Today I was rushing to meet an editing client at 2pm when L called. He said, I have bad news. He told me that our good friends' son was killed in a car accident earlier today. At first I was in minor shock, just feeling shaky and unable to process it. I knew people died in car accidents, and I knew the son, but I couldn't connect the two. Later I found the news story on the web and just keep thinking about the times I've seen this kid (who was 28). The last time was a few years ago at his wedding.
People say that when you have cancer you start worshiping at the altar of carpe diem. It's one thing to think of yourself slowly fading away; it's quite another to find out that a healthy 28-year-old was thrown out of his car when a tire blew out while he was on the exit ramp.
I'm sure that his parents, our friends, will replay the "what ifs" forever and ever.
It's amazing that we drive these machines that are so deadly. Many of us can name people who were killed in car accidents. The mother of a friend of mine was killed on the road between Austin and Houston, in 1991. Her daughter, my friend's older sister, was in the car with her. My friend A's cousins lived with their grandparents because their parents had died young in a car crash. And then one of the cousins, in his late twenties or thirties, and married, died of lymphoma. If I'm not mistaken, there's a part of Milan Kundera's novel Immortality, which I read back in the 1990s, that discusses the strangeness of the very high rate of deaths caused by automobiles. Why do we accept it?
I read once in In These Times, I think, that in Germany (and this may have been back when there was an East and West, and this was in West), conscientious objectors who refuse to pick up guns are not allowed to drive cars, because they too, are fatal weapons. I couldn't confirm this, but the (Christian) Orthodox Peace Fellowship reports, "Thus there are Orthodox priests who do not drive a car because of the danger of inadvertently causing someone’s death."
It is dangerous to drive. It's even dangerous to be around cars. I know someone who was walking downtown and was struck by an out-of-control car that roared up on the curb. She is now quadriplegic.
This is a painting of Diana, goddess of the hunt, not quite an Amazon, but she could pass. According to legend the Amazons cut or burned off their right breasts so they could shoot arrows better. This is by Artemisia Gentileschi.
The reason I was looking for an Amazon is that now Cancer Bitch is on Amazon. With blurbs and everything--except not a cover image yet.
It was nice, I tell people. Yes, it was nice.
That's not what they want to hear. They want to hear that the Obama rally in Grant Park on Tuesday was fantastic. Exhilarating. Incredible. Moving. They want to hear all that, but they'll have to hear it from someone else. I wish they could hear it from me. I wish I had burst into tears, like other people standing around me, like my husband. I wish that I'd felt a whoosh, a thrill, when I clapped along with everyone else when we heard that Iowa was going for Obama, and then Ohio. I wish that when I yelled in my green Obama t-shirt, among the tens of thousands in their t-shirts and caps and hijabs, holding their American flags aloft, wearing Obama pins, one girl with Vote Obama written on her face in blue, that I felt a thump in my chest, a heave in my heart. I wish that when I cheered along with everyone else when the CNN announcer on the JumboTron said, "It's looking exceedingly grim for John McCain," I felt gleeful. But I didn't.
CNN announced that Obama was the apparent winner. My friend Garnett, standing next to me said, "For the first time the country can actually get better." I agreed with her. A voice came over the loudspeaker: "Final sound check for the next president of the United States." Then I shouted along with everyone else, "Not for us!" when McCain said it was natural to feel some disappointment. I sang the chorus to "Sweet Home Chicago" along with the rest of the crowd. Then the president-elect came on stage (though I couldn't see him with my naked eye), but I didn't feel anything. I felt like the girl who sings "Nothing" in A Chorus Line. Except she became defiant about not feeling the way her acting teacher wanted her to, and I was disturbed.
What was wrong with me? This was historic, the first African-American president-elect. A brilliant man, a non-imperialist, a person we wouldn't have to disavow when traveling abroad. This was what I wanted--this is why I made phone calls to Iowa and rang doorbells in Indiana and Wisconsin, and organized a fundraiser in Chicago. This was the result I had hoped for, when I argued with Hillary supporters early on. In the park I listened to Obama, his stirring words about unity and inclusion and sacrifice, I listened to him say everything I would want a president to say--and still...
Wednesday I felt--or didn't feel--the same way. I kept trying to figure out what was going on. I kept thinking of syllogisms. Like: This country is conservative. Obama is progressive and I agree with him. But the country elected him. Therefore, Obama can't be progressive.
