My mom and dad did a fair amount of socializing when I was growing up. Groups of people would sometimes come to the house and we would “entertain”. We had friends we saw every other weekend during bowling league season. And we had close friends that would have us over for dinner. I loved family dinners. I loved when we all get bundled up and head over to someone’s home to eat and play. It was a treat. New kids to play with. New toys. My sister and I would play effortlessly with their kids. We’d all eat together and then the kids would get dismissed to the tv room. The adults would continue to talk and laugh and sometimes play cards. The kids would eventually fall asleep in a of pile blankets like a litter of warm puppies.
Those memories are clear.
But I also have vague snippets of memories. Like mis-spliced reels of tape in my head the images come in and out jumping sometimes from something clear and vivid to a new scene that is foggy and unfamiliar. Only a frame or two at a time I can remember - being hauled up gently by my arms as my head lolled backwards. I can remember my mother pushing my noodley arms through big puffy sleeves of my jacket. I can remember being hoisted up into my father’s arms and carried to the car. Half awake. Half asleep. We’d drive home and I could hear my parents talking. Uninterested in what they said only lullibied by their familiar voices I’d drift in and out. Occasionally waking with the misplaced confusion that comes from unfamiliar surroundings. Realizing where I am. Where I was. And falling back into sleep with the full awareness we’d be home soon.
The cold night would niggle me awake. Like a monkey I’d climb up into my dad’s arms again. Only half holding on. Arms snaked around his neck. Feet dangling and bouncing as he walked up the front step to the house.
I was never forced to brush my teeth or say prayers or any other normal nightly ritual on nights like this. Together my father and mother would undress me as they giggled and talked about the evening. Never addressing me. Just talking comfortably with each other. As adults. So rare to see your parents act like adults who love each other and not parents who occasionally interact. Rare enough that I didn’t recognize it for what it was until years later.
Then strong Daddy arms would ease me back into my pillow. The covers would come up. My worn, faded, yellow blanket would magically form around my head being tucked around me in just the right way so I could turn my face and nuzzle my cheek against the soft puddle of cotton. A kiss on the forehead. And I was home. Safe.
One of the hardest things for me about chemo was the pulling away that would occur. I would lose myself each treatment. It was the war between the person and the body. Everything good and right about me would be challenged. I was physically exhausted, mentally fatigued and emotionally as used up and gunky as a rotten dishrag left too long in a sink of dirty water. Early in treatment, this feeling would last a few days. Early in treatment, in the 13 days that spanned chemo sessions, I would recover nearly completely. I would find myself again. I would drive down the road with my windows open, radio blasting, enjoying the moment, the opportunity to feel good, grateful even for the process. Later in treatment, however … well, let’s just say the effects of chemo are cumulative and by the 5th or 6th treatment there was little to no recovery and I went into each new session less than I was at the last session. Stripped of my defenses. Stripped of my boundaries I went in naked and alone. I would ball up protectively around myself trying to keep me near, to keep some shell of who I really am only to have her torn from me again and again. And again. When treatment ended I was left holding a person who felt, acted, thought and looked nothing like me. Nothing like me at all. Foreign.
Still, I played the part anyway. The part of the gratefully recovered cancer patient. I faked it. I eased back into my life. I did all the things I’ve done before. Did them as best I could. Playing the role. Acting the part. This is how she would act, I would think. This is what she would do. I nearly took to wearing a WWJD bracelet with the J standing not for Jesus. No, Jesus I had. Jenne, however, was long gone. What WOULD Jenne do? I would ask myself. Jenne, I guess, would do this. Jenne, I suppose would say that. For the first time in my life, it has been an effort to be me. So I have been waiting. Hoping. Looking for my return. Thinking one day I would awaken and find me here. With all kinds of stories of long delays and travel interruptions I would apologize for taking so long but stress that I’m back now and all is okay.
But I’ve yet to show up.
And just when I thought I would have to turn loose of The Girl I Was completely and learn to live with This New Person -I’ve realized that this, like most things, will be a process. I’m reminded that good timber does not grow with ease. I’m nudged out of self-pity and shown again that my life is what I make of it. That The Me I’m Meant to Be isn’t so far away after all. And a few things recently have shown me that although I’m not there yet. I’m on my way. I’m drifting in and out. I’m listening to familiar voices. I’m remembering where I am. Where I was. And where I’m going.
I’m headed home.