Happy New Year! I haven’t posted anything new in 2020—I did a tacky thing where I reshared an old post because I’m lazy—so here’s a little something to make up for it.
I’ve been trying to like…brainstorm where I wanna take this blog and how I can commit to writing more content (ooooh “content” 💁🏻♀️) that’s not basically just me rambling about my teeth brushing habits, crying on public transit, and then the occasional golden nugget of wisdom from the cancer survivor-drawer.
But it’s hard for me to keep up with this blog because all I ever truly want to write about are mundane, day-to-day things.
Like I wanted to write about how last week the muscle under my left boob was really hurting and is it really a muscle at all? Let’s explore this, is there something sinister under there? It really hurts to sneeze and it’s sneezing season!
But that’s really boring. I can’t write a whole post about that (but lets be real I totally could).
So I got to thinking about all the feedback I’ve gotten on my blog over the years and I thought of something an old high school friend acquaintance said to me once when she cornered me buying ditalini pasta at Tops Friendly Markets. She was like “OMG I love your writing. It’s so offbeat.”
“NO YOU’RE OFFBEAT, B****.”
But I didn’t say that, I just said what you’re supposed to say back like “oh yeah thanks for reading, and yeah, my writing is offbeat you’re so right, you totally get me, good luck with your screaming 2 year-old.”
And then I thought of something a guy I was “dating” said once: “you write exactly how you speak.” So THEN I connected the two and was like…okay is my writing offbeat…or am *I* offbeat? Am I f***ing OFFbeat?
Like I know I’m strange and I got some questionable OCD ticks going on but like…offbeat? Like awkward?
AM I MAKING YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, READER, IS THIS AWKWARD FOR YOU?
Cuz lemme tell ya. I’m not trying to be offbeat. To me, offbeat is a bit overdone at this point. It’s been played up so much…Kimmy Schmitt chick, Aubrey Plaza, Zooey Deschanel in general like…it’s a brand.
WHICH REMINDED ME OF SOMETHING ELSE someone said to me once about something I posted.
I, Jesse No-One-At-All, have a BRAND!? What’s my brand?!? I want to be ON BRAND in 2020! Brand brand brand brand brand!!!!!
And then I thought…maybe mundanity IS my brand.
I HAVE to write about my under boob muscle. And my teeth brushing habits. And how I cried today on the 1 train because it’s the first day of my period and I have no idea what I’m doing ever.
And guys, I got so excited thinking about all the mundane blog posts I could write like…my god, check out this list of “on-brand” ideas:
I feel genuine guilt at commanding Alexa to do something—I know she’s not real but I’m always thinking that the universe and maybe like…the spirit world (?) are watching me be on this powertrip and my grandma is thinking “please and thank you’s, Jesse, don’t be an a**hole”
I carry a clear purse now because I want to be able to see inside my bag at all times so I can make sure bed bugs don’t sneak in my purse from someone on the train or that lady from Chipotle that wears a neck pillow all the time. I think it’s genius…some seem to think it’s a little crazy—but you say tomato, I say YOU’RE JEALOUS.
Are we still picking up heads up pennies????? What’s the rule now? If it’s tails up do you fix it so someone else can find it heads up and so then you both get good luck because of the good karma you did? I’ve been trying that lately as long as the penny doesn’t look too germy.
I think it’s important that everyone watch Criminal Minds so they can make a plan for how they’d avoid all of the horrifying things that could potentially happen to them. Like I’ve got a fool-proof way to avoid getting kidnapped by the guy who paralyzes you and then force feeds you someone else’s fingers, and maybe, just maybe it’s time for me to share that with the world…
My f***ing slippers are never right next to me when I need to slip them on and so WHAT EVEN GOOD ARE THEY? If my bare feet have to touch the floor while I LOOK for my slippers then why do I even have them at all YOU’RE USELESS, SLIPPERS JUST GET OUTTA TOWN!
I think maybe this could go somewhere. Maybe I write these posts and maybe they’re not all genius—but they’re me. They’re on brand.
And then maybe I’ll have a day or two where I’m ready to talk about my feelings and it’s cheaper to just write about them than go back to therapy.
Example feeling/thought: If you never do anything incredible or extraordinary or even mildly impressive in your life but you always make enough to pay the bills, travel a little, and spend time with family/friends…will you look back in the end and still regret not having done anything extraordinary? I mean, I know we’re all supposed to think NO, OUR HAPPINESS IS ALL THAT MATTERS. And LOVE YOURSELF no matter what and yeah yeah yeah…but is that truly all? Will it be enough…? I don’t know!!!
This is gonna be a good year for blogging, I can feel it. It’s just the beginning. You’re gonna love it, wanna know why?
Because you’re just as f***ing mundane as I am.
And you know what ‘mundane’ truly is?
Real. NOT offbeat. Just real.
Just kidding I can’t in good conscience end a blog post with ‘stay tuned’. Instead here’s the lyric to the song I’m currently listening to:
“You think you got it. Oh…you think you got it. But got it just don’t get it when there’s nothing at all…”
If you’ve never cried in public then congratu-f**king-lations on STIFLING YOUR EMOTIONS and manifesting them internally until they turn into cancer.
Actually I’ve been crying in public since kindergarten when I was telling everyone about my new Lisa Frank stencils and Jaron told me to “SHUT UP, JESSE ROSE*” …and look how that turned out.
(*Yes, I was called Jesse Rose until 1st grade)
Although that cancer could’ve manifested from many things such as incessant Diet Coke drinking or the fact that in junior high I used to be home alone after school and would mix peanut butter in a bowl with chocolate chips and cool whip and eat it with my fingers while simultaneously performing the entire first 40 minutes of Annie (including the Overture) in my kitchen, complete with hard knock life sweeping and bucket slamming. None of that can be healthy.
Sorry I got lost.
A couple days ago I was pondering on the train. You may recall from the last installment of this rousing blog that I like to ponder things while being transported from one place to another. Cars are for pondering cliches.
Trains are for troubles. Alliteration is very important to me.
So there I was pondering my troubles, really really allowing myself to wallow for a bit. This is called “rumination” which I learned from accidentally listening to the same chapter of ‘The Power of Now’ over and over again on the train before I finally thought “hmm this sounds familiar” and realized it’s because the tracks are on “repeat” and maybe I should dedicate train-time solely to troubles-pondering.
I’m so sorry, lost again.
So anyway. I was pondering my troubles, which are very VERY many being a white girl from a middle-class background with a degree, a stable job, and a loving family. But we all have shitty weeks and last week was just rough for me on many fronts, and I really just wanted to RUMINATE.
And so I’m ruminating and ruminating and ruminating and then “When the Party’s Over” came on shuffle by Billie Eilish, and if you’ve never heard that song before, it’s a really really sad song that makes you feel like there’s no hope and you should just curl up in the fetal position and RUE THE DAY your sister ever taught you that Billie Eilish was not the same thing as Billy Eichner.
And of course…I was doing just the right amount of pondering that the combination of my troubles AND this really really sad song was dangerously close to putting me over the edge…
When it comes to public tears, there’s always a moment RIGHT before the point of no return where you are faced with a choice: you could dial it back and NOT cry in public…or you could just release the beast and let it happen. And in that crucial moment, I contemplated simply changing the song…seems pretty simple! I got plenty of good jams to listen to…but I didn’t.
I decided that this day was as good a day as any for a good ole public cry. Call me dramatic—but every once in a while, I want to remind EVERYONE around me that not only am I a human being with emotions, but I ALSO don’t give a f**k about your comfort. There is a brevity in not caring if you see me cry. It can be very empowering.
It CAN be. But it has to be done very carefully.
First of all, it can never get out of control. It needs to be graceful. It requires a lot of long, carefully planned blinks.
You close your eyes lightly at first. Then you slowly squeeze your eyelids tighter and tighter. It’s almost like you squeeze the tears out with your eyes closed, and then lightly open them and allow the water to trickle down your face. It looks, from the outside…like you are fighting back the tears…when in reality, you are just summoning them to do your bidding.
Then, you stare straight ahead for fifteen Mississippis.
FIFTEEN. FULL. MISSISSIPPIS. Even if what is straight ahead of you is the open fly of a Canadian tourist in cargo shorts. Just keep staring ahead…because if you decide to look down, you might find that he is also wearing MAN FLOPS…and if you look UP???
Well looking up would cause public-crying eye-contact.
And that is a no no.