Maybe, I thought, I never supported a winning candidate before. That's partly true, except I voted for both Obama and Durbin for the Senate. How did I feel when Obama won his Senate seat? I don't remember. I did a tiny bit of work for that campaign. I campaigned for Harold Washington's second term. I was out of state for his first win. But he was hamstrung by a racist bloc of aldermen--at least at the beginning. I worked for an aldermanic candidate who lost twice. I voted for Carter and Clinton--but I didn't support either of them in the primaries.
Most of my adult life I've been politically marginal. My friends ran for state office on the Iowa Socialist Party ticket, and I voted for them. That was the choice: you vote for your beliefs or you vote for the compromisers. You vote your dreams or you sigh and vote for the possible. This is so ingrained in me that when I finally support a candidate who wins, with whom I agree, with whom I share a world view--my brain short-circuits and threatens to explode. How could suddenly a nation that I don’t quite feel a part of, embrace the same candidate that I embrace? How did that happen? Am I in shock?
Or am I depressed?
Friday afternoon I was walking to the main library downtown and thought about the time, years ago, I was in the library and this guy came up to the counter asked the librarian if she had any books by Studs Terkel, if she'd heard of Studs Terkel. It was Studs, in his characteristic red-checkered shirt. I don't think she had. I should have said, Yes, I've heard of you, I've read your work--but I didn't.
See, it's all about me. A great wonderful person dies and I think of myself. I feel sorry for myself, I feel regret: I met Studs a few times, talked to him, but I wasn't friends with him. I knew people who were friends with him. At a party a few weeks ago I talked to T, who was telling me about visiting Studs, who was not doing well. He may have been bed-ridden. T told me that Studs told him that he'd wanted to stay alive to see the Cubs go the World Series, and now he wanted to hold on until the election. (His absentee ballot arrived at his house the day he died.) I thought later that I wanted to ask T if I could go with him next time he went to see Studs. Would that even have been appropriate? I'm sure Studs wouldn't have remembered meeting me. My friend S came to Chicago several years ago to read from her book of oral histories. She visited Studs. She visited Carlos Cortez. She could do that because she was from out of town. Now both of these grand old men are dead.
I still haven't read the obit. I couldn't figure out my resistance to it, and then I thought: It's because I'm jealous. I wish I'd written it. I wish I'd known him the way Rick Kogan, who wrote the obit, knew him. What is wrong with me? I just heard on the radio Studs recalling the day that Rick was born; he was friends with his father, the editor Herman Kogan. (I met the elder Kogan once. So what?)
I wanted Studs to read at the fundraiser for Obama. I asked a friend of his, twice, if he would ask Studs for me, and both times he said: Studs is ill.
On the radio now are people I know talking about Studs. One of them is another grand not-as-old man, Quentin Young. I know him through his daughter. I wrote about his wife's funeral. (Studs was there, looking frail.) I admire him and want to spend time with him. How can we do that? We can call to ask him to dinner. Would he want to come to dinner with us? Would he want to be with us?
And I wondered, did Studs die the moment I happened to think about him?
Why does it matter, Cancer Bitch?
I want to be like him, but he didn't get to be who he was by wanting to be like someone else.
Fancy Hospital had its annual Town Hall meeting last week on breast cancer. Meaning, anyone could come and ask questions of a panel of experts: my erstwhile oncologist, my current oncologist, my erstwhile and very nice radiologist, a patient advocate (who lives in Des Moines) and a oncologist-plastic surgeon. I learned a few things, some of them unsettling. That estrogen-positive cancer (such as mine) is easier to treat than other kinds, but it also has a greater chance than other cancers of coming back after five years. How did I miss hearing that before? That triple-negative breast cancer is more common in African-American women than in women of other races, and that it's more aggressive and more likely to recur than many other other kinds of breast cancers. That according to one trial, five years of tamoxifen is better than 10 because breast cancer cells can learn to grow with the tamoxifen.
A man asked about Dr. Susan Love's new research effort. My old onco pooh-poohed Love, calling her an "entrepreneur," and said he was "not sure what she's doing." My current onco said that Love was encouraging patients to get in clinical trials to help the next generation. "What she's doing is great," she said. My onco also said that bone scans and CT scans and tumor markers aren't helpful in finding metastasis. It makes no difference, she said, whether you find out now or three to six months from now that the cancer has spread.
One woman was dressed in orange and spoke with an accent, maybe Eastern European. She had sleek short hair that may have been, now that I think about it, a wig. She asked about extra testing when a person is in remission. Her mammograms didn't show anything but "now I find out ... I don't have much time."
But the most shocking thing I heard was this, at the beginning: My former oncologist said that he'd gotten e-mails from some patients, asking him if there was going to be anything new at the Town Hall this year. What? He gave his e-mail address to patients? And he answered them? Unbelievable.