St. Louis, Missouri
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
My sister called last night. She finished chemo February 12 and has
been helping to care for my mother since her heart attack a few weeks
ago. She is eager to escape the grey Chicago winter and the grey taste
in her mouth and to find her way back to other parts of her life.
I want to go scuba diving, she says.
I remember well the desire for the physical. After months of hurting
during my own treatment for cancer at a time when I literally lost my
skin, I wanted something to remind me of the pleasures of the body.
For me, that initially began with making love with a new partner and
somehow moved into dancing. These days, I have a passion for expressive
dance, rolling on the floor and contact improvisation that I had never
For Laurel, it is scuba diving.
The catch is, her friend Liz with whom she was supposed to go, calls
to say that her mother is in the hospital. Her pancreatic cancer has
We both sigh at the many
layers of the bad news. A sick mother. A distraught friend. Yet more
cancer. And the possible cancellation of a trip that has been keeping
my sister going through this tough time.
The room has been paid. They were to stay at a tiny diving resort in
Little Cayman, resident population 170. There are no refunds.
Can I go, says Laurel.
Do I want to go, says Laurel.
I say I will call her back.
I hang up and mentally scroll through the week’s itinerary.
Rehearsal. . . A performance
at Glenridge Elementary School. . . More rehearsal. . . An already rescheduled
lunch with a potential funder. . . Tickets for both “Rent”
and “Batboy.”. . . The peace march in Forest Park upon the
third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. . . My friend Tom Clear’s
St. Patrick’s Day party. . . Couples therapy with Pseudonym. .
. The Kevin Kline Awards. . . Allergy shots. . . A working session with
Neal to finish some songs. . .
And of course, the phone
calls. Lots and lots of phone calls. And lots and lots of paperwork.
. . More than lots and lots.
what you are able and willing to do for your family, but not for you.
Why? Why do we work ourselves to death? One of my faculty friends (actually
more than one) does great stuff, but is on the edge of killing themselves.
It is like not taking time to change the oil and running the car into
I remember other trips Laurel
has taken by herself which had a lot of group activity. When she
traveled with a group for a week white water rafting down the Grand
Canyon or went scuba diving in Bonaire. The possibilities for
connection but also the strain of the company of strangers for days
on end. Strain at a time when she needs comforting.
We talk again, this time about my mother and how her glaucoma is doing
on this particular day.
I tell my sister that we have a really limited window with my mother.
That we need to take advantage of any time we have with her.
My sister pauses. And me, she says. We don’t know what kind of
time you have with me, either.
That decides it for me. Carpe diem, girlfriend, I say. I tell
her I will go and start canceling.