Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Because It Matters to Us

With everything else we have going on (including, just for fun, incessant plumbing problems), you might think that Zach and I could use our time more wisely than, say, on creating homemade holiday cards a month after the actual holidays.

Even though we have only a miniscule amount of discretionary time and energy these days, last night we devoted that teeny surplus to creating the card that we'd talked about for months. We finalized the copy, found a fabulous font, and proofed the cool layout that Zach had put together after the full-on photo shoot he did at the beginning of the month.

And today, while I was chaperoning the plumbers, again, he was driving around L.A., looking for the perfect paper and then getting the cards printed.

Of course, we still have to sign and seal and stamp and address them, and who knows how long that will take, but they're done, they're done, they're DONE!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In the News

"Too Young for This: Facing Cancer Under 40" appears on the front page of the science section of today's New York Times. (The paper was already atop my monumental not-yet-read pile, so many thanks to Eric for sending me the link.)

It's a good overview of the issues surrounding cancer in twenty- and thirty-somethings, and definitely worth a read. The main thing that struck me, though, was a quote from a woman who was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at 36. Speaking about younger people, she said, "[C]ancer can be the ultimate form of identity theft, if you let it."

I couldn't agree more. Not just because it tends to become your single defining characteristic, which it can, but because so often it completely upends your life and imposes limitations you never before had to face.

I have written about that phenomenon here before, in too many posts to cite, and I'm sure I will write about it again and again. It's a major theme of this blog, and of my efforts to articulate the struggle between the person I have always been and the one that cancer seems to want me to be.

It was just nice to hear that someone else feels that way, too.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Years ago, Zach taught me a game called Essences that he had learned back in college, in his a-cappella-singing-group days. Here's how it works:

One person leaves the room—far enough to be out of earshot.

While he or she is gone, the rest of the group decides who will be It. The twist is that anyone—including the person who has left the room—can be It.

After It has been chosen, the person comes back in and asks questions, in a very particular form, to discern It's identity. The questions go like this:

If this person were a _____, what kind of _____ would he or she be?

Everyone in the room takes a turn answering the question. This goes on until the person whose turn it is has correctly guessed who It is.

The idea of course, is to boil It down to his or her essences. The game is especially interesting for whomever happens to be It, because that person gets a window into what everyone else thinks of him or her. This can be equally fascinating when the other players know It well and when they are complete strangers, going only on first impressions. Actually, I think having a mix of the two is best.

I remember introducing this game to a group of our friends many years ago. In one round, I was It. One of the first questions was, "If this person were a car, what kind of car would he or she be?"

"A Ford Taurus with dual airbags," I heard someone say.

The answer came from someone who was just beginning to get to know me well, and I smarted when I heard it.

A Ford Taurus?

A Ford at all??

To me, a Ford Taurus meant unimaginative. Plays it safe. Gets good mileage to the gallon. Solid. Dependable. Dull.

And I think it is all those things. (Well, I haven't checked the fuel economy rating. But I bet it's better than the little foreign convertible roadster that I had in mind.)

Did that mean that I was all of those things??

Well, in this person's mind I was.


The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw why I came across as a mid-size family sedan and not a sporty coupe. And I realized that that wasn't such a bad thing. Better that than a Hummer or an oversized SUV (options that had not yet come into existence back then). At least none of the qualities was truly objectionable, even if few were particularly admirable.

I was reminded of Essences today because I am in the midst of an assignment for one of my classes in which each of us has to write a profile of a classmate. Normally, that wouldn't be so hard, but the catch here is that we have to write it for a specific publication and make it a piece that other people—not just the subject's mother—would want to read. Oh, and we're not supposed to focus on the fact that the person is a J-school student, which, as may be clear by now, is pretty much all any of us has time for during this all-consuming program.

The reason I thought of Essences is that the person who is writing my profile—in three successive drafts—is of course focusing on me as a two-time breast-cancer patient. I can't argue with that. If I were writing a profile of me, that's what I'd write about. But it just reminds me that that's how people think of me right now, and that's how they—old friends, family members, and new acquaintance alike—will probably think of me for the foreseeable future.

I was just starting to get to the point at which conversations did not reflexively begin with "How's your health?" when I was diagnosed for the second time. I was just starting to be able to meet new people and not have breast cancer be the very first thing to be discussed. I was just starting to think of myself as a writer first and a breast-cancer veteran second, or even third.

