Theme on a Life (or Who TF Keeps Pulling the Rug)

When I was eleven I got boobs.  By twelve, they were huge.  

There were maybe one or two other girls in my class who had boobs.  Instead of “celebrating” puberty and being excited about getting tits like you constantly see on “coming of age” TV shows, I was mortified.  

I felt like a freak.  More than that.  I felt like a monster.  

I could feel boys staring at me.  I could sense girls criticizing my clothes because…I really couldn’t wear the paper-thin Hollister T’s and Abercrombie blouses that all the cool girls were wearing, because I wasn’t flat as a surfboard like the rest of them. 

So when the boobs came, my self-esteem plummeted.  And it stayed that way for years to come.

In high school, I searched for ways to feel loved and accepted.  I found it in two ways:

  1. With boys
  2. On the stage

With boys…well.  I don’t really think I need to expand here.

On the stage…I stood out in the best possible way.  Because I was the best.  I could sing.  I could dance.  I could act.  I could play instruments.

I didn’t stand out the way I did when I got boobs.  It was a good “stand out.”  It made me feel like people actually wondered what it would be like to be me, and envied me for it.  

When I sang, you listened.  If there was a solo, it was mine. 

By my senior year, I was dating the prom king, and was 100% certain I could triple-threat my way into any college musical theater program.  I’d already been to my first professional “cattle call”, and was ready to go out for blood.  

As I stepped off the stage at the end of the Sweet Charity dance audition at my school, I remember thinking “that was the best I’ve ever danced. I am a triple threat.  I am unstoppable.  I am going to be on Broadway.”

I was finally starting to love myself and my body and what I was capable of doing.  

I was proud.

And we all know what happened a month later.  Life forced my mouth open and shoved a cancer-sized pill down my throat.  

Fast forward ten or eleven years, and you’ll find me in New York City.  I attend the occasional audition, but I’ve never quite recovered the “out for blood” confidence I had before I was sick.  The dancing certainly never came back to what it was.  I have no balance.  And when you’re a female auditioning for musicals in New York City, you’re about a dime a dozen, and (especially when you’re short) they expect you to land triple pirouettes.  Doubles at least.  

You also have to sell yourself…which I cannot do.  In my eyes, my hair is mousy and thin and not like it was before, and so therefore I am ugly.  I am also not skinny, so I’m fat.

Did I mention that in musical theater, if you’re not skinny you’re fat?  That’s very important to understand. Not skinny=fat. 

So I immediately walk into any room mentally apologizing for not being skinny and for having bad hair.  

And that kind of attitude doesn’t really get cast often.

So…I find myself in hospitality.  Which, in New York City, is essentially theater, but with food.  But I find myself enjoying it.  I maitre d’ at a fancy Upper East Side restaurant where I help people with their fur coats, and make sure the menu they’ve planned is carefully set at their private table, and I make sure lawyers from competing law firms aren’t seated close together.  I charm the rich bankers and smile politely at their wives who hate me.  

I end up working as an executive assistant at another restaurant, and eventually find myself in charge of their events.  I meet with all the local hotel concierges, who then call the restaurant asking for me by name.  I stop the hostesses from seating Dr. David So and So at a table that I know he hates.  If they can’t seat him anywhere else, I comp his appetizer.  

I apologize that the consistency of your fish-of-the-day wasn’t up to your liking, and I send you a round of (our cheapest) bubbly as an apology.  You hand me your business card on the way out, and say you like my style.  

It’s not the game I thought I’d be playing, but it’s a game I’ve gotten quite good at.  

I’m becoming impressed with myself and what I’m capable of and WHO I’m capable of holding conversations with.  I’m starting to think…I have a future in NYC hospitality and nightlife.

I am becoming who I am…

And then life forces my mouth open and shoves a pandemic-sized pill down my throat.  

And now I’m here.  Typing this.  Wondering how the recurring theme in my life seems to be that any time I get close to becoming who it appears I’m meant to become, a MOMENTOUS road block is thrown. 

And I know that’s life.  Roadblocks come, and we navigate them.  But like…come on…cancer and then a world-wide pandemic?  Both at precisely the time I’m thinking I’ve got SOMETHING figured out?  Or if not figured out, at times when I’m finally starting to be…okay with myself?  And not feel like 12 year old monster-tits?

