Sunday, December 27, 2009

Big Fish

I love the movie "Big Fish." If you haven't seen it, a man recounts the stories that his dying father has told him of his life and the people he's met. The son doesn’t believe any if it, but at the end, when the father dies, all of the characters from his stories (albeit a more reality-based version thereof) gather to remember him. They did exist; pieces of his different lives. They all come together in the end and authenticate him, his stories, his history, his life.

I've been feeling rather nostalgic lately, and felt drawn to contacting several people from my past: old friends, old boyfriends, people who have made a significant impact in my life; people whose relationships with me made up all of my different lives; people whom I missed; people whom I felt I owed an apology, or wanted peace with; people whom I loved.

For a few days after making some of these contacts, I was overly emotional. Every email or call with someone made me cry. Every picture I looked at, every memory that surfaced saddened me deeply. I wanted to figure out why I was so drawn to reconnecting with my past, and why it was so sad to me... and why I was still so drawn to reconnecting with my past, even though it was so sad to me. I concluded that there are two reasons I felt this need. The first one came to me rather quickly: I'm being robbed of my future, so I'm holding on to my past. I guess it's a sort of defense mechanism, or reflex or something. The desire to live is ingrained in us. Knowing that it is going to be taken away, I grasp for what makes me real: my history. While I can understand my own desire to want to hold onto life in any way I can, I also know that it won’t work. I cannot spend the rest of the time I have holding on to the past, hoping that doing so will keep me alive... I still have more living to do, and I have a whole lot of it to do in a little bit of time. I don't have time to waste. I’ve pondered our “earthly time” a lot lately. What is my time here for? What is my purpose here? Do we all even have a specific purpose? Have I contributed to the world in any way? If nothing else, there is one thing I’ve accomplished, that I know affects the world positively. I helped bring to life one of the most beautiful and amazing women I know. What an honor.

The second reason for my trip down memory lane came to me the other day when I was talking with Joss about the time to come when I am no longer here, and I said to her “don’t forget me.” Of course I know she will never forget me, but my feeling that I needed to say this to her made me realize what really scares and saddens me. The same fear that freaked me out while filling the time capsule: disappearing. Sometimes I try to picture what the world will be like when I am no longer around. People going about their days, proceeding with their lives – everything the same except without me. I know that some people will never forget me, but the idea of being just a memory is disturbing nonetheless. No matter how vividly I am remembered, the fact remains that I will go from being a real, living person, to nothing more than memories. Memories fade. Will I fade the same way? Had I begun fading already, since to the people in my past, I was already just a memory?

When I started finding people I went to High School with, I would always ask if they remembered me. All did, and for some reason it surprised me every time. Perhaps because I, myself, have forgotten the person I was then. In finding these people, I’m refreshing memories of me so that they may remain vivid a bit longer. I’m gathering the characters from my life, like the characters in Big Fish gathered, proving the storyteller’s reality. I’m hoping that my existence affected something. I’m striving to leave proof that I was here… that I was real. I’m carving my name in the Tree Of Life.

It brought up lots of old memories, revisiting my past, and left me with such a deep yearning to go back to those times, that I felt misplaced for a little while. I remembered a story my Mom once told me about a girl who grew up near a big mountain. She loved this mountain. She’d climb it all the time, and would have picnics on the top. She planted flowers on the mountain. She went there to think, to laugh, and to cry. It was a very special place for her. At one point, she moved away. For years and years she thought of this mountain, and how she wanted nothing more than to go back there. One day she finally did go back but when she got there, all she found was a simple, bare little hill. Nostalgia tends to warp our memories. Romanticize them. Much like the characters in the stories of Big Fish were exaggerated: Siamese twins were really just normal twins; the giant was actually just a very large man; and the witch was, in reality, just a woman. Mom told me the story of the mountain one day when I was feeling homesick for Rhode Island. All of my family had since moved away, and there was really nothing significant left there for me, except the memories. Had I gone back, I would have found just a bare, little hill. She’d remind me of this lesson from time to time by presenting, where appropriate, a line I have heard a hundred times: “You can’t go back to the mountain.”

I’ve moved on from seeking my mountain. I’ve renewed some special friendships, and let go of some that were lost and should have been let go of a while ago. I’ve touched what were previously just memories, and confirmed their existence – and my own. I’ve put back my romanticized versions of my life stories, because I like them better that way. Then I spent some time remembering everyone I’ve known who has died, so they won’t disappear.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Some new pics

My Dad & Diane's house and yard in Maine:

The plane I jumped out of

Baby James with his carrot stained face.  He's getting so big.

