Monday, April 30, 2012

The Oriole Sings for Me

I spend a considerable amount of time on our small, 7 x 9 deck.  It is 6 stories high, and lines up perfectly with a magnificent river birch tree. This tree is home to many birds. The first to arrive each spring are the orioles. Yesterday, on a crisp, clear Sunday morning, the oriole sings for me.

To hear an Oriole sing 
May be a common thing ~
Or only a divine. 

It is not of the Bird 
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto crowd ~

The Fashion of the Ear 
Attireth that it hear
In Dun, or fair ~

So whether it be Rune, 
Or whether it be none
Is of within. 

The "Tune is in the Tree ~" 
The Skeptic ~ showeth me ~ 
"No Sir! In Thee!" 

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why I Did What I Did

My recovery from a Bilateral Mastectomy with immediate reconstruction has not been smooth sailing. Because of chronic pain and concerns regarding my final outcome, I elected to have revision surgery prior to my exchange from Tissue Expanders to Implants.

Evidence of the sloppy workmanship of
Memorial Sloan Kettering's Head Plastic/Reconstructive Surgeon
 (aka DicDoc).


Day two, post surgery.
Surgery performed by Dr. Sandra Margoles.

DicDoc assured me that revisions could be made during the exchange from Tissue Expanders to Implants but that I should not expect to be symmetrical. 

Three separate opinions recommended that the revisions be made before the exchange and that I had the right to be symmetrical. 

For the record, the government agrees that cancer patients have the right to have symmetrical breasts, which is why insurance companies must pay for revisions and breast lifts to a non-cancer breast to match the breast that was reconstructed due to cancer. 

It was a gamble but I'm glad I did it. I am in more pain then I anticipated but I know its temporary.

I will begin receiving saline "fills" in two weeks.  The fills stretch the skin and the muscle so that the implant will fit under the muscle. 

Once the exchange is complete, I will focus on nipples and then... areola.  Areola is achieved by tattooing and I'm entertaining options other than boring, brown and round. 

Suggestions welcomed and encouraged! 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Mystery behind ROOM 408

I am on the shady side of the street, sitting at a small metal table outside the Lafayette Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, in New Orleans, Louisiana. An enticing breeze follows the streetcar line and with it comes the sweet scent of honeysuckle cascading from a third floor balcony of a neighboring, newly renovated townhouse.

Pitted brick sidewalks mix locals with tourists, and it is easy to spot those who call this city home. Their stride is wide and slow, and their arms wittingly sway. It's so different from the guarded, east-coast posture I've adapted and long to let go of.

There are three tables to choose from. All seat four and serve no purpose other than to beg you to rest. I pick the one that is positioned directly in front of a large window that has a ribbon of smoked glass and the word TWIRL etched in it.

My husband is playing a round of golf, and I have the day to do as I please.

Miss Lucy, my five and a half pound shih tzu, joins me. She attracts attention by wagging her tail like a flamenco fan on a smoldering summer day. She is a tuxedo shih tzu - primarily black with a splash of white that begins at her mouth, drips down her chest, and dots her toes.

Today, we are a perfect match. I am wearing a black, free flowing dress, a white, wide brimmed hat with a bellowing black bow, and white, wedged, sandals.

Built in 1916, the Lafayette hotel has seen better days, but none of this matters to us because we love it here. It is a small boutique hotel steeped in Parisian charm. The rooms are decorated with tarnished brass, chipped marble, stained carpets, and tired antiques. Thick crown molding outlines high ceilings, french doors and large paned windows punctuated in hefty, sullied silk curtains trimmed with ornate tassels. The color scheme is french blue, gold, and maroon - my favorite.

We have been coming here for more than 5 years and we've watched the hotel change hands twice. The current owners dismantled most of the long-standing staff which was the main reason we overlooked the idiosyncrasies of this aging hotel. But change here, as in life, is inevitable.

My plan is to relax, reward and recharge. Relax my mind from three months of intense worry, reward myself with libations and live music, and recharge my creativity by writing.

I love the city of New Orleans. I love the imagination and the artistry that flourishes here. I love the diversity of its people, the depth of its music, and the tantalizing taste of its cuisine. I also acknowledge and respect the wide range of struggle that percolate here.

