14 April 2009

Call the Waaambulance: The Not-So-Merry Recluse

Pointy Note: Today and the next few days will be a compilation of many posts from the past week. I've been out of commission, down but certainly not out!

On Easter Sunday, I threw my winter clogs into the brook behind my house. We pulled into the driveway, returning home from dinner at my parents. I took off my shoes, strode through the soggy, bloated yard and chucked each shoe as hard as I could into the water. The windswept rain from the past week had turned our peaceful bubbling brook into the River Wild; the clogs got swept up in the current and flew downstream like two harbor seals in swift retreat. James looked on in stunned silence as I slogged back up the driveway in my muddy socks. Caroline and Paulie laughed and began to remove their shoes but we got them to cease and desist.

To me, those clogs represented the mental and physical rut I've been in for weeks. Better to take out my frustration on a pair of Steve Maddens then on the people I love, I say.

"Hang up your chairs to better sweep, clear the floor of the dance, throw the walls into the fireplace." - REM

It was time to clear some cobwebs. I'd been sporting those MF clodhoppers since November. In the beginning, they were a somewhat stylish alternative to the woolly suburban footwear I spy around these parts that tend to be too flat for me -- at 5'3" -- to wear with jeans or a loathsome sweatsedo (and I absolutely refuse to have yoga pants hemmed). The clogs were safer than high-heeled boots that sink into the grass, trip you up and muddy your arse. I wore those clogs to all of my doctors appointments as I spiraled toward my diagnosis. To all of my chemo infusions thus far. I wore them throughout this seemingly endless April cold snap. But most of all, I wore the clogs because my unforgiving Chemobrain precludes shoe shopping because I don't even know what I like anymore.

On our home computer, we have a scrolling slideshow of all the pictures on our hard drive and I barely recognize my old self. Suppah Clubs and Nantucket trips, gardening with the kids last summer, kitchen hanging with James on a random weeknight. I can't reconcile the person in the photos with the bald, lashless, hollow-cheeked hag in a do-rag I see today. I belong on the Sci Fi Channel.

Second Phase of Ass
I'm not delusional. I wasn't expecting round two of chemo to be a joyride on the ding dong cart. I did not expect to start punctuating my sentences with woo hoos or for my energy levels to be restored to 2008 proportions. I was just expecting to bounce back a little. Granted, this second phase is not NEARLY as soul sucking as the first. But since the treatment is every Monday instead of every other Monday, I am subsisting on a steady stream of low (low!) energy with zero in-between days. I'm a naturally high-energy person so this can be frustrating at times.

For instance, last week the sun shone for a few hours and temps edged toward the high 50s. I put on my wig and a Sox cap. I grabbed the iPod and headed out for a walk, volume cranked as a forcefield. I barely made it around the loop without sucking wind. Vito would've put me to shame.

It's not just the energy. I can't do errands, attend the kids' soccer games, or go out to dinner with James or friends without feeling completely self conscious. And, call the waaambulance, I'm tired of having to reach for my wig whenever the doorbell rings (that is, if I even answer the door). I'm becoming a total recluse.

Hermit Flashback, Summer 1986
This feeling isn't completely foreign to me. I started remembering another time when I felt freakish and hermetic. When I was 16, I had a back operation to straighten my lower spine that was dangerously curving toward my left lung (the original Lefty, I suppose). I was in the hospital for two weeks and then had to wear a back brace for six months that was basically a large plastic girdle. Though you really couldn't see the brace under my clothes, it made me appear excessively hippy and flat chested. NOT good for an achingly self-conscious 16 year old. The only thing my friends and I ever did was go to the beach. Since bathing suits were out of the question, I stayed in the house the rest of the summer eating potato chips and watching the Peoples Court. When school started, I wore baggy, XL sweaters as camouflage (which were luckily the style in 1986). But soon, I became paranoid that people (boys) would physically bump into me in the halls and think I was some kind of bionic-plastic freak. So before school, I started taking the girdle off in the Dunkin' Donuts bathroom in Kenmore Square and stuffing it into by book bag. After school, I'd return to the same DD's and put it back on. One day, however, I decided to swing into Planet Records on my way home and my worst fears were realized. Three boys from my school (a few grades ahead of me) were skulking around and one accidentally brushed by me. He raised an eyebrow, then knocked on my back three times. Cardiac arrest. His other two friends walked behind me and did the same. I was so mortified I ran out of the store still clutching an empty record sleeve. I ran all the way down Comm, Ave with a 20-pound bag of books, praying I'd be hit by a bus. So, this bald 39 year-old in a do-rag is not so different inside from that 16 year old hiding out in Dunkin' Donuts bathrooms.