The most consistent aspect of the last 12 years of my life has been writing and blogging, and of course, there’ve been gaps of time where I wasn’t writing but it always comes back to this.  And it always seems to come back to cancer, and I’ve been actively rallying against that.

I stopped writing my original blog because I was tired of pigeonholing myself into only writing about cancer.

And then a recent trip to the city triggered a pretty significant meltdown.  Once again ending with me cursing the day I was diagnosed with cancer…and for the first time ever, wondering WHY I survived.  Like what was I spared for?   

And I don’t mean that in a “I should be dead, I wanna kill myself, I wish the cancer had killed me” kind of way.  

I mean it in a “why did I survive only to have the f***ing rug pulled out from underneath my feet anytime I get close to figuring shit out?” kind of way.  

And then, of course, comes the post-meltdown meltdown, titled: Why Oh Why Do I Keep Coming Back to a Cancer That is 12 Years Old?

But here’s the thing.

Now that I’ve been studying end of life care…I think I know why.  I even posted about this on facebook a few months back…and I can’t believe it took until now for me to realize it applied to my cancer survivorship as well.  

I keep re-grieving.

According to therapychanges.com, re-grief is part of the grieving process but occurs as a sudden and unexpected wave of emotion that can hit at any time.  You can read their article about re-grief here:

The way I think of it in terms of End of Life and dying, is that re-grief obviously happens in the recent months and first year or two after a death…the first birthday or holiday without that person, the discovering of an item they left at your house that triggers you into re-grieving. 

But it will continue to happen even in the decades to come.  It’s why grief is truly a never-ending process. If you’ve lost a parent young, it may happen when you have your first child and you wish they could be there to see the baby.  It may happen at a very difficult time in your life ten years after their death, but you SO wish they could be with you to hold your hand during your struggles.  And the fact that they are not causes you to re-grieve.

This has to be no different with cancer survivors.  Certain events in our lives are always going to trigger our cancer grief, no matter how far away we are from treatment, and no matter how much therapy we get.

It’s going to hit us when it’s time to have children and we don’t know if our chemically-treated and radiated body will allow that for us.  It’s going to hit us when we have to start having colonoscopies and breast cancer screenings YEARS earlier than everyone else.  

It’s going to hit us when we hear of someone else who has died of cancer, and we wonder why the they should die when we got to live?  It’s going to hit us when we come across a photo of ourselves pre-cancer and realize that no matter how hard we squint our eyes and focus…we can NOT remember what it was like to be a person who never had cancer.  

It’s going to hit us during a global pandemic, when we’re knocked on our asses by the universe again.  When that feeling of TOTAL LOSS OF CONTROL hits.  When the deja vous of having the rug pulled out from under our feet throws us off balance and we’re, once again, wondering who the fuck we are now?  Wondering why we, once again, feel like the 12 year old with giant tits that everyone is looking at like…WTF.

Who am I now?  Now that I’ve had cancer and am living through a global pandemic?  

I don’t know.

But I do think it’s important that I stop apologizing in my writing for talking about cancer.  Especially in my more recent postings, you’ll notice I often say things like “not to make this about cancer again,” or “I know this happened so long ago, but…”

I know now that I cannot do that.  I am doing a disservice to myself as a cancer survivor and to my fellow cancer survivors.

The person I am today is a person who had cancer during a time of self-discovery, and it will always be part of my identity.

I re-grieve, and I re-greive often.

You can, too.  That’s okay, you know.  

You, too, can grieve the person you were before the pandemic.  You can grieve the person you were before you lost your mom.  You can grieve the loss of your grandfather ten years later.  You can grieve the person you were when you were 18…even if you’ve experienced NO trauma since then.  

You can grieve and re-grieve.  It’s okay.  

The grieving can lead to self discovery.

And that’s what I’m hoping for myself. 

And if you still feel like an awkward 12 year old with giant boobs, you CAN call a plastic surgeon.

I did. 

Infinite Infinite Jest

TW: Suicide, mental health struggles

I’ve been square dancing around David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest since I was in college. It seems to infinitely pop up for me at various times in my life (see what I did there? That’s like, how I got the title of the post and stuff?)

I read one of his short stories in my Fiction workshop class my Junior year—a class that, for me, provided a WELCOME reprieve from the world of pirouettes, belting, and show tunes—and I remember my professor talking about him being a genius…and not just because he’d written an acclaimed 1,079 page novel called Infinite Jest that…people ACTUALLY took the time to read.

