I like to think there's order in the Universe - at least on some levels. Close inspection typically shows there is order even in the most chaotic scenes in nature. Biologically we're on a clearly fixed DNA path. The path can be swayed by outside influences and decisions, of course, but, our DNA is set, it's how were wired. And evolution happens. It keeps marching, and responding as necessary.* DNA + evolution = order in the Universe for humans. It doesn't always seem that way, though.
When I can't suss out the order of the order, or understand the march of evolution, I get frustrated/angry/scared and a) hope there's a God so b) I can be mad at Him or c) demand some answers and yes, d) pray.
August 28. I spent the day with Frankie and Benjy who went out of their way to have a layover in my neck of the Universe. It was the best day I've had in months. Good friends. Yes. I do have good friends. Just when I most needed a boost to my morale, down came Frankie and Benjy to remind me that I am worthy of friendship, I'm not an awful person and that, hey, I actually possess a sense of humor and social skills! It was bittersweet because it was such a brief visit, but I was grateful for face-to-face contact, something increasingly rare for us. Skype's great, but it's not "the same." For instance, when you're sitting next to a friend and one of you cracks a joke alluding to Then Again, Maybe I Won't
, the knowing glance and out-and-out giggles that ensue can only really happen in person. Oh sure, the joke can be made, the glance can be cast via Skype, but, it's not the same as in person. It's just not. But that makes the moments spent with friends all the better. I cherish them, and I'm telling you this, ramming the point home, you should, too
. Do whatever you have to do to turn off your phone/tablet/whatever distractions you have and spend in-person time with your really, truly, madly, deeply good friends. We all know this, I knew it, I know it, but, you know, life, time, etc., it's not easy to find time to just socialize...in person
My good friends live far, far away so I learned the hard way: You miss them when they're gone, and you miss them in ways you don't quite understand or realize until you see them again.
Frankie and I have that rare thing, that indefinable thing, that makes us "friends." Never questioned, never dissected, never discussed, really. It just is. Like being in love without the sex and complications of romance. During that layover there was non-stop conversation and laughs. One particularly good laugh was the aforementioned allusion to Then Again, Maybe I Won't.
The actual joke doesn't matter, and unless you were there, unless you're us, it's not all that funny. But to us, in that moment, it was a side-splitter.
September 5: Judy Blume announced/wrote about her Summer of Breast Cancer.
Yes, I read Judy Blume's blog. I read Judy Blume's blog because I've been reading Judy Blume's writing since I was old enough to read and comprehend her writing, probably around age 8. I trust Judy Blume. Judy Blume has helped me deal with pretty much every "difficult" issue in my life, and given that I've had a lot of "difficult" issues in my life(?) that's saying a lot. No, Judy hasn't specifically covered broken engagements and workplace woes and unemployment and homelessness, but she's covered handling your problems and dealing with difficult people and facing tough emotions with dignity, compassion, humor and intelligence. She's the cool/wise/fun aunt I never had in real life. My own aunts were wonderful people but never broached topics like mean girls at school, menstruation, or sex, and on the exceptionally rare occasions boys in the context of dating came up, their "advice" was more snarky remarks about the male gender that where actually thinly veiled digs at their husbands. Judy Blume, on the other hand, was out there in the trenches with me. Through her books every girl/woman under the age of 50 believes we know Judy Blume because she spoke to us, personally it feels, through her books.
News that she has cancer hit me like a punch in the gut. As I read Judy's blog post I gasped, out loud, "No! Not Judy!" as if one
of our key tactical strategists had been taken hostage or injured in
battle and the rest of us were doomed. As witnessed in her guest book entries since September 5
, I am not the only Judy Blume fan who felt that punch in the gut and felt that doom. Once again, Ms. Blume shared her experience, not preaching, not condescending, no high-horse, just facts and how she dealt with it. I've never been sure if Judy meant
to inspire, console, educate and guide legions, generations, of women, but she has. I find the wisest people I know, the ones from whom I learn the most, are the ones who aren't actually trying
to teach me something. Judy has always felt like one of those people. And now, once again, wittingly or unwittingly, she is tackling another tough issue and showing us how to handle it: Gritting your teeth and confronting it with dignity, humor, and by using your brain and learning about the nature of the beast.