The Not-so-Merry-Recluse

Caroline Knapp often wrote about the difference between solitude and isolation. In her essay "The Merry Recluse," she wrote that social muscles, like actual ones, must be flexed often so they don't become atrophied. Man, when she was right, she was right. I love my solitude, but I've been inching toward isolation these past couple of weeks -- and not just from the outside world. I've become delinquent among all my social mores: Email, Texting, Facebook, Twitter -- the lifelines of a lifelong phone-hater.

It was clear I needed to get out immediately! So, after four or five cancellations, we were finally able to nail down dinner plans with old Big Dig pals. (A dinner plan that had become so complicated to arrange that my friend Kathy likened it to "assembling the Pentagon")

Thurs., Apr 9, Batten down the wig! Off to Mistral!

My fierce wig was filthy so I decided to go with my long red one from Dorothy's Boutique. It doesn't fit as well but I figured it'd work fine in the dark corners of Mistral. But when I pulled into the parking lot and caught sight of myself in my rear view mirror, I immediately regretted leaving my safety zone. My wig had ridden up very high on my forehead and had shifted to the left. I knew it wouldn't stay put all night long so I gathered my drag queen hair into a side ponytail and sprayed it to stone with some archaic hairspray I found in the glovey. Of course, the ever present high winds prevailed and I held onto my wig for dear life as I walked upwind on Columbus Ave. As I passed Club Cafe, two men who I'm sure could spot a Dorothy's wig a mile away turned to look at me. I imagined them whispering, "What's up with girlfriend in Red Hot #7." I'm pretty sure the doormen and hostess at Mistral looked at me sideways too. I felt like everyone was on to me.

At the bar, it was hugs all around. I became more at ease after a dirty, filthy martini. But all was not well with me. Besides expressing mild horrification at learning that some of the men at our old office used to refer us as "The Spice Girls," I couldn't remember how to participate in a normal conversation. There was a heated exchange about Tom, Gisele and Bridget and some recent Vanity Fair article. My eloquent contribution to this was something like: "They're dicks. All three of them. Dicks."

I was definitely a merry spectator all evening, however, tucking into my beef tenderloin pizza with white truffle oil.

Aside: I was chewing slowly and deliberately on one side because of some leftover mouth sores from AC chemo that simply won't heal. I was able to coherently reassure my friends that I was NOT having a stroke at the dinner table.

Return of the Sunday Night Creepies
When I threw my shoes into the brook the other night, I think it may have been in defiance of a new brand of Sunday night creepies. Knowing that you have chemo every Monday colors Sunday nights with a dread similar to that of knowing you have to get up and go to a job you hate the next day. Years ago, when James and I hated our jobs, we would listen to "Blues on Sunday" on 92.9 FM and wallow in the creepies. It's a similar feeling now. Although I'm pretty sure I prefer chemo to the PR firm where I used to work.

My former co-worker and good friend Brad (or "Sugar Brad" going forward for the Hermes scarf he sent to cover my bald head when temps get too balmy for wigs.) used to make nooses out of paperclips during interminable, pointless meetings. The meetings were bad enough but lunchtime in that suburban office park was pure, unadulterated hell. Every day in the lunchroom, a keg-shaped account manager would hold court with her little Igors on such scintillating topics as: *I like sweet pickles * So and So's husband wants to buy a camper * How many Weight Watchers points are in this mini Charleston Chew * On Fridays, they'd all ply themselves with generic salsa, shitty margarita mix and manufactured outrage.

Yes, I'm certain I prefer the DF on Mondays over that place.

When I get into a rut, the guilt piles up quickly. I feel like a crappy, inattentive mother who can't even muster the energy for a game of iPhone checkers let alone go on a bike ride. Some days, I feel like the roles are reversed. Caroline recently asked if she could read ME a bedtime story. Paulie patted my do-rag and asked if I needed a juice box and a snack.

...then Laughter

Caroline busts out her karaoke mic and sings the National Anthem before Bruins games. Paulie follows it with the Renee Rancourt pointing and fist pumping.

James got Paul a giant T map of all the rail lines for his room and he almost fainted.

PAULIE: (walking into his room earlier today) Mom, I keep forgetting about my train map. Every time I walk into my room, I get excited about it all over again. C'mon, look at my map with me. I want to show you where Haymarket is.

At the playground a few weeks ago, Caroline ran to the top of a structure where a group of boys were playing around a large captain's wheel.

CAROLINE: (commandeering the wheel). This is a ship! I am the captain! All of the boys, get into the water! (They all did)

She'd make an awesome Somali pirate.

