Thursday, September 21, 2023

Me and Tommy Lee

I am attending a writer's workshop in Rhinebeck, New York. I want to stand out in this group of 16 women and one man. I am trying hard not to focus on the one man that sits behind me, but he is delicious. Tall, dark-skinned, long, luscious hair pulled back tight. I want to ask him if he'll pull it up high, in a bun, just for me. He is lean, elegant, soft-spoken, and vulnerable in his demeanor and writing style - just my type. 

In my mind, his age is equal to mine, our bodies align. He is 36.

I want to have drinks with Judith. She is 87 and sits cross-legged in her chair. I want her knees, and to shadow her as she unapologetically celebrates her well-lived life.

I am entertained by the friends I sit between. They have known each other since they were 3 and 8. Their mothers were best friends. They live on separate coasts now but make time to travel, reminisce, and delight in what they have, what they lost, what they carry, and what they cherish. 

I am here because I want to be noticed. I like and respect the instructor. Her writing style speaks to me. I have submitted a personal essay for consideration in an upcoming book she is working on entitled, The Essential Essay: Crafting the Story Only YOU Can Write. 

"Give a brief introduction of who you are and why you are here," is her prompt. She turns to her left and nods to the person in the first chair to start. I am to her right. I do math and surmise I have 10 chairs and 20 minutes before I take center stage. 

I want to stand out. 

"My name is Shannon," I say when it is finally my turn. I know not to say my last name because people often get stuck on it.  Kennedy, wow, any relation to THE Kennedys, they'll wonder. 

"I am writing about my cancer as it collides with my sexual awakening," I say. 

"It's a remarkable time in my life. I am facing a stage 4, terminal illness. But we are all terminal," I add - pause for a ripple of muted giggles. 

"I am currently in remission and feeling just fine but I don't know for how long and don't want to waste a day, minute, or second of my time.” This cheeky rhyming is unscripted and usually means I’m on point and connecting with something larger than me. 

“My first instinct, after hearing my diagnosis, was to travel - see and taste places unknown.  But I am not permitted to fly, due to three pulmonary embolisms – a party favor from my last surgery. They tell me these can snap from my lungs and race to my brain by something as simple as a bump to my head, or cabin pressure. Instead, I have decided to travel inward - focus on self-discovery, self-love, and self-care. Part of that includes my sexuality. I have made the deliberate decision to stop pleasing men and for the first time in my life, ask that they please me - sexually."

The room is silent, all eyes are on me. I elaborate just a bit more. 

“I want to put this delicious chapter of my life in full view. But I don’t want to scar my family, especially my daughter. How do I do that? How do I know when to stop, what is too much, too raunchy, or too self-indulgent?” 

If I got an answer, I didn’t hear it. I already know the answer. It’s part of my voice, my purpose. It wouldn’t flow like this, it wouldn’t unfold like this, if it wasn’t meant to be written. 

I could always publish it as fiction, but I like owning it. This is my journey to the divine feminine - an energy force focused on my intuition, receptivity, and interconnectedness and the healing, harmony, and growth that arises from it. 

At the closing of our first day, we are given a writing assignment. The prompt is…

The hardest thing I… 

We are told to write for 15 minutes and limit the piece to 800 words max. 

This assignment does not appeal to me. I don’t want to focus on the hard parts of my life. Not here. Not now. And worse, I don’t want to hear other people’s hardships. Not here. Not now.

How do I turn “the hardest thing I…” into something lighthearted? 

I call my daughter, Ling and my best monkey, Robin. Ling has a wholesome idea – the hardest meal you ever cooked. Robin, in true monkey form, nails it. “Write about the hardest dick you ever had in your mouth. 

Clearly, she is BRILLIANT.  

Assignment: The Hardest Thing I … 

Write for 15 minutes, 800 words or less.

Date: 9/19/2023

We have created an annual tradition - running the Damon Runyon 5k cancer research fundraiser held in Yankee Stadium. Year one it was Ling, her fabulous husband, Pete, and me. Then there was COVID and it was canceled, and then we lost our focus. This year we are back and we added two new team members, my grandson Jacky Blue and Airport Man. 

If you are a Yankee fan, it is a HUGE thrill running up and down the decks and laps on the field. If you are not a Yankee fan, there is still a HUGE thrill running the stadium, passing the dugouts and home plate - eclipsed by the expansiveness of bleachers, billboards, and scoreboards.  

Afterward, we retreat to my house - lounging and rehydrating in the living room. 

In the center of the room, is a small chest that serves as a coffee table. It is the first piece of furniture I ever bought, and I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it roosted in a storefront window on Greenwich Avenue in 1983. Does that make it an antique? It wasn’t then but it’s been 40 years. What defines an antique and if it is, am I an antique? 

Inside the chest is memorabilia that spans the course of my life ranging from Congratulations on Your Baby Girl cards given to my parents, hair wrapped in waxed paper from a pixie haircut my father arranged, against my mother’s wishes, on our way to the World Fair, report cards and class pictures tucked between treasured memories of my father and children. 

My daughter lifts the lid to the chest and pulls out items that speak to her. First, a book she wrote in the 2nd grade titled, “The Monkey that ate too much Candy,” and reads it out loud. Airport Man focuses on a yellowed newspaper dating back to 1997. On the left column of the front page, is a picture of me as it relates to an article about female-owned and operated businesses. Beneath my picture is Oprah’s. I saved the paper not so much for the article but because my picture is above Oprah’s. 

He is seated, calf over thigh, in a low-ride, Jonathan Adler lounge chair. The paper is open wide, shielding his upper torso when Ling uncovers a ripped page from one of my journals, preserved in a plastic sleeve. 

“I know what this is,” she declares as she studies the list of names that line the left side of the page. “these are all the men you’ve slept with!” she spews. 

With that, Airport Man, folds down the paper and uncrosses his legs. All eyes, including my grandsons, are on me. “No, no, no… those are men I’ve dated,” I counter.  