And, well, that's pretty much shot to hell. Because really, if you had to tell a complete stranger one notable thing about me right now, what would it be?

I thought so.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Feeling It

It might be the fact that I'm surrounded mostly—although not exclusively—by twentysomethings up at the J-school.

It might be the fact that I'm spending countless hours riding the rails and buses of the New York City transit system.

It might be the fact that with my ever-present joint pain, it takes me a good half-hour to work out the kinks—mostly in my fingers, but also in my knees and feet—when I first get out of bed in the morning.

It might be that I am suddenly back in the throes of cascading deadlines, one after the other after the other.

It might be the accumulated stress of the past year-plus or the anticipated stress of the next four months.

Whatever it is, I am feeling, for the first time in my life, old.

Physically old, I mean. Not I-remember-back-before-there-were-ATMs old.

Creaky old.

Tired old.

Don't-want-to-go-out-in-today's-10-degree-weather old.

Craving-a-nap-in-the-middle-of-the-day old.

Before-my-time old.

But—sorry, Zach—still not wow-I-could-really-use-a-good-game-of-bridge old.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the Stars

Tomorrow I have to give a so-called book report on Vanity Fair in one of my J-school classes. (I am not making this up. Today, for a different class, I had to read the New York Post. J-school is funny that way.)

In any event, in the course of preparing for my little oral report, I read this month's Vanity Fair horoscope for Capricorns. It says:
Getting you to stop obsessing about the future would require nothing less than a flock of angels flapping their fluffy white wings and telling you there's nothing to worry about. Even then you'd probably demand proof that miracles can happen to Capricorns. You are so accustomed to wincing at the machinery of life that you can't imagine how a transit of Jupiter in your 12th house could lift you out of a funk brought on by an 8th-house Saturn. It absolutely could, but only if you stop dwelling on catastrophes that haven't happened yet.
OK, first, this is—at the moment, at least—spot on. There, I've admitted it.

Second, I read it on a day that I had been dwelling on not one but two different school-related catastrophes that not only hadn't happened yet but, of course, never happened at all.

Third, I'm glad to know that an 8th-house Saturn is what is responsible for my "funk." Now when I utter an expletive, at least I'll know how to finish the sentence.

Fourth, when the hell is Jupiter going to arrive in my 12th house????

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why I Have an Unlimited-Ride Metrocard

With a whopping four hours of sleep behind me, I commuted all over hell and creation today, alighting at three—count 'em—three different hospitals in three different parts of town:
  • one to interview a source for my master's project;

  • the second to visit my dad;

  • the third for a consult with a potential new doctor for myself.
This is not a record I hope to break anytime soon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

What J-school Feels Like

Imagine yourself in an action-packed thriller.

You're the heroine (or hero), and you've got to find the treasure/defuse the bomb/save the hostage or fulfill some other kind Herculean quest.

You don't have enough of any of the resources you need. Time and rest are in particularly short supply.

You are confronting overwhelming odds from the get-go, but you persevere because there is that one-in-a-bajillion chance that you will succeed. But only if you keep moving,

You cannot stop for one second or you will lose everything.

And just when you are tantalizingly close to declaring victory over the forces of evil, when you have cut the last wire or pulled the last innocent bystander to safety, everything starts all over again.

It's like Speed. On speed.

Actually, it's like Speed meets Groundhog Day.

Minus Sonny and Cher.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

In Medias Res

A friend asked how I was doing the other day.

I think I'm pre-PTSD, I said.

That's not exactly right—I haven't been through an acute trauma, after all—but it's the best way I can describe how it feels to be subjected to unrelenting stress over a protracted period of time. In the moment—the months of moments—you just have to deal. The many crises that currently comprise my life require nothing less.

Eventually, though, those crises will abate, and then, sometime after that, they will end. And that's when I think their effects will make themselves known.

That's when I think I will crave week after week of quiet time. Long nights of sleep in a comfortable bed in a peaceful cottage on a quiet hill overlooking a sleepy town. Or long days of reading under a cozy quilt in a hammock in view of the sea. The healing sound of wind chimes chiming in the soft breeze, or waves lapping on the deserted shore, or birds calling to their mates in the leafy trees high above.

