On and From This Mortal Coil

My mom told me she bought the book The Year of
Magical Thinking
, Joan Didion’s memoir of
the year that her husband died and her adult daughter lay in a coma, about to die.
I’m not sure how to take that information. But my mom said she wanted to see how someone could turn that kind of grief into wisdom,
or something that didn’t drown her, or at least something that could be spun into art, like a strand from Rumpelstiltskin. 
When I was 19, I had a breakup that shattered me. I had made
a very drunken, public display of humiliation of both myself and my boyfriend
that alienated a large group of friends and caused me and everyone else, including my suddenly-ex-boyfriend, to sort of revile me.
I spent a week without eating solid food, drinking only Dr.
Pepper and smoking only Marlboro Reds (his brand) on the front stoop of the house my
parents still shared. I was shell-shocked. I was numb, demoralized, heart-broken. I began to compose suicide notes on the computer (why not
hand-written, I don’t know).
Then, my brother, Ben, said something very important to me: “I don’t want to be the kid in school whose sister killed herself.”
It was what I needed to hear. I got it. I got the isolation
and selfishness of suicide. The clawing temptations to end something that
begins something in the lives of everyone else you know. I couldn’t do that to
him. I got it; and it saved my life. 
In the fourth year, the senior year of college, when all my
classmates and roommates where heading toward graduation, and I was heading to
the bar and failing out, I was also heading toward the prospect of returning to
the home my dad now occupied as a divorced man. He and I had a tumultuous
relationship at the time (not unheard of for us), and in retrospect, I think part of my self-destruction and manic partying/numbing was to keep me
from thinking about moving back to that house with a man I was afraid of. Part
of it, perhaps, was to even make things so chaotic that I couldn’t be allowed
back to the house – that wherever I ended up would be safer than with him.
That place ended up being a psych ward for two months. Which,
… was not pleasant, but kept me from him. And, in the end helped me to
straighten out enough to pull some wits together to be able to move back in
with him and my brother at the end of that summer my friends were celebrating
their new adult freedom.
As I consider the closing of this cancer process, I have
been nudged by this memory more than once. I have a fear of repeating the
process of that destruction – knowing, as I do, that I will be returning to a
job that makes me feel small, and, I fear, to the general pall of lostness and crippled joy.
This fear, these feelings of fear that I will repeat some
self-destruction in order to avoid that which I label as diminishing, crushing,
hopeless (as with returning home 10 years ago), has dissipated a little in the
few days since it’s appeared, but I acknowledge it, and tousle it around. Is this why I don’t
want to do round 5 of chemo? Or why I stopped my antibiotics last week, under
the reasoning that they were affecting my liver and causing me to sleep 14
hours a day?
The other day, I used a tool a therapist taught me in order to
gauge my decision to do the fifth round or not. I asked my deepest self, on a
scale of one to ten, how much did I internally support going for the 5th
round? The answer was 5; 5 of ten. Not high. But, then I asked the converse.
How much did I internally support the decision of not doing the 5th round? Answer, 2. Even
So, no. I don’t want to do this round — Who would? – but I
believe in that path more than I believe in not doing it.
I’m going to the doctor today to look at my eye again, and
I’m going to have to fess up to having stopped the antibiotics (though, by the
way, I’ve had more energy since I stopped them…even though the eye really hasn’t improved). I’m scared that because of
the chastisement my oncologist gave me when I left the hospital during the
eye-infection debacle — about playing it straight, and following doctors’ orders — she’s going to revoke my 5th round privilege, as apparently
there were other doctors on the Chemo Approval Board who thought that if I was
being such a petulant patient, then maybe I shouldn’t have it … but, she told
me pointedly, she’d stood up for me, so, basically, play nice, and don’t let her down or
make her eat her words.
Great. Now I have your reputation to worry about? Or to
worry about not getting treatment that I need because I fucked with treatment I
didn’t know I needed?
There’s a lot of chatter here. A lot of brain chaos, and a lot of crying lately. But, in
the end, it’s all a choice. Either I am choosing to make decisions that support
living, or I’m not. I can make those decisions no matter what job I hold. And I can hold the talisman of my
brother’s brave words to me as a reason to keep putting one foot in front of
the other, to endure one more antibiotic or round of chemo, to make one more phone
call, to wash one more dish, to write one more gratitude list, to craft one
more blog – because I still don’t want to be that girl.
And, god willing, I’ll never have to be. 

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