“Why isn’t my father on here?” she asks. The list is so old that her father and my third husband are not included. “I ran out of paper,” I say, jokingly. 

No one is laughing. Especially, Airport Man.

She scans the names and screeches… “Tommy Lee! You slept with Tommy Lee?!?”

I stand, emboldened by my beloveds, and as best I can. defend myself. 

“Not THAT Tommy Lee! Not Pamela Anderson's Tommy Lee.” 

“My Tommy was a third-string quarterback for the New York, Jets by the time we… dated. He destroyed his career when he got into a car accident and blew out his knee.”

With that Ling, Pete, and Jacky Blue hastily departed. And I was left alone with Airport Man. 

Airport Man is furious – humiliated that my sexual encounters have been aired out in front of him. I do my best to calm him, knowing how ridiculous he sounds but understanding how vulnerable this makes him feel. 

I do my best to soothe him, “It’s been 40 years. 40 years since I briefly… dated him.”

Despite my efforts, nothing settles. 

On the morning of his departure, we wake to sheets that are tussled and bundled at the foot of the bed.

“Do you know how humiliating this was for me - to hear about your sexual escapades, in front of your family!!!” 

This is the moment I realize Airport Man is a staunch conservative.  

From this point on, few words are spoken. There is no morning sex. We ride in silence to the airport. When he exits the car, he will not hold my gaze. He is polite but abrasive. I am crushed. 

I wake several times that night… Tommy Lee’s cock is deep inside my mouth. I try to speak but his cock is huge, stiff and all-consuming. I am choking. 

The nightmare revisits me, over and over again. It is by far, the hardest thing I have ever had to swallow. 


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Part Six - The Proposal

I am back in Fells Point, Baltimore. This time with my daughter, Ling, the world's best son-in-law, Pete, and our two dogs. It is the beginning of spring. The sun is warm and the air is refreshingly crisp. It is easy to distract ourselves from the reason we are here, as we mindlessly meander uneven cobblestone streets brimming with hip restaurants, festive pubs, boutiques, and galleries.

It's been 10 years since I was treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. So much has changed since then. Both dogs that accompanied me, and gave me so much love and emotional support, have died and I am down another husband (due to divorce, not death). The treatment I received then was humbling and humiliating - four consecutive days of internal, high-dose rectal radiation, three surgeries, and a battery of tests. I lost count of how many people had their fingers up my ass or how many times I was sodomized by the radiation "wand."

After the surgical placement of radioactive seeds around my tumor, a team of medical professionals inserted the wand, estimated the correct position, and then scurried out of the room to X-ray me. The X-ray showed the correlation between the seeds that surround the tumor and the placement of the wand. More often than not, they would get it wrong - too far in, too far out, too far left, too far right - which meant they needed to hustle back in, remove the wand, and reposition it. I don't know what bothered me more, the fact that they performed this abrupt pull-out and reinsertion without so much as a dinner invitation, or that they left me alone on a table, with a wand up my ass, during the X-ray process.

After day two I asked for lorazepam. A lot of it. And lubrication. Prior to this diagnosis, I wasn't accustomed to having objects shoved up my ass, so the process was... unpleasant.

This is now my reference point when considering ongoing cancer treatments or any diagnostic measures. "Do you have to shove anything up my ass?" I ask. If not, whatever they have in store for me doesn't seem so bad.

At the time, internal radiation therapy was new for rectal cancer. The research came from McGill University in Canada. I was the 16th person in the United States to receive it. I need to pause here to remember, with love and gratitude, Ricky, who found the trial and forwarded it to me. I met Ricky through my blog back in 2012. She too was diagnosed with breast cancer and like me, was disfigured by "Dick Dock," Memorial Sloan Kettering's chief plastic surgeon. Sadly, Ricky lost her battle with cancer in 2017.

The tumor was undetectable after the radiation but I elected to go ahead with the surgery so they could prove I had a complete pathological response. It also gave me peace of mind. But if I could do it all over, I would have elected not to have 18 inches of my large intestines, including the sigmoid section of my colon and rectum, removed.  It also meant I would be sporting a stoma (and the dreaded "bag") for 9 months until my chemotherapy treatment was complete. Once recovered, I'd be back for another surgery, this time they would use part of my colon to create a faux rectum. What they didn't focus on (or I blocked from my memory), was quality of life issues - a condition known as LARS (lower anterior resection syndrome) - that I would face for the rest of my life. For more information on LARS feel free to Google, but trust me when I tell you, I am a high-stakes gambler every time I pull on a pair of white pants.  

Because how we react to situations shows the true spirit and character of someone, this is one of those situations I am most proud of.  After tossing my husband (whom I loved very much) out of the house for his online fantasy infidelity, and after surgery left me with a stoma and an underlying, bulbous hernia that I called, "my baby head," I was one chemo treatment in when I traveled to New Orleans with my daughter, two of her friends, and my best monkey friend, to celebrate Halloween. I wore a black pleather, naughty nurse outfit with snaps down the front. Underneath, I spirit-glued grotesque, faux scars over my real mastectomy scars, and wore black Spanx boy shorts to cover my dreaded bag. All night long I ripped open my dress and watched people gawk at my mangled breasts. I was also pushing the arrest button, knowing it is illegal to expose your breasts in New Orleans if you are a woman and if (this is the important part) you have nipples. But my nipples are also faux, as is my areola, so I'm free to taunt my faux foobs up and down Bourbon Street. 

Mr. Jones continues to text and call during my time at Fells Point. Noticeably absent is Airport Man. 

"They postponed my PET scan," I text Airport Man. 

"It's back on for 3:00 pm," I update him hours later. 

When the procedure finally begins, I text him a picture of the radioactive vile of glucose being injected into my arm. 

Still no response. 

This is the first time I recognize a pattern. If things get heavy, he disappears - reappearing 24 to 48 hours later with an upbeat, obnoxiously positive text that avoids the situation altogether.

