Saturday, July 18, 2020
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Suggestions for Skin
Do not tattoo your ignored skin
That you must contort to read
Or consort with the ever-lying mirror.
Tattoo the tiles of your shower.
Clean the grout and your spine
And read the lines of philosophers
Who stuttered your feet with fresh thought.
Streaks of soap scum may erase an 'E'
But a shower is more lasting
Than a human or a dog in a bath.
The words, the ink, will imprint the steam
And your day as you shave the stubble
From your last attempt...
Friday, June 19, 2020
Trail Blazers"'Why do you have a cigarette lighter in your glove compartment?' her husband, Jack, asked her. 'I'm bored with knitting. I've taken up arson.'" ~Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry
Monday, June 1, 2020
Love Is Love
"We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that/hope and love last longer/And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be/killed or swept aside..." Lin-Manuel Miranda
Growing up, I looked forward to hearing from my uncle, my mother's older brother, every holiday. On Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, I would twist the rotary phone cord around my fingers as my Uncle "Butch," known to most as Chuck or Charles, would check in on my sisters and me. We didn't actually see Uncle Butch much as kids, nor do we see him a lot now; however, if anyone asks if we are close to my uncle, the answer is, "Of course!" And it's because love has nothing to do with how often we see each other.
I take great pride in having already taught my daughter, Zoe, about death. It happened by accident, but I will say, it was a happy accident. Who knew my, at the time, 3-year-old would be so enthralled by the Netflix original film, The Little Prince? The classic French tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is nestled inside a modern-day story of a little girl whose mother's type-A multitasking is robbing her daughter of the messy, amazing, and necessary trials of childhood. Of course, at the end of this --in my opinion-- brilliant remake, both protagonists, the original character of the Aviator and the new character of the little girl, must grapple with death. Both characters realize that a dead loved one's body "...will be like an abandoned shell. [And] there is nothing sad about an old shell." Both protagonists realize that love does not depend on physical bodies.
In quiet moments of play, unsolicited, Zoe often reiterates her understanding of the themes in The Little Prince. She says, "Even when I can't see you, I still love you."
To be clear, my Uncle Butch is alive and well. He and his husband Paul live in New Hampshire. They have lived far from New Jersey my whole life, and while my husband, Michael, and I did visit them for a fabulous week of dining, sight-seeing, laughing, and relaxing during the summer of 2013, we don't see them often. Regardless, my uncles, Butch and Paul, have supported and loved me since the day I was born.
Throughout my life, Uncle Butch has given me several heartfelt and significant gifts. For our wedding, he gave me and Michael a vase from Tunisia, his French-speaking mother's, my Mamina's, birth country. Yesterday, I received a thin golden band and a letter explaining that the band had belonged to generations of my family members. He meant this band to show me that regardless of whether they are alive or dead, generations of my family are loving and supporting me.
I have never met my mother's and my Uncle Butch's mom. She died of colon cancer in her early 40s. We would have called her Mamina. My children call my mom, Mamina. I'm certain my Mamina is loving me still.
Speaking of never having met someone who loves me, my Uncle Butch's best friend Michael, has also showered me and my family with love for many years. Michael has prayed for me and my Michael through a brain tumor, childbirths, and now cancer. He sends cards and many thoughtful, generous gifts. His gifts always look professionally wrapped, and are as beautiful in meaning as they are in appearance.
Over the past week, I have been thinking a lot about how to teach Zoe and Emerson about this world and its complicated realities. Luckily, passed on from generations before them, my mother, uncles, and their friends have engrained in me that, "...love is love is love is love..." and that love transcends orientation, gender, race, skin color, distance, and death.