No bright-white hospital walls. No urgent beeps from flashing monitors. No vigilance. No vigils.

No examining tables. No needles. No test results. No tests.

No joint pain. No weight gain. No co-pays. No bills.

No deadlines. No sources. No classes. No commute.

It won't be soon.

But I hope it won't be too, too long.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not Quite Dejá Vu

My dad is back in the hospital to have a few tests that can't be done at the rehab facility. It was odd to walk back in yesterday and head to a completely different unit on a completely different floor. My finger almost reflexively pushed "4" on the elevator panel, and when someone else got off on that floor, I nearly followed and made the right-left-right-right-left-right to my dad's old room.

The new room is more of a tent at a campsite—one curtained-off area surrounded by three other curtained-off areas. Not a lot of creature comforts, not a lot of privacy.

Transfers between hospitals are really exhausting for a patient—there's a lot of waiting at the first hospital, and then a lot of activity once the ambulance arrives and the trip begins, and then a lot of waiting at the second hospital. In between all of the hand-offs, it turned out that my dad hadn't been given any food or medication all day, and still hadn't by the time my mom and I were kicked out at 8PM. Eventually, the right people placed the right orders, and things started to happen later that night, but it was still a pretty grueling day for my folks. (My mom hadn't eaten all day, either, until I arrived with a container of soup at around 7PM.)

It was a little bit grueling for me, too, and I was only there for the last hour. I had planned to go before my 3PM class, but the transfer took so long that it eventually became clear that going there first would be relatively pointless.

If my dad had gone back to the ICU, at least we would have known the drill, not to mention all of the staff, and it would have been easy to settle back into the ICU routine. But in this new unit, we didn't know anyone. And more importantly, nobody knew my dad. Given his incredibly complicated recent medical history, and his fairly complex not-so-recent medical history, there is a lot of explaining to do anytime a new doctor or nurse or aide or technician arrives on the scene. So there was a lot of explaining yesterday, all of it by my mom. I do not think there was a single person in New York City more in need of a bubble bath yesterday than my mom.

With any luck, the tests he needs will be done today, and we will know fairly soon what the game plan will be. Because once the weekend arrives, which will happen at about 4PM today, pretty much nothing will happen again before Monday. And my family?

We don't camp.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Crotchety, Thanks, and How Are You?

Yesterday, in the midst of the first half of an all-day back-to-school session—reminiscent of the assemblies we had back in high school—I sent the following text message to Zach:

"Can the adults PLEASE smoke?!?!"

If you are not a fan of "A Chorus Line," my apologies. That's the classic line uttered by Sheila, the been-there, done-that dancer who is beyond over the protracted audition process and the naiveté of her more youthful competition.

I don't have the demographics on this year's class at the J-school, but they definitely seem markedly younger than the class before, the ones with whom I started this masochistic odyssey.

And that's fine, really, except for when the school's administrators talk to all of us as a monolithic group, because that's when my patience evaporates and I'm suddenly overtaken by an incessant urge to go out and do something really mature, like my taxes.

Some of things I did not feel the need to be lectured on yesterday:
  • That when graduation rolls around, I should be sure to tell my family where to meet me after the ceremony. Because, you know, all those graduates in identical caps and gowns are really hard to tell apart.

  • That I should—today—well, yesterday—make lunch reservations for my family for graduation, because lots of other people will also be graduating—not only from the J-school, but from the rest of the university, and from other universities throughout New York City—and the really good restaurants are going to fill up.

  • That I should strongly consider a first post-graduate job in a place like Oklahoma City or Birmingham, AL, because that's where some really cool jobs happen to be right now.
And this is why, when asked whether I'm excited to finally be back in school, I may inexplicably begin humming the overture from "A Chorus Line."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


This one is behind me now.

One of so, so many in the past and so many more to come.

The relief did not wash over me as it ought to have.

It was immediately on to the next thing. And the next. All of the forsaken tasks of the past few days, and weeks, and months.

In the end, it was easier than I'd expected. I gave myself permission to be adequate, and that got me through. Done is better than perfect, a friend told me recently. Done is better than decent is about what it was today.

But done it is, for now.