Yes, I my eyes swelled with tears, but Judy, being Judy Blume, forged on, and I sat there thinking, "that's right, Judy, you go, girl, you show cancer who's boss." I said, out loud, to no one and everyone, "She'll be fine. She's going to be fine. She's Judy Blume. She'll be fine." Of course I was just feebly attempting to comfort myself. Because I was confused and angry and scared. The order in my Universe was shaken. In my Universe intelligent, funny, compassionate, kind, spirited, inspirational people who take take of their health and have zero family history of breast cancer
do not get breast cancer. Period. There are only a few reasons I survived puberty and evolved to adulthood. Judy Blume is one of those factors. She's accessible, real, and unlike other authors young girls like me like to read - Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder, for instance - she's very much alive. Girls like me need someone like Judy Blume in order for our species to evolve. So. She's going to be fine. She will be fine. Still. Order has not been restored. The mere fact that it happened at all was enough to unhinge the safe places in my psyche. To say I was angry at the Universe for this injustice is a gross understatement. To say that I thought, "Yeah, there's a God, all right, and He's mean and vindictive and just plain cruel. Evolution wouldn't mutate genes to harm a leader and savior of females of a certain type, evolution would see to it that the leader would survive, thrive and evolve. God, on the other hand...God does some mean shit in the name of 'teaching lessons.'"
September 14. Frankie called me at the crack of dawn. We live in vastly different time zones, we Skype once a week or so, and there are phone calls at odd hours, so I didn't think anything of seeing her name appear on my phone. I had to deal with an issue with my mother, and the morning news was showing the Middle East behaving nuttier than normal, so I let the call go to voice mail. I thought, "I'll Skype her later, when we can solve the problems in the Middle East and share our thoughts on the virtues of Indiana Jones versus Rick Deckard and when, oh when, will Bladerunner be issued on IMAX?" Call me a horrible friend, but I didn't even listen to her voice mail. I just thought, "I'll Skype her in a few hours."
I'll have to live with that lapse in judgment forever.
Turns out it wasn't Frankie calling. It was Benjy calling from Fankie's phone. I found this out several hours later when I got a text from Benjy asking me to call him.
Yadda yadda yadda Frankie started bleeding, profusely, during the night, and it wasn't "period kind of bleeding." Benjy, being a guy, didn't really understand how us girls can tell the difference between "period kind of bleeding" and "not period kind of bleeding" and seemed to be stuck on this point, fixated on it, unable to get past the fact that Frankie (his wife), or any other woman for that matter, is a) capable of bleeding in ways other than "period kind of bleeding" and b) that we can discern the difference. (If more boys read Judy Blume books there might not be quite so much confusion and mystery between the sexes...not that men will ever understand what really happens "down there," and but Judy's books could be a bridge to understanding why the female psyche is so closely related to that part of female anatomy.)
The fact, though, is that "we" were way, way, way past the point of classifying types of blood that spew from a vagina. By the time I called Benjy, Frankie had been admitted to a hospital and was undergoing emergency surgery...and all indications were that cancer was the root source of the issue. Cancer + anything remotely anatomically female = bad situation.
Many phone calls and several hours later it was confirmed. Cancer. My friend has cancer. My intelligent, funny, compassionate, spirited, adventurous, kind, goofy friend who takes exceptionally good care of herself (rarely has a need to see a doctor other than for a yearly checkup and has never even spent a night in a hospital) and has no family history of cancer
Confusion, anger, fear and far too many questions that all lead to one issue: Why? What evolutionary role does giving Frankie cancer play in the timeline of the Universe? We need more women like her to set examples for other women and girls and the Universe does this? Really?