Thank you Charles Motta, Paul Hynes, Michael Bogdanowicz, my Mamina, and my children's Mamina for proving "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
Thursday, May 28, 2020
And [You] Will Fix [Me]"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." ~Mark Twain, American author and humorist
I did that thing during this quarantine. The thing where you go into your car and scream and cry. You too? Don't worry. I'm okay. (So are you.) I'm dealing with a lot of side effects from the chemotherapy. Sometimes I start thinking, "Is this forever? Will this pain/irritation last the rest of my life?" And the answer is...maybe. I start panicking and lose sight of my blessings for a while. On one of my scream-in-the-car drives, I suddenly had the urge to listen to an old album I used to listen to in the early 2000s: Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay. At a stop light, I found the album on YouTube Music and drove until I had listened to every track. Music, as you know, brings so many memories. For me, this album brought back some miserable memories. But...I stopped screaming and crying because I realized something very clarifying: I'm here in 2020 looking back on a very difficult time in my life, which means I got through it. That too did pass.
I graduated high school in 1999. I left for Rowan University late that August and I have never felt more lonely. I was lucky enough to have been randomly roomed (depending on whether you believe in randomness...I don't) with Colleen Petersen. This post, however, is not about Colleen; she will get her own post. This post is about Colleen's best friend who also left her hometown of Bergenfield in late August 1999 to start school at Rowan University, my friend, Cheryl Capobianco now Cheryl Bormann. Colleen and Cheryl grew up together in North Jersey, but had the good sense to intentionally not room together when they came to Rowan. That way they would automatically meet two people. Colleen met me, her roommate, and I then met Cheryl.
I always attempt to motivate my high school students by telling them that college is one of the best times in life. And it is...in hindsight. College for me was time to act out all of the teenaged angst that I spent the previous 6 years building up. As Colleen and Cheryl would put it back in 1999: I was a hot mess. I was socially awkward and emotionally frayed. There is not a day that goes by, even now in 2020, when I don't thank God for these 2 women, who loved me through it all.
Once Cheryl and I spent a whole day cracking up. I have no memory of what made us laugh so hard, but it really doesn't matter. As an English teacher I conduct a popular assignment called, "Writing Territories" in which students listen to me talk about topics important to me. While I babble on about my life, I encourage them to write down topics that pop into their heads. They draw from those "territories" for the rest of the year. I always mention some of my favorite days. I have been teaching for almost 16 years, so I've recalled that day of side-splitting laughter at least 16 times. That laughter was so important.
I don't see Cheryl in person much now because she is in North Jersey being a super mom to her two awesome kids, while I'm down here in South Jersey with my amazing kids. But again, the distance doesn't really matter. Cheryl's influence in my life is obvious. We loved thunderstorms, specifically the first thunderstorm that indicates the start of summer weather. I still think of Cheryl when those ominous clouds roll in each year. We loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer so whenever I feel like I'm kicking ass, I think of Cheryl. We once ran through the streets of Philly in a snowstorm shouting, "Merry Christmas ya old Building and Loans!" so whenever I watch my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life, I think of Cheryl. We learned a whole dance routine in a hotel room above the casinos in Atlantic City, so whenever I dance, I think of Cheryl. We went to a Coldplay concert together and somehow got lost on the way home. It took us 3 hours. We laughed the whole ride.
Cheryl is far from carefree and yet she is somehow never overly dramatic. She forgives easily and lets things go, and what's left is her practical, honest, fun-loving self. For over 20 years now, I have considered her one of my closest friends and looking back, I remember the laughter, which considering my 20s is really saying something. And that is completely thanks to Cheryl.
Cheryl sent me tea, a mug, and card reminding me of several other hilarious times in our friendship. But...underneath the laughter and in between the lines in her card, are the moments when Cheryl is holding my hand, crying and screaming in the car with me. Our lives, mine and Cheryl's, have had some heartbreaking moments. We have seen each other through family issues, breakups, arguments, and panic attacks. And now she's seeing me through cancer. I know I will remember the laughter and that will be because of Cheryl. They say it's the best medicine, by the way.
