.
It hurts my sense of survivalship, my words-will-pull-me-through-itship, not to write. It doesn’t sting or throb. At least, mostly it doesn’t. It hurts with the pain of doing almost nothing. Of lying unproductive, in my bed. Of sitting – a variation of upright, propped with pillows, or some other support. Of thinking ahead. Of worrying. It’s the pain of not knowing for weeks now, what it is that will pull or shove me to the other side- the other side of this groundless, floaty cancer place I'm in.
It’s not the show Damages. 9 episodes in, someone I’d never seen popped up in the Previously on Damages montage, and I realized: I was in season 3. I'd missed 1 and 2 entirely, but it seemed like efficiency rather than a disappointment, in my distraction-seeking run-on sentence life. Probably me and Patty, with her smirky smile and rheumy-eyed mysterious gaze (or did someone just exhale on the lens?), and lack of ability to make any meaningful human connections, are not a match at the moment. Not that I don’t like a good sociopath. Sherlock. Dexter. Just not Patty.
I know it isn’t true that there is no other side to this place. But right now I can’t see it. And most other sides, the big what’s-the-point Judy-Garland-over-the-rainbow other sides, are only visible looking back. I’m still on the wrong side. Sometimes it’s too hard to squint and pretend you see something really good over there.
No one knows what’s coming. Anyone could get hit by a bus tomorrow. People tell me that kind of thing to comfort me, but I’m not sure why they think it's a comforting thing to say. I’m a little tired of living the who-knows-what-will-be metaphor for human fucking existence. I'm a little tired of having my capacity to conjure what I’d like to have come next – even if it never does come next - blocked.
I construct small other sides to get to. Things that are reachable, anchored in the quotidian: the laundry other side, the grocery shopping other side, the making lunches other side, the other side of 1 minute of plank – stepping stones across each day.
When I can’t write, and I haven’t found a replacement for Patty, I need to set small practical goals and achieve them. I used to call that a to-do list. Now I call it pulling through.
I thought it might be inspirational to re-read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, but it didn’t work. After trudging for months along the Pacific Crest Trail of cancer - the one people seem compelled to tell me is some feat of strength and bravery - the grinding, scary, scree-covered, precarious, comparison I thought obvious, from having read the book before, wasn’t.
Me and my cancer. Cheryl and her bruised trek to mental well-being. Her story is her story. Mine is mine. She's good going it alone. I no longer want to hike a grueling trail by myself. But that’s just tough shit for me, isn’t it? I'm the chicken with cancer who can't get to the other side.
It feels like a test.
To find the meaning. To appreciate the good.
I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of good. I’m just not dressed for that particular scavenger hunt.
People place warm arms around me and tell me I will get through this. I try to not be a little ingrate. Yes, my life is pretty great.
But sometimes you need to be allowed to fail. Right now I’m failing. Failing the happy test, the positive attitude test, the monkey wrench test, the write your way through it test, the spot the good test.
It’s always exam season in cancerland.