That I had to learn the hard way. Once when I was having a “got-all-the-way-home-and-realized-I-left-my-housekeys-at-Wendys-while-getting-a-frosty-and-also-I’m-on-my-period-and-now-I’m-on-my-way-back-to-Wendy’s” cry, I accidentally made eye contact with a guy.
He was hot.
And it was embarrassing not just because he was attractive and I’d been wearing a lot of mascara that day…but also because he FELT COMPELLED TO SAY SOMETHING.
“err….it’s gonna be okay,” he muttered, uncomfortably, as he exited the train.
“I LOVE YOU…” I called back. (Jk)
NEEDLESS TO SAY, YOU NEVER WANT TO COMPEL ANYONE TO SAY ANYTHING. THIS IS MEANT TO BE A VERY VERY PRIVATE PUBLIC ACT.
So anyway, you repeat a couple of the long, graceful blinks and tear trickling, stare ahead a little bit…and then when you’ve decided you’ve drawn enough attention but not too much…you take a deep breath and think about how you are going to make yourself feel better.
During the Eilish incident, I thought about how as soon as I got off the train I’d be at Maison Harlem and I could order roasted chicken and mashed potatoes and watch ‘Dance Moms’ on my iPhone LIKE EVERYONE DOES at a bar!
The thought made me so happy that even the creepy cat-caller outside the train station who said “aww nooo smile?” couldn’t bring me down.
Guess what? I DID smile at him. But not because he told me to…because I was thinking “ROASTED HALF-CHICKEN MOTHERF**KER.”
And as I devoured that chicken and mashed potatoes, I made a plan to make myself feel even BETTER with a BACKSTREET BOYS JOG later in the evening!
(A Backstreet Boys jog is when you jog to “Shape of My Heart” on repeat and sometimes a bunch of guys playing basketball nearby hear you singing along louder than you realized because of your earbuds, and they try to join in by singing the chorus of “I Want it That Way”…and you think “okay guys, not the right song, but I’m proud of your inner Backstreet Boy!”)
>>BTW saw the Backstreet Boys at Barclays Center last month, and they are still amazing, and AJ can still show me the shape of his heart any way any DAY!<<
You know my actor friend once told me she hates crying in public because it’s so basic? And let me tell you—NYC actors cry in public A LOT. Because we JUST SO HAPPENED to find out AT STARBUCKS that we woke up at 4am and waited six hours for nothing because they’ve decided not to see anyone under 5’3 and we’re 5’2 and now it’s too late to go home. ORRR ORRR we don’t know how to answer the “are you a dancer?” question because at a dancer call we look like a non-dancer, but at a non-dancer call we look like a dancer so OMG WHAT THE F**K DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME? SWEET JESUS!
LOST. REGROUPING. WE CAN DO THIS WE ARE ALMOST DONE!
So anyway, my actor friend told me that she hates crying in public because it’s “so basic.”
And my question is…basically what?
What is basic? What is a “basic bitch”? I’m basic because I was happy that Starbucks did pumpkin spice lattes early? I’m basic because I listen to trashy pop music and like scented candles? I’m basic because I like watching ‘Bachelor in Paradise’, and still support Blake Horstmann and his search for love even though he got a bad rep for trying to live his best life as a single man at a country music festival?
I’m basic because I WOULD actually go on ‘The Bachelor’ if I knew beforehand who the Bachelor was? I’m basic because I’m afraid I’d get sent home on the first night because “that Jesse girl was cute but I feel like she was more interested in eating the snacks?”
I’m basic because in this theoretical world where I went on “The Bachelor”, ABC put “Girl Who Ate All the Snacks” under my name at the reunion show?
I’m basic because I’m drinking happy hour champagne while I write this?
I’m basic because I have the STRENGTH to cry in public?
Guess what? I’m gonna tell you a secret. Society loooooooooves to rag on the “basic bitches.”
But “basic”….is just a cover for “REAL AF.”
The BASIC girls are the realest.
The BASIC girls are the hustlers.
The BASIC girls are the ones who will look back on the most FULL lives.
The BASIC girls just keep writing and writing and writing, hoping at the end of it you come away with a very, very REAL message:
I “BASIC”ALLY DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK OF ME ALL THAT MUCH.
I will continue to cry in public as I see fit. I will continue to write really weird shit that you NEVER SHARE ON FACEBOOK TO HELP A GIRL OUT…but that YOU will continue to read!
So to all my basic girls…just remember the wise words of the bestest most basic-est Louisiana woman we all know and love:
The other day I was walking somewhere when all of a sudden I realized I was thirteen blocks further away from where I thought I was because “math” and so I hailed a cab that was stopped at a light and I was like ‘can you just drop me at 40th because I’m lazy’ and he was like “sure it’s OK” (when run-on sentences are a technique of your prose it’s OK).
So there I am in this cab just riding thirteen blocks because I’m a POS, and I’m just sitting there and I thought to myself “My God, Jesse…you are so cool. I love you.” And it was a very, very genuine moment where I really did think I was very very cool in my lil cab being all New York, just like little 12-year old Jesse would have wanted.
And then, of course, immediately I’m like “whoa whoa whoa you are NOT allowed to think you’re cool that is SELFISH.” And so then I pondered briefly if I should ask the cabby if HE thought I was cool but then I was like “no…not only are you carrying a giant purse AND wearing a tiny backpack…you are weilding one of those opens-inside-out fancy pants umbrellas with f****n’ Starry Night Van Gogh on it. This cabby thinks you’re a priss and NOTTTTT cool for making him drive you thirteen blocks!”
And then I thought…ya know? What even IS cool anyway? And when did I first start questioning my coolness? (This really happened. I really do ponder cliches in cars quite often).
And I thought all the way back to Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies by Hilaire Belloc, which was my favorite book as a kid until I realized that other children didn’t also love this hilarious tale of a girl who told so many lies that no one listened when her house was on fire and she was calling out “FIRE FIRE FIRE HELP ME PLEASE” and so she burned alive. My favorite part of the book went a little something like this:
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street —
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) — but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
BOMB DOT COM and I couldn’t wait to bring it in to school when it was my turn to share my favorite book…but the teacher was all
“ummm where did you get this book.”
And I said
“ummm my AUNT who works for the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!!!”
She didn’t care about my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress. She said the book was too disturbing. And I said
“Uhh, I think everybody already knows this story…”
And she said…
”No Jesse. I really don’t think they do.”
As a matter of fact, everyone DID know this story…as the boy who cried wolf. But as I soon learned in the cafeteria when I told my friends my book had been rejected, NONE of them had heard the cute story about Matilda who burns alive in her house while her family is at the theatre.
And it was at this moment that I took pause and said WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE…am I strange? Cause it kinda sounds like I might be strange.
So in case I lost you somewhere in that anecdote, the story about ‘Matilda who told such dreadful lies it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes’ did NOT mess me up.
Learning I was the ONLY ONE who loved this story messed me up.
If it wasn’t made abundantly clear by the fact that I liked such a f***ed up book that was given to me by my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress (JEAN), I was, and am strange.
And I don’t say this in a “Zooey Deschanel quirky girl, ironic shrug” kind of way. No offense to that. That’s it’s own thing. She’s great. It’s great.
But I am just plain old strange. And I fought it for a long time, especially in my twenties.
In fact I think I spent most of my twenties in denial about it. I tried for years to curb the things about me that are strange:
-I tried to post on Instagram what I thought you were supposed to post on Instagram, but it all felt so forced and dumb that I ultimately deleted it for six months and want to delete it again.
-I tried to do the things in NYC that people think are fun like brunch, and drinking til you puke and black out, but I always end up back in my room in a kimono watching Serial Killer documentaries, drinking Diet Coke and diffusing peppermint oil.
-I tried to overcome my irrational fear of brushing my teeth in the same bathroom I poop in, but some days I’m just not strong enough and I have to brush my teeth when I get to work.
-I tried to keep that toothbrush/pooping thing a secret and succeeded until now.
-I stayed two years too long in a relationship with someone I knew was not my person because it seemed easier to just follow the “engaged by 25 married by 27” route the majority of friends were on.
-I stifled and ignored my OCD so badly it burst, and I lost two friends in the process.
-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.
-I tried to hate a friend who actually faked cancer for years–tried hard to feel the hatred that everyone else involved was feeling toward her for doing such a terrible thing…but just couldn’t muster a hatred I didn’t feel. And she remains my close friend to this day.
-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.
-I TRIED TO TALK LESS ABOUT CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL SAD.