"How is the weather there?" He asks the following day.

As hard and illogical as it is for me to admit, I need him. I need him to distract me from my cancer. Even with the tenderness sent my way by Mr. Jones, it's Airport Man I want. 

"Listen, Sweetheart, you're going to marry me," Mr. Jones announces over the phone after the PET scan is over. "You're going to be fine. I'll make sure of it. You'll get the best treatment available and I'll never leave your side."

"I can't marry you," I tell him, "I'm dating someone." 

"He doesn't count," Mr. Jones counters, "He's already married!" I have been honest with Mr. Jones from the beginning, and he has been completely transparent with me. 

Ling and Pete do their best to keep me focused on having fun and I am grateful for the love, dedication, and support they show me. 

We have a long, liquid lunch at the outdoor bar at Sagamore Pendry - a luxurious, recently restored, 1914 building that is now a five-star hotel in the heart of downtown Baltimore's, Recreation Pier. 

"You don't need a man, Mama. You have us," Ling reminds me. 

"Mr. Jones asked me to marry him," I tell her. 

"You can't marry him!" she insists. 

Maybe we will get married here, I imagine, letting my Calgon Moment take me away.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Part Five - Me and Mr. Jones

  We have a thing..... going on. 

In the spring of 2019, I was hyper-focused on 3 days of Peace, Love & Music - the upcoming golden anniversary of Woodstock. As the date grew closer, plans for the event shifted, including the location and musicians that would perform. Eventually, everything was canceled. This worked out perfectly for me since I 'accidentally' bought a block of tickets, at an inflated price, from a third-party scalper, and cancelation of the event was my only shot at redemption. 

This left Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the grounds of the original Woodstock when the land was owned by farmer Max Yasgur, the only ticket in town to host this once-in-a-lifetime, 50-year celebration. 

The three-day commemoration highlighted performances by Woodstock '69 artists including a hello from Melanie, and music by Arlo Guthrie, Edgar Winter, Santana, and John Fogerty. Other performers including, Ringo Starr, The Doobie Brothers, Blood Sweat and Tears, Grace Potter, and The Tedeschi Trucks Band played songs that were originally performed at Woodstock.

I arrived early Saturday, dressed to frolic with fellow Woodstock worshipers, in a faded t-shirt, tattered jeans, and a teal blue wig adorned with a crown of feathers, flowers, and horns.

When the evening grew closer and the rain set in, I found shelter in one of the craft tents. Here, a woman of similar age approached me and asked if I was single. Not knowing where this was going but inebriated to the point of being intrigued, I let her know my heart was wide open. 

"Don't move," she said. "I want you to meet my friend. He's going to love you," she assured me, "And," she added, "He's a great catch." 

Two sips of my drink later, she returned with a tall, trim, clean-cut, prominent-looking man that she clearly lionized. Dressed in pressed jeans and a crisp, new tie-dye shirt, he looked out of character and stiff.

He stood like a bull before me - his eyes focused, his breath strong and steady. Under a halo of fluorescent lighting meant to illuminate art, he leaned in and gently kissed me.

"Come with me," he said, taking me by the hand and leading me toward the main stage inside the amphitheater.

Noone challenged us as we weaved our way past checkpoints, ushers, and security, to fourth-row center seats. "You can sit on my lap," he prompted, then cradled me in his arms.

I stayed in his arms while Carlos Santana introduced his wife on drums - Cindy Blackman Santana. I stayed in his arms as they played Black Magic Woman. Like hippies from the 60's, we entangled ourselves in laughter and kisses while Carlo's guitar strings sang Europa.

We stayed until the start of the encore - until this big cat leaned in and said, "I have to go, Sweetheart. Call me sometime," then handed me his card. 

A game of cat and mouse pursued - he, too preoccupied with his life to hunt, and me, patiently waiting to pounce.

It would be several months before we met again, this time at a history New York City mid-town landmark - a former piano bar dating back to the 1930s, appropriately named the Monkey Bar. Rumor has it, the mirrored paneling mimicked the scandalous behavior of its prohibition patrons ("Monkey see, Monkey do"). In the 1950's the mirrors were replaced with spectacular hand-painted monkey murals by caricaturist Charlie Wala. This was also where, in my 40s, a man caught my heart and I knocked it out of his hands when I discovered, months later, that he was married (aka, Mr. Wonderful).

The plan was simple, drinks then dinner. He would stay at the adjoining hotel, Elysee, and I, like Cinderella, had a midnight car service scheduled. 

He paced outside the restaurant, engulfed in a plume of smoke as he sucked on a Marlboro red. I was 35 minutes late.

I caught his look of confusion when I stepped out of the town car - my hair now chestnut brown and short, my eyes shielded in tortuous shell glasses, my body conservatively dressed in a loose-fitting, tiger print cashmere sweater, cropped wide-legged black merino wool pants, and ankle-high black crocodile, stiletto-heal boots.

He greeted me pensively, tossed his lit cigarette on the ground, and ushered me inside. With a warmth I expected for me, he smiled at the maitre d', greeted him by name then pressed a one-hundred-dollar bill into his palm. "Booth in the back, Francisco," he said with a tight-lipped smile.

He drank bourbon straight through dinner. Then had a double for dessert.

When it was time for the check he told Francisco he wanted two, crisp menus as souvenirs. The flip side of the menu illustrated two, finely dressed monkeys gliding down 54th Street - tails raised high and proud. 

As the waiter handed him the menus, he leaned in and whispered, "Don't leave. You have your own room." When I hesitated he added, "I made reservations at Tavern on the Green for breakfast."

We never made it to breakfast. A tour of my room included a make-out session that ended abruptly when he offered too much information. 

"Last time I was with a woman..." he boasted.

Oh please stop, I thought, my disapproval punctuated by my furrowed brows. 

"I had a heart attack while she was giving me a blow job," he added. 

"Oh hell NO! Please stop," I insisted. This time out loud. 