I forgot the date last week on May 20th. I didn't forget her birthday, but I'm quarancrazy and just didn't realize it was still May or that I was still on planet Earth. Sorry, Cheryl! And sorry about that whole Sopranos thing.
Love and laughs. Mwa!
Sunday, May 24, 2020
Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?"I know my sister like I know my own mind, you will never find anyone as trusting or as kind..." ~Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Our hero today is a petite, but strong female with brown hair that falls right below her shoulders. Her brown eyes can pierce you with a stare that makes you instantly realize your mistakes, but can also reveal her witty sense of humor if you accidentally catch her off-guard with a clever pun. She is known as a dynamic orator by those whom she works with; however, on her journey many have assumed she was shy and quiet. They have underestimated her.
Stacy has suffered some tragedies in her life, but since she is a natural-born leader, she has always been the shoulder for everyone to lean on. I know she sometimes just wants to cry and have someone else take the lead. Over the past few weeks, I have received several cards (and 2 mugs) that say: "You've Got This!" I want everyone, but especially Stacy to know, that it's true. I've got this. Emphasis on "I." Dear Stacy, you don't have to worry. You don't have to take charge. You don't have to research. You don't have to throw anyone a shower. You don't have to do anything but know that because I have followed you around my whole life, I know that I've got this.
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Snapshots from a Front-Line Hero"It's comedy and tragedy. It's St. Jimmy. And that's my name and don't wear it out." ~ Green Day
If you've known me for a while, you likely know I used to have a cat whom I named Jimmy. Jimmy was a gift from my friend Jen Pavelik whose family had named the cat Lewis. I renamed him and will ever be tormented by Sue Nordone and Jen for this move; however, I had a few good reasons. The first reason I couldn't call the fat, gray cat Lewis, is because I had an ex-boyfriend named Louis. That wasn't going to work. The second reason I named the cat Jimmy is because I was really into a Green Day album titled American Idiot on which Green Day invents a sort of off-color saint and calls that character St. Jimmy.
The first night I had Jimmy at home, he hid behind the washing machine in my apartment and meowed all night. The second night and practically every night after, he slept in my bed. Jimmy and I were a match made in heaven. He comforted me when I cried (which if you know me you know is a full-time job). He was friendly to everyone. I often used to say he was a dog trapped in a cat's body. He played fetch. He was the ultimate snuggler. Jimmy had stomach cancer and passed away in 2018. He was a beloved part of my life for almost 13 years.
When I got married, Michael invited a group of medics whom he'd know from his years in EMS. We seated the medics at a table near the bar. They lived it up. The table still posts inside jokes they made during our reception. Among those at this party table was a man named Jimmy Parker. Michael has known Jimmy since approximately 2004 when they worked together as medics for Virtua. I became friends with Jimmy when Michael and I started dating in 2010. Instant friends.
Jimmy Parker was the easiest friend I've ever made. When I was home alone as Michael would be working 24 hour shifts, Jimmy would often stop by to drop off a bottle of local wine. He'd join me and Michael for homemade pasta and "gravy." He'd keep Michael connected to the world of medics with stories that were surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) similar to my tales of teaching. Jimmy is hilarious and full of heart. I guess it's the name.
When I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, Jimmy started texting me 2 photographs a night. Every. single. night. Without fail, Jimmy texts two beautiful photos with a short description of what that photo means to him as he battles his own woes. Some of the photos are meant to make me laugh or smile. All of the photos are inspirational and beautiful. Many bring me to tears. These are photos that Jimmy himself has taken. He either has them stored on his phone or he takes them the day he sends them. They are now a beloved part of my life. I was officially diagnosed on April 1st, so I have received almost two months worth of photos. I cannot include all of them here; however, I will show a few that mean the most to me.
I would be remiss to not mention that Jimmy is reporting to work every day as a medic at UMDNJ during the global pandemic. I'm sure he is exhausted, but still finds a second every day to think of me.
Thank you, Jimmy, and happy EMS appreciation week.