I MADE APOLOGIES FOR MY HAVING CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE YOUSAD.
Tsk tsk tsk. Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.
But all those things…I tried and failed. I’m just strange, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the strangest things that ever happened to me.
The day I found out about my tumor I had an incredible moment of clarity that I’ve never been able to forget. I only ever shared it once, doing EMDR therapy for PTSD. Because before now, I thought it was crazy. Way too strange to be shared.
But that day back in ‘08, we were waiting–had been waiting for hours, to see somebody. Outside the office building in the middle of a friggin Nor’easter, my dad had taken me to get some air. He was trying to keep me calm, telling me we didn’t know anything for sure yet. Maybe whatever they saw on the MRI would be benign, maybe it was not what we were all hoping it wasn’t.
He pulled me into a big hug and I buried my face in his chest…and in that moment, seemingly out of nowhere, this warmth came over me and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did, indeed, have cancer. It wasn’t just “a gut feeling” or “something I really felt in my heart.” It was like the universe was gifting me this knowledge, whether I wanted it or not.
And it made me smile. I smiled there, in my dad’s arms in the snowstorm. He couldn’t see me, but he’ll know now. I was smiling. Because for that very brief moment it all made sense: This was strange. I was strange. Everything, everything in my life so far had lead me to this moment: this was supposed to happen to me, and like it or not, this was part of the path.
And I smiled. This strange phenomenon was powerful enough to make me smile in the middle of a f*****g tragedy.
And I say that with no sarcasm or dark humor or irony. I guess I would say I consider it the closest I’ve ever been to feeling a psychic phenomenon.
And just as quickly as it came…it passed. Because we all know the story from there…I turn into an adolescent cancer monster. But I thought of that day all the time–that feeling I had. I just could never quite harness it, and use it to help me gain perspective.
Today I can harness it.
You hear people say all the time that you have to love yourself if you’re ever going to love somebody else. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of somebody else. I’ve pondered that cliche many times, in cars, as I’ve been known to do. It never rang true for me. Up until this year, I rejected it because I was SURE I’d never love myself but I definitey didn’t plan on being alone for the rest of my life.
But this year I’ve been changing…mat-oo-ring, if you will. Because now I have a different take. Now I have two issues with it, the main one being that you can’t view part one as a MEANS to part two. Self love should be about loving yourself, period. NOT as a stepping stone to loving someone else…even if it DOES end up being that stepping stone.
I took a class a few weeks ago downtown at The Open Center and the teacher said something like ‘if everyone could really truly love themselves, they wouldn’t need love from others. Any love we got from others would be a bonus.’ I’m paraphrasing. But you get the gist.
That’s what I want. To love myself with the idea that if friends and family come and go…if I never get married…if I never have children…that I have enough love and respect for myself to still have a happy life.
My other problem with that cliche is that as much as we throw around “self-love’ and post memes about self-confidence and being yourself and yada yada yada…we still live in a world where EXPRESSING confidence in yourself puts you at risk of being labeled “self-centered” or “selfish.” And I know it’s a very very fine line between the two…but still…I know I should be able to think I’m cool in a cab without stopping myself and feeling guilty…RIGHT!?
Regardless, I have way more appreciation and love for my strangeness now. And when I have my days of doubt…of which I still have many (don’t think this one little sermon means I’m traipsing around like Mary Sunshine in a crown of daisies all the time) I actually find comfort in thinking back to that one small moment on what was probably the worst day of my life…where some strange force in the universe told me I was precisely where I was supposed to be and it made me smile. I remember that if this universe has enough humor in it’s ether to make me smile on the worst day of life, I can get through today.
The dream has many versions and elements that interchange themselves
over time, but lately the dream has been roughly this:
I inevitably get a letter from the keeper of high school diplomas,
whomever that may be, and he tells me that because I missed so much school
during my senior year, they have to revoke my diploma, and I’ll have to go back
to high school and take half a year of classes in order to get it back.
So I do. I go to
school and I can’t remember my locker combination, so I have to make my way to
the front office, and as I do, I pass swarms of students and realize I don’t
know any of them. All my friends are
obviously gone. At the front office they
give me my schedule—I never end up finding out my locker combination. Depending on the version, I either begin in
band, or I begin in chorus. The
iteration that I’ve been having lately starts me out in chorus, where the
chorus teacher tells me what the musical is for that year, and that he’s
actually really happy I’m back so that I can be in it.
I then have this inner struggle with myself over both
wanting to play the lead, but also not wanting to draw attention to the fact
that I am 28 years old in high school.
Last night’s musical was Phantom of the Opera, and the dream ended
with me resigning myself to the fact that even though I’d wanted to play
Christine Daae since I was 10, it wouldn’t be right, and it would make more sense
to have me play Madame Giry.
I have a dream of
this sort perhaps three or four times a week.
They used to really upset me, but now I’m more upset by the fact that I
still have them, rather than the content.
So the other day I was walking to the train from work. I veered right off of Central Park South, rounding my way to the top of Columbus Circle, and across the street from the train stop was a man sitting on a stool with a pad and paper and a sign that said “Poems, for any occasion.”
I thought it was both clever and stupid. Clever because I’d never seen something like
this before, and maybe a tourist would think it was cool to have some rando in
Central Park write them a poem they could frame or something like that…and
stupid because all the poems I’ve ever loved have seemed so carefully crafted
and masterfully planned out that it never occurred to me you could just write a
poem spur of the moment.
And I began to think about my favorite poem (not that I really know THAT many poems). But my favorite poem is by Sara Teasdale, and it is called “There Will Be Rest.”
There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the rooftops crowned with snow,
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace –above me
Stars I shall find.
I first heard the poem my junior year of high school when I sang in the All State Mixed Chorus. There is an SSAATTBB vocal piece written by Frank Ticheli using this poem as lyrics. And the first time the chorus sang through the piece, I remember wanting to cry. We hadn’t rehearsed it at all yet. The director was just having us plow through the piece to see how well we knew it and to hear how it was going to sound with all these hand-picked voices from across the state of New York. It was incredible, and haunting.
Later that year, we sang it in the select chorus in my high school. I remember being so proud, using my All-State copy with all my previous markings, already knowing the alto 1 part better than everyone else (yeah, I was that kid).
That kid. That
kid, while plagued by all the insecurities any high school kid faces, had NO
insecurities about her talents and abilities.
She had so much confidence that she was going to sing for the rest of
her life, sing on a Broadway stage, sing at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center,
I don’t know what happened to that kid.
I mean, yeah, I do. She had the rug pulled out from under her and got very sick.
But that was so long ago now. It’s over. I know it’s over.
And yet no matter how many times I tell myself I’m well and
healthy and strong, there’s a voice inside me reminding me that I’m not her anymore. I’m not the raw, fearless, HUNGRY
singer/dancer/actor I was.
I think lately I’m starting to accept that I may never be, and that maybe that’s okay…so then what now? It’s been ten years. Ten long years of recovery, denial, suppression, anxiety, PTSD, guilt, shame, anger…all while trying—and for all intents and purposes, succeeding—to be a functional human being.
I wrote in a blog post last year about giving my sister my old bedroom. About how that was “her” room. Old Jesse’s room. High school, singing, happy, eager, HUNGRY Jesse. I wrote that I don’t know her anymore, cannot even remember what it’s like to BE her. To see what she saw, to think as she had. That she’s gone.
After thinking about that poem the other day, after seeing the poet in Central Park, I got home and put on the recording of Frank Ticheli’s There Will Be Rest.
I sat cross-legged in my black leather chair and I sang it to the wall. The whole thing, all six minutes and twenty-three seconds. It’s still there in my brain—that tricky alto line with all it’s dissonance and awkwardness. Still there in me–every rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, plosive, cut-off…
I sang it to the wall, and halfway through I began to cry….because it hit me that she’s still in there somewhere. If I can sing that whole thing ten years later…there’s proof that I was her. That I’m still tethered to her, and maybe that’s why I keep dreaming about her. Maybe she’s trying to tell me she’s still there, and not to miss her or mourn for her.
And maybe this is all a crock of shit and I’m just on my
period and hormonal.
But I don’t think so. Call it the power of poetry, or call it the power of music…maybe call it the power of art in general. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt it’s power so clearly as I did when singing to my wall. It was probably one of my most important performances.
I shared the recording with my mother, who agreed that it’s
such a beautiful piece, but such a sad poem.
And I was kind of surprised because I never thought of it as sad. Yes, I know Sara Teasdale committed suicide…so
if you think about it in that context…yes, it’s very sad.