"If she didn't give me mouth to mouth, I'd be dead," He elaborated. 

"Way too much information," I said. This time, even louder. 

"Guess I got my money's worth," he chuckled - suggesting this was a paid service.

"You're obviously wealthy enough but not healthy enough for sexual activity," I snapped. 

I spent the night alone in a crisp, king-sized bed. 

We shared complimentary coffee in the lobby the next morning. He left in his oversized red pickup truck before my driver arrived. Neither of us waved goodbye.

For the next four years, we would exchange random, meaningless, late-night texts. Without fail, the morning after, I would review our thread and delete it.

I was seated solo at the Monteleone's revolving carousel bar, located in the lobby of the same haunted hotel where I left Charlie just days before - enjoying one final drink in New Orleans before heading to the reality of home, when my phone buzzed.

"How you doing, Sweetheart?" he texted.

I briefly considered ignoring him but a mid-day text from Mr. Jones was out of character.

"I'm in New Orleans," I answered. 

"Good for you," he texted, then added, "I've been thinking about you."

I don't remember if I told him over a text or a call, but he attached himself to me the moment I released the words, "I have cancer, again."

Unlike Airport Man, Mr. Jones wanted to know everything about my illness. Unlike Good Time Charlie, distance did not deter him. And to my surprise, I let him in. 

At his urging, I sent him copies of my medical documents, names of doctors, and even my daughter's contact information. "If I can't get ahold of you I need to know you're alright," he insisted.

When I told him I was headed to Baltimore in two days for a PET scan at Johns Hopkins, he offered to take me. When I told him I was driving down with my daughter and son-in-law, he offered to meet me there and take us to dinner. When I checked into the hotel there was a large bouquet of flowers waiting for me at the front desk. The card read, "Thinking of you. Love always, Mr. Jones." When I texted him a picture of the flowers he was annoyed by the arrangement and sent a second. This time the card read, "With all my love. I hope you have a wonderful day today. Thinking of you always. Love, Jimmy Jones."

Jimmy Jones... it was a moment that felt as 'big' as when Big's name was revealed on Sex and the City

He must have told me before, right? I thought. I wouldn't have agreed to meet a man for dinner not knowing his first name? I wouldn't have stayed semi-connected to someone for four years not knowing his first name?

But I swear, if he told me before, I completely forgot.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Part Four - Button Down Blues

With champagne on ice, Charlie reaches into his backpack and pulls out an XXL, slim fit, navy blue, dress shirt with pearl-white buttons. Like him, it is timeless.

"Try this on," he says. "It's my favorite."

The room is the perfect balance of old and new. Crown molding and high ceilings accented by sweeping silk curtains and king-sized, luxurious bedding in hushed tones of French blue.

I step into the bathroom and set off low, ambiance lighting. Door shut, I undress slowly and stare at my tempered reflection in the mirror. His shirt feels like home on my skin. 

He stands tall and proud - undressed at the foot of the bed. His hair is tousled. It is my first glance at his tanned, tight body. I pause to watch his chest slowly heave. He smiles and I blush.

This southern California surfer boy left the beach long enough to obtain a law degree and a master's in literature.

"Where have you been all my life," he asks. "East Coast baby," I tell him. "Ah... Biggie territory," he says.

Like me, Good Time Charlie worships music and his taste is as vast and as varied as mine. 

He pours two glasses of champagne, sets them on the side table, then climbs onto the bed - positioning himself upright, in the center of a mound of down pillows.

"You wear my shirt well," he says, then pulls me towards him. And I believe him.

He runs his hands through my hair, pausing to lift the collar of the shirt. It brushes against my neck and I quiver.

We toast to us, two coasts colliding, and as I lift the crystal-fluted glass to my lips, I mutter, "I have cancer." 

He wipes my tears away, but my fear consumes me. He wraps his body around me, but my fear consumes me.

He cradles me until his breath deepens, and his mouth parts. He sleeps peacefully beside me but I am unable to rest. My fear consumes me. 

I stay until the sun slowly rises. 

"I have to go," I whisper, kissing him gently.

"Don't," he pleads. But I am already gone. My fear consumes me.

"Was it the ghost?" he asks. 

Throughout the night, while we lay motionless in bed, censor-controlled lights flicker from inside the closet, from low corners of the room, from under the bed, and from inside the bathroom. At one point, classic, concerto music could be heard coming from a ceiling-mounted speaker in the shower. 

This paranormal activity does not frighten me. Will death silence me, I wonder.

He insists I take his shirt. I hold it like a prize I didn't earn. And leave.

I walk the four blocks down Royal Street to my hotel - careful to stay out of the spray and step over the puddles from ongoing street washing. The room I share with Robin and Jeanie is darkened by blackout curtains when I quietly step in. 

Here, I do not struggle. I am not undone by my fear. I am free to let my angst settle. Here, I am softened and soothed, loved and accepted.

I am not used to high-quality men, I remind them. But they know my dating patterns better than I do. 

After the divorce of my third husband - ending a 20-year relationship, 13 of those in marriage - I gave myself the time and space to learn how to love myself and adjust to living without a man for the first time in my life. Then I dove, head first, into familiar, shallow waters.

One man, a devout catholic and lover of the arts, particularly ballet, recently revealed that he is gay. This explains why that "spark" was missing. Another was not willing or able to communicate emotions - an avoidance trait my ex-husband mastered. 

The rest never evolved past a date or two, but they certainly were memorable. 

Lou, a brawny man who had 10 drinks during our first date, became overly concerned when I stood on a two-foot tall stone wall that bordered the parking lot as we exited the restaurant. Against my wishes, he picked me up to remove me from the dangers of a two-foot tall stone wall, dropped me onto the pavement, and fell on top of me - fracturing my sacrum in two places. 

