Thursday, April 26, 2012

Almost Home

On the Overseas Highway, again
Every time I face a follow-up test or examination for the cancer that side-railed my life for several years, I work my way into a terrible funk, a deep, dark and midnight blue place just this side of true depression. I’m just too overall happy to go all the way to official depression anymore. So I call a funk the blues. As in “How are you, June?” “I’m nursing a case of the blues.” Nobody tries to talk you out of that because the blues is perfectly acceptable, pure as the driven, spirit-dampening rain that began my decline a week or so back. It’s OK to be blue once in a while. It’s understandable, particularly when facing a fork in the road, which is how I view follow-up exams related to my recovery from cancer.
Tina Dykes makes beautiful jewelry and sells it at the artists co-op, the Key Largo Art Gallery
    Monday we drove to Miami to see Dr. David Arnold, the guy who has treated my throat cancer from the very first biopsy through radiation, chemo, a relapse and second tumor, surgery, more chemo, baldness, skinniness, and recovery. I wish I’d taken photos of myself at every visit, as they would tell the story of my cancer adventure far better than mere words can. Cancer, in the beginning stages, doesn’t make you sick. The things they do to chase it away is what makes you sick.    
At Mile Marker 103 you need a con leche!!
I love these lamps at the Community Thrift Shop. I would have bought them, but they were too kitschy for Michael.
Pon, at Num Thai. Order the Spider Roll and eat your fears.
    Being on the road to Miami for that check-up with the Big Guy, Dr. Arnold, the make-it or break-it guy with the power to send you forth into your lovely life, disease free and unbound, or back home in despair, to plan for another dreaded biopsy, you sweat. As Michael and I know all too well, things can go either way when Dr. Arnold laces that tube into the nostril, down into the throat and into those wet, mucusy places where cancer once found a foothold.
At the Key Largo Gallery.  I think I lost my virginity in this bus!
    The news is good. Perfect. I am well, my mucus membranes intact, pink and vibrant. No lumps to worry over. No bumps to keep me awake at night. I am healed. And, as everybody knows, the further away from cancer you get, the better your chances of never having it again become. You’re never home free, but no one ever is, right?
    The good news means I can sleep again, and, in a Miami hotel, I do, catching up on many nights of lost sleep, and many days of too-little-sleep fatigue. I dream of the ribbon of life, un-spooling before me, no end in sight. Michael is much too kind to wake me from my celebratory slumber. I awaken at last hungry as a bear, just out of hibernation. Feed me!
The Juice House serves fabulous Cuban food, too.
    On the drive home, we feel as if we’ve won the lottery. Michael is buoyant. We take a long, lovely layover in Central Plaza, my favorite strip mall, at Mile Marker 103. While he sits in the car, drinking cafe con leche, listening for one of his songs on the satellite radio, I explore.
    Back on the road, I take a turn driving, and the Overseas Highway is so broad and sparklingly beautiful in the sun I ask Michael to take a picture. Of what? he asks. Of the open road, I say. Of how it looks when you’re nearing Big Pine Key, getting closer to Key West, when your heart is bursting with joy, when you’re well again.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'll Have The Senior Discount, Please

Whatever happened to Baby June?
Junior Senior Citizen
I’m turning 62 years old tomorrow, Friday, the 13th. This date suggests nothing more sinister to me than the fact that I am crossing into junior league senior citizenship. I am not superstitious. I am a realist.
    Sixty-five is the golden ring we boomers have our eyes on now. At 65 you get Medicare. At 65 the absolute and all-American horror of living naked and vulnerable, that is without health insurance, comes to an end. Yesterday at Publix I ran into two of these lucky women. They appeared to be as spry as teenagers. Clicking their heels and talking about how wonderful their lives had become since reaching lucky 65. No more insurance nightmares. AND a check in the mail every month.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to turn 62 and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a lot less intimidated by this development than the people who create the women's’ magazines piled around my favorite reading chair. In article after article we readers are coached on tricks for looking younger than we really are, with hair color, fashion, diets, skin treatments, surgery, meditation, vitamins and exotic teas, anything at all to avoid the truth of time and it’s triumph over the flesh. And when I read of these often desperate measures I think, sure, your head and your hair will look great, but what happens when you remove those edgy fashions? What happens when you don a bikini? And while I have nothing but admiration for women who bikini in over-60 bodies, there are none that I know of who can erase the passage of time while standing unclad, with every sweet and sour secret of a lifetime revealed.
My photographer daughter Susan says this shot
from The Big Lebowski Party is quintessential June and Michael.
    My friend Mary has had every one of the above listed procedures designed to hide her advancing age. On a car trip north she ducked into a Denny’s restaurant for lunch. My husband describes this woman as Joan Rivers dipped in bronze. And after all that dedication to retaining her youthful glow, as she swallowed the last of her hot water with lemon, a weary waitress dropped off her check, and murmured, “I gave you the senior discount.”
Miguel, Will, Tony, Tanner, Mark: The Con Leche Band. I hope they know how cool I am.
    I have battled with my son to be viewed not as an older woman, his mother, but as someone very hip, someone who can dance all night (I can), someone ready at a moment’s notice for an adventure (I am), someone who swears like a truck driver (I do). Last night Miguel came by with Tanner, a member of his band Con Leche. We sat on the deck and talked about music and Jimi Hendrix and howled at the moon. After an hour they left. Michael and I returned to the living room, closing the door to the deck behind us.
    “Now we can get back to being little old people watching television at night,” I said.
    “Dang,” Michael said. “We missed Jeopardy.”