But I guess—even before being very ill—I always thought it was about the peace that we will find in death, so that we don’t have to fear it.
And if my illness gave me anything worth praising, it is that I have no fear of death. I fear having to say goodbye, yes, and I sometimes fear the pain there may be leading up to it. But death…the actual moment of death—I think that it must be very peaceful. I think there will be the purest, most holy rest, and that’s what Sara was saying.
I sit here and write this and silently scold myself for
writing about illness again, but then it occurs to me that maybe that is the “what
now?” Maybe I spend the rest of my life
coming to peace with what happened to me.
Maybe that’s my purpose. And maybe
my search for peace with my illness is something that could be helpful to other
people, like Sara’s poem was her search for peace, and it helped/helps me.
I know how narcissistic that sounds, but since I began blogging post-cancer, people have seemed genuinely interested in reading about a clueless girl dealing with her cancerous past, working through her repressed memories, swearing up a storm along the way—and then interested still in the “lens” of that same grown-up “girl-child” fumbling around New York City.
I’m very grateful for everyone who’s been reading and who has reached out with supportive words. Many have asked me since my very first blog back in 2012 if I’ve ever thought about writing a book, and obviously I have—I’ve had the thought “it would be cool to write a book.”
And that’s the extent of it, because I cannot write a book—at least not yet. See, writing a book (rather, writing a good book) would require me to get more personal than I’ve ever gotten before.
It’s one thing to write about sloppy drunken New Years’ Eves and subway train car mishaps. It’s easy for me to tell you “yeah it was really hard when I had cancer, and yeah I have OCD too and I struggle,” and you’ll think “oh wow, she’s so strong, I’ll bet it was really difficult, mad props, gurl.” (Or maybe you think “shut up, drama queen, get over it”—to which I invite you to scroll over to the little “X” in the upper right hand corner of your screen.)
No, the kind of book I want to write—the kind of writing on the whole that I’d eventually like to graduate to—involves a grittiness that I’m not quite ready for. It involves naming names. It involves sharing the most embarrassing parts of me. And most importantly, it involves exposing the really, really ugly parts.
There are a lot of ugly parts.
And not just ugly like, “oh yeah the throw up in the cab tasted like shishito pepper.”
Ugly like the narcissism behind dating a guy named Jesse for nine months who makes you feel like shit all the time, but hey, his name’s Jesse.
Ugly, like accusing your sister of only being nice to you when she needs to write a good essay about “overcoming obstacles.”
Ugly like locking yourself in the bathroom and smashing your bald-ass head against the door over and over and over again until your mom threatens to call a suicide hotline.
Yes, there’s a plethora of ugliness spanning the decade. And THAT’s the book I want to write. And let me tell you, its not an uplifting one. At least not just yet—because I’m still not a good person. I’m a better person. But I’m far from good.
I don’t have the guts to write that book yet. But I will. I’ve just got to work my way up to it—and start getting a bit more candid.
I think lately my grandmother has been trying to give me that push—from wherever she is. She’s been appearing in my dreams for the past week (two weeks, if you include the dreams where I’m at her house playing on the staircase).
One dream about my grandmother isn’t enough to shake me. I love her. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever known and when I dream about her it feels like a sign that she’s chillin’ around me. But more than a few dreams, and I feel the guilt.
The guilt that I ruined her entire last year of life. Destroyed it.
She died three days after the doctors declared my remission. She spent her last Christmas in a hospital with me. Her daughter (my mother), barely got to see her during her final year on Earth because of me.
And so goes the Grandmother Guilt Loop. It repeats and repeats and repeats until I remember her heart attack mid-year. And then the guilt switches focus.
It transfers from my grandmother to Sean.
Sean and I began dating in September of my senior year of high school—about three months before my diagnosis. We were both in marching band, and shared the same circle of friends. He’d been king of the Junior Prom and I always teased him about it.
I barely remember what we were like before December. But I remember the big boulder we used to sit on at King Park. We had many conversations there, and a fight once, too—a stupid high school argument I can’t even remember.
The last time we hung out before shit hit the fan was in his furnished basement. I had just come back to Syracuse from the All-State concert and was chattering away about how I’d swiped something from the hotel gift shop and then felt so guilty about it that I went and put it back.
That was my great drama back then.
A week later I’d had my biopsy. He came over the next morning along with a few others who’d gotten the “Jesse might have cancer” call. I remember there being coffee and chocolate milk and donuts and bagels, like a “welcome to the oncoming hell” reception.
I remember saying “if this is cancer, you should duck out.”
He didn’t answer.
When I was finally diagnosed on December 23rd he came to see me in the hospital after school and sat with me all night. I couldn’t move—could only lay on my stomach because of the position of the tumor, and I remember him sneaking me plates of snacks from the nurse’s Christmas party. He sat beside me while my parents got all the gruesome details of my condition from the oncologist. He distracted me from it, because I just couldn’t listen.
That night I whispered to him, “You didn’t sign up for this, Sean. It’s okay to end things here.”
He said, “I’m fine.”
If you’ve read my cancer survivorship blog you know what happens next: I devolve into a horrible, nasty, fire-breathing monster. Because what I hated more than the cancer, more than the chemo, more than the mouth sores and constipation and catheters and pills and vomit and the sound of children dying around me…was pity.
I guarantee you, friends and friends-of-my-parents-who-read-this-blog: if you dropped off food at my house, if you called our landline to check in on me, if you sent me a stuffed animal or a basket of Bath and Body Works crap…or GOD forbid one of those faceless angel statues…I spent at least ten minutes cursing and ranting about it. Maybe I did it right in front of you. Maybe you heard me in the background on the phone. Or maybe you caught me on a good day and I waited for you to be out of earshot before I hurled obscenities about your stupid charity and how if you ever brought your nosy ass back around here I’d unhook this mother-f***ing machine and beat the living hell out of you.
If you think I’m exaggerating…well…I wish I was. Because what I realized within three days of my diagnosis was if you hated me…if you thought I was a foul-mouthed, nasty little bitch…there was no way you could feel sorry for me.
Imagine being my boyfriend.
Imagine being the guy who can’t snuggle with his girlfriend or even really hug or kiss her because she has no immune system most of the time. So imagine you get as close as you can and sometimes, mindlessly, you stroke her hand or her arm ever so gently.
Now imagine she slaps your hand away and demands that you stop petting her because she’s not a f***ing puppy.
Imagine this happens A LOT.
Despite my development into bald Maleficent, Sean stuck by me. During my second chemo I developed a blood infection and was in the hospital for a few weeks straight. Sean would drive up after school and if he couldn’t see me, he’d leave notes with the nurses, all folded up on loose leaf in that high-school-note-passing way.
If I was napping he’d play games with my sister and Payton (my tough-talking, 3 year-old roommate who had leukemia and cheated at cards something awful).
He became a trusted member of my family. Eventually it was part of his routine to just go wherever I was after school. He’d run errands for my parents. He’d help my sister with her math homework. He’d sit and watch the same episodes of Family Guy over and over again with me.
So when my grandmother had her heart attack on the day I was supposed to have a 12 hour chemo drip, he told my parents to go take care of her—he would give up his Saturday plans to take me and sit with me at the hospital for my treatment.
Amazing person, right?
He most certainly is.
And I resented him something fierce. I didn’t realize I resented him at the time, but I know it now.
Here was Sean, again, to the rescue, but ya know what? I had never asked him to come to my rescue. In fact, I had tried to get him to go away. I gave him an out RIGHT from the very beginning, and maybe I should’ve just said “this is over.”
But now we were stuck together to the bitter end of this nightmare. I couldn’t break up with him after all he’d done and he couldn’t break up with me in the middle of cancer and so now we were trapped (ugly, ugly, ugly, right?). But the most f***ed up part is that neither one of us WANTED to break up. Neither one of us loved the other person any less.
We just didn’t want THIS.
We wanted the high school cafeteria and the prom. We wanted Saturday nights with our friends and fooling around in the basement. We wanted to date the people we had STARTED dating.
Instead, I was a very angry, and very sick little girl and he was one of my caretakers. Our Saturday nights were spent on my couch with him stroking my arm and me yelling at him to stop stroking my arm.
But on we plunged…Sean constantly by my side through all my antics. Antics bad enough that hospital staff sat me down and told me that there were too many complaints about my behavior, and something was going to have to change. I was going to have to be nicer.
You can imagine how well I took that.
