My husband said he knew I was “the one” when he “passed gas” in front of me and I didn’t run out of the room screaming.
Just keepin’ in real, here.
“Now, that’s love, ” said the 21-year old version of my, then, boyfriend, Jorge, decked in a bright green jacket that read “Hot Apple Pie: Caution! Contents HOT” on the back, a pair of jeans that slung low on his 30-inch waist, and a picked out Afro that actually did blow in the breeze. “That’s love.”
Jorge and I have very different stories about how we met. His involves some ridiculous version of me in a bathing suit at a Housefellows (student hall directors at Conn College) retreat; mine occurred years earlier when he MC’d a fashion show for the student of color organization. Both versions, of course, are entirely different, and entirely hysterical. To us, individually, they are entirely real.
I walk a fine line with my emotions — on one hand, I’m cold as ice. I can handle things like a cancer diagnosis, public speaking about BRCA/cancer, and a no-nonsense high expectation that I have of others. I’m also a warm, fuzzy mush. As Jorge likes to remind me, “Liza, you are the only person in the world who has cried at the end of the karate movie ‘Best of the Best’.” (NOTE: Yes, thank you, Jorge, and I cry every single time at the end of that movie. It’s just so moving when Eric Roberts gives the medal to the Korean team… tearing up just thinking about it).
In my 35 years, I have only seen my parents cry a few times. My dad: 1. My mom: maybe 2. So, it’s no surprise to me that I don’t cry in front of my spouse in things that matter. More accurate, though, is that I don’t share really tough emotional things with my spouse. When Joli was sick, I braved through it. I cried after Jorge left the room. When I found out I was BRCA, I said, “Oh, well. Such is life,” and moved on. When Jorge sat with me to watch a documentary about a woman who had BRCA, my mind wandered to funny commercials or my to-do list at work to distract me from connecting emotionally. Even now, when he comes with me to appointments, I either shrug it off as “no big deal” or I joke about it to no end. Jorge is smart. He knows what’s going on. And, after more than 14 years together, he knows exactly what I’m doing.
On Saturday, my sister Grace and I were talking about life post-mastectomy. She was preparing me for the lack of physical contact I would be able to have with my children, who are too young to realize they can’t pull on Mommy’s drains or whack me in the boobies. My son, an 18 month old, will attempt to crawl onto my chest, cry and throw a temper tantrum, and will not understand that Mommy is in pain. I’ll say, “I love you, Evan,” but he’ll see the lack of touch as rejection and frustration. My girls, they might understand it more. But, they, too, are used to coming into my bedroom at 6am.
Jorge joined us towards the end of the conversation. And, emotionally intelligent, he must have realized I was asking all these scientific questions in order to detach. Grace got up to get ready for the day, and Jorge gently said to me, “Come here, Liza. Let me hug you.”
“Yeah, this is gonna suck,” I said loudly, trying to sound strong in my voice. “Oh, well, gotta do it, right?”
“Liza, come here. Let me hug you.”
“Nah, I’m good. I’m good.”
I inhaled. And, instead of exhaling air; I exhaled tears. I began to sob, in front of my husband. I grabbed a blanket and covered my face, feeling him pull my body towards him. My head cradled under his arm and my torso fell against his lap.
“Now would be a really bad time to fart, Jorge,” I said, grasping at any defense mechanism I could find.
“No, Liza. I would just be keepin’ it real.”
While I have experienced depression before in my life, I’ve never really talked about it with my husband. I never told him about the pain of the “baby blues” after I had Joli , or the thoughts of just giving up after she had cancer, or the deep sadness I felt after BRCA. I never told him about the emotional pain I felt making the mastectomy decision, or the current desire to call it all off. But, after that day, I felt free. I felt free to say to him, “Jorge. I’m feeling depression. Not depressed. Depression.”
“I know,” says Jorge.
And, that was all he needed to say.
So far, there have been good days and bad days. There have been days that have been emotionally exhausting; days that have been, well, not so emotionally exhausting. I’ve given up the need to be so strong and so brave this week; and, while difficult, I realize that I will emerge stronger after this pain. After this grieving. After this decision.
Your words of encouragement have truly helped — I can’t express that enough. Emails, comments, phone calls, text messages have helped. Not to make me feel “better”, but to help me feel supported. Your understanding that this is hard, helps. That this is unreal, helps. And, that this is a reality for others, helps. Thank you for allowing me to write about the pain and the joy, the strength and the challenge, the good days and, especially, the bad.
Little wonderful surprises have been popping up this week, and the timing has been perfect. Thanks to Amy Cross for the “Cancer Sucks” marathon socks, Sarah Grogan for the ability to purchase a trashy movie during recovery, Maya Klauber for writing about me this week, Jess Haynes McDaniel for photo keepsakes of my family, Jennifer Carriere Spock for the donation to FORCE and your beautiful artwork, and all the offers pouring in to make dinners, take out the weekly trash, walk the dog, take the kids out for a play date, and (dang!) even vacuuming my house! I even got asked out on a date by my friend from 5th grade, Julie Burke, where I will be the honorable replacement fiance. “Free food, free drinks, Liza! You wanna be my date?” You had me at “free”, Julie. (Kidding, it’s for a great cause!)
I’m moved beyond words, and have learned to humbly accept the help. Thank you.
Peace, love and keepin’ it real,