And then it hit me, déjà vu
. Except it wasn't just a feeling this already happened. It really did already happen. I had the same confusion, anger, fear and questions 9 days prior when I read about Judy Blume's breast cancer. And that's when I figured it out, that's when I understood what it is about Frankie that endeared me to her the second I met her: She's my real life Judy Blume. We don't just share the experience of having read Judy's books as young girls, she, being a few years older than I am, is, and has been, my personal real-life Judy Blume. She's forged the path for me, showed me and shared with me previews of what's to come in life. We joke that we're the sisters we never had (we both have flesh and blood sisters), but now I realize a key component to why I feel such a strong kinship with her. She is the embodiment of the kind and funny and wiser friend that spun ripping yarns that inspired, consoled and educated me when I was a little girl. I desperately wanted to tell Frankie this, but of course I couldn't because she was zonked out in recovery.
And now, though, I'm plagued with, "My friend has cancer. What's the right thing to say? Or not say? If I tell her my Judy Blume coincidence and revelation will she think I'm trivializing her state of affairs? Yesterday, before either of us knew she had cancer I could have told her that revelation and we would have discussed and dissected it and laughed about it and laughed at ourselves for dissecting it. But now...well...now everything's different. Because my friend has cancer."
I'm fairly certain she won't want it to be a defining point, a trait lumped in with her blue eyes and fondness for brussels sprouts, but, it is a fact of her life, now. And it turns out it has been a fact of her life for a while. Back on that halcyon day a few weeks ago, we were all oblivious to the cancer cells waging a war inside her. But it was
happening and it seems to weird to think while we were laughing and talking as if nothing was wrong, cancer was attacking her. It didn't define her then and it shouldn't now, but...now we know and she's enduring a lot of physical trauma and so, yes, it's part of her definition, now
I know I have to get all of this out of my system so that I can be a better friend for her, one who's prepared and stable and not angry, confused and scared. In most ways I'm grateful that there was no test, waiting for test results, more tests, diagnosis, planning surgery precursor. It was just crash, bang wallop, you have cancer and we're removing everything in the general vicinity of the cancer and we'll start talking about radiation and chemo in a few days when other doctors have reviewed the pathology. There it is. Deal with it. Now. Frankie's a spontaneous and decisive person, not one who needs time to plan, so it's fitting it would happen like this.
I'm perversely grateful (and I hate myself for this and question what kind of horrible human being I am because of this) for the timeline of these specific events. I can't know how I would have reacted/felt had I not had the Judy Blume cancer experience prior to my friend's cancer emergency, but I can say I have already drawn strength from that one blog post Judy Blume wrote about her breast cancer.
I had a moment of clarity, "Okay. Well, this sucks, but, Frankie, as Judy Blume dealt with breast cancer, so shall you deal with whatever the heck cancer you have. The woman got us through periods, sex and boys, and she'll get us through cancer, too."
It happened. Deal with it. Maintain some dignity, stay true to yourself and find the humor in it. All lessons we've learned from Judy Blume.
Everything happens for a reason, there is order in the Universe. And that means taking the good with the bad. There's a food chain, an ordered nutrition system, which makes perfect sense but also means some really cute small animals are appetizers for a bigger animal. Very unfair. But very orderly. That's the rationale, I guess, and it does abate some of the confusion, but it doesn't assuage the anger and fear.
*I argue that even outside influences are part of evolution: A drug
addict makes a choice to try drugs which are widely known to be
addictive and either doesn't care about becoming an addict or believes
s/he is above addiction, smarter than addiction, stronger and the one
person who can enjoy the drug without becoming addicted. So, low IQ,
depression and ego are the core issues, which are part of nature's way
of thinning the herd. "You're mentally unfit for the herd because you
are unable to make healthy choices for your body." (This does call the
likes of Keith Richards into query: What's going on in his DNA that
allows him to survive and survive and survive?
Coincidences...ironies...is it even worth remarking on them? I usually think not, but every now and then the Universe sees fit to hit us over the head with them. Things that make you go "huh." Or "Huh?"