But Sean was so freaking zen about it all.
Except for one night. One night when he really told me the truth about his life…we got to arguing about something. Honestly, he was probably petting me and I probably snapped. And he broke. I remember him saying “you have no idea how hard this has been for me.”
In the moment I was furious. “Please, Sean, tell me how hard MY cancer is for YOU?”
“Well, you’re not around anymore at school and it sucks! I know you can’t be there, but it’s still hard not having you there! Walking into the cafeteria and seeing all the other couples sitting together and I’m alone.”
I was silent as a stone. He continued,
“And you say some really hurtful things and you just have no idea how they impact people!”
“What have I EVER said to you, Sean!?”
“Remember when there were no beds on the oncology floor and you had to stay on a different floor and those doctors came in with the heavy accents? And you SCREAMED that someone needed to find you some doctors that spoke some goddamn English?”
Of course I did. I remembered every day, every hour, every minute, every second of this fresh hell.
“You know you might as well have been yelling at half of the people in my family, right? Half of my family doesn’t speak fluent English and you know that! I couldn’t believe you would say that, and RIGHT in front of me!”
Got me there, partner. I was an asshole.
It was quiet for a very long time.
I started to cry. He started to cry.
“I’m sorry I said that. I truly am. And I’m sorry that I can’t be at school…but I’m not twiddling my thumbs over here. I’m fighting.”
End soap opera scene.
And although the scene ends with me semi-apologizing, I just couldn’t offer sympathy, empathy, or anything like it at the time. Husbands and wives are torn apart by illness. Try being teenagers. It’s not “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s not a tragic love story. It’s just tragic.
I feel so much guilt now when I think of Sean, because it wasn’t until after we stopped speaking that I could see how much pain he must’ve been in. How it wasn’t just my senior year of high school that was destroyed.
It was his as well.
We stayed together through my freshman year in college (his sophomore year). But no matter how hard we tried to be a “normal” couple again…we couldn’t escape our roles of “Jesse the patient” and “Sean the caretaker.”
We haven’t spoken in at least seven years, if not eight. For the first few years after our break-up I would try to reach out every once in a while and see how he was. After all—he’d been practically family. But I got the impression that it wasn’t really good for him to speak to me and eventually stopped.
I deleted him on Facebook in a frenzy of “cancer-versary” anger three Decembers ago. It made me—and still makes me, sometimes—so upset that the only person besides my immediate family members who knows the most intimate details of what went down that year has chosen to leave me and those memories behind.
And then I realize I’m not upset by it. I’m jealous.
I am so jealous that he has the option to put those memories in the past…but I’m forced to live with them forever. At every check up. At every twinge in my back. At every painful muscle spasm. And every time I set foot in my own home.
I can’t escape it…but Sean could. And I’m glad he did. He chose to fight the fight by my side, and that was more than he ever needed to do. So he should get to choose to leave it behind. I don’t know if he’ll ever see this, but if he does:
Sean—Thank you for everything you did for me and my family. Please don’t ever think we could forget. We never, ever forget. I said earlier that my grandmother is one of the best people I’ve ever known…you are, too.
New Years Day 2017 began with my head in a toilet, my favorite pink polyester crop sweatshirt stained with puke in an old Target shopping bag, and Gwen Stefani blaring from my cell phone in a plastic Christmas mug for classy amplification.
I had arrived.
Or so I’d thought. See, two months prior, my boyfriend of almost five years and I had broken up in “a scandal,” and I had somehow come out the good guy, the one everyone sympathized with—even though I shouldn’t have been. I‘d been a nasty, vindictive priss who’d made his life hell for months (I’m nothing if not self-aware) and I was reaping what I’d sewn.
But not only had I emerged as the good girl who’d been wronged—I was also the newly single hot chick.
“Wow, Single Jesse has so many potential suitors!” my friend from college had remarked when I called to spill the tea.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I’d replied as if bored by the whole ordeal.
But I knew it was true. Working in a close-knit performing arts community news travelled fast, “couples” were defined quickly, and everyone assumed a label: drunk, player, stoner, crazy, clinger, desperate, taken, single. It was like college.
It was like high school.
And my label had changed. I was fresh on the market, I knew it, everyone else knew it, and I was enjoying the attention—and I’ll never admit it out loud. Only here, in this random, obscure blog that doesn’t matter (that you may not “like” or “share” on Facebook, BUT THAT I KNOW FOR A FACT YOU READ BECAUSE THE VIEW COUNT DOESN’T LIE. YUP I AM MOST DEFINITELY TALKING TO YOU, SPECIFICALLY).
But yes. I loooooooved the attention. I loved being talked about, and I loved that I was finally having my crazy breakout drunken single girl phase.
And so there I was, puking in the toilet, listening to Gwen taunt me from the plastic mug: “take a chance you stupid hoe…”
…when I had the ultimate basic drunk girl moment:
OMG THIS SONG IS LIKE, MY LIFE RIGHT NOW! I SHOULD TAKE MORE CHANCES. AND I AM A STUPID HOE.
I scanned the room. Eyed the sweatshirt in its Target bag (while all the other girls had opted for semi-formal dresses and heels for the New Year’s Eve bash, I had insisted on that hot pink crop sweatshirt with the giant blinged-out mouth on the front, a black mini skirt, and chunky black boots). I’d spilled a cup of water by the bed. The curtains had been drawn to keep out the stupid f***ing sun.
I’d made out with the guy I wasn’t supposed to make out with for the upteenth time. I took shots from anyone who gave them to me, even though I had built up exactly ZERO tolerance and was a complete lightweight. My best friend at the party had to situate me in an Uber and make me promise not to puke (I was only now remembering as I came across the Venmo I’d sent him at 4:00am…or that he had sent himself from my phone after he put me to bed).
It occurred to me that I was a 25 year-old “Tik-Tok” Ke$ha.
And it probably wasn’t as cute as I thought it was.
But still, for whatever reason…maybe it was Gwen Stefani repeatedly asking me what I was waiting for and calling me a stupid hoe? Maybe I was still a little drunk? Or maybe (most likely), I was still just hurt enough over my break-up to think, “nope. This is the right thing. 2017 is MY year to be a hot single mess. I’m on the RIGHT track.”
Ha. Right track, my ass.
While my “hot single mess” year was not nearly as bad as it could have been (or as pukey as it began), it was messy enough to make me feel not good about myself. To give me some cringe-worthy memories. To have me barking up all the wrong trees as far as dating, looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and ultimately ending said year by walking out of a job in the middle of the day and leaving town.
So, naturally of course, I decided that 2018 was the year I’d really, really have it all together. Everything was going to fall into place in 2018. Everything was going to make sense. Success was imminent! The universe would deliver!
While I wouldn’t say the year’s been a total wash, I would say I made a BUTT-load of pretty significant mistakes. I know we are supposed to make mistakes, and I know as long as we learn from them, they’re supposedly a-okay. But what bothers me about these mistakes is that they all came about as a result of the following:
I ignored my conscience, my instincts, and my gut more in 2018 than in any other year I can remember.
I said “f**k you, Jiminy Cricket, I’m just gonna go along with this a while longer even though everything in me is screaming that it’s probably wrong for me.”
As we approach a new year, I can feel my OCD-control gears turning, saying “this is the year we have to X or Y or Z! You have to make a plan! Label this year!” I think it also has to do with feeling like I’m on borrowed time; like, I was really, really sick, and still have health issues so I feel like I gotta make every year a freaking milestone year because I’m on borrowed time and could kick it tomorrow? Ya know? I guess I pressure myself to figure out how each year will sit on the timeline. Gotta have my “hot mess” phase, I gotta have my “getting it together” phase. I gotta get on the right track!
So I’ve decided this year that I’m just not gonna. No tracks this year. I’m not making this the year of anything. No time constraints. No resolutions. Nothing—because there is just no way of knowing what’s coming down the pike.
I make no promises, and I have no expectations.
I’m telling myself the only thing I need to do this year is be kind to others (and to myself) and keep up with my responsibilities. But to put any other parameters on it feels false.
I don’t vow to be more or do more of anything.
Maybe that sounds lazy. But I really don’t care.
I have a short list of things I’d like to do in 2019. I’d like to play my new oboe a lot. I’d like to find good help in New York for my OCD (and for maybe figuring out how to trust my gut a little bit more). I’d like to travel to a new city. I’d like to volunteer in some way. And I’d like to write in this blog more than once every other month or so.
