80S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:
I’ve been away for a while enjoying warm, tropical sunshine and the company of my 20 year-old son. No cooking, no cleaning, no responsibilities other than to soak up the mixture of delicious smells and Carribean steel drums wafting through the summer breeze. After slaving away on a huge project at work all summer, I decided that I’d had all I could stand. I bargained with my oncologist to skip a week of chemo and live a normal life, if only temporarily.
My son and I set out for Universal Studios in Florida after work last Wednesday. I felt the squealing anticipation of a child as I strapped myself into the car. I didn’t have to pack anyone else’s suitcase or bring a trunk full of snacks or even buckle anyone’s seatbelt but my own. I listened to music that I liked without having the channel automatically changed mid-song. And best of all…there was no squabbling in the back seat that made me want to put my eyes out with a hot poker.
Thursday and Friday, we walked miles around the two parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal studios. It was gloriously hot under a bright blue sky. My son complained about the heat, but I turned my face toward the sun and inhaled the beauty of it. How I miss Florida sometimes! Being raised in Miami, I’ve never adapted to the frigid grip of a winter morning. And our summer in North Carolina has been filled with days and days of relentless gray skies and recorded-setting rains. A tropical heat wave was just what the doctor ordered!
For my son, the highlight of the trip was definitely Harry Potter world. He could’ve stayed there the whole time and been perfectly content. Watching him in his element made me smile as he eagerly explored every nook and cranny of Hogsmeade like a small boy. We were finally allowed to move on once he had secured his Slytherin flag and his Butterbeer. Well, almost. We returned to see Harry Potter numerous times.
After 2 days of endless walking and eating, we made our way to Melbourne on Florida’s east coast to see my brother and his family. Melbourne is close to Cape Canaveral, where the space shuttle used to take off. Now it was time for belly laughs, drinking, more eating, and of course, the beach! We also bowled a couple of games at Splitsville in Downtown Disney while imbibing several adult beverages. It was a beautiful break in the middle of the theme park madness.
Monday we headed back to Orlando for our final 2 days at Universal. By Tuesday afternoon it was 95 degrees and über humid. My poor son had a headache and a stomach ache, so I had to give in and call it a day. We headed north on I-95, back to the mountains and to reality.
I have to admit that I felt a sharp pang of angst as we traveled yesterday. If you’ve ever seen “The Bridges of Madison County“, you’ll remember the seen where Meryl Streep is in the truck with her husband after she has just had a torrid affair with Clint Eastwood and decided not to run away with him because she owes it to her family to remain dead inside and accept her “responsibilities”. As the truck stops at a red light, she spots Eastwood’s truck up ahead through a driving rain. He waits for an agonizing minute once the light turns green, hoping beyond hope that she will change her mind and jump in with him.
The camera captures her feelings beautifully as it pans back and forth between the tortured look on her face and the white grip of her knuckles on the door handle. We find ourselves willing her to go, to feel alive, to stop being such a damned martyr. I too could feel my knuckles on the door handle. My gut was screaming ” No, please! Please don’t send me back to prison! I do have a spark of life left!”
Like Meryl, I returned to the quietness of my life and the weight of my responsibilities. But in that glorious chemo interlude, I was an individual with an identity and a life that I no longer have the luxury to live.
Last week, I didn’t have breast cancer. I wasn’t someone’s mommy or someone’s wife. I was whole and young and fully alive for the first time in years. I think maybe it’s time to listen to this fragile voice and find my joy.