I begin each day with a stroll into the french quarter. Today, as I round the corner of Royal Street and head up Esplanade, I spot a man in a black kilt, t-shirt, and work boots. He is exiting his compact pick-up truck with a cooler in hand. I want to ask him where he is going but instead, I wish him a good-morning. He returns my greeting with a noble node and a smile that includes his eyes. I haven't seen a man in a kilt since Burning Man. It is common attire there, and this is another reason why I love New Orleans. The city implements many Burning Man principles, mainly, radical self expression and inclusion.

Also like Burning Man, New Orleans celebrates life and art simultaneously. People decorate their bicycles, dress imaginatively, dance without care, and greet the day with wide eyes and open arms.  

Yesterday, we were entertained in a highly unusual way. After a day of perusing our favorite bistro's, bars and antique shops, we return to our suite and are captivated by the sound of our neighbors engaged in a late day tryst. Because our living-room area is separated from their bedroom by paper-thin walls and a hollow adjoining door with an inch of space at its base, every heated breath and moan is audible.

We think about going for a walk, or retreating to our bedroom, but my voyeuristic curiosity gets the best of me. It is like watching porn blind. She rides him with a vengeance and he, clearly exhausted, does his best to oblige. Twice he falls asleep and without missing a beat, she slaps him, hard. "Wake up, wake up," she orders. "I'm up, I'm up," he replies.  Clearly, she wants more from her pony ride.

After twenty-three minutes of banging, spanking, and squeals of joy, it is over and I am left wanting more. I need a visual. What do they look like? How old are they? Are they new to each other or seasoned veterans? Nothing about their lovemaking is vanilla.

And worse, I can't help but compare. Should I be more assertive, more explicit? Should I thread shouts of delight with demeaning directives? When, how and why does pain ignite pleasure? Is cooing and cuddling boring bedroom behavior?

Mr. Cooked, my bedfellow of 14 plus years, is convinced our neighbor is a man he spotted twice earlier. A man in his late 50's with white hair and wire-rimmed sunglasses. I too saw this man, sitting in one of the metal chairs just outside our hotel. He was waiting for someone. I guess it could have been his wife. He looked impatient as he tapped his sneakers together and sucked on his cigarette. He was wearing a red, "Thing 1" t-shirt that was tight across his bulging belly. Clearly this was not a man who could trot (viagra or not) for twenty-three minutes.

I envision our neighbor being the robotic looking naval officer that passed us during our morning coffee outside PJ's cafe.  He is in his early thirty's with broad shoulders, a buxom bottom, and abs of steel. I imagine that, because he is stationed here briefly, he be-lines to Bourbon Street, finds a young fraulein fresh from spring break, and woos her back to his hotel. After too much tequila, and what he believes might possibly be the best sex of his life, he wakes to find his watch, (a rolex knockoff) missing, along with what is left of his cash and a girl who's name escapes him.

So now you see the real reason why I am perched here, outside my hotel. I am waiting for the couple in room 408 to appear so that I can put a face to these feverish fornicators.

I sit at my metal table until the soothing shade is replaced with glaring, late day sun. I sit and watch couples come and go. I tally them up, subtracted the singles, couples with canes, and those with more than one dog.

Finally, in desperation, I implement a ruse. I go to the front desk and ask Dwayne, the new manager, about the couple in room 408. I tell Dwayne that I spotted them in the lobby and am convinced I met them here, this time last year. Dwayne tells me that they are from Illinois and that this is their first time visiting New Orleans.

Let it go, Shannon.  Let it go.

"Is that so," I question.
"Yes, I'm certain of it," says Dwayne.
"Is he, by any chance, in the navy?" I ask.
"I have no idea," says Dwayne.
"So you never saw him in uniform?"
"Not during my shift," insists Dwayne.

I can't let it go.

"Is the gentleman in 408 younger or older than I?"
"That's hard to say."
"It's okay Dwayne, you can be honest."
"I'm not sure that I can, Ma'am."

Still, can't let it go and please stop calling me Ma'am.

