My step-dad has stage 3 colon cancer.
My 10-month old dog has ringworm.
I have denial.
I thought I was doing okay by having my sons wash their hands before visiting their grandpa’s house. I remind them to be on their best behavior because he may not be feeling great; he is getting chemotherapy, after all. He’s handling it very well, so well that it’s easy for me to stay in denial and carry on, researching healthy meals that can make him feel better on the less-than-great days, and, well, that’s about all I can do.
Then my dog got ringworm. Rusty, who sometimes goes by his full name of Damnit Rusty, likes to dig holes, and apparently contracted the ringworm from this less-than-desirable activity. It’s contagious, so for the past several days our family has been keeping him quarantined from his sister, Hazel, as well as limited our petting of him. That’s the hardest part. I hope the little guy understands that in a few weeks I’ll be snuggling up with him once again.
My mom called me last night on my way to dance rehearsal (for a big upcoming show with Keshvar Project! More on that later…). I had just finished a day at work, taken my older son to get a haircut, swung by the thrift store in search of potential costuming pieces for the show, and hit McDonald’s. Two 10-packs of chicken nuggets, two medium fries, and two waters for my boys, and a splurging yogurt parfait to hold me over through dance practice.
I’m a busy woman.
Mom called to tell me that Carrel, my step-dad, could potentially catch Rusty’s ringworm, either through us or, more likely, from the days when Carrel comes to my house. I usually work from home, but on my office days, he and my mom watch the boys, and he even makes a special trip to my house to let the puppies out of their crate for a while.
My mind went straight to logistics. We needed to keep Carrel away from Rusty, absolutely, which means that he shouldn’t come to our house for a couple of months (to be 100% safe), and we need to be careful when we visit him. So how could I go to work? Would the dogs be okay crated for so many hours?
“We’ll work it out,” I told her, intentionally avoiding any emotional response (don’t worry – it comes). I would work from home as much as possible and the dogs would just have to deal with it. The worst that would happen with them is that they’d have an accident in their crates; I’ve dealt with their misplaced poop before and, let’s face it, I probably will again at some point anyway.
We both understood; it’s not that we wanted it this way.
I went inside to dance practice with a bag of McDonald’s in hand, ready to focus for two hours on choreographies. “How are you doing?” My friend asked. “I’m good!” I lied, then honestly, “I’m okay,” and I told her about the ringworm situation. I felt selfish because I didn’t cry about most crushing part of it all; my step-dad has cancer.
Dance rehearsal began, and for a while I was in another world. It was nice.
On my way home Carrel called me. “Tomorrow would be a great day for us to take the kids to Coney Island,” he said. I knew what this was. It was his ever-giving way of helping me. He knew that I was stressed about getting to the office and worried about childcare, and so he figured out a way to relieve some of it. Always the child, I gratefully said yes, it was.
And so today, my parents took my boys to Coney Island and I went to the office. On my way in, I saw a man on a street corner, holding a sign that said, “I can’t imagine life without you.”
A block later I pulled into McDonald’s (I know – typical American) for my morning coffee, and jotted down a note that said, “You shine like a spotlight.” I clipped a flower to it (yes, I had a flower in my car; if you know me you’re not surprised), and drove back to him, to offer it as a thank-you for spreading his light. He gave me his card; he was from Hospice, and was part of a campaign that reminds people to say things that shouldn’t wait.
But I don’t wait. I’ve never waited. I’ve been living life so hard and loving so big, telling myself that bad things can’t happen to me because I don’t need that lesson. Everything’s supposed to be a lesson, right?
I tell friends I love them. I hug my family tight. I watch the sun set, write poetry, send random texts to let people know I’m thinking about them, listen to water, feel the breeze, and dance.
That’s why ringworm is so much more than ringworm.
That’s why I felt guilty telling my dance friend about the ringworm and the childcare and not opening up my emotions about what it really meant. That I could lose my step-dad to cancer.
Instead, I danced. The tears are so close to my calm surface that when I gave the flower note to the man with the sign, I cried. I didn’t need his reminder to say what should be said because I already say it. I love you.
I love you.
Normally I share these blog posts with the intention of not only self-expression, but also for enlightenment. I wish that I had some advice to leave you with, dear reader, be you a friend, a family member, a colleague, a neighbor, or, if they exist, a stranger. Maybe I’ll just steal the words from the sign; I don’t think it would be frowned upon:
I can’t imagine life without you.
Peace, love, and fire,