Originally posted on Blogspot 9/1/18
Last weekend I went home to Syracuse for the first time in a while–3 months to be exact. For someone who likes to get home at least once a month, I felt like I hadn’t been home in a year.
There were many things I was looking forward to on my trip: the wedding of a great high school friend, and the reunion with many other high school friends that went along with it. My little white dog who I swear saved my life. My goofy now-both-retired parents whose banter and teasing of one another is both entertaining and exhausting. My sister and her girlfriend who digs Phantom of the Opera (and Jackie’s own personal renditions of Music of the Night). The big pool with the little waterfall. Rainbow Milk Bar at the Fair.
Lots of things to look forward to.
But what actually weighed most heavily on my mind going into Syracuse on the obviously-late-and-dysfunctional Greyhound bus was a confrontation between me and my big green bedroom. No longer a big green bedroom. No longer mine.
But in all honesty it had never been “mine”. It was always “hers”: Pre 2009 Jesse. Dramatic? Maybe. But true? Oh yes.And I’d been avoiding her and that big green room every day since I returned home from my biopsy.
There were drawers and books and bins in that room that had not been opened, not been TOUCHED since a 17 year old with long brown hair closed them up after a wind ensemble concert, a dance class, after finishing her homework, or after watching Obama defeat McCain on TV. So when my 22 year old sister asked me very gingerly, very carefully in June of this year if she could have my old room when she moved back, I begged her, “Please, Jackie, for the love of God. Please do something with that mausoleum. Take it.”
Indeed, it was a mausoleum and was treated as such. During treatment I couldn’t bear to be in there and stayed in my mother’s room. If I wasn’t in her bed drinking my Miralax and watching Desperate Housewives, I was on the couch downstairs eating barbecue chips and watching reality TV. Post-cancer I would come home from college or from New York City and sleep on the couch. My luggage would live on the floor in the living room until my mom or dad finally begged me to get my shit out of the way because they were tired of finding bras in the couch cushions and tripping over boots.
So I would reluctantly drag my bags up the stairs to the big green mausoleum and drop them on the big green carpet and then duck the f**k out as fast as I could. If I needed to maneuver the dresser drawers full of clothes, I did so strategically and nimbly–you’d never know if you were going to find an old love letter in the sock drawer, or come across that depressing bottle of Nautica cologne again that your ex-boyfriend left behind. You might find the Thoroughly Modern Millie T-Shirt from Junior year or the ugly tye-dyed tank top from Sophomore year marching band with the sloppily written names of the flute players. Best to get in and get out quickly.
And I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking C’mon, now, Jesse. We all grow up. We all move out. We all come home and find our old things.
But here’s the thing. Jesse with the long, brown hair and the nose too big for her face didn’t grow up and come back to find these things. She left her big green bedroom on December 17th, 2008 in a snowstorm and came back that evening with a giant patch on her back from a manual biopsy needle and the parting words, “We’ll be in touch. Merry Christmas!”
She couldn’t go back in that room. And she just became more different day by day. Skinnier. Balder. Sicker. Angrier. Then fatter. Even sicker. Even Angrier. So, so angry.
Well, she just about disappeared. And the big green room is–was–the only evidence that she ever existed.
Every once in a while as the years passed, I would feel courageous and open up the card that still sat on the vanity gathering dust. It had lily pads and a pink flower on the front. Inside were messages from my mom and dad congratulating me on the All-State concert at the beginning of December 2008. I’d played oboe/english horn in the band that year, and sang in the chorus the year before. My mom had written how proud she was, and how she could never have imagined when she sang in the All-State concert decades before that her own daughter would be there one day with her own musical talents.
If my nerve was steady and strong, I could even open up the little drawer beneath the card and find the little miniature oboe they’d given me along with it.
But that was a rare nerve.
“Please get rid of the mausoleum. All of it.”
With the exception of a Calvin Klein sweatshirt, I told my mom and dad it could all go. Everything. The notes, the clothes, the posters, the band T-Shirts, the tiny wallet senior photos I’d traded and collected amongst my friends. Make it all disappear.
I was ready when I came home last week. I was ready for relief. And I got it. The room is unrecognizable. The green carpet was ripped up and the hardwood floors repaired and smoothed over. The furniture is brand new, the walls painted.
The green room is gone.
My mom, dad, and sister did an incredible job. Jackie’s new room is stunning, and my mom carefully painted and redecorated Jackie’s old room. She made it into a comfy, cozy little place for me to stay when I’m home. For me to leave my luggage so my bras aren’t found in the couch cushions.
I am so, so grateful to them for turning the mausoleum into something brand new–brighter, and happier. I’m not even mad that they forgot to save the Calvin Klein sweatshirt.
Since returning to the city, it’s hit me, though. She’s really gone. I guess, subconsciously, knowing that big green room remained there, untouched–it made it easier to hold on to…something. I dunno. It made it easier not to mourn that little high school kid.
You mourn a lot of things in battling cancer. But it always felt silly to mourn the person I used to be–for many reasons. It feels melodramatic, and useless. Nothing can be changed. What happened happened…but I still tear up writing this knowing that I can’t remember what it felt like to not have had cancer. What was I like? What did I love? What did I think about? Broadway? Grades? Dancing? Boys? I remember being very concerned that my tapping wasn’t up to par–after all, I intended on heading to college a triple threat. I forced myself to endure the advanced tap class at the dance studio even though I was the worst one. I loved playing my instruments more than I ever let on to anyone, even my teachers. I loved falling asleep with my cat, listening to Family Guy on the tiny TV in the big green bedroom.
What did I fear, then? What could I have done? Who would I be? Where would I be?
The answers don’t exist because the questions are pointless. But they arise in my brain regardless.
I am quite happy with who I am today. Truly. I have my flaws as we all do. But, to come full circle, who I am today actually began on that biopsy table, right after I left that bedroom as old Jesse. Long, brown hair Jesse feared the Gardasil vaccine and passed out at the idea of having blood drawn. Short, blonde Jesse emerged for the first time when the doc said “if you want to wait to schedule an appointment to be put under in a routine biop–” She cut him right off and said “do it now. If we are doing this we’re doing it right the f**k now.”
To this day I’m not exactly sure where those balls came from.
You never actually know what you’re capable of until–often out of the blue–you happen to show yourself. I think of that moment whenever I have doubts about my worth. My value. My capabilities. My character. Who I am or who I could have been. Short blonde manual biopsy Jesse said “do it right now.”
She’s cool. Highly recommend her. She’s somebody who used to care a whole lot about overcoming her adversities by being successful. By making it big. But now, she’s someone who tries to figure out, every night as she falls asleep, where she could’ve been more patient, more understanding or more helpful the previous day.
But you should ask her about the big green bedroom sometime, and the girl who used to live in it.
I don’t wan’t to forget her, completely.