I mean, even Harry Potter never cleared 1,000 pages, and I had never even been able to focus myself long enough to read one of those books. I was in disbelief that someone could write a 1,000+ page novel…

…and because I really LIKED the short story we read in class, it occurred to me that maybe—for the right author—I could read 1,000+ pages.

I knew it would take me a very long time, but I thought I could potentially do it.

And then…the mystique grew.

Our professor shared that the author had, sadly, died from suicide a few years ago (in 2008 to be exact).

Well…wow. I thought, here’s this amazing author of whom I’ve read one short story, I’m told he’s written 1000+page novel, but now I’m also aware that his work…is limited. He’s gone. This 1000+ page novel is his LEGACY.

Not that his other work was not good…it’s just…this Infinite Jest is what put him on the literary map.

I didn’t run out right away and buy the book. Over the course of the next few years, I read other works by David Foster Wallace. Some short stories, parts of Broom of the System, and all of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men…the title of which I just was too curious about not to read cover to cover.

I had found a thick book called “The David Foster Wallace Reader” in a bookstore in Brooklyn (I used to cross burroughs weekly for EMDR sessions). I bought the book and consumed more short stories…and actually, a few chapters of Infinite Jest that were included in the “reader.”

One day, probably about 4 years after I’d first heard of David Foster Wallace, I officially purchased a copy of Infinite Jest.

And promptly did not read it.

It sat on a shelf. It moved into giant tubs of books that I hauled from apartment to apartment to parents basement to apartment back to basement.

In the early summer of 2020, when businesses were JUST started to crack their doors open again, my mom and I ventured into a little used bookstore in Syracuse…and atop one of the shelves featured on prominent display was a book called Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.

I flipped through a few sections of the book, reading bits and pieces here and there (stopping, of course, for the obligatory drop of hand sanitizer every so often, as one with OCD in a pandemic does). It was an extensive interview (transcribed from many cassette tapes) with DFW that Rolling Stone author David Lipsky had done as he accompanied the author on his last leg of the book tour to promote Infinite Jest.

I bought the book, thinking maybe this is what you need to reintroduce you to the possibility of reading that colossal book that is gathering dust on your Mom’s book shelf.

I read half of the interview book…and I can’t remember why I stopped. I enjoyed it very much…I’m not sure if I was just overwhelmed with reading at the time…I had many books I was aiming to complete while I had all this pandemic time. But somehow, after reading only 150 pages, this book joined Infinite Jest back up on a shelf.

And then in December of 2020, the very first friend I’d ever had in this world died from suicide. I had not spoken to him in years, but it felt like a true connection to my childhood was gone with the snap of two fingers.

I recall, one night, staring intently at an old photograph of us as children and thinking…the two children in this photo have just no idea what the world has in store for them. One now gone, and one (if it’s not painfully obvious) still mad at the world over a cancer battle now 12 years old.

As I mentioned, I had not spoken to him for a quite a while…a guilt I still feel pretty palpably some days. I suffered from that “too-cool-to- reach-out-to-an-old-friend-they’ll-think-I’m-so-weird” syndrome, and I can’t take that back.

I recalled he was an avid reader. And so, one day, several months after his death, I asked his mother via text message if she could share with me the title of one of his favorite books.

“Have you heard of Infinite Jest?”

I knew then that I HAD to complete Infinite Jest in my lifetime.

So why am I writing about this today?

Well…I just got around to finishing Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself…the extensive interview with the author that I mentioned before.

I knew I wanted to complete that book before cracking Infinite Jest open again…but I’d been avoiding it.

And I’d been avoiding it because I knew it was going to be…complex for me…to read the thoughts of a man who also died from suicide (whose words were so loved by my friend who died of suicide) and then to reconcile all this with what I’ve been learning about end-of-life support and the death-positive movement.

In other words, I’ve spent months learning to be okay with death as a “THING” that happens to all of us as mortal humans. And I’ve learned ways of being available to those who are ALSO trying to find peace with death and dying.

But most of the content I’ve been exposed to has been about making people feel okay with the concept of death so that they may LIVE more fully with whatever time they’ve got…

I’m not entirely sure how to explain what I’m feeling right now. Something last week compelled me to pull the interview back off the shelf and I finished it. I even cracked Infinite Jest open the other day and read the first fifty pages.

Even just the first fifty pages…I’m overwhelmed by the author’s intelligence, and just can’t get away from the idea of the “tortured genius.”