And tomorrow it is back to school, to self-inflicted lunacy, to deadlines on the heels of other deadlines. To early mornings and late nights with too little sleep in between.

And who knows what after that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


I am using every old trick in the book to coax the work out of me. Breaking it down into smaller, more do-able tasks. Rewarding myself for every bit of progress. Denying myself pleasures until I have achieved something concrete. Telling myself that it is a draft, that it just has to get done, that it will get done.

I have almost 54 hours until my deadline and about 4,000 words to write.

By the time I am done with this post, it will be about 100 words long.

So I just need to do this 40 more times. . . .

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I have been transcribing my interview notes for the past eight hours or so, working on and off to minimize—because it's too late to avoid—the pain in my arms.

I have tried several different set-ups in an effort to find one that passes ergonomic muster. None has worked particularly well, but at least I've made the big move from couch to desk. I'm sure my folks will be pleased to know that I'm putting my college education to good use, coming up with breakthroughs like that every decade or so.

I've got 18 typed pages so far. My best guess is that I'm about halfway done.

If I weren't worried about seriously injuring myself, I'd have just powered through, typing like a madwoman.

Because that's apparently what I am.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


When I left school last February, knowing that I wouldn't be returning for nearly a year, I thought the time would never pass. I remember thinking that I'd finish chemo in the spring, have—and then recover from—surgery over the summer, and spend the fall in a perfect balance of activities designed to prime me for the onslaught that would hit in mid-January and not let up until I graduated four months later.

I figured I'd audit a class or two, intern a couple of days a week at a major publication, do some freelance editing work to help pay the bills, pitch a few stories to nab my first byline, and, when I wasn't eating right or exercising, start and finish my master's project.

Yeah, well, it seemed reasonable at the time.

For someone who's not terribly interested in fame or fortune, I tend to be surprisingly ambitious (where "ambitious" = a nicer way of saying "completely deluded").

So here I am, a week before I'm due back on campus, with the deadline for the first draft of my master's project staring me in the face. So much for getting a head start.

I have actually done a fair bit of work on it—not as much as I had hoped or expected, but probably a lot more than a rational person could have hoped or expected. And I know that I just need to sit down and bang it out.

We have to write three drafts in all, with the deadlines spaced a month apart, so I should be able to just get something down on paper, freed from the self-imposed pressure to make it perfect. Because it can't be perfect, by definition. No matter what, I've got to revise it twice.

But for whatever reason, I'm not ready to write.

I wish, I wish, I wish I were ready. I wish I could break it down and do a thousand words a day for the next four days and then spend another day editing and polishing and proofreading.

Or I wish I could force myself to type up all of my interview notes to date, because I know from experience that that is exactly the kind of catalyst I need to get going. And what could be easier than sitting down and transcribing interview notes? It's about the most mindless exercise you can imagine, like sorting laundry or flossing teeth.

But for days now, I haven't been able to do even that.

And that means that I am setting myself up for a very unpleasant weekend, and an even more unpleasant—and sleepless—night before the deadline.

Extra stress and more fatigue—about the last things in the world that I need right now.

I know all of this, and still I can't open my notebook and start typing from it.

I can't explain it.

I don't understand it.

But I'm trying to accept it.

Maybe tomorrow will be different.

Please, please, please let it be different.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lost: One Grip

When I was a kid (in what now feels like the Bronze Age), my cousin Jerry (hi, Jerry!) and I had this routine. From the relative safety of 10 or 15 feet away, I would do something—like stick my tongue out—to provoke him. (I was five or six years younger than he was, so cut me some slack. Sticking my tongue out probably seemed really, really brazen at the time.)

Jerry would feign anger, then march over to the couch from which I had taunted him. He would pin me down and tickle me mercilessly, until I laughed so hard that I was gasping for air and pleading for mercy.

Then he would stop abruptly, get up, and walk to the other side of the room, as if he had been struck by such abject boredom that his only recourse was to distance himself immediately, before rigor mortis set in.

Then, of course, I'd taunt him all over again.

He'd march back over and tickle me senseless, I'd beg for him to stop, and then he'd abandon me for the other side of the room, warning me not to step foot off the couch or there'd be consequences. I'd wait until he gave me a sidelong glance, checking to make sure that I was staying put, and then inch one foot onto the floor.