Randy was in the music business. After a few dates where things didn't progress past a quick kiss goodnight, I invited him to my house for a homecooked meal. Halfway through the beef bourguignon, he vanished. Later, I discovered $311.00 cash on my bedside table. I never heard from Randy again but days later realized I was missing multiple pairs of my Wolford panties. I am uncertain if they were clean or dirty but I no longer buy expensive panties, instead, like everyone else I shop on Amazon. 

On my first date with Richard, he insisted I call him Dick. This didn't fit. His profile name was Richard and everything about Richard was refined and proper. There was a picture of Richard in a double-breasted navy blazer and paisley bow tie, one in a seersucker suit, and one in pajamas sipping coffee. Not sexy jammies, showing off six-pack abs - this was a pajama set with matching top and bottoms in navy with white piping.

Richard's plan was for me to meet him on his turf, in a neighboring New York village, but after reviewing this idea with a close friend, and cofounder of our, "How to Pick the Wrong Man," club, I changed course and asked him to meet me in town and I would drive us to a private beach in Old Greenwich to watch the sunset.

"I'll pick up a guest pass," I told Richard. 

"I'll bring the wine," he offered. "What do you like to drink?" he asked. 

"Oaky, California Chardonnay," I say.

He showed up wearing a circa 1990, faded pink polo shirt and loose-fitting, Nantucket red shorts - a color combination that instantly made me nauseous.

We set up chairs along the rocky, eastern shoreline and he opened his bottle of wine. 

"No chardonnay grapes in this," he boasted, then poured two glasses of a fruity, Sauvenign Blanc.

Richard talked about his work. I asked how his wife died, as his profile stated he was a widower. 

"Lung cancer, 4 years ago. I am raising our daughter on my own. She is 20 and an amazing student...(more about the daughter and her accomplishments)." 

When he finally took a breath I asked, "What kind of lung cancer?" 

"Oh, I don't know," Richard said, annoyed by my questioning. 

"Did she suffer long?" I asked. 

"No, it was quick," he answered. 

Halfway through the bottle, and with a hazy overcast that removed any chance of catching a fiery sunset, Richard felt compelled to discuss one of his sexual escapades.

"The first woman I brought to my bed after my wife died (as though there is a line of women waiting), opened my wife's bedside table (who does that?), and saw hundreds of sticky notes with little sayings she wrote over the years."

Finally, Richard had something interesting to say.

"What were they about?" I questioned. 

"Nothing important," he said. 

"What did you do with them?" I asked. "I'm sure your daughter would love to read them." 

"I put them all in a garbage bag and tossed them," he said. 

For the rest of the date, I remained mostly silent as he elaborated on the women he dated, how important he is, and the responsibilities of his job. 

How could he throw the sticky notes away, I thought. And how does he not know what kind of lung cancer his wife died from?

As we headed down the home stretch to his car, Richard turned in my direction to say, "You are very negative, Shannon."  

I am so floored by his statement that I pull my car over and ask him to repeat it, convinced I heard him wrong. When he repeats the same words, I give him the direction he clearly needs,

"Get out of the car, DICK!" 

"What?" he asks. 

"You heard me. GET... OUT... OF... THE CAR, DICK!!!!" Repeat. 

Pulling away, I glance at the rearview mirror and see a pathetic man, in poorly matched clothing, holding an empty bottle of subpar wine.

Now I get it. Dick suits him well.

There was the personal injury lawyer who showed me pictures of dead things on his phone during our first date. This included a dead woman whose face had been eaten off by her shih tzu. He showed me this after oysters and before the halibut. These were pictures he stored in his iPhone. I have pictures of myself, concerts, flowers, friends and family. Everything in my phone is alive.

Booty Call lives dangerously close - on the other side of the river. I initially thought this was a great idea until he started showing up unannounced. Once he showed up drunk, playing air guitar and singing Elton John songs at the top of his lungs. Another time he showed up in bike shorts. This ruined it for me. I think it was the ass padding or the way his shorts hugged his crotch. Or maybe it was his helmet. I also learned that everyone knew him in our sleepy little neighborhood and no one liked him. Not even the waiters and bartenders from our neighboring restaurant. Once, we were having drinks at a local pub when the bartender leaned over and said, "He's a total asshole."

Mr. Basketball was the exception. Polite, attentive, generous, engaging, and nice. Too nice. The kind of man I could destroy if given the chance and I was in the middle of a string of losses and couldn't process this new game strategy. 

And then, there is Mr. Jones. 

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Part Three - Good Time Charlie


We are curbside, car idling. We are early. Abbey, my sweet Cavalier, hangs halfway out the front, passenger side window, wagging her tail at everyone who walks by. "That's not him, that's not him," I say, convinced she has no idea why we are here.

She knows exactly why we are here. We are waiting for the man who throws the ball, inside the house, over and over again. The man who gets down on the floor and crawls under the furniture to retrieve her ball. The man, who I suspect, gives her a sampling of our food when I'm not looking. She knows exactly why we are here. We are waiting for HER man to arrive.

She sees him first. He greets her first and I'm jealous. 

The next four days move quickly. Before, we set the pace. Before, we were able to slow time down enough to fit our needs. Our mornings in bed lingered. Our nights stretched from moonlight til dawn. 

Before, we were social. He met people who were important to me. Before, we cooked - he the chef, me his sous-chef. This time, I don't remember what we ate. 

Midway through his stay we take Abbey for a hike at a nature preserve and get lost. I blame the boy scouts for poor trail marking. He blames our sense of direction. Abbey doesn't care which way we go.  She is in woodlands full of fresh scents. She is with her man. 

We don't talk about cancer, or treatment, or doctors, or tests. I don't tell him how I met with my accountant and lawyer. How I am trying to transfer my security license to my daughter. I don't tell him about the playlist and photo album I made in preparation for my funeral. I don't tell him how I won't buy another jar of expensive face cream - how I'm using up all the old, expired bottles. I don't tell him how frightened I am. 

And just like that, we are curbside again. His bright blue luggage is by his side. Abbey hangs halfway out the front passenger side window and I stand curbside, arms wrapped around him. Our gaze is locked. 

