Every New Year’s Eve, I used to have a tradition: wrap up the last year and look at how far we’ve come. About half a dozen years ago, this turned into the Year End Video. I planned that thing months in advance, coaxing my friends to provide B-roll. It was even an inside joke whether a person was funny enough to make the Year End Video, in the way that we are funny assholes sometimes (this is absolutely true… me especially, heavy on the asshole sometimes).
Last year, I didn’t do a Year End Video.
When people asked about it, I said that I was pretty sure that no one would notice if I stopped. That’s how I do things: Distract by putting people on the defense. Of course, it wasn’t even true. Looking at my blog’s stats, I can tell you that people did notice — there was a huge traffic spike here on New Year’s Eve 2011, looking for that video.
You know, if we’re being honest here, 2011 kind of kicked my ass. The terminal illness and death of my grandmother was psychologically wearing on me. Our friend Jesse (and Esteban’s cousin) unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41 in October, and it kind of destroyed what little equilibrium I’d managed to recover after my grandmother’s passing. The video is supposed to be a joyful thing. It’s supposed to make people smile. They still make me smile. But when it came to making the video last year, I just couldn’t. I just… couldn’t. I felt selfish in a way that I can’t really explain. A year later, I still can’t explain it but I’m feeling selfish again.
Actually, I can explain it. I don’t want to but I can and probably should explain it.
When my grandmother was going through chemo, through rounds upon rounds of appointments and tests, she loved to look at the fish tanks. There are elaborate salt water fish tanks at pretty much every oncologist or cancer doctor’s office. At the hospital, where we’d spend hours and hours, there was even a big round one that takes up an entire column, where you can play hide and seek with the colorful fish. My grandmother liked the yellow ones the best, while I was fond of the shrimp. They always seemed so jaunty, like perhaps they should be wearing top hats and maybe spats. They are the Fred Astaire of the salt water set. There’s a big fish tank in the radiologist’s office too, where last December they did various things to my left breast and its very deep, very suspicious mass.
So that’s why I didn’t want to make a Year End Video last year. Last December, after what had already been a hell biscuit of a bummer year that I was really hoping to see gone, my annual mammogram showed something suspicious. So I had to go back and get another, more awful, terrorizing hold-your-breath-while-we-rip-your-tit-off test (and of course, while this was going on, my head was still killing me from Hodor’s timely departure). And then a very weirdly intimate ultrasound that would have been very sexy with its bulbous wand and all the KY Jelly and low lights and the technician who kept telling me that she was going to put pressure on my nipple, except, you know, it was the opposite of that. And then I got in my car and cried and then went home and demanded sushi.
So something had to go and it was the Year End Video. Instead I was going to a variety of medical tests and then spending time eating lots of raw fish and mulling upon the certainty that my left boob was going to become my ex-boob and full of distinct memories of the oncology ward and how chemo makes everything smell weird, like foot insoles and turns your toilet into a bowl of poison.
The mass looks a lot like a miniature fan coral. I’d like to believe that Nemo and Dorie are in there, going “Whoa, that’s NOT cancer.” But of course, these are the silly things you think when you’re staring at the umpteenth fish tank at the umpteenth doctor’s office, except now you’re there for your own scary thing inside your very own body, the thing that just might be killing you without your permission.
That’s why I wanted sushi last New Year’s Eve. Fuck you, fish tanks.
My little coral fan is being monitored. It waves at me from the lab films. I’ll get to visit it again this week for what will be my fourth boob smashification in 370 days (certainly that can’t be good for your boob, right? I mean, why is “Hulk smash” a viable medical test? Who thought of that?). Last time, the radiologist was almost entirely sure it’s not cancer. I have two friends who were told that it probably wasn’t cancer too and wouldn’t you know it, they both found themselves in chemo lounges, sitting in woefully awful hospital recliners, making nice with nurses and sipping V8 juice and probably staring at more and more fish tanks. Those ladies are healthy and alive and both have been declared cancer free by people who know these things. They are both glowing and beautiful and everyone in the world wishes that they should be as lucky as these ladies, who are both the poster girls for chemotherapy.
I’ve spent a year thinking about the thing in my boob. Sometimes I tell Esteban “My cancer is itchy!” when I’m digging around in my boob pit (Life Reality #573: big boobs have itchy boob pits. It’s yet another downside to having a giant rack) because I’m a funny asshole that way. It’s the only way I can deal with it. I wasn’t actually going to tell people about this Thing In My Boob. I told like four people I think, and two of them wear lab coats. I didn’t really want it to turn into a huge attention thing or anything, because it’s probably nothing, absolutely nothing. In my head, I know this. In my yed, that is. Maybe Hodor was helping me be brave.
My friend Tex passed away on Christmas night after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer. And you know what? It’s fucking bullshit, that’s what. It’s awful and unfair and when I visited Tex and his wife Fredlet earlier this month, my heart was breaking and so full of love for both of them that I almost missed my plane because any day that goes from seeing a very ill friend to having to get patted down by the TSA and then jammed onto a plane seat seems like the very worst of all possible hells.
And then I get mad at myself for being upset about my little coral reef under the dome, about this little dense mass of indeterminate diagnosis that is very probably just my boob being a drama queen. And then I feel a little bit like a cry baby for not doing the Year End Video again this year.
Maybe fish tanks are a good thing. Maybe they act as a distraction, a perfectly contained little world when the one outside is falling apart. Maybe they remind us that the world is capable of wonderful acts of beauty and grace.
It certainly won’t be by the end of the day, but 2011 needs its Year End Video. It was a fucking asshole of a year, but god damn it, we were all in it together.