I knew this would only bring another round of relentless tickling, but I didn't care. I loved it. It got to the point where Jerry didn't even have to head back toward me—he'd give me his sternest glare, I'd dangle my foot off the couch, he'd feint toward me, and I'd burst into laughter. Uncontrollable laughter. Tears-down-my-face-and-stitches-in-my-side laughter.

I've been thinking about Jerry and those ticklefests a lot recently, remembering how it felt to be so primed for laughter that the slightest change in the air pressure could send me straight over the edge to giddiness.

I've had that same sensation quite often these past few weeks, except that instead of being perpetually on the verge of laughter, I've been dwelling just below the surface of tears. All day. Every day. And let me tell you, that's not a place you really want to spend a lot of time.

My composure has forsaken me so frequently that I am considering a second career as a sprinkler system.

Last week I cried about using the wrong attachment on our new hand mixer. Yesterday I cried about scheduling an appointment for some maintenance work. This morning I cried on the phone with my master's project adviser. This evening I cried while watching "Boys on the Side" on TV.

I have been crying a lot.

I know it's understandable, and probably overdue, but come ON. Enough already.

Somebody better tickle me.


Monday, January 08, 2007


The other day, in the midst of all of our usual insanity, and on the eve of his return trip to LA, Zach set up a near-professional photo shoot in our apartment in an attempt to get some images for the holiday card that we are still hoping to create and send out. (Where "send," in my hopeful and hopelessly deluded world, means "affix with a stamp and put in the mail" and not "totally cheat and post online." Oddsmakers, start your engines.)

Most years, Zach and I create a homespun holiday card together. Actually, we create a homespun New Year's card, because we pretty much never send it out before January. We usually spend December coming up with and then discarding one concept after another, typically late at night, before one finally seems just right. Then there's a whole lot of Photoshopping and layout work (all by Zach) and wordsmithing to be done before we're truly happy with it.

Then it takes us weeks to get the cards printed and to buy, address, and stamp the envelopes. If they go out by the end of January, we call it a success.

We missed sending out a card last year, what with everything else we had going on. And what would it have said, really?

"Hope your new year is better than ours is going to be," perhaps?

Or, "By the time you get this card, one of us will probably be bald"?

Yeah, it didn't seem possible to come up with something that was heartfelt, hopeful, and in good taste. Actually, it didn't seem possible to get even two out of three. And we didn't exactly have a lot of free time, between surgeries and tests and emergency IVF.

Not that free time is too plentiful right now, either.

What is plentiful, however, is stress. Loads and loads of it. Toxic levels.

Maybe not the best time to take on yet another project.

But a) have we met? And b) I hated the thought of going another year without a card.

Which brings me back to Zach and the photo shoot. Seeing him with a camera, up on a ladder, taking pictures of these inanimate objects against a carefully selected backdrop, I couldn't help but think of thirtysomething, with Michael and Elliot and all of their advertising hijinks. (We were both monster fans of the show.)

So I went over to Zach's computer, opened his iTunes library, and started playing the theme song from the show (because of course we have the entire soundtrack). And right after he got the joke and laughed, it dawned on me.

We are now fortysomething.

And I'm not sure we're allowed to listen to that music anymore.

Addendum by Zachary:
However, if you're still thirtysomething—or younger—you're welcome to listen to bit of it (courtesy, requires WMP). 'Cause it's still one of the best show themes ever composed. Hat tip to W.G. Snuffy Walden. And yes, that's his real name.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Seething Abated

Every so often (although more and more often these days) a residual check arrives in the mail for Zach. Nine times out of 10, we have no idea when these are coming.

Ten times out of 10 we have no idea how much they'll be for. Some are less than $10, some are more than $100. Even when the checks are small ones, they are always a nice surprise and a great affirmation. Occasionally, when they are more substantial, we pause to heave a sigh of relief in the split second before earmarking them for some unexpected expense we've just encountered.

I, of course, do not get residuals.

But once in a while, I do get an unexpected check in the mail. Usually it's weeks and weeks after I've filed a health insurance claim—so long after that I've completely forgotten about it and have moved it from the "awaiting reimbursement" column to the "just one more sunk cost on the way back to good health" column in the unconscious spreadsheet that inhabits my brain.