An elderly woman in a wheelchair is ushered towards us. The soft locks of her silver-gray hair bounce in the breeze.  In unison, we step aside to make room for her to pass and she cackles, "Hope your wife doesn't find out." 

He stiffens. I drop my arms and step back.

How does she know?

The following day I am curbside again, this time headed to New Orleans. Robin is flying in from Philadelphia and Jeanie from California. Together, with my cousin Janie, who resides in New Orleans, we plan a party in the French Quarter. We will be silly and sassy - eat rich, spicy food, and drink tequila and absinthe. 

On the plane, a distinguished-looking man sits beside me - greeting me with a smile. We strike up a conversation and somewhere over Atlanta, he asks for my number. I tell him I'm seeing someone. "That does not deter me," he says. "I have cancer," I say. He responds the same way. We exchange numbers with the intention of meeting up for dinner when I return. 

Airport Man is married, I remind myself. And I am running out of time.

I don't know the type of sarcoma I have - the biopsy is not ample enough to determine this - and I won't know if it's spread until I have a PET scan, but I do know this is not curable. I want to live as big as I can until I can't. I cough with the fear that the cancer has spread to my lungs. I lift my arms to ease the heat from under them, convinced the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. A friend, who is a medical professional, explains palliative care. 

We work our way down Bourbon Street, to Lafitee's Blacksmith House - the oldest bar in the country. I am seated in an open window when a tall man with white, flowing hair walks by. "Now there is a woman I'd like to get to know," he says to his friend and points at me. "Then ask for my number," I say. I'm bolder now that I have cancer again. I'm not used to this much male attention and wonder if cancer has a pheromone. 

On a napkin, Janie writes lyrics to what will certainly be a hit song...

4.27.2023 Shannon, Robin, Jeanie & Me


She stumbled down the hallway of my mind.

Hips swaying from side to side. 

She's all hair

All boops and all hips

And she doesn't believe she is beautiful... 

We hang a hard left out of Lafitee's, then a right down Royal Street to FiFi Mahony's - a fabulous wig boutique. I've had enough tequila to make the mint green, whimsical wig with horns work but instead, settle on a playful, strawberry blonde wispy bob and dress it up a bit.

I text my daughter a picture of me in my new wig. "You've been wearing the same shirt for 3 days," she says. "Are you alright?"

The young woman who was once obsessed with her split ends is now hyper-focused on me. She is my primary caregiver, my emergency contact, and my main reason to live.

Later that evening, Charlie sends a text asking if we can get together for dinner.

"Remind me what you look like," I ask. 

He sends a picture. It's an artsy, black-and-white professional headshot. Serial dater, I think. "Handsome," I text.

I agree to meet him for a nightcap. "I'm incognito," I tell him. "I'd spot you anywhere," he says - not knowing I'm wearing a wig. 

We meet at a courtyard in the French Quarter by a flaming fountain. He tells me he has a gift for me and hands me a penny. "It's a lucky penny," he tells me. "I found it today, then dropped it. It rolled under a table but I got it back for you."

Charlie doesn't know that I have cancer and that good luck is exactly what I need. Charlie doesn't know that pennies are all about my son, Kerry - his way of letting me know that he is near. Charlie doesn't understand the coincidence of today's date - the 27th  - and how 27's are all about Kerry. 

I sit on his lap and run my fingers through his hair. It is soft and sexy. After several cocktails, he walks me back to my hotel and we make plans to meet up at the Jazz Fest the following day. He is polite. I am prudent.

At the Jazz Fest, my crew intertwines with his crew - we are three, they are two. He towers over me, beside me, beneath me - on the lawn he is my chair, in the blaze of the sun he is my shade. He never leaves my side.

There is so much I like about Charlie. His mind clicks fast and his moves are steady. He is a welcome distraction from my angst.

And Airport Man is married. And I am running out of time. 

"Meet me after dinner?" he asks the following day.

"Reserve a suite at the Hotel Monteleone, " I boldly say. "Bring something for me to wear and champagne."

Charlie doesn't know that my torso is carved up more than a Thanksgiving turkey, that my breasts are reconstructed and have no sensation, that my nipples are masterly molded from pig cadaver skin (or human, I can't remember), that I have a chemo port scar off-set by the long stretch of a melanoma scar, that what looks like areolas are faded, 3D tattoos, that my upper inner thigh has an impressive wound from a dog attack, that I am on my third bellybutton and have no rectum, that I had 18 inches of my large intestines removed - the rest are sandwiched together with mesh. And that I am shy.

He stands proudly in the center of the lobby, poised below two massive chandeliers and overshadowing a grand, grandfather clock. He is cradling a bottle of Crytal. There is a small backpack at his feet and I have no luggage. We greet each other ardently before heading to the elevator. "Our suite is newly renovated," he tells me.

We enter the elevator - a warm belly of mahogany with well-polished marble floors and brass, art deco fixtures. He presses the button for the 15th floor but the doors only close halfway. And then open. And then close. And then open again.

"The hotel is haunted," I say. 

The 14th floor, (really the 13th floor), is known for being haunted. During the late 1800s, the Begere family - regular guests at the Hotel Monteleone - were attending the opera when their toddler son passed away from a fever while in his Nanny's care. Throughout the years guests have reported seeing a friendly ghost on the 14th floor - the same floor that the International Society for Paranormal Research determined to be a hotbed of paranormal activity. 

"But we are on the 15th floor," I tell him. "We will be fine."

To be continued ...

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Part Two - Blue Suitcase

As Airport Man begins his journey home, I begin a journey of my own.                                                        

I book an appointment with a local orthopedic and after examing the small lump on my left, upper arm - just below my shoulder - he orders an MRI. Two days later the MRI shows two masses. One is labeled a "benign or malignant mesenchymal tumor," and the other a benign vascular tumor. Tissue sampling is recommended and an excisional biopsy is scheduled at my local hospital the following week.