"Did the gentleman in 408 ask if you had a gym?"
"The Hotel does NOT have a gym," explains Dwayne.
"Yes, I am aware of that, but did he ask if there was one nearby?"
"NO, he did not."
"Does he look like a man who frequents the gym on a regular basis?"
"I'm not sure how to answer that, Ma'am" says Dwayne.

Dwayne is clearly baffled by my line of questioning and I am growing increasingly annoyed by his use of the word "Ma'am."

I retreat to my room and strategize a plan C.

I put the ice bucket near the front door and wait in silence for the sound of footsteps heading down the hallway. When they approach, I will exit, bucket in hand, as if I am nonchalantly on my way to the ice machine.

Twenty some-odd minutes later, I hear the ding of the elevator.

Flustered, I rush out the door, shoeless and bucket-less, and find the man from 407 smiling at me.
"Where are you going in such a hurry honey?" asks my husband.

Mr. Cooked pops open a cold beer, kicks off his shoes and rests, while my curiosity run wild.

An hour or so later, I detect loud thumping. I rush to our adjoining wall and am disappointed to discover that it is the echo of an amplified bass guitar and drums, warming up for tonights concert in the park.

Another lovely feature of the hotel is its location. It is situated on the rim of the art and warehouse district, next to historic Lafayette Square Park. Every Wednesday there is a free concert coupled with an eclectic collection of vendors from the downtown restaurants. Tonights entertainment is a local favorite, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. The park will be jammed and we will have easy access in and out.

After freshening up, we meet friends in the park and join in on the fun. The music is loud but that doesn't stop me from talking about our neighbors in room 408.

A bowl of macaroni and cheese and several vodka tonics later, we retreat to our room where there is nothing but silence.

We wait for the crowd in the park to disperse before coming back with Miss Lucy for the days, final dog walk.

It is astounding to see the work that goes into setting up and dismantling this weekly events. The crew begins early and finishes late. When it's over, everything is restored to its original, pristine state.

In the shadows I spot a familiar face. It is the man in the kilt. He is breaking down one of the concession stands. His smile is as wide as it was this morning.

By definition New Orleans is a city, but it's small enough that if you spend more than a days here you will bump into familiar faces. Like Vivian, originally from South Africa, who wears vintage Paris hats and earns a living running one of the mule driven carriages - hers being the only one equipped with a bubble machine. Or Manny and Marsha, who recently adopted two pit bulls that were abandoned in the Bayou. Or the Judge, who really is a judge, and frequents our favorite bar, perhaps a bit too regularly.

On our way back, we merge with a couple as they exit the hotel's adjoining restaurant. He lets go of her waist, long enough to open the lobby door.

Could this be our neighbors?

He is "money-upped" (a phrase borrowed from my husband). A man in his late 50's with wavy brown hair and round, tortes shell glasses. He is wearing a blue sports jacket, muted pink shirt, contrasting bow tie, pink socks, and penny loafers.

She is an attractive, curvaceous woman in her early thirty's with long, flaming red hair and bangs that bleed past her brow and into her eyes. Her dressed is conservative, if it were not for her jam-packed cigarette slacks, stacked heels, and bombshell cleavage erupting from a black lace bra under a crisp, white blouse.

She focuses on Miss Lucy, while the rest of us focus on the obvious - her bulging breasts. I zero in on the top three buttons of her shirt, convinced they are on the verge of popping.

This must be our neighbors.

She asks the usual questions, "What type of dog is she?" How old is she?" and "What is her name?"

Before I have a chance to answer, we are interrupted by the ding of an arriving elevator.

There are five floors to choose from, twelve rooms per floor - six on the east side and six on the west.

We step in and, with great anticipation, wait for them to press their floor.

It is the same as ours - floor number four.

Please let this be our neighbors.

It feels a bit awkward when we step off the elevator and all turn right. We are in the lead and the first to arrive at our room.

Arm and arm, they squeeze passed us, and proceed to the door at the end of the hallway - room number 408.

Finally, we have met our neighbors!

I can hardly contain myself. I am more excited than a pig in a parade. I want to squeal with laughter but instead, I tip-toe to our adjoining wall and wait.

Mr. Cooked unscrews a wine bottle. "Shhhhh!" I tell him.
Mr. Cooked unties his sneakers.  "SHHHHH!" I repeat.