What I don't get, however, is reimbursement checks for health insurance claims I didn't submit.

Until now, that is.

In going through a stack of mail today, Zach found two checks, totaling $676.18, from our secondary insurance company, all for prescriptions I had filled last year.

I haven't had a chance to verify this yet, but I think the secondary insurance company took the statement from my primary insurance company that showed that I'd exhausted its prescription-drug coverage—the statement I had to send in in order to get the secondary insurance company to step in and cover my prescriptions going forward—and spontaneously converted it into a claim for all of my co-pays from 2006.

That's pretty much the equivalent of the IRS filling out your tax return for you and then sending you a refund check before your W-2s even arrive in the mail.


Maybe I can get the secondary insurance company to call the IRS. . . .

Thursday, January 04, 2007

You Talking to Me?

Once again, I am having pharmacy/insurance issues.

Yesterday, I went in to pick up two prescriptions, certain that the troubles I had last month had been resolved, not because I am a wishful thinker but because I was told [personification alert!] by my insurance company [make that my secondary insurance company] that they'd been resolved.

Note: If you had trouble following that sentence, you have only the slightest intimation of how convoluted is the world of my insurance coverage.

In any event, yesterday I was asked to pay something like $250 for one of my prescriptions. It turns out that the pharmacist had billed my primary insurance company, whose prescription-drug benefit I had already exhausted.

I explained that both prescriptions should instead be billed to my secondary insurance company, whose information should have been stored in my online records but inexplicably wasn't.

I didn't have time to wait for the billing to be sorted out (a process the pharmacist estimated would take 20 minutes, which I find quaint in its naiveté), so I left my secondary insurance card and said I'd be back today.

When I arrived this evening, the following sign was posted on the pharmacy counter, in both English and Spanish:

Dear Customers
Please let us know about changes in insurance policy
before you place the order for medicine.
This will help us to serve you better
Thank You!!

(This should go without saying, but the grammar and punctuation errors are not mine.)

In this case, I guess "serve you better" means "charge you only $132.55 instead of $250 for your anti-cancer drug."

That hissing sound you hear?

That's me seething.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And I Don't Even Like Baseball

I am pleased to announce that I am officially recovered from the Revolt of the Rich Food, 2007 Edition.

I am deeply saddened to say that I don't think I will ever again be able to have Sara and Erin's obscenely delicious Vegetarian French Onion Soup (hi, thank you, and sorry, Sara and Erin!).

Ditto for the obscenely decadent chocolate mousse I made all by my little lonesome from the Gourmet cookbook. (My version included brandy-infused whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate shavings on top for extra decadence.)

Nonetheless, I do hereby acknowledge my pledge to make said mousse upon request for Zach's future enjoyment, as he has informed me that withholding such culinary favors would be adequate grounds for divorce. I'll just have to figure out a way to make it for him without a) tasting it or b) looking at it.

Speaking of not filing for divorce, today is Zach's and my 14th wedding anniversary. I have to say that I think we achieved the marital equivalent of hitting for the cycle today. We had a ridiculous argument, a good laugh, a serious talk, and a fun night out, all in the space of 12 hours. It's hard to ask for more than that.

Fourteen years ago we exchanged vows onstage in an old Broadway theater. Four little flower girls, all cousins of mine, escorted us down the aisle.

Tonight we sat in the rear mezzanine of another Broadway house and watched a new musical unfold onstage. And one of those flower girls (hi, Briel!), now 22 and out of college, happened to be at the same show. I can still picture her as an eight-year-old girl, with a big wreath of flowers in her hair and her whole life still ahead of her.

Seeing her tonight, all grown up, made me think about how much has changed in those 14 years.

And seeing her tonight, with the same twinkly eyes, big smile, and effortless laugh she had as a kid, made me think about how much has stayed the same.

I have no idea what else life is going to throw at us, but whether we strike out, hit a grand slam, or just earn the runs one base hit at a time, I know two things will always be true.

We will swing for the bleachers every time.

And we'll walk off the field hand in hand.

Happy anniversary, my love.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Four-Oh? Oh.

For the record, today is my birthday.

In a normal year, Zach and I would be out celebrating, concluding the day with a fancy dinner out and a trip to the theater. But this is a big birthday, so we'd probably be doing more than that—taking a trip or having a party or going on some kind of adventure.