My Js

Back to the Earth I’m Falling

There is a bunch of stuff I've been meaning to blog about, but haven't been feeling well. Last week in St. Pete I went skydiving! It's something I've always wanted to do, and decided now is the time. I have a video from the jump, but my cheeks are flapping in the 120 mile an hour wind so much that I decided not to post it.

The jump was amazing! First I donned a very geeky looking “jump suit” and immediately wondered if this was the origin of the term “jumpsuit.” I was given a very quick lecture on what to expect, and what to do, and then boarded the plane with Randy, my tandem dude. There were maybe 10 jumpers in the plane, most licensed and jumping alone. I think we got up to about 10,000 feet when some of the lone jumpers started stepping out the door, with absolutely no hesitation. It was a bit scary seeing them through the windows, jumping into nothing and then falling. I actually said “holy crap, they are nuts” and then realized I was about to do the same thing. I kept waiting for the fear to come, the butterflies, the hesitation, but it didn’t. Until I got to the door! I was strapped very tightly to Randy and it was difficult to maneuver to the door. Once I got there, I was immediately terrified! I looked down and could not see the ground because of the clouds, and I think that may have made it even scarier. Jumping blindly, knowing the earth is 13,500 feet below me, but jumping into a cloud. A CLOUD… as in, in the sky. I panicked and started yelling “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” to which Randy very appropriately responded “Shut up!!” I quickly did, since he had the chute, closed my eyes, and a second later, was falling. The fear only lasted a few seconds. The wind was intense. Much more than I thought it would have been. I had to consciously start breathing, and concentrate on holding my arms out like I was instructed. I guess I kept wanting to look down because I remember Randy kept tilting my head back. The wind was loud and strong, and the feeling amazing. Then suddenly – quiet. Randy pulled the chute, and immediately everything changed. The intense noise quieted. The cold rushing air became soft, warm and gentle. Suddenly I could see everything as I calmly floated down towards the ground. It was beautiful, and serene, and lasted several minutes. I landed, as instructed, with my legs straight out, landing on my butt. The touchdown was so gentle, I was amazed.

When I landed, the camera guy asked if I would do it again. My response was “Hell yeah!!!” The freefall part was so intense, and fast, and new, that I don’t feel like I fully experienced it. I definitely do want to do it again, and may do so in January. When I was given my video, I also got a roll of film that was taken (how antiquated, huh?) I plan on having it developed and hopefully then will be able to post some pics of the jump.

When I got home from Florida, I happily checked off “Skydive” from the book.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snow day

I looked out the window like a kid on a snow day, eager to see what the winter would bring today. "It's snowing!!" It was the light dry kind of snow that is not so great for making snowmen but is easily blown around by the wind, creating snowdrifts with ripples that resemble a white desert. It was coming down fairly hard. School and business closings flashed along the bottom of the television and brought the familiar line "no school Foster-Glouster" to mind. I piled on gloves, a coat, and layers of socks and headed outside.

Dad and I visited the goats, who didn't seem to mind the cold at all. They stuck their snow sprinkled heads through the fence to greet us, hoping we had a treat for them. Dad pulled a pine tree branch to reach them and Lucy and Ricky quickly devoured it. We fed them a few animal crackers from a large coffee can and Ricky's entire head soon disappeared into the can. We had only been out a few minutes but the harsh winter air was stinging my face. With a red nose and snow stuck in the fur around my face and wrists, I went back inside. The house smelled wonderfully as Diane prepared lunch: home-made turkey soup, which was not only delicious, but also suited the day perfectly. I had two bowls!

After lunch, Dad, Diane and I sat down together and played a card game. The snowfall, and our game, continued until dark. Diane and I looked at some pictures of my last visit to Maine, in 2004, and of my two favorite Js and then we watched some television. Soon the house again began to fill with the aroma of Diane's cooking. She is a great cook and made us pasta with meatballs and sausage for dinner. We had cheesecake for dessert, and then settled in to watch a movie. Before I knew it, it was time for bed. I crawled into my comfy bed and drifted off.

I love snow days!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I traveled up the entire east coast in 3 hours and arrived in Bangor! It was great seeing my Dad waiting for me! He and Diane took me to Hollywood Slots, a casino in Bangor, where we had a delicious buffet dinner, complete with piles of crab legs! After eating we played penny slot machines for a while, and Dad ended up hitting big for $75!! I lost $10, which was a bargain for the hours of entertainment it brought. It started snowing on the drive home, and that reminded me of my childhood, and growing up in RI. I had forgotten how beautiful it is up north.

Tuesday morning I met the goats, Lucy and Ricky. They are so friendly and cute! We fed them animal crackers and tried to keep Lucy from knocking Ricky out trying to get more than her fair share.