It didn't take long for the games to begin.

This time, she is playful and he is stern.

"Give it to me, give it to me" she pleads.

"NO" he replies.

No? Why won't he give it to her? Oh... come... on. Let her have it! Don't make me regret missing Late Nights with Chelsea Handler.

Was she bad? Is he out of medication?

"Please, please, please..." she begs.

She is no longer in charge and I can't, for the life of me, understand why he won't accommodate her.

She promises to take good care of IT and I believe her. At this point she is so insistent, that everyone on the fourth floor believes her. I can hear her stomping her stacked heals and I make a mental note - must remember to wear heals to bed.

She starts to cry.

The whining is agonizing and I wish I could explain to her what a turn off it is.

I am wrong.
It is working.
She is winning.

"Okay, Okay," he relinquishes.

His resign, launches her shrills of joy, and the wild ruckus begins!

She is happy.
He is happy.
We are all happy.

Once again, she gets what she wants...

This time, it's a puppy.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Fairmont State University - Fairmont, West Virginia

Today is Easter. To me, holidays have always been about my father. Because I did not grow up living with my father, holidays (especially Easter) gave us a chance to play together.

As a child, this was our time to ski or run together.  As an adult, this was our time to share a day, a meal, a drink, a laugh.

I deliberately aligned myself with my father. I shadowed him. I shared my highs and lows with him. And in the end, I carried him.

In his own way, my father proved to me, that I was loved. In return, that told me that I was worthy of love.

Today, on the first holiday since his passing, I am at Fairmont State University - his old college stomping grounds.

I am crying because I miss him. I am crying harder because I wish I took the trip while he was still with us.

I want to walk beside him. I want him to show me where he studied, where he ate, where he slept, where he played.

I love you Dad.

Happy Easter everyone.  Happy Easter... 

 Easter 2011

Friday, April 6, 2012

Slapping Stephen King

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. 
Photograph: Ronald Grant

Damn you Stephen King!!! You brought it back. You pulled it from a place of rest. You hit me with it - hard. You hit me till my voice stammered, my body froze. You hit me till my fingers hovering silently above the keys.

You hit me with my own insecurities. All it took was a few lines from your book, "Stephen King On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft."

I was horrified by what you told me, "If I want to be a writer, I must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.  There's no way around these two things, no shortcuts."

My first apartment without a living, breathing man, was filled with dead ones - Yeats, Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy... I fanned their pages, bent their binders, dented their covers, put markers at page 167, 240, 484, moved it forward and backwards, as if flipping through them meant I knew them.

When I studied Tolstoy's War and Peace, I pretended I was a speed reader and finger feed my way to page 842 before I lost interest. He was too intense.

So I guess I'm not a writer. I don't read enough. I don't write enough. I am just a women who spends a large chunk of her life, playing with the tic, tic, tic, space, tap, tap, tap, return, of her laptop.

I don't know how to dream up stories, or unfold complicated plots. I tap what haunts me. I tap what lingers at the back of my throat.

I am a blogger who thrives on your reply.

I blog because I don't know how to write a book. I blog because facebook status updates, and cancer discussion boards are not enough. I blog because of people like Chris.

Today, two days late for my INSECURE WRITER'S SUPPORT GROUP post, an unknown commenter named Chris tells me...

I've just now stumbled upon your blog. I've tended to peruse blogs relating to catstir, since my diagnosis back in September. I even drunkenly started one, though I am normally too shy and insecure and neglectful of it to comment and therefore leave a trace of it somehow. But, I'll take that risk because I have to comment tonight after reading what you said about catstir being a gift. Usually, I am loathe to call it a gift. I keep trying to find a different word like "lesson" or something else. However, you made me look at it differently tonight with these words: "...I received my first catstir gift - knowing I wanted to live". 

I was slowly recovering from one of the worst and scariest bouts of clinical depression I'd ever had right before I found out I had this. Catstir did, indeed, mysteriously (to me)take the word "suicide" out of my mental tape player. That truly is a gift. There is no other way of looking at it anymore. "Knowing I want to live and fight to live". I can't even express how heartbroken I am for the loss of your son. Thank you for speaking up about depression...I have to stop now because I'm really in need of a tissue (sorry, I can't help it). I just wanted to let you know that your words, and your willingness to share them, are a gift as well.  ~Chris

I blog knowing there are those who relate to my pain and my joy. People who are not afraid to speak their truth - who are not afraid to cry openly or laugh loudly.