A PET scan is also ordered. During a PET scan (positron emission tomography), radioactive glucose is injected into a vein. Because cancer cells take up more glucose than normal cells, a scanner is used to take pictures of areas where glucose is absorbed - highlighting cancer cells in the body. 

In between all this, I continue my connection with Airport Man, determined not to discuss anything about my health concerns. But there is more in play than just another cancer scare. After listening to my angst around dating again, a friend recommends I read the New York Times bestselling book, Attached - the science behind adult attachment. The book breaks it down into three categories - anxious, avoidant, and secure. I devour the chapters dedicated to anxious attachment, and for the first time in my adult life, realize I am not "boy crazy," obsessed, or insecure,  I am simply acting out patterns I learned as a child. 

During one of our many lengthy conversations, I confess my new self-awareness to Airport Man and everything about "us" feels lighter. I also have a skill set to work from and recognize my heightened anxiety before I react. Previously, I would often end a relationship the minute I felt I was losing control.  

When I finally find the courage to confess my health concerns,  Airport Man states with the perfect balance of empathy and conviction, "Try not to worry, we are in this together."


"We" are strangers who met a month ago and have spent only four whimsical days enamored with the nuances of each other. 

Airport Man likes to read an actual newspaper and do crossword puzzles. I am obsessed with Tiktok. He likes socks. Socks are practical and fashionable. He has a large collection of socks. I like to mix colors together when getting a pedicure. His speech is reserved and proper. I am boisterous and outspoken. He keeps his personal life private. I live mine out loud. Music is important to Airport Man. This is where we click. And cooking. He likes to cook. We cook well together. He prides himself on being the fittest man in the room. He is by far the fittest man I have ever had the pleasure of undressing. His hair is thick. His rich, olive skin is tan - highlighted by my fair complexion. Our differences are vast but what draws me in is so subtle. His scent. His laugh. The touch of his hand. The stride of his step. He pauses before he speaks and he means what he says. And when he pulls me close, then tenderly bites my bottom lip, I am sweetened and electrified.

The morning of the procedure, Airport Man wishes me well. 

During the biopsy, I am given a mild dose of sedation known as twilight anesthesia and am surprised to hear the thump and feel the pressure of 5 punctures. The radiologist's nurse explained that I would have an excisional biopsy - which removes the entire mass. Instead, I am given a core needle biopsy, where a hollow needle removes only samples of the tumor.

After the biopsy, I text Airport Man, 

All done. about to be discharged.

How are you feeling? he asks.

Ok...sleepy. mild pain.

And then Airport Man goes silent. From the beginning, we develop a pattern of texting each other goodnight and good morning. Both my good morning and goodnight texts go unanswered, It is almost 48 hours before I hear from him again. 

This is incredibly triggering. At first, I worry he is dead, then I worry it was too much for him, then I worry how to respond. Everything I learned in the book, Attached, goes out the window. 

In a late-night call, with the courage of a well-poured glass of wine, I tell him how his lack of contact after my biopsy triggers me. He is compassionate and apologetic. I am confused.

I discuss the situation with anyone who will listen. No one has a logical explanation for his disconnect. My daughter tells me to stop relying on him and reminds me that I don't even know him.

The day before my PET scan appointment, the oncologist's office calls to tell me my insurance denied the scan and when I push for more information the nurse unwillingly tells me I have cancer. 

I have cancer. AGAIN. 

I march straight to the hospital records department and obtain a copy of my biopsy report. To my disbelief, it reads, sarcomatoid malignant neoplasm. By definition, sarcomatoid carcinoma is a rare, aggressive cancer that spreads fast and is difficult to treat.

For those of you not keeping score, this is my 7th primary cancer. Primary means each cancer is its own, not one cancer that has spread to other parts of my body. In order, I have been diagnosed with melanoma (left side of upper back), breast cancer (right), breast cancer (left), melanoma (left side of lower neck), rectal cancer, (low-level tumor) melanoma (left side of chest), and now, a soft tissue sarcoma. Soft tissue includes muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, tendons, and the lining of the joints.

With pathology in hand, I begin the laboring task of shopping out my cancer. As bizarre as this sounds, when dealing with cancer, especially something as rare as a sarcoma, you have to find the best of the best and you have to find them fast. Until I have a plan in place, knowing where and what treatment will take place, I am consumed with fear. Simple tasks are laboring and focusing on anything other than cancer is impossible. 

I research soft tissue sarcoma specialists and reach out to Johns Hopkins, Dana Farber, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Mayo Clinic. I schedule a PET scan at Johns Hopkins. It is a hospital I trust and know well. This is where I received cutting-edge treatment for my rectal cancer. I also schedule a meeting with a sarcoma surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. 

Before either of these appointments, I have a scheduled trip to New Orleans to attend the first week of Jazz Festival with my must-haves, the women I cling to in times of sorrow or joy.  

Days before I leave for NOLA, Airport Man arrives for our second playdate. This time he arrives knowing I have cancer, again.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Part One - Hello, My Name Is Shannon and I Have Cancer

                                                                    PART ONE

Hello, my name is Shannon and I have cancer, again.


I am convinced the uncanny events that wiggle their way into my life happen so I have something scandalous to write about. This is one of those situations.

I am in Austin, Texas, visiting a close-knit circle of friends - the type of friends where the answer to how are you, is never a one-word answer. We dive deep and we see through all the bullshit.

Before returning home, I linger solo in Austin. There are two events I want to attend - an oyster festival and a vampire festival.

The oyster festival is much smaller than I envisioned. It is held in downtown Austin's, Republic Square - which for practical purposes, is fenced in. This makes me feel like I am in an adult playpen. At each corner, just outside the playpen, are anti-abortion demonstrators packing plastic embryos, graphic signs, and shouting conflict-provoking propaganda.  