Things that are Better than a Giant Plastic Bag of Happy Pills from my Doctor

Retro WWII dishtowels, TimTams, fragrant soaps, CDs, New Yorker articles and other magical mystery care packages from the Roving Lemon (not Rovingle Mon) Down Under.

Molly Kristant Brown

A good kitchen chinwag in SoBo with Nic & Di

Nic sporting the Snuggie

People I don't have to put on wigs for when they ring the doorbell: LPD and her Vertical Watermelon belly bumrushing the house with all kinds of good cheer.

James photographing, then fishing my clogs out of the brook, hosing them down and dropping them off at the Swap Shop at the dump. Sayonara, sad footwear.

So, the curmudgeonly ruts are a reality but they are fleeting.

Now I have to go cut about an inch off my yoga pants so I can wear my sneakers with them.

Seven Songs of the Day -- 4/14/09

Today's playlist courtesy of Dawn Flanagan-Haley

"I tried to think of songs that reminded me of spring, but I’m not even really sure why these do" - DFH

  1. House of Love – I Don’t Know Why I Love You
  2. Throwing Muses – Not Too Soon
  3. Belinda Carlisle – Circle in the Sand
  4. The Cowsills – The rain, the park and other things
  5. The Cardigans – Carnival
  6. Elvis Costello – Veronica
  7. The Beautiful South – We Are Each Other


Anonymous said...

Bad days are expected. The sun will be shining soon and we will get out more. The only bad thing is you were 5'3" with the clogs.

I love you


BAGS said...

Hang in there KJ, we're pullng for you. Love the ding dong cart reference.


Code Red said...

Totally understandable that you're feeling self-conscious these days, but I assure you...you looked fab in "Red Hot #7" and you were more to us than a merry spectator. And "They're dicks" pretty much summed it up! Don't be too hard on yourself, my friend. Once the spring weather arrives (any effing day now), a little vitamin D will do you good.

Love you,
Ginger Spice :)

Lynn said...

Ah Kate,
What a post. When we talked earlier, you never gave any inkling that you had been so down and out. Hopefully, the sun and warmer weather will bring a little relief, and I know every Monday must suck... But single digits now... I am glad you don't have to run for the wig when I ring the doorbell.. Always here if you need me, and Jamie is so right in loving you, as we all do..

Anonymous said...

I was at a fellas house in cambridge on Saturday night, he has this espresso machine looking thing that will make you feel better.

BBQ soon at our place, no wigs allowed/needed.

Mark R

bg said...

Hang in there KJ. I'm sorry to hear you've been so sad lately (I'm reading ur blog at work probably making all sorts of emotionally charged mugs).

LOVE THIS ONE! Did this all go down at the Applebee's in Wakefield?
"On Fridays, they'd all ply themselves with generic salsa, shitty margarita mix and manufactured outrage".

Cameo said...

I love you, my fucker. If I had a picture of a cat hanging in a tree; I'd send it to you. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Roving Lemon said...

I'm sure I'm repeating myself, but...some days all you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And be proud of yourself for managing to do that. And take comfort in the fact that no matter what happens, at least you'll never be an office park troglodyte.


Dr. Nic said...

Kate -
Its shite Kate but it will get better once you are in your flip flops! Perhaps we could have a clog throwing tournament in Hanover and get the boys (of all ages) to fish them out for us. Very therapeutic!

Sorry you've had a tough couple of weeks. We can always have a chinwag at my table or yours....or wrapped up on the couch in our Snuggies (like two Granny's)
Hang in there Kate !

Katie said...

What always amazes me when reading your blog is how you take these tough feelings and share them so honestly. Every time I read your blog I can only think how amazing you are to share your journey.

BTW- I also wore one of those awful plastic back braces. Mine had a nice stainless steel collar to match. :)


jal said...

KJ - it does seem like winter will never end bit it will, I promise. Be sure to drag yourself outside on Friday, it's supposed to be 70 (it may well snow but let's be half full right?).

I just love your kids. They are truly chips off yours and James' blocks for sure.

And don't worry about the wigs. They look great and don't be scared to tease them a little. It all comes out in a woolite wash. Trust me, I know.

You've also got a free pass for cocktails on me, anytime, anywhere.

Paula said...


plastic braces.... wigs... clogs.. those are just the accoutrements that we (collective) think make us who we are...

Those of us reading your blog are blessed because of you showing us the reality that in the big scheme.. those little shitty things don't amount to a hill of beans....

You are a beautiful soul and while it might not feel it right now.. it's all worth it.. one day your kids will look back and say "Mom, you are amazing!" and they will mean it...