But there will be no rules. And if those things don’t happen, then oh well. There’s next year. Or maybe there’s not. Either way…
It’s just 2019 and I’m going to take it as it comes. I might have hot mess moments, and I might have getting it together moments—and maybe at the END of the year I’ll be able to say…”yeah, this was the year I really BLANK and it was definitely the year of BLANK.”
But right now, this is just the year I have a year.
When I was ten years old, my mom woke me up one Saturday and said “I got you a ticket for The Phantom of the Opera.”
I thought that sounded pretty horrifying both in the “phantom/spooky”-ness and the “opera being loud and boring”-ness of it.
She continued, something along the lines of “You’re not going to know what’s happening in the story and I’m not going to want to explain it to you at the show since I’ll be boozing it up with my work friends enjoying a night at the theat-re, so today you are going to sit in this chair with this big “THE COMPLETE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” book, and you are going to listen and follow along and ask me any questions you have.”
I sat in the big green rocking chair with a blanket on my lap and this book that really was everything you could ever want to know about Phantom of the Opera. From information on Gaston Leroux’s novel to Lon Chaney’s silent movie, to a horrifying picture of Michael Crawford with his Phantom make-up on, sans mask.
In the back of the book was the complete libretto. And my mother, God bless her, had two white cassette tapes. On the front and back of the first one was Act I, and the front and back of the second was Act II. And off we went. She’d play a scene and press STOP. She’d explain what was going on and what the sometimes flowery language meant. Then she’d ask me if it made sense. If it did, we’d move on. (NOTE: a year later we tried this same method with Miss Saigon. Needless to say, I was not about to ask my mom such questions as, “what does ‘If I’m your pin-up I’ll melt all your brass,’ mean?”)
I definitely wasn’t hating this Phantom shit. It was a spooky ghost story about a pretty ballerina who learns to sing from this disfigured man who calls himself “the Angel of Music” and “Opera Ghost” and lives in the depths of the Opera House where she works. He falls in love with her and becomes obsessed with her and would do anything to have her including killing a bunch of people and throwing fire balls from a skull on a stick and being super extra. He had a boat. He had a cape. He had a freaky Red Death costume to wear to parties. What was not to like?
At one point my mom read aloud, “say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime. Lead me, save me from my solitude.” She sighed her emotional, sympathetic “poor thing” sigh I was used to hearing if I was running a fever or if I threw up in the middle of the night.
“Do you know what that means, Jess? He’s asking her to save him from his loneliness.”
‘Yeah. Cool. Bring back the boat. Who else gets whacked?’ By the end of our listening sesh, I’d say I was pretty curious about what seeing the show live would be like. Not bursting at the seams with excitement or anything. But like, a Peter Griffin-level curiosity: “Hey…let’s see the ugly half of your face!”
As prepped as I was to understand the plot at even the most confusing moments…I was just completely unprepared for the emotional effect this show was going to have on me. Not only was it the most visually stunning and impressive thing I had ever, ever seen in my ten years of existence…it emotionally gutted me.
This super extra ugly ghost guy became this very real, broken human being who’d been shunned by the world, and tried just ONE time to get someone to love him…and failed. He didn’t win, and I’d rooted so hard for him. Even after he’d dropped a chandelier on everybody. Even after he’d committed murder! I was with him.
After seeing the show, all of my free time was spent camped out on my bedroom floor with my ear pressed to the speaker of my boom box, replaying those white cassette tapes—big Phantom book spread out before me. Trying as hard as I could to recreate the feelings I’d had in the theater that day. Rewinding the last ten minutes over and over again….ROOTING for the Phantom each time, and weeping into my hands when he failed. I remember feeling this DEEP need to see it again. And then again. And then again.
Last night I saw it for the (roughly) fifteenth time. I decided to buy the ticket spur of the moment. I was talking with someone about Broadway shows, Phantom came up, and immediately just thought “oh my god, I need to see that show right now.” With the speedy “I dare you to click it” of a button on my phone, the ticket was purchased.
I wrote a very brief post last week about my current up-tick in OCD symptoms, and the difficulties it’s come with lately. I mentioned there not being much I could do right away to feel better. Well…this definitely wouldn’t be a permanent fix…but it’d surely help somehow…right?
And, of course, barely two minutes into the show, I was immersed, and my mind was focused on the world I knew so well. There, just like I needed him to be, was the auctioneer standing over the big chandelier under its dusty cloth where it always was. He moved us, monotone, through the Chalumeau poster, and the three skulls, and then he auctioned off the papier mache musical box, complete with its “figure of a monkey in Persian robes playing the cymbals—this item discovered in the vaults of the theater, still in working order.”
Raoul would bid. Madame Giry would bid. Raoul would bid once more and win. He’d utter the first sung words of the score:
A collector’s piece indeed…Every detail, exactly as she said.She often spoke of you my friend,Your velvet lining, and your figurine of lead.Will you still play when all the rest of us are dead? *note: all lines are quoted from memory. Soo. Pretty cool, right?
We hadn’t even heard the famous Overture yet, and I had bullet-sized tears raining down my cheeks. The 19-year old next to me who’d been taking snapchats with her boyfriend before the show was full on glaring at me.
And I didn’t care.
The chandelier sparks and begins to rise into place while the familiar theme plays. Carlotta comes out with the severed head, and the rehearsal for Hannibal begins. Piangi can’t climb the elephant, as always. Madame Giry bangs her cane on the floor at the exact, precise times.
A funny thought enters my brain: it’s kinda like the perfect OCD ritual. Ha.
Carlotta begins “Think of Me” and does her familiar scarf-ography. Backdrop falls. Chaos ensues. Joseph Bouquet, chief of the flies:
“Please, Monsieur, don’t look at me. As God’s my witness I was not at my post. Please, monsieur there’s no one there—And if there is, well, it must be a ghost”
SCREAM. SHRIEK. PANIC. He’s here: The Phantom of the Opera!
‘OMG…this IS kinda the perfect OCD ritual…’ Christine finishes HER first verse of “Think of Me”, and the music swells—she’s won the part! She backs up, and members of the ensemble help her change into her Hannibal gown.
This makes me cry. A frantic inner-dialogue begins:
‘JESSE, WHY ARE YOU CRYING AT THE COSTUME CHANGE?’
‘BECAUSE IT’S THE SAME COSTUME CHANGE! JUST LIKE IT WAS EVERY OTHER TIME I SAW IT. IT’S SO GOOD TO SEE THE COSTUME CHANGE AGAIN. AND AT THE PERFECT POINT IN THE MUSIC, WE’RE SO HAPPY FOR HER BECAUSE SHE WON THE PART THANKS TO HER CREEPY SHADOW-BOYFRIEND-GHOST’S VOICE LESSONS. IT’S SO BEAUTIFULLY DONE.‘
She may not remember me, but I…..re…..mem…..ber her.
‘WHY ARE WE CRYING FOR RAOUL, JESSE? HE RUINS EVERYTHING, HE F**KS SHIT UP EVERY TIME!!!’
‘Because he’s singing our favorite score! He’s singing the words we love to hear…that we loved to read in our big Phantom book!’
It was then I realized that it wasn’t some big OCD compulsion. It was an antidote.
Sitting in the Majestic Theater, I didn’t have to worry. It was my show. It’s the choreography and blocking I saw at age ten when the show first rocked my world and awakened in me some very adult emotions that I’d never felt before.
It’s the melodies and notes I craved when I was sick and depressed and would only agree to go on a scary trip to Sloan-Kettering for an exam if we could see Phantom of the Opera the night before. On that trip my dad had remarked how physically happy he could tell I was when I watched the show. Even with no immune system, and no hair, and no certain future. “If I could take you to see The Phantom of the Opera every day, I would,” he’d said.
Many people I meet, especially those in the theater world, don’t understand my love for Phantom of the Opera. A lot of people just don’t get the show and don’t get how it has lasted so long. And, of course, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one. And should have one. I imagine it would be pretty problematic if you didn’t.
But one of the biggest reasons I love The Phantom of the Opera is that it gives me a place to be—it puts me in a WORLD—where everything is just as beautiful as it was the last time I visited. Where everything unfolds before me just the way I know it will. It is—for me—one giant exhale. It soothes the beast—the compulsive need to control things and make things perfect.