In other words, it’s hard to escape from the idea that this man was so intelligent and unique in his thinking and really had like…a PULSE on what was ailing the world…it’s hard not to go “well he’s SO intelligent and in touch with his feelings, he must’ve known what was best for himself.”

And like…that is NOT the thing to think about suicide. That is NOT death positivity. That is a human suffering.

And so how do you, as a person who supports the death-positive movement…how do you say “death is okay, it’s okay to be at peace with death” but then also say “Oh, but suicide is still not right.”

Apologies…this is definitely more of a stream of consciousness kinda thing for me. See, I don’t have answers.

I just…I just want everyone to know that death positivity is about bringing a sense of peace about your death so that you can live WITHOUT the weight of dying fears. I hope that is clear.

Maybe there is a way, in cases of people who have suicidal thoughts, to change those thoughts into a force for good…to somehow MORPH them into a peace with an inevitable death in the futureso that living in the current moment feels better and not so painful.

Because living really IS painful. I do not deny that, not one bit

I don’t know, guys.. I just wanted to get a mess of thoughts onto a page.

I have enjoyed reading the first fifty pages of Infinite Jest knowing that my friend read these words, and they brought him happiness in the moments he read them.

There is a movie called “The End of the Tour” which stars Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace, and it is essentially the extended interview in movie/storytelling form. Jesse Eisenberg plays the Rolling Stone magazine reporter.

It’s actually a brilliant movie and I only stumbled across it after completing the interview book and looking up some more info about it. The movie came out in 2015, and I don’t recall seeing ANY publicity for it…but it’s very beautifully done.

I cried at the end…couldn’t help it. Jason Segal really captures the spirit of DFW…especially after reading the book, you feel like you’re watching the REAL guy bring his own words to life.

And it’s…you just really feel kind of lucky that this guy shared parts of his brain with us…and he gave us thousands of pages to comb through over the course of his life.

Just wish he’d stuck around.

Anyway. Thanks for reading the babble.

Mufasa Taught Us

QUICK THURSDAY MINUTE:

Currently listening to the brilliant Alua Arthur and Caitlin Doughty talking/answering questions about death (I’m currently taking their MORTAL course. I’ll include the info below).

Caitlin was talking about how we have to remember we are part of a food chain. We are part of nature. We are part of a circle.

By being a human who dies, we are one with the world and the order of things. (Isn’t it great to FEEL a PART of that?)

It got me thinking, y’all…Mufasa told ya.

You can’t love The Lion King and call death positivity “morbid”. We were made to do it.

Mufasa taught us…

Check out the “MORTAL” course info here. <<<——This class is meant for anyone who will die….soo….

Hope you’re having a great week, and happy (almost) Friday!

Well…Now You Know.

Hi. I’m still alive.

And I haven’t wanted to write.

There is no one concrete reason.

By spring 2021, unemployment got me so cray in my own head that I took a full time job, a part time job, and several theater gigs to fill my time and had no time to just stop and fart for myself.

And another reason is…

The pandemic kinda got me in this head space where all I really wanted to say to people when I pulled up an empty blog post was “Well…now ya know.”

And of course…OF COURSE…that ties back to cancer. (If it didn’t, would it be a true Jesse post?)

The perpetual state of total fear that everyone was feeling toward the beginning of the pandemic…like…yeah, I was feeling that, too.

But EVEN more than that was this really snarky feeling of like, “Well…now ya know.”

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not feel invincible.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to constantly worry about your immune system and sanitize everything that comes into your house.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not want people to hug you or come close to you without your expressed permission, and have to stay home all the time.

Well…now ya know what it’s like to be FORCED to face the possibility of your own death before age 40, 30, 20…18…

And then I thought…wow, Jess, that’s pretty bitchy. You should sort that out.

And so I wasn’t writing. I just let myself work for a little while. Get used to living somewhere new: A SUBURB.

Get used to the idea that you’re not a city girl anymore, that you live in a house, and that you have a mortgage, and you are…*gulp*…getting kind of…domestic…(Christ).

And then one day, I heard the term “death doula.”

Now, I’m not going to sit here and go into detail about the different kinds of things death doulas do. I’m going to reference some lit:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/24/well/doulas-death-end-of-life.html

But I knew immediately, when I did some research on what a death doula is, that it was something I really wanted to do…and I hadn’t felt certain about “things I’d like to do” in quite a long time.