Sorry Mondays suck... but hang onto the day when Monday will just be a day you have to get up to get the kids off to school...

Love you!

p.s. My cousin Kate named her brace Harriet... perhaps it's time to name the wiggies?


Anonymous said...


Meltdowns are normal and necessary...!! The visual of Paul and Caroline joining in is hysterical.

Kate: You are strong and are heading down to having more treatments under your belt, than those still to come.

And YES, take the comfort from your children, they are very sensitive and caring, as you and James are. They know you are not feeling well, and forget the neglectful mother -you are a FABULOUS MOTHER!!!


Auntie Joanne

Michelle said...

Kate - I have said it before, but I am in awe of you.

Hang in there. YOU are amazing.


KT said...

Oh Miss Kate, Thank you so much for sharing so much with all of us. I think of you every day with love and amazement. I'm truly sorry you're in Sucky-Suckland right now. As a fellow phone-hater with strong hermit tendancies I commend you for venturing out in Red Hot #7 and facing the world despite your self-consciousness and lack of energy. I hope you look back in retrospect one day and realize how much you rock.

I know this feels like forever - sort of like the last few weeks of pregnancy when you are truly miserable and think you'll never be your old self again - but please remember it is JUST TEMPORARY. I swear, things will get better. But, feel free to wallow a bit in the meantime. You deserve it. In the words of that great philosopher, Dory, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming". Some days it's all you can do.

Good riddance to the curse-ed clogs. High fives to your amazing kids. Love you, girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

You are truly amazing. I think of you often and check your blog frequently. You are such an inspiration to so people. You are truly loved by so many people. You will have your days but the days will get fewer and fewer as you reach the land of NED. I love you and pray for you always....

Tracy O

Anonymous said...

P.S. Not really spring music but when I think summer songs - I think Bodeans. Bethie, you and me driving the cutlas - taking all the truck routes to bypass all the traffic.....great memories with my Trucker friends. Good weather is coming and with it better feelings.

Again Love Tracy O.

Anonymous said...

Sister Spice,
You are ALWAYS good company....we loved seeing you at the Pentagon Summit and your "sassy side-tail" had everyone fooled -- trust me!
Sorry to hear you are in the Bell Jar....I know its tough right now, but it will get better.....just try and take it one day at a time. Sending lot of love....


Anonymous said...


Good to read you, I'm grateful that you share it all with us. To show us that tough times come, but we each have with in us the ability to perservere like you, with honesty, strength and grace, it reminds us all that the tough days are always followed by good days. And if we remember to look they are also woven, with sweet, funny moments, like the ones you observed and appreciated with Paulie and Caroline.

Paula is right, Caroline and Paulie adore you now, but when they get older and understand this battle you have survived, they will love you more, you are amazing.

And what may seem like a bum-wrap for them now, may actually be a blessing, an experience that will actually help them become stronger in who they are and how they will contribute to our world. There are "gifts" wrapped in all our struggles, you will find them, Caroline and Paulie will find them, patience and faith.

I am here whenever you need me, to take/watch the kids, have Paulie explain the map to me or to be Caroline's audience. It would be my pleasure.

Thoughts, prayers, and love,

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not....you are doing it! dog-paddling through it....living through it...and surviving it all...'hang in there!

Bean Down Under said...

Hey Kate - thank you for the very honest post. A friend of mine always said to me whenever I felt down to do what he did. He would remember a blind midget (small person) who used to pan handle outside his office downtown and think to himself 'my life ain't so bad'. Being sick sucks. No need to sugar coat it. You will have bad days and good days. Being self conscious is normal but who gives a f' what other people think?! Just accept the bad days and embrace the good ones. Oh yea, 20mg of Lexapro daily helps too... LOL!

KC said...

Kitty -
Camden likes to go on Facebook look at pictures of his friends. As we were looking at yours, he noticed the picture of you in one of your wigs. He said "is that Auntie Kate? Her hair is a different color, but I knew who she was by her pretty eyes, they sparkle." You may have your bad days, but Cam is right. You never lose your sparkle!

Love you always -
KC (GOY) and the HOB

Dawn F said...

Hi Kate,
Sundays are the worst and i don't think anyone besides you could put it into words in a better way. I hope tomorrow's 70+ degrees helps you climb out of the rut a little...and maybe get the energy to go shoe shopping.
-Dawn F

Anonymous said...

Kate, you still rock it after all these years since Camp Westie. I would love to see LPB's big watermelon belly!

Thinking of you.....


Anonymous said...

Kate - You are an amazing beautiful person (inside and out). Things will get better!!! Love ya my friend - Poms (APW)