I took the subway home after the show. One of my compulsions of late has been a high anxiety over the cleanliness of the subways and I’ve wasted a good portion of the new money I’m making on taking Ubers and Uber pools everywhere because I’m just too paranoid to ride the subway. But after the show, I took the subway and wasn’t afraid and didn’t even douse all my belongings with rubbing alcohol the way I’ve been known to do lately. I feel better. Not fixed. But better. Isn’t it kind of amazing what art and music can do?
So basically all I have to do is try to see Phantom at least once a week, and I’m cured.
But so far today even just listening to the score has been calming. Whatever helps right? It’s helping me get through the day. Was blasting in my ears when I forced myself to ride the subway. Last night I sat beside a kind old British man at the show who chatted with me about musicals. He cried with me at all the parts that are actually supposed to make you cry—not because they’re familiar costume changes and it’s making you emotional, but because it is touching and beautiful and sad.
It got me thinking about why people do still come in droves to see this show. And I think it has a lot to do with this ultimate subconscious fear we all have that we will not be accepted. That we could be cast off and shunned by society. That we are unlovable, and if we try to give love we will be rejected and end up alone. That—as my mom so sighed over when we read the score together—no one can lead us or save us from solitude. Our one chance at love will leave us for another, forcing us to end the music of the night, hide under our cloaks, and disappear. We come to the Phantom to root against that.
I once listened to a conversation with Hal Prince where he said that when the show was in rehearsals there was a big discussion over whether or not the audience should be rooting for the Phantom. It was ultimately decided that they should be.
I know I always do.
I love this show. I feel as though I will probably…PROBABLY…see it again. Because for me, I suppose, there is nothing sweeter in this whole word than the moment where the dance sequence ends, the music rallentandos, and on the perfect beat the entire cast snaps into perfect alignment on the staircase, each covering half of their face with one palm to sing: Masquerade! Paper faces on parade! Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you!
But every year, without fail, I find myself counting down the days until it’s over.
For most of the past ten years it’s been because it’s the anniversary of the tumultuous month of my cancer diagnosis where I was in and out of doctor’s offices and no one could tell me why my mobility was decreasing day by day until I had to be cathetarized and doped up on morphine. And they were like “oh ya my bad, big tumor, so sorry.” Sad story, tiny violins, how traumatic yadda yadda yadda.
This year I was like hey cool, I’m gonna enjoy the Christmas season and be like “oh look at the lights” and shit, and peppermint lattes, and pretending to be mad about the 24 hour Christmas radio station. I have a new job that I’m enjoying, more money that I’m enjoying…
However, no amount of holly jolly bullshit has been able to cover up the fact that I’m in the midst of one of the worst OCD flare-ups I’ve had in years.
You may not have realized I even had OCD because I’m usually going on and on about one of the other things wrong with me. Even I forget sometimes. It’s a phantom illness that I can’t pinpoint as easily as I can my kidney issues, or other impairments left over from the cancer.
But right now—man it’s bad. There’ve been a few clear triggers over the past few weeks that have brought it on but truthfully, I don’t give it the proper attention it deserves. I don’t check in and re-evaluate it’s status in my life as often as I should. Maybe if I did, when triggers came on, I wouldn’t be so susceptible.
You may be wondering where all of this is going. But I don’t really think it’s going anywhere. It occurred to me I hadn’t written in a while and that maybe my struggle right now is something I should get down in writing. And then I thought, “no, wait until you’ve gotten the proper help and are through it and feeling better. Then write about it.”
But—and no offense at all to the brave people who step forward to talk about mental illness—I feel as though that is often the approach taken. People suffer through something and then come forward to speak about it and shed light on it and shit. When it’s all over. Which, yeah, is important for people to see. It’s important to see people who’ve come out on the other side of it and gotten it under control.
But maybe the way I can make this post helpful to both me and maybe to someone else is to show you my real-time struggle. It’s rightnow. I’m in the thick of it guys. I’m so stressed out that I wake up in the middle of the night covered in blotchy hives. Therefore I’m not well-rested, and can barely sleep—but it’s easier to keep trying to sleep, because at least if I’m sleeping, I’m not obsessing. I’m not picking at things, overthinking things.
Iknow logically when thoughts I’m having or compulsions I’m partaking in are irrational. I KNOW these things. But it’s like there’s this whole chunk of my brain that just doesn’t give a flying fuck. And right now, I can’t seem to talk it back and keep it in check. I normally do a pretty good job…but lately I just can’t remember how to do it.
So what’s a gal to do?
Well, yesterday I went home to Syracuse to see my old therapist and make a plan. Although “making a plan” actually means coming up with a solution that has many steps and takes time to complete. I know it’s necessary, of course. But it doesn’t supply immediate relief. Yes, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my medication and yes, it’s way past due for me to find a specialist in the city where I can go talk about my feelings. But like…what can I do right the fuck now? That doesn’t involve taking more pills?
Mental illness, folks. It sucks to talk about. I hate talking about it, which is why I’m making myself talk about it. OCD is no joke—please consider that the next time you use it as an adjective to describe yourself as “organized.”
I’ll be okay though. I’ll get it under control—I have before. It’s been a part of me since I was ten years old and could only sleep if everyone and everything in my house was carefully placed in the room of my choosing. I just figured I don’t write in this blog nearly as much as I should, and maybe it might be helpful for me to share my current struggle. And maybe if you are currently struggling, you will feel better knowing that life is hard and others are struggling, too, right at this very moment in time.
I’m here if anyone needs me. In return, you just might have to listen to a laundry list of my current fears and look at pictures of my hives.
I had a lot of trouble writing this. Well, I had trouble STARTING to write this–pushing myself to do it. I tend to not take very strong stands on hot topics and politics and basically anything someone could argue with me about because I WILL scroll through comments and cry if I think someone is mean. And I think everyone is mean. I work in the service industry.
You’ll notice that the closest I get to a really touchy subject usually involves playing the cancer card in some respect because I know the majority of the people who read my posts wouldn’t dare challenge me on that subject knowing my body withstood the most excruciating test of physical pain and discomfort, and that I have become a fully functional (if not semi-neurotic), well-adjusted human being despite the fact that I’ve been pushed to the brink of sanity, looked death in the face, and said “not today Satan!”
But I digress.
So here I am, about to do this! Consider this me working through my feelings on recent events. Because that’s really what it is.
I remember when the #metoo movement started, and I remember being one of the women who posted #metoo on Facebook. I’m fortunate enough to have never been raped or sexually assaulted, but I’ve definitely been sexually harassed sometimes to the point where I’ve had to remove myself from a situation or avoid certain people at old jobs and make sure I’m wearing loose, baggy clothing and a skull cap while walking home.
I got followed once after work, and was able to deter the guy by pulling out my pepper spray and giving it a test run on the sidewalk. And yeah, that shook me up a little bit, but I shrugged it off and was like “ehh, that’s NYC for ya.”
Donald Trump was elected president even after he bragged on tape about “grabbing women by the pussy” and forcefully making out with them–and I was like “okay, but is he gonna take away my health insurance? There will be adults keeping him in line, right?”
This past year, well-respected people, many of them actors, were outed as former and current perverts and I was like “oh that’s gross. RIP President Underwood.” And I kept on my merry way.
I’m not proud of my complacency. But it was there. I was pretty ho hum about it all–and I’m very sorry for that now.
It took the most recent events to jolt me awake. I sat on my couch watching Christine Blasey Ford testifying about what was done to her all those years ago and I was shook. Tears welled up in my eyes, and every time my roommate tried to make a comment during the hearing I snapped at her, kept having to apologize. “I’m sorry, I’m just fired up. I’m so fired up.”
After Ford’s testimony I was even angrier and even more on edge. As I walked to work, a catcaller said something to me–couldn’t hear him because my earbuds were in. But I stopped in my tracks, pulled out my earbuds and spat “DOES THAT EVER WORK?”
“W–what?” he said, shocked.
“I said ‘does that ever work?’ “
What the hell was my deal? And I know you must be thinking, “what do you mean ‘what’s your deal?’ It was very emotional and upsetting!”
But why now? Why was THIS the thing that was finally waking me up to this whole #metoo movement? It wasn’t Donald Trump or Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer or Aziz Ansari or my beloved Chuck Bass AKA Ed Westwick.
I was not a victim of sexual assault. I was not a victim of rape. Why couldn’t I keep it together?
And then a few days later I was reminded of an incident that happened to me back in June. An incident that I had been reporting to many people as a funny story–a funny thing that happened to me. An incident that was maybe having more of an impact on me than I realized.
And so in light of these recent events, I admitted to myself that I’d been telling this “funny story” with a forced smile. Forcing myself to laugh, because realizing the dark side of it was icky and gross and besides–nothing even really happened.