We went for breakfast and then to see a movie. I loved riding around the little towns. It’s wonderful here – quiet and quaint. Nature everywhere. The snow, the trees, and the lakes all working together to create amazing landscapes. The buildings fit into these scenes perfectly. A general store, a small town church, or a town hall the size of a bedroom, add to the charm and make me smile at the simplistic beauty.

There is another snow coming tomorrow, and I plan to go out and throw a few snowballs. I haven’t done that in years! I am also eager to play more with Lucy and Ricky.

Lucy and Ricky

That's my Dad!

My Dad and Diane walking into the movie.

Parking lot at the movie's that Dad and Diane thought was "crowded"


Chillin' in St. Pete

I arrived in St. Pete Friday evening. The weather was cool, and rainy. I had reservations for Super 8, but wasn’t sure where it was in relation to the airport. By the time I was done dilly-dallying with my GPS trying to find out if it was a walkable distance, all of the cabs at the tiny airport were gone. I decided I would just walk there, and asked some random dude to point in the direction of 34th street. He told me it was too far to walk, but I asked him to point anyway. He did. Off I went. About an hour and 15 minutes later, I arrived at my weekend home, wet from the rain and eager to dry off, but happy I was able to walk the entire way without my back hurting. It does seem to be getting better since surgery.

Saturday morning Neil came down and we spent the day together. The weather was not as nice as we would have liked, but it was a lovely day anyway, which we kicked off with a quick cup of coffee at the Super 8. We then headed to this really cool Italian market called Mazarro’s (I think). It was really nice inside – looked just like Italy, and the ├ęclairs were amazing!!! A young boy in the kitchen looked just like my son-in-law, Dominick, and I tried to get his picture but was not able to get a good one.

Next we went to the Salvador Dali museum. I had really been wanting to go there! It was fun. Unfortunately they don’t let you take pictures inside, which I don’t understand at all since the Louvre allows picures. After the museum we had a delicous lunch at Fourth Street Shrimp Store. Neil told me that he and my Mom used to go there. I wondered which chair she may have sat in.

Sunday I rented a car and went to the beach. I drove around a bit, not sure where, but it was nice. In the afternoon, I took a nap and then sought out Italian food. It was a very low-key weekend and I wanted it that way. When I returned the rental car on Monday, I noticed the number on the license plate was 665 – my favorite number. I think just my family knows why .

Monday – off to Maine.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Clearwater Beach

The sand is soft, fluffy, and white like confectionary sugar. It’s warm enough to welcome bare feet, but cool enough to start the pins in my feet that the chemo causes.

I sit on the sand, wrap my feet in a towel, and look out at the ocean. Its gray color matches my mood, as does its lack of sparkle. I can relate to its attempts to roll up a good wave. I can see the effort, and how they then just fizzle out and give up. The usual powerful roar of the ocean has been reduced to a serene, tired moan.

There are just a few others here, but I wish there were less. I think back to the beach in Nice, where everything was perfect. Where nothing could invade my mind but the beauty around me. Where everything was new and awesome and nothing tied me to my past. Or my present. Where I was completely alone at the most beautiful place on earth. I could have spent days there…weeks even, staring up and down the surreal French shoreline, picking up colorful rocks to add to the collection in my pocket, and letting the waves roll over my legs. Sitting on the literal edge of the world.

The water in Nice also matched my mood that day. Light, vibrant and playful. The waves teased me and the sun shone brightly creating diamond-like sparkles across the sea. Life was so different during my three weeks in Europe. Simple, yet everything a new adventure. No personal history at all, just me and the moment. Certain thoughts never crossed my mind when I was there. The fact that I am sick, the fears I have of the future, the anger at what is being stolen from me, the very few, yet very painful regrets in my life. I wonder which time zone it is that those things could not cross.

I decide to stroll and look for shells. I put my shoes on to ward off the pins. There are lots of tiny fragments to be found, but I want to find a treasure. I start to dig in the soft sand, letting a tired wave rinse the sand away and reveal the buried shells. Immediately my fingers get the pin pokes. I hate chemo. I hate cancer. I allow myself to shed a few tears for what cancer has taken from me today as I walk away. Tomorrow I go back to trying to sparkle.

I give in today and realize that I need this type of day too. I spend the majority of my time cultivating a good attitude, looking at things positively, appreciating every moment, laughing and having fun at every occasion, but I am also grieving, and should allow myself some time to do that. I want to stay positive but cannot deny the fact that I am angry, feel cheated, and am sad. My heart breaks for those who love me. It’s a blessing and a curse, foresight. I’ve been given the gift of realizing how precious each moment is, how love is so much more important than anything, and how dreams will only come true if you make them. I’ve also been given the burden of mourning my own death.


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