So push comes to shove, and long story short…I completed a Death Doula certification thru Going With Grace (with the AMAZING, enlightening ALUA ARTHUR), and earned NEDA proficiency…

And it was through the course of accomplishing the above that I discovered the HEALTHY, less catty version of “Well…now you know…and also had a major AHA moment about what truly bothered me about having cancer—besides, of course, the fact that I had cancer):

We are incapable of talking healthily about death.

It’s true. And throughout my whole cancer treatment I really felt that no one could or would look me square in the face and talk with me about death unless we mentioned God or religion.

We can’t do it. Our western society doesn’t want to talk about it. Our med-tech-driven healthcare system doesn’t want you to recognize its existence. It offers you treatment after treatment after treatment in place of saying, when the time comes, “hi, it’s time for your body to stop.”

We can’t talk about how humans die…how unsettling it is…can’t talk about why we die… or what might this all BE for?

Even for a healthy person, the questions exist because…a healthy person is also going to die. They are supposed to.

But if we talk about it, we are labeled “morbid.”

We are not “thinking positively.” If we don’t THINK POSITIVE, we are attracting the opposite.

And the message we give our actively dying folks in America is that DYING is LOSING, and so they’d better not “give up.”

Few actively dying people hear “it is okay to go. It is natural. Your body is done fighting and that is okay.” And so they fight tooth and nail to hang on for their loved ones even when it’s their time…and as a result, they reinforce for the next generation that death is not okay and you must cling on for…dear life.

Is it a wonder we have a complex?

But we cannot, cannot, cannot talk about death. Too icky. Too uncomfortable. Too morbid. Too sad.

-*-

Van Gogh, Skull with Cigarette

I’ve been wondering for years now whether I really want to continue writing a blog that is

A) totally cancer-focused

OR

B) Just…kind of spur of the moment, chaotic blather

Neither feels authentic anymore.

And that is another reason why you haven’t heard from me.

But now I feel a little bit more direction. I want to be part of the conversation about dying and death-positivity, BECAUSE:

Regardless of who you are and what you’ve been through…2020 and the world thereafter has shown us all that we’d best at least entertain the idea that we won’t be here one day.

And you know what?

I know…I know it sounds morbid. But I swear, since I’ve started my death-positive journey…I have been more present and aware of the moments of my life. Of how I am feeling. Of what’s working and what’s not. And of what I’m grateful for.

The death positive movement IS a thing, and one of its leaders is Caitlyn Doughty of “The Order of the Good Death.” Literally, if you google “death positive,” her website is the first to come up. She kind of kickstarted the “movement” and she’s hilarious. Not morbid. She is hilarious (highly recommend her book “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)

But the ideas behind the movement have been around. I mean…if we’re being real, indigenous peoples have been attuned to them from the beginning.

Recently, I’ve been reading “Die Wise” by “death guru” Stephen Jenkinson…and while Jenkinson can be perceived as a somewhat controversial figure…it’s one of HIS ideas that has been sticking with me most lately (and kind of haunting me every morning).

He talks about how the problem with the western world today is that we expect to live. We wake up every day anticipating that we will live, and nothing else is okay—we are OWED the day.

I mean…you don’t need me to tell you that we are NOT owed the day. We anticipate that we’ve got all this time…and we get depressed by the monotony of our days because we just….figure it’s gonna go on and on and on.

And it quite literally is not. That’s what makes each moment significant. (Yeah, a little self-help-y…but hey…whatever helps the self.)

I could go on and and on about Stephen Jenkinson, really.

But maybe another day.

My overall point here is…THIS cancer survivor wanted to talk about death from the beginning of her cancer diagnosis…and all the well-meaning people in her life wanted to “think positively,” (which has a time and place) or give her a Bible.

And those well-meaning people…have probably not had many open conversations about death before either…so how can they be expected to know what to say about it in an instance like this?

I don’t blame anyone. But the pandemic brought a lot of those suppressed questions and curiosities about death right back to me in a very visceral way. And I think that’s why I was feeling a little…I dunno… SALTY towards people and their pandemic frenzy? (especially toward those my own age, who just couldn’t understand what I was going through way back when). Kinda like….NOW YOU GET IT. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THIS PANICKY FEELING I WAS HAVING IN 2009.

These are “uncertain times” for everyone. Not just for me, now.

Well, now you know…” I thought.

And, I learned, through the course of the past year, that the full thought is this:

“Well, now you know…we should be talking more openly about dying and not sweeping it under the rug.”