Zach and I always plan each other's birthdays, and the plans are always a surprise. It's one of the traditions I love most, whether the surprises are simply which restaurant or show it's going to be or the more elaborate kind, involving blindfolds and co-conspirators and red herrings along the way.

Sometimes we also exchange traditional presents, the kind wrapped up in paper and ribbon, but our gifts to each other are almost always experiential—the kind that claim a place in our collective memory and yield some of our favorite dinner-party stories.

Several years ago, Zach surprised me with a trip to New Orleans for my birthday and our wedding anniversary, which are a day apart. It was an elaborate ruse that got me all the way onto the airplane, seat belt fastened, before I knew where we were going—and only then because a flight attendant blew the surprise. He had completely thrown me off the scent, telling me to pack my passport and to leave my cell phone behind because it wasn't going to work where we were going. He even called my boss to arrange the vacation days, so I had no idea how long we'd be gone. Once we got there, I was completely unplugged and incommunicado—while the e-mail and voice-mail messages piled up at home and at work, we just relaxed and rejuvenated. It was heavenly.

One of the best things about that trip was what happened before we left. Zach had told me to have my bags packed and ready to go on January 1st because a car was coming to pick us up and take us to the airport that afternoon. A few minutes before the pick-up time, he came into the bedroom and hurried me along, then rushed to the front window to see if the horn he'd heard belonged to our car. When I walked into the living room a minute later, bags in hand, he told me to put them down and take a seat. Suddenly, the rush-rush-rush was over.

He looked at me and said something like, "My first gift to you is the gift of time."

It turned out that our flight wasn't until the following morning, which meant that the whole rest of the afternoon and the evening were completely free—found time, to spend however I liked. And because I was already packed and ready to go, our departure the next day was guaranteed to be an unhurried, flurry-free affair.

Of all the gifts and surprises Zach has given me, that is one of my favorites—not just because it was so clever and creative (and devious), but because it was exactly what I needed, and he knew that.

What I needed this year was even more time. Four or five months of it, actually.

Because as much as I want to rejoice at reaching this milestone—at being alive and relatively well after 40 laps around the sun—I just don't have it in me to celebrate right now. I am spent, strung out, completely sapped.

Months ago, when I thought this particular week would be merely "busy," I told Zach that I wanted to defer any birthday festivities until after I graduate from the J-school. Back then, before my dad's surgery, before Zach left for L.A., before I knew what kind of school work I'd be facing over the winter "break," I looked ahead and figured this would be crunch time, not down time. I knew we'd have a lot to accomplish in a short period, between finishing the house upstate (or so we thought) and me getting the first draft of my master's project done, and the thought of trying to cram a celebration in between all of that intense work, that complete slogfest, was more than I could fit into my already overtaxed brain.

Now that the day has come, I am grateful and relieved that we agreed to observe the occasion several months hence. Because not only are we both tired, not only is my psyche operating on fumes, but I have been sick as a dog for the past 36 hours. I'm pretty sure it's a food hangover from the very rich meal we had on New Year's Eve, but it's been absolutely brutal.

I haven't felt this bad since the late 1980s, when I visited Paris and ate too much Boursin and too many buttery biscuits one night and then puked in three public places in the next day. I haven't eaten Boursin or buttery biscuits since. Nor can I stomach Orangina, the completely benign orange soda that happened to be the last thing I ingested before the Revolt of the Rich Food. I didn't eat for two days afterward.

I repeat: I was in Paris and didn't eat for two days.

This time, at least, I am not in a foreign land. And I haven't puked at all, either publicly or privately. (I'm sure you are very relieved that there will be no graphic descriptions to follow.)

Yesterday I fasted for 23 hours and then had about four spoonsful of applesauce.

Today I have moved on, barely, to some Gatorade and half a dry, plain bagel.

As horrible as I have been feeling, though, it is really nice to just be sitting still for a change. If I feel substantially better later on, we will go to see my dad. And if I don't, I will stay in my pajamas and in my bed. Maybe I'll read. Or maybe I'll move to the couch and watch a movie with Zach. Or maybe I'll sleep.

We'll find another time to celebrate. For now, we'll just hibernate.

It may not have been the nicest birthday surprise, but it's what I need.