Thank you for reminding me why I tap and slap away at what moves me, what stays with me, what demands to be heard.

With love and gratitude...


P.S. There was this one day, after band camp and before reading Stephen King, when I was almost certain I was a writer.  And this is some of what I wrote:  MY WRITING

SPECIAL THANKS to the old man who blames his neighbors, republicans and fox news for all his woes.  Who enjoys throwing rocks at geese, printing out pages of my blog, and passing it round for others to read. Yes, I'll take all the readers I can get - especially the lonely ones.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Basketball, Basketball

"Keep living your life out loud." words of wisdom courtesy of Chris McQueeney

photo courtesy of Sports Blog Moment 

"Basketball, basketball..." is what echoes in my mind when I remember my fathers final days. I have yet to grieve, or fully accept, his death. But today is a good day to begin.  

"Great weather, if you're a duck," is how my father would sum it up - a weekend full of damp drizzle mixed with spouts rain.

I stay inside, surf through pictures and video's of him, wishing I had more.

When I'm not doing this, I'm surfing the cancer discussion boards, gathering stories and information from those who are battling the disease.

Living with the fear of cancer is my next big hurtle.

"We'll have to watch you closely," said my doctor.  
"What are you looking for?" I ask. 
"Primarily ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and - because you had a melanoma on your back and breast cancer in front - lung cancer. Your odds of getting cancer in the next ten years are..."
"STOP!!!" I shout.   

Tonight is the NCAA Women's semi-finals college basketball game. It is Notre Damn vs UConn. The same matchup we saw at our last, live, game together. 

I don't remember who won, but it must have been UConn. My father idolized their head coach, Geno Auriemma, and his "girls" were unstoppable. 

 photo via AP

Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Tina Charles were some of his favorites. When he spoke of them they sounded more like daughters then players.  I'm certain he did this to make me jealous. And it worked.

When I think of how he lived, I have memories that stretch miles. When I think of how he died - at home, peacefully - I reflect on his final three days...  

On the Friday before his death, my father asks to see Jackson - his great grandson. When I tell him Jackson is at school he repeats, "Jackson at school, Jackson at school..." over and over again. 

When Jackson comes home from school, my father turns his head towards him, and repeats, "Basketball, Basketball." 

Jackson loves basketball. His backyard hoop rests just outside my father's bedroom window. Jackson takes great grandpa's cue, and goes outside to shoot some hoops. 

My fathers eyes, ears and mind, are alert, as he focuses on the bounce, bang and swish of basketball, basketball.

On Saturday, my father turns towards me and says, "Lindsay, Lindsay." 

I text my daughter and tell her that Grandpa wants to see her. When she arrives his eyes tear, his mouth quivers, as he repeats, over and over again, "I love you, I love you, I love you."

On Sunday, my father tells me, "Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania."

I know exactly what he means. 

My husband is in Pennsylvania visiting his family and I am convinced I am better off without him.  I am convinced he doesn't love me enough, but my father knows he does.

I listen to my father, call my husband, and ask him to come home.

My relationship with my sister, my fathers only other living child, had been strained for many years. She is on her way here and I am dreading it. To me, she is the enemy.

When she arrives, we take turns sitting beside him - stroking his hair, clutching his hand, replaying memories of childhood mischief and merriment.

As the day grows dark, after the priest delivers his last rights, my sister reads him passages from her bible and I read him Dr. Seuss.

He waits.  He waits until it is just my sister and I, alone together.  He waits until the strain lifts and the laughter is sincere.  He waits for us to giggle, as little girls do. As, once upon a time, we often did. 

And then, after three, deep, gasps of air, he leaves. 

I close his eyes. 

I kiss his forehead. 

I leave while his skin is still pink and warm.

I leave holding my sister hand. I instantly understand, that we are the last, living part of him.

I leave with tears and a smile.

Writing about my father is a reoccurring theme. Play Date for Dad is my favorite. 

xo, MOnkeYME

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison