Dear Abby

Frequently this site gets a new visitor who is clicking on the old essays—the ones documenting the scary beginning and slog through a never-ending aftermath. Every week another bing on