You gotta love Claire Lynch. And I do.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

She's The One

Miguel is just under 6'4"
 When he was growing up we always told our son Miguel to not even consider getting married until he was 30 years old. You don’t know who you are until you’re 30, we told him. We also told him, every night as we tucked him into bed, that he should always know that he was having a very wonderful childhood. This second bit was something I learned from a book by Steve Allen in which he writes that to grow healthy children he assured his little ones each and every day that they were having happy childhoods. So it must have worked, because Miguel is a nice, cheery man—a few years past 30, and still unmarried!
    Miguel is a serial monogamist. He has had several girl friends for several long times. (Of course I’m sure there have been many mini-romances, too, but those are rights of passage events, social exercises, way outside the scope of what I need to know.)
Still life: Good Genes with Bananas
    I have always been intensely interested in knowing the girls who’ve captured his heart, the potential mothers of my grandchildren, and usually have found them to be every bit as charming as he thinks they are. But my intense curiosity is not always a good thing. When he moved in with his first girlfriend, I asked her, over dinner one night, if she took birth control pills. My son was mortified. Not her. “Absolutely,” she answered, smiling sweetly.
    My great faux pas with his last girlfriend was asking her how much she weighed. This came up innocently enough. We were talking high school sports. I thought to myself, as we were talking, that she appeared to be the same size as I when I was consumed with playing field hockey. There, across the table, sat Little Me!
    “How much do you weigh?” I asked, excited.
    Silence. The great silence of the deeply offended.
Key West's Best Key Lime Pie  (Mine)
    The next day Miguel said, “I can’t believe you asked her how much she weighs. She hates talking about her weight.”
    That lady, and her secrets, is now history.
    Now there is Mia. She’s been in the picture for many months now, and I’ve been madly curious about her.
    “Don’t worry,” Miguel told me. “Mia is going to be around for a long time.”
    Yesterday, as we were preparing for a visit from Miguel and Mia, I told my wise stepdaughter Laura that I was nervous, afraid I’d talk too much, say something totally ridiculous like, “How tall are you anyway?” (Which, in fact, I did.)
    And Laura, who is lovely, wrote: “You have nothing to be nervous about. She'll think she's hit the jackpot of potential future mother-in-laws when she gets to know you. And I'm not just saying that because I've had your to-die-for shrimp scampi before.”
Father and son songwriters in Paradise
    I made the shrimp scampi, and garlic bread, and key lime pie with fresh whipped cream. They loved it all! As we were enjoying the fabulously greasy garlic bread I told Mia that when Dolly Parton was asked to choose a food she could eat exclusively for the rest of her life she answered: “fried dough.” 
    “Good answer,” Mia said, and right at that instant, there was a tiny click in my heart and I knew we two had bonded as only two bread & butter-loving blonds can. 
    Mia entertained us with stories of her father’s health food store in Maine, where she began working at the age of 8. She said she eats only white bread today, rebelling against the coarse, multigrained barely chewable stuff she ate as a child. Her family also ate many meals of unadorned tofu, because that was good for them, too.
    Before they left last night I told Mia I had to take photos of her and Miguel for our daughters, and for the people who read my blog. She cheerfully posed for my camera. At one point, while I was trying to make the camera work and maybe she thought no one was looking, she touched Miguel’s face tenderly and murmured “Your skin is so perfect! Good genes!”
    Oh yeah. She’s The One.

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