Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brainstorming/freewriting...cancer and curiosity

This is sort of brainstorming for an essay I'm working on...it began with my recent research into "rcc" that was motivated by writing a terrible essay for a class I really enjoy. I am working on ideas for the revision and began looking it up...it spawned a few epiphanies, not all of which are mentioned here, but this is my trying to tie in enough ideas to possibly weave into another narrative along with the patterns of time of year. Cancer and curiosity was only how this began...I was surprised to tie in so many ideas into one free-written piece...it will of course change while being intertwined with other things by the time it's finished, but it's progress! (Progress in work as well as emotions.)


I tend to think of myself as a naturally curious person. It doesn't take long from the moment I hear of a new idea or word to the moment I type it in a search bar or grab a dictionary. Yet it took me over five years to type the words "renal cell carcinoma" into any sort of search engine. Those words are listed on my dad's death certificate that was hanging on the back door of what we call "The Old Studio." Listed as "cause of death," I carefully memorized the words five years ago so I would know how to talk about it with people when they asked "but what kind of cancer?" as a follow-up to the usual inquiry about his passing. I wanted to know after the fact, but I didn't even know what it was called for most of the 10 months we were watching it maul my father's body and wrack our family's support system in ways we would never have imagined.

I knew it was kidney cancer, I knew it had metastisized in his brain, but not once did I look it up to see what was happening to his kidneys, to his blood and brain. I didn't know that from the time they diagnosed him with a brain tumor from the kidney cancer he only had a 5% chance of living through the next year. I didn't know that until I was 21. He died when I was barely 16.

He left in the summertime, right as the feverish August arrived when Moscow usually reached temperatures in the 100s. We had never been in town for that particular time of year as a family, taking our vacation to the Oregon Coast for the last week of July, first week of August, trying to bring the clouds and rain back with us from the beautiful, blustery never-above-80-degrees coast. When he died I was in California visiting my half-brothers and friend of my grandparents. They lived near San Francisco, and we happened to be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge when my mom called with the news. They were 7 and nearly 5 years old at the time, and could hardly understand what was happening, but their words of solace meant more to me than anyone else's could at that time.

I tried desperately to see him in my dreams that night, or to imagine how I might change my flight home to go to the cremation with my mom and sister. I wasn't able to, and in the long run it was probably better to be there for my little brother's 5th birthday instead, but I still wish I had seen him. I wish I had seen his body somehow so I wouldn't have spent months hearing him coming around the corner, or with my heart pounding when I heard loud steps on the stairs or someone solidly shutting the front door. Years later I can still hear him, although briefly, in the next aisle at the grocery store, or in the voice of a friend's parent, before I realize it is someone else's father, or brother, or partner.

Soon after that day on the bridge I began dreaming of his return. In the dream his arrival was subtle to everyone but me, and I would rush into his arms and whoop and hollar and happy tears would run down my face into his big belly....the dreams used to end there. After some months we started having time to make plans, and a few years later I almost had enough time to ask him questions like "Are you proud of me?" and "When did you take your first photograph?"....but I still don't know the answer.
Sometimes I can go for months without a dream of him, and then a wave breaks over my nights and at least once a week we'll see each other, but always the restlessness of my disbelief at seeing him again wakes me up too soon. Waking rips me out of his big-kahuna arms into a cluttered, dark room, with me under the Disney comforter he bought when I was 12. (It is still the most comfortable one I own.) His impossibly red, bushy, curvy eyebrows slowly fade away in the relief of orange streetlights peeking through my blinds.

Then time goes on, I talk about the dreams and his death, write a poem or two. I move on...for the most part. Moving on from losing a family member like that really means you move forward, you continue living, but you never leave behind those feelings, those days spent worrying about, realizing, and accepting something like renal cell carcinoma moving in and tearing apart your life, among many others, so quickly and thoroughly.

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