Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
I missed my flight to Boston yesterday. It was accidentally on purpose. I think I convinced myself that if I missed my flight, I wouldn’t have to go to Boston, and if I didn’t go to Boston, my Dad wouldn’t be sick.
I’ve been prone to this kind of magical thinking since he told my sister and I that he had cancer, which was almost a year ago. I don’t avoid cracks on the sidewalk or black cats, and I haven’t walked around ladders, but I’ve believed that if I didn’t think about it, and didn’t discuss it, it wasn’t happening.
He told us by email. “Not a serious problem, but I flunked my colonoscopy the other day and was found to have a cute little tumor in my colon,” he wrote. “I will have to get it “popped out” shortly, probably Xmas week. I have a close-up photo of it (looks like a scrape more than a bump) and a CAT scan has determined that it has not spread anywhere in my abdomen. So it should be easily managed.”
I asked if he was saying that he had cancer when I wrote back. He replied “Sort of, yeah.”
“Ah, OK,” I responded. “I have chapped lips.” This was a tactic similar to the one I employed the only time we ever talked about death. “I’m planning to be cremated,” he said, after telling me that he was donating the cemetary plot he had inherited from his parents. “What a coincidence! I’m also planning to be cremated,” I exclaimed, effectively shutting the conversation down.
I spent two hours at LAX yesterday morning, and then got a flight with a connection in Denver. All in, it was a 14 hour day. It was a drag, but I was prepared: I had ample ways to distract myself — for what should have been a seven hour trip, I had my tablet (with two movies downloaded), a dozen new playlists, two books (both fiction), the LA Times, the New York Times, and the entire first season of Fargo on DVD. Unfortunately, I blew every option for evasion as soon as the plane took off: I fired up Spotify. The first song that came up on shuffle was “Everybody Hurts,” and for the first time since my Dad’s diagnosis, I cried. The guy sitting next to me moved to a different seat.
I had my laptop, and I’d planned to write about how I’d become such a badass. I planned on posting about the way that life blunts feelings, how aging eases the impact of hard knocks and how it quiets disquietude. If I felt anything with the intensity of my 20s, or even my 30s and 40s, I wouldn’t survive – life is way too hard, and it only gets harder. At 25, I was gutted by sideways glances from strangers and the indifference of devotedly unchaste men; at 32 I was routinely devastated by inconsequential slights at work and paralyzed by my physical imperfection. I chilled out in my 40s, but I took a lot of xanax, and at 46, when my cretinous Aussie loser of a boyfriend broke up with me, I took to my bed for 12 weeks straight. Now, at 52, I’m ok with my thinning hair, my crooked teeth, and my wonky eye, and in the aftermath of my long-time-coming one night stand last week, I wasn’t insecure, I didn’t question my judgment, and I didn’t indulge in melancholy or yearning. It took a lifetime of trying, but at long last, I am Liz Phair circa Exhile in Guyville rather than Patsy Cline circa Sentimentally Yours.
By the time I arrived last night, I was exhausted. It was close to midnight, and I’d spent most of the day not reading, watching, or writing, but listening to the saddest music I could find: Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, and Elliott Smith. I’m in Boston for my Dad’s 80th birthday, and although the chemo is doing what it’s supposed to do and he’s allright, we all know that life is terminal. I may be able to cope, but I needed to cry.
I’m much better today. I called my Dad, and he sounded good. I’m excited to see him and excited to celebrate his birthday. I got the sadness out of my system, at least for now, and remembered another benefit of age: I know that feelings pass, and that it’s a gift to have them at all. I have no plans to talk about it, but I know that death is a part of life. We all go through this and we somehow survive. I spent the day yesterday in tears, but I’ve toughened up, and I’ll carry on. It took a while for me to figure out, but I know that I’m pretty much like everybody else, and I know that everybody hurts.