There is one stage for music which is mostly unoccupied. The crowd is primarily couples - couples holding hands, couples sharing oysters, couples standing in long lines drenched in the glory of mid-day sun. I stay for less than an hour, find refuge at a neighboring rooftop restaurant and have a late lunch of lollipop lambchops and chardonnay before heading back to my hotel. 

In contrast, the vampire festival is more than I bargained for. The attendees are not just dressed to impress the costume culture, they appear to have an awakened affinity to blood.  A thick, deep red elixir flows from carafes, caldrons, and goblets and no one wipes their mouth.

I arrive cloaked in a past-my-prime, bellowing floral shirt and too-tight, straight-legged white jeans, making it visibly impossible for me to blend in.  I leave 15 minutes into the garlic-eating competition where willing contestants are chained to the wall.

After two days and two festivals, I am ready for Dorothy to ruby-slipper me home. I leave my hotel early and head to the airport. I check my luggage with ease but when I get to the security gates I am told my ticket does not match my identification and am curtly sent back to the starting line to "reconfirm" my identity. My second attempt also fails but when I returned for a third time with a Delta manager, I am given the green light. When I question what caused the confusion I am told, "These ticket scanners are tricky." 

I seek refuge at the Delta Skyclub lounge to unwind amongst frequent flyers.

My first stop is the buffet where I help myself to a generous amount of short ribs, butter biscuits, and mac and cheese served on a ceramic plate with stainless steel utensils. It tastes like home but without the guilt, because I am, after all, still on vacation. I am perfectly content consuming calories and watching planes take off until an "urgent announcement" comes over the PA system warning everyone to stay in place until further instructions are given. I have never heard a warning like this in an airport or anywhere for that matter. I immediately abandon my meal and rush to the only safe place I know - the bar. 

It is early afternoon and the bar is more than half empty, so it is easy to catch the bartender's attention. "I think the announcement is about me," I state as I mount a worn, leather barstool. "I was at a vampire convention yesterday and maybe I lost my reflection." This bizarre statement catches the attention of more than just the bartender and by the time I take my first sip of wine, a handsome gentleman who is within earshot approaches and politely asks if he can occupy the seat beside me. We ramble on for 20 or 30 minutes, he sipping his blood-red cabernet and me, lost in his smile. 

He talks about what he does for a living while I focus on his casual confidence - how the collar of his shirt hugs his neck, the curve of his lips, and the dance of his hands.  After establishing that we live more than 13000 miles apart, we exchanged numbers. The backdrop of an airport makes our distance feel closer - staying in touch feels doable. When it is time for me to board my plane, I hop off my barstool resisting an all-consuming urge to wrap my arms around him and kiss him goodbye. 

We text and talk for the next few weeks until we settle on a date for him to visit. I inform him that sex is off the table and that he would need to find a place to stay. To my surprise, this does not deter him. Our texts are polite and formal, but our conversations are warm, insightful, and effortless. During one of these conversations, I learn that he is married with two adult children. He explains that the divorce is pending and that they have been living apart for 4 years - he in the home where they raised their children, and she in a different state.

As much as I try to justify our attraction, his marriage clouds everything. I have never knowingly dated a married man, and I'm not the type of woman who settles on second place. I put my P.I. cap on and confirm their living situation and the timeline he presented to me. I also uncover enough about his wife that I believe she loves him, still. 

I am late to pick him up at the airport. It is a small airport so he should be easy to spot, but it has been a month since I sat next to him on an airport bar stool. I am taken by surprise when he texts me curbside details that include the color of his luggage, his attire, and his height.

"I'm wearing a black coat, black shirt and black jeans (mysterious, sexy). And my luggage is bright blue (only navy will do) and I'm 5'5" (remembering only that our gaze was on the same, level plane

While en route, I urgently call my daughter. "Bright blue luggage," I tell her, "He has bright blue luggage. Do you think he might be gay?" I question. 

She assures me that nothing about bright blue luggage suggests gay. 

"He's short," I add. 

"How short?" she asks. 

"5"5'" I tell her. 

"Does that bother you?" she questions. 

"No, it calms me." 

My son was 5"6'. My grandson is 5"6'. My third x-husband is 5"7'. I am 5"3'. I know short. I am comfortable with short. 

Our first stop is lunch at a downtown restaurant. We are once again, seated side by side at a bar. In the corner is an employee of mine, who, out of character, is highly intoxicated. Intoxicated Man interrogates Airport Man. Airport Man handles his inappropriate questioning and underlying hostility beautifully. I lean back and let him steer the conversation. This is not something I am used to. I typically hold my own. But Airport Man holds his own, and Intoxicated Man chugs his drink and leaves chewing the bottom layer of ice. 

From there, we go to the Airbnb Airport Man has booked. It is centrally located and less than 2 miles from my house. After several miscommunications with the owner, which include her giving the wrong address, we meet up with the homeowner who is frazzled and disheveled and the apartment mirrors her mental and physical state.

She apologizes for the mess and explains that construction is ongoing and they are moving.  She justifies the condition of the rental on her busy lifestyle and at the same time blames Airport Man for paying in advance and showing up. 

My turn to drive. I give Airport Man an all-knowing smile, and he nods in approval. I disarm her by offering to help her make his bed, reposition a few out-of-place items, and sympathize with her self-imposed stress.

We leave Airport Man's luggage on the freshly made bed and continue our day.  This is where I know, without question, he will never rest his head on this bed. He is resting beside me.

Everything about our time together is fun. Our long, thought-provoking conversations are fun. Cooking together is fun. Wandering the cool wind and sand of an almost spring beach is fun. Introducing him to my inner circle of family and friends is fun. Even sex is fun.

Towards the end of our visit, as we lie in bed and hold each other's gaze, he questions where we stand in the relationship and asks if I will see other men. I tell him something so corny, so ridiculous, that I cringe as the words leave my lips, "The odds of me getting another cancer are greater than me finding someone more entertaining." Then I add, "But there is this small lump on my arm." And I show him. 

To be continued...

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison