Indeed, What Now?

I have been singing a song daily for the last few weeks (ear-worm-like). I wake up humming it, I drive humming/singing it, I clean the house to its beat. It wasn’t until yesterday while walking the dogs that I truly realized what I have been doing is chanting a song that asks me What Now over and over. How’s that for some subconscious work? I can see my interior self rolling its eyes yesterday and saying Jeez Louise, FINALLY!

What Now? – Rihanna

I encourage you to listen, much better that way

Rihanna (or me had I been born a poor black girl in the West Indies.)

I’ve been ignoring this big lump in my throat
I shouldn’t be crying
Tears were for the weaker days
I’m stronger now, or so I say
But something’s missing

Whatever it is
It feels like it’s laughing at me through the glass of a two-sided mirror
Whatever it is
It’s just laughing at me
And I just wanna scream

What now?
I just can’t figure it out
What now?
I guess I’ll just wait it out (Wait it out)
What now? Oh-oh-oh-ohh
What now?

I don’t know where to go
I don’t know what to feel
I don’t know how to cry
I don’t know, oh-oh, why
I don’t know where to go
I don’t know what to feel
I don’t know how to cry
I don’t know, oh-oh, why
I don’t know where to go
I don’t know what to feel
I don’t know how to cry
I don’t know, oh-oh, why
So what now?

This is a bit more dramatic than I actually feel most of the time but I am indeed at a loss. My friend Donna was talking to a friend who has had cancer and now runs a not-for-profit called Maggie’s Brightside. They support people with cancer, their by-line being “Living with cancer is hard enough. Let’s make it a little bit easier.” Donna was telling Jane about my experience and Jane talked about this period, post-treatment, actually being the hardest after the initial diagnosis. It’s interesting, nobody tells you that when you start out. I suppose it makes sense as you get a diagnosis and launch into “get ‘er done” mode which you maintain for months and months to wake up one day with treatment over.

Disconcerting, it’s a little like grieving when the world moves on. There are all kinds of “congratulations, you’re done!”, “you beat that sucker!”, “we knew you could do it!”, and of course, “what now?” (not that this is what people say to the grieving but there is the expectation that after 6 months or a year things should be back to normal when, really, they never are nor will be). Don’t get me wrong, all those wishes are so appreciated, the fact that people take the time to make those wishes and feel those feelings for me is wonderful and humbling. And, I sit here in my little yellow house, putting it back together after 9 months of benign neglect, and have trouble rejoicing (and feel guilty about it of course). Like those folks who mourn a loss, make it through the first year, and are expected to move on, there is a loneliness because really when you get down to it, we are all actually islands (sorry Mr. Donne). We share a warm and wonderful sea full of coral, sea anemones, the errant shark, and sea turtles but the waves that lap at my shores lap at my shores only. And sometimes the waves are less than friendly, eroding my confidence in myself and my ability to figure out “What noooooooow?”.

But… if one has to be an island, this wouldn’t be so bad.
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Prying myself up, out, and into the world and being the recipient of utter joy

said little yellow house

Another friend, Jen, (how on earth I landed so many amazing friends is a constant mystery and constanter blessing) gave me tickets to see the Dance Theater of Harlem at the Flynn on Wednesday. I vacillated on going. You may remember it was just plain ugly out; cold, wet, and getting wetter. I vacillated all the way to Burlington, all the way around the endless blocks of no parking, my little voice saying “you can go home, get cozy, watch TV, clean”. But I shushed that pesky voice, ended up going, and gave my extra ticket to a young transgender gentleman whose ballet teacher told him he should go. So he and I had amazing seats in a sold-out house. Lucky us!

It was so beautiful, heart wrenching, joyful, and funny. I left walking on air, happy to my core, and I am realizing right this very minute that I had none of that little voice on my shoulder (usually very active that voice) saying “oh yeah, what have YOU done with your life?” that I always seem to get when seeing/hearing some human act of artistic beauty. Might we be growing up??? Maybe… Nah.

Unexpected Hugs on Malletts Bay Ave

I was out clearing the drive way of random blocks of ice and snow (really November?!?) when I heard “Mary!” I looked up and the young fellow who works at Sammy’s Quick Stop and Deli (no actual deli. PSA, titles can be misleading) was across the street waving to me. I crossed over and this man with the warmest smile gave me a hug, asked how I’m feeling, and where I am in treatment. Back in the spring he was the first in the store who had acknowledged my bout, asking how I was feeling early on and when I answered, “okay, I have cancer”, he smiled and said “I know”. I cannot for the life of me remember his name though I have asked his Uncle Prakosh who also works there. Now I’ll have to ask Sammy. These 3 men have been such sweethearts these past months. Asking how I am, trying not to pry. This is why I love living across the street from a convenience store (eyesore be damned!). There’s the convenience thing sure, but it’s the random connection with human beings you might not otherwise know that clinches it.

Sammy’s

This is me, breathing

My answer to What Now?

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone. If you were in my family I’d make you light a candle and say what you are most thankful for this year and you’d groan and then be so thankful I made you. It’s a TRADITION! (thank you Tevye)

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2 thoughts on “Indeed, What Now?

  1. Beautiful post. That inbetween time when you can sort of let down, or you DO just sort of let down without realizing it, after so many months of fierce and constant and unstinting effort. It’s a weird time. A transition time. Thinking out loud here about times I’ve felt this way – not from cancer, but from transitioning out of a huge life stage into another. Thank you for these wonderful insights and posts. XO

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  2. OK, kicking myself for being among those to ask “What now?” (Although to be fair, I’m pretty sure I asked “What’s next?” Just sayin’… 🙂 ) But since we’ve now mutually agreed to ignore ALL of life’s “what’s nexts,” because who the hell REALLY knows what is next… let’s also agree to help pry one another out of our respective “little yellow houses,” which I take as a metaphor not just for the peace and safety of our physical space where we feel most able to be ourselves, but the “safety” (NOT) of slipping into those comfortable ruts of self-doubt about what we have done with our lives. “What’s next?” is tomorrow, baby! (Although I may need a few weeks after I leave my job to shore up in my house before I’m ready to be pried!) Love ya!

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