If we talk about it, if we acknowledge it…we can not only maneuver these “uncertain times” just a little more effectively, but we can find our living moments feel just that much more ALIVE.

I intend to blog more as I explore the death-positive movement and where I fit into it.

My blog may no longer be for you, and I understand. I can promise it won’t all be posts like these. I’m sure a lady at Sephora will offend me again and I’ll launch a full-scale campaign.

But I understand if this is where I leave you.

A Passage I Love

Finishing up “UNTAMED” by Glennon Doyle this week.

Wanted to share my favorite passage as we creep up on a full year of so much sadness and dying.

The scary part of dying isn’t the dying itself…it’s the question it brings, and I find myself plagued by that question a lot lately as we lose so many humans.

This passage brings me so much comfort that I might just have it printed and folded up in my jewelry box for safe keeping and frequent reminder.

Now it will be here, too:

Tish has always understood metaphors best. (That thing you feel but can’t see, baby is like that thing you can see.)

…I told her that maybe when we were born, we were poured from our source into these tiny body buckets. When we die, we’ll be emptied back out and return to that big source and to each other. Maybe dying is just returning—back out from these tiny containers to where we belong. Maybe then all the achy separation we feel down here will disappear, because we’ll be mixed together again. No difference between you and me. No more buckets, no more skin…all sea.

“But for now,” I told her, “you are a bucket of sea. That’s why you feel so big and so small.”

“Untamed” by Glennon Doyle

Hope your week is off to a good start.

Love,

Jesse

I Am A Staple in the Nose Hole of America

Yesterday I had a staple in my nose because the night before while I was wiping my face my nose ring popped out and fell into the sink where the water was running…

…and I just kinda stared off into space for a minute or two instead of springing into action and trying to save it. I think I was just so exhausted from literally sitting on my a$$ watching the news all week that I was just like..oh well...if you love something, let it go. Goodbye, nose ring.

And then I said well, better get the stapler. Naturally. As one does.

It’s not the first time I’ve put a staple in my nose hole and it will not be the last.

And no, I didn’t have a back up nose ring.

And yes, my nose hole WOULD start closing up IMMEDIATELY over night if I did not put said staple in said nose hole. (I bruise easily, bruises that take WEEKS to heal, but take out my nose ring for one night and my body is like “REPAIR!!!! CLOSE UP THAT NOSE HOLE ASAP this b**ch too OLD for a nose ring.”)

But I’m not giving up on my nose hole yet, so I put a staple in it overnight as a placeholder. You just clean it and slip it in the hole and then, like, bend the sides around to make a kind of boxy loop and voila! Staple nose!

The next day I went to get a new nose ring and it occurred to me just how funny this world is. Like how funny is it that somewhere in DC or Virginia an exasperated immigrant woman is pleading with the President of the United States to concede an election AT THE VERY SAME MOMENT when, in a mall parking lot in Upstate New York, a 29 year old woman is trying to force a wire hoop through her nose hole while her boyfriend pleads “JUST STOP, THE STEM IS MISSHAPEN AND YOU’RE BLEEDING, IT’S LIKE TRYING TO FORCE A SQUARE INTO A CIRCLE” and she cries—literal crying—“NO I PAID TWENTY DOLLARS FOR THIS AND IT’S “NO-SPEND NOVEMBER!”

One woman’s problem is a little bit more important than the others’ on a more GLOBAL scale, but in our two separate moments, they are both equally real, palpable, and very painful experiences.

I don’t know. Just…how very strange life is. How peculiar. As OMC says,

How Bizarre, How Bizarre.

I promise I’m not high, although I wish I was. I don’t allow myself to get high anymore since the tootsie roll incident of 2019 when I convinced myself Chris Cuomo blamed me for global warming and the aliens were coming for me because I knew too much.

It was just a funny little thought that occurred to me in the midst of chaos and nose bleeding.

I’m sure you’re all wondering, DID YOU GET THE NEW NOSE RING IN YOUR NOSE HOLE?

And you can rest assured, I did. I put the earring from my ear hole in my nose hole until we got home. Then my boyfriend used tools or science or magic or something to fix the shape of the stem. We had to lube the stem up with Bath and Body Works lotion and I can’t say I DIDN’T have pliers unsettlingly close to my eyeballs, but we DID get it into my nose hole.

That’ll teach me to buy a nose ring at a place that sells Jo Jo with a Bow Bow face masks. (Lookin’ at YOU, Claire’s).