I was NOT sexually assaulted.
I want to begin by saying that I take full responsibility for my actions. I was stupid. Proof to naysayers, I hope, that women CAN fess up when they make a mistake. We don’t claim to be innocent angels all the time.
But back in June, I met a guy at work who struck up a conversation with me and was gorgeous and smooth-talkin’ and seemed to take a genuine interest in me. We talked about the restaurant and how I loved where I worked and it took me a long time to find a service industry job I could stand. We exchanged names. He got up to leave and I said “maybe I’ll see you around.”
He said “you will.”
And I didn’t.
But three weeks after we met, I found his name and phone number sneakily written on a business card that was NOT his but was left at the desk (presumably at some point that night when I had walked away).
I had been dating somebody pretty regularly until then, but he was gone for six weeks and at that point we hadn’t decided we were exclusive–so I figured what did I have to lose?
“Would you think I was a total idiot if I told you I JUST found your phone number from three weeks ago? –Jesse” SEND
Fast forward another week, and we had a date to meet for drinks after work.
The day of the date, I was physically nauseous. I had never been out on a date with someone who was not involved in the arts in some respect. With someone who had a real big boy 9-5 job where he made big boy money and had a big boy apartment on the East side.
What could he possibly have in common with a wannabe actress who had no direction or clue what she was doing with her life? He obviously just wanted to hook up, right? Did I just want to hook up? No, I didn’t. I wasn’t looking for that. Maybe I should cancel. Maybe I didn’t even want to go out on this date. Maybe what I really wanted was for ‘other boy’ to come back and confess his love for me and live happily ever after or MAYBE I should just be alone for the rest of my life! Regardless, I was not mentally ready for this date.
He got out of work later than I did, so I decided to go to a bar around the corner and have a glass of wine to calm my nerves. Opening the big glass door of the bar with my heart in my throat, I was relieved to find two co-workers hanging at the bar as well. They called out to me, let me join them. Gave me a shishito pepper and asked me what I wanted to drink.
“Just one glass of sauvignon blanc for me! Just one!”
I let them buy me four. I had four glasses of wine and a shishito pepper. Not exactly a great big meal to soak up all that alcohol. But after the first glass of wine I was so relaxed! I felt so good! After two, I was starting to get excited about my date. After three and four–BEST DATE EVER ALREADY AND IT HADN’T EVEN STARTED!!!! WOOOHOOOO SPRING BREAK!
(——>at this point I feel the need to inform the reader that due to health issues, I really didn’t start drinking until age 23/24, and even then, it was a rare occasion that I had too much–and too much for me is not that much. I’d only ever thrown up twice from drinking, and had only experienced one truly awful hang over where I thought I was dying. So let’s just say we are STILL figuring out our limits<—–)
I received a text an hour later with the name of the place to meet him. I downed a glass of water and walked halfway there before getting an Uber the rest of the way.
When I got to the restaurant, I spotted him sitting at the bar and slinked my way inside unnoticed to use the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and remember thinking “whoa baby, you are drunk.”
But I drank a glass of water…right? I should be fine…right? Just one drink more…right?
I met up with him and we moved to our REAL destination spot which was right next door. He seemed to know everyone who worked there, and we were led to a cozy little corner table. (It did cross my mind…does he do this all the time or something?)
Well, I’m pretty sure I only ORDERED one drink. But by the time I had the first drink (my fifth of the night), my memory started to get fuzzy. I know there were more drinks. They kept appearing. I know he was charming. I know I was charming (shocking, right?). The conversation, from what I remember, flowed effortlessly, thanks to the 5-8 alcoholic beverages of different varieties!
Here’s where the story becomes less silly (and kinda gross).
I know I threw up in the bathroom before I left. I know it must have been pretty clear how drunk I was. I remember holding hands and kissing him outside the restaurant. Not making out. Just kissing him very lightly–it was sweet! (Less sweet when you consider that I probably wreaked of puke and had bits of shishito pepper on my sweater).
…but then the next thing I remember is joining the Ralph Club in the back of a cab. A cab I don’t remember getting into. Heading somewhere–I have no idea where. Presumably to his apartment? But to be honest with you, because of the severity of that black out between the kiss and the vomiting in the cab, I have no freaking idea what happened in between, or what was said. For all I know, he said “hey, wanna get in this cab? I know a sex trafficking ring that’s been looking for a blonde” and I could’ve said “Hellllllllllll yeahhhhhhhh! Let’s do it!”
At this point, I would like to, again reiterate the fact that I drank too much, and that’s on me. I thought I had to prop myself up on alcohol because I wouldn’t be interesting or funny or smart enough. I take responsibility for this. After throwing up in the cab, I know it was ME who flung open the door at the next light with no regard for anything but getting out and getting home. Date over.
To his credit, he paid the fare and got out as well. Followed me, produced a water bottle seemingly from nowhere. I kept trying to get away from him because I was so embarrassed but he kept with me, I’m assuming to make sure I got home okay. He texted me later to make sure I got home okay.
And here’s why it took me so long to feel truly scared by the experience: in the parts of the date I remember, he was a gentleman. I was the drunk, sloppy mess. I was the problem. Leave it to my sister, Jackie, to point out what I wasn’t acknowledging. In recalling my “hilarious disaster date” while we were on vacation, she said “I wanna know where he was taking you in that cab. If he was such a nice, perfect gentleman, why didn’t he send you home BEFORE you threw up in the cab? He must’ve been able to see how drunk you were.”
I didn’t have an answer. I think I just said “ahh well, I was the one who got too drunk.”
I still feel like that. Because it’s true! I put myself in an awful position and it really, truly bothers me to this day. I amsmarter than that. It scares me to think that I was completely unaware of what I was doing and consenting to.
But it’s my fault! I did that! RIGHT!?!? Like I said, working through my feelings folks. Gotta work through my feelings.
I think this occurrence is partially why the Kavanaugh issue woke me up a bit. I realize they are two very different stories, and Christine Blasey Ford was NOT 8 drinks deep when this happened…but even if she was…like…that’s still not okay.
What I think struck a chord with me was the idea that nice guys…perfect gentlemen with big boy jobs and big boy money and East side apartments…perfect gentlemen who coach their daughter’s basketball team and are nominated to the supreme court…can also be NOT-so-nice guys when sex and booze enter the mix. I’m ashamed of that night. I really am. But something still feels icky about it. Something other than my actions.
Surprisingly, he asked me out again…although I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because he liked me or because he didn’t seal the deal. I honestly don’t know. I ended up declining for multiple reasons, one of them obviously being that I was pretty humiliated.
I’m still conflicted by the whole raucous. He seemed like such a nice guy…but also, where were we going? Where did all these extra drinks come from? Wasn’t it obvious I was LIT? Maybe he just didn’t know how bad I’d gotten? But then how was it not obvious?
I wanted to tell this story for two reasons. Reason one being so that I could feel my way through it and sort out my thoughts, as I said before. Reason two being that I think that more women who have NOT been sexually assaulted or raped need to get passionate about what’s going on and not think that these issues are irrelevant to them. Because assaulted or not, these issues are about you and the validity of your experiences and your words.
I’m not saying you need to picket and protest and march–unless you want to! That’s great! That’s activism! But let’s stop being complacent and stay on top of the issues. I hope you’ll look at your dating experiences and make sure the gentlemen are real gentlemen and that you are always giving valid consent. Talk through your experiences with your close friends (and your sisters) so they can say “hey, maybe don’t go out with him again because I don’t like how he did this orthat.” (I hope that doesn’t sound like a battle cry to misinterpret every male gesture as sexual assault–but you know what I mean.) It took Jackie saying “so where was he taking you?” for me to rethink this whole scenario as maybe not the “cutesy drunken tale” I thought it was.
And be NOT LIKE ME on your dates. Keep your wits about you. Take care of each other. Don’t drink to oblivion because you think you’re not enough.
It’s a cautionary tale, too. Don’t think for a minute that I haven’t thanked whatever divine intervention made me vomit back to reality in that cab. Do I think I was about to be brutally sexually assaulted? No. I don’t. Do I think I was probably very likely to find myself having sex in a scenario where I wasn’t really able to give coherent consent? Yes, I do.
If you wanna shoot me a message and discuss, I welcome it. But please don’t try to fight me in the comments section on here or Facebook or anywhere. Because as I’ve said–I’m just sorting through feelings here.
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.