In my defense, I was unable to go to Spencers because they (SHOCKINGLY) had reported cases of Covid-19.

This is how I know I could never be an investigative reporter. I cannot simply report to you that Spencer’s Gifts had Covid. I had to pass judgement.

“Whether someone coughed on the dildos or sucked on the edible panties, we cannot be sure. We just know we are not surprised. Back to you Stacey.”

But I digress.

So that’s where I’m at. New prez. New nose ring. Same me.

I think as 2020 goes on, my metaphors get weaker and weaker, but, alas, I am quite like that little staple.

I am a staple in the nose hole of America: misshapen and practically useless, but I’ll make it through somehow.

Fin.

The last photo before we lost this little nose ring down the drain. It was an honor to wear you.

The Peak of My Creepy

Seneca Falls, New York is the home of the first US Women’s Rights Convention. We all memorized that somewhere along the line. Declaration of Sentiments, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, et cetera, et cetera. You probably wrote a shi**y essay about it or had to dress up as Lucretia Mott and give a “suffrage talk” about Women’s Rights to your third grade class who chuckled every time you said the word “sex.”

Fans of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life probably know a bit more about Seneca Falls. Frank Capra, the film’s director, spent time there while writing the script, and although the film was entirely made in California, it is said there are plenty of reasons to believe that he had Seneca Falls in mind when he created “Bedford Falls.” The tiny, doll-like train station, the references to Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira, NY…

This sign hangs from a lamp post on the now-famous bridge in Seneca Falls, NY

…a bridge that runs over the sleepy canal in the middle of town that is now referred to as the “George Bailey Bridge.” Legend, of course, being that this is the bridge Capra recreated in the movie where George jumps to save Clarence the angel.

I’ve had the ‘It’s a Wonderful Life House’ pointed out to me many times throughout my life. “You want the moon, Mary?”

Downtown Seneca Falls is a picture of holiday cheer come Christmas-time, as you can probably imagine. Even a crotchity millennial like me can admit that when the “George Bailey Bridge” is all lit up, and the town twinkles red and green beside the water, it looks like a kind of “dream America.” A picturesque town ripped right out of the same history book you plagiarized your sh**ty paper from.

For me, Seneca Falls feels as much a part of my childhood as Syracuse does. I recently drove my boyfriend down ONE street in the middle of the town (slowly and creepily, of course), and narrated for him:

this house was my aunt’s, then this one my grandmother’s. Across over there is a cousin, that house another aunt, then a great aunt, another cousin…and (as a woman emerges from a car parked up ahead) that’s actually some sort of cousin of mine crossing the street right now. Second, third, removed…I couldn’t tell you.”

My grandmother’s house in the middle of town was a weekly gathering place of the big Italian family every Sunday for pasta and meatballs and homemade sauce. Holidays would sometimes take place at a different family house on the same street, but her’s was always the home base. She was always the star of the show, and she held court from her rocking chair watching Judge Judy, a Stephanie Plum novel dog-eared on the coffee table.

An artist’s rendering of Gram’s house as it was.

I know losing grandparents is essentially a part of life. They are a privilege while they’re here, and they’re oftentimes our first experience with loss and death, (that is, if we’re lucky enough to have our immediate families around throughout the whole of childhood.)

I’m not gonna make this about cancer, because it’s not really about that, per se. The last year of my grandmother’s life was the year of my illness, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly know how it impacted her. I know it took a toll on everyone in the family, if not because they felt close with me, then because my diagnosis was an eerie reminder that none of us are safe from life’s unwelcome surprises, regardless of age.

But my grandmother was already battling a slew of health problems on her own, even before I upstaged her.

She died a week after I was declared in remission.

She never got to see me “being okay.”

Seneca Falls has never been the same since she passed, and I hadn’t spent more than two hours there in years, let alone two whole days.

There are too many ghosts.

But a few weeks back, my cousin needed a dog sitter while her family went camping for the weekend. Me, the “unemployed job-casualty” that I am, said, “Why not?”

I wrote last week about how I’ve been creepin’ around my hometown, scoping out locations of odd memories that stick out in my brain.

It’s muy, muy creepy…this I know. But I have no nefarious intentions and because I’m white I have the privilege of not really raising alarm bells. A sad but true reality that is not at all lost on me.

But my creepin’ reached an all-time high in Seneca Falls that weekend.

I arrived around six-thirty on Friday, tended to the dog, and ordered take-out from a restaurant on Fall Street (Seneca Falls’ aptly named version of Main Street). When I parked in front of the restaurant my dinner wasn’t ready yet, so I found myself wandering to the site of a canal-side bar, previously owned by two of my uncles (one of whom, my godfather, passed away in 2014).

I stood outside the glass door, and peered inside. The space is still a bar, but a different one now. I spied the corner where my Dad and godfather had been seated when I flung open the doors, twelve years old, to announce the arrival of my first period.

It had happened at my grandmother’s, naturally, where everything happened.

My dad covered his face with his hands.

My godfather set me up on the bar stool beside him and toasted my womanhood with a Shirley Temple.

Here, now, in 2020, sat two strangers, socially distant from the rest of the bar patrons. Someone made eye contact with me, and I scurried back up the leaf-covered stairs to Fall Street.

Later, I lay awake on my cousin’s couch, her dog snoring beside me. Twelve o’clock. One AM. Two AM. I had not slept a night in Seneca Falls since 2013.

I felt unsettled, something amiss even with all the doors locked and this giant black lab at my feet.

At two thirty I sprang up and threw on a hoodie and sneaks. The grass outside was already wet with dew, and the crunching of leaves underfoot scared me sh*tless when it cut through the silence.

I jumped into my mom’s CRV, (now my infamous “creepin” vehicle of choice) and drove out across the “George Bailey Bridge,” past the old video store where my cousins and I had hiked to rent tapes, past the pretty fountain in the middle of town, beyond the Women’s Rights Convention Memorial Park where I’d walked my aunt’s dog, Dexter, and begged him not to poop.

I parked myself on the street in front of my grandmother’s house.

Turned off the car lights.

Sat in silence.

I dream about this house all the time. Dreams where I’m fumbling around looking for something, ascending the staircase, or looking out the upstairs window.

In most of the dreams I’m by myself, but every now and then my grandmother appears and I tell her we thought she had died. I tell her I’m so happy we were wrong, but that we should be very careful so she doesn’t die again.

I have never had a dream about my grandmother that doesn’t take place in the house. She never appears anywhere else.

So now I stare at the dark house in the middle of the night and wonder if maybe she’s in there somehow. I know it sounds weird but…I dunno…residual energies, that kind of thing? Possible?

A television flickers in the window of the tiny house next door. I’ve only been sitting here three minutes but I know I should leave. I know I’m being a total creep. I know this is weird.

Stars splash across the sky over the tiny garage at the back of the driveway where my grandfather used to grow grapes. Where he’d taken me once to show me the grapes, but told me not to pick any.

I picture myself sitting on the porch ledge in my navy blue bathing suit with the mesh top that always made me afraid my nipples were showing.

Gram tells me to be careful up there.

I try to feel like me at 5.

Me at 5, wanting to pick the grapes.

Me at 9, sun-kissed.

Me at 12, pimply.

Me at 18, bald.

I watch “ghost me” rip a big green leaf off the vines that had covered the house. I hear my Mom tell me to stop messing with them.

“Sauce is ready.”

“Set the table.”

“Movie’s starting.”

“Is everyone here?”

I know I need to leave, but I whisper into the stale air, “what the hell are we doing down here, Gram?”

She didn’t get to see me being okay.

Am I okay?

The stars, again, distract me with a wink.

“Don’t pick the grapes, don’t touch, just look.”

I feel like Pierre at the end of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, wondering how I got here, wondering what it all comes to in the end.

‘…and there in the middle above Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars shines the Great Comet…

I feel better now, and I don’t know why.

I dry my tears and head back.

When my cousin returns, I ask if she’s seen how different the house looks now, although I know she must. She lives in the small town, after all.

My cousin says ‘yes.’

She says she knows the woman who lives in the house now. The third owner since my grandmother.

I told her that was our grandparents’ house, and she asked me if they’d died in the house. I told her they had. She said she could hear and feel things sometimes in the house. Energies. She said it feels friendly.”

“Energies.” Dreams.

Grapes. Sauce. Bathing suit. House. Mom. Period. Bar stool. Shirley Temple. Grandma. Judge Judy. Rocking chair. Bald. Friendly.

All this creepy driving. Past-channeling.

Soul searching.

I’m either going to leave 2020 a haunted soul or a fully realized person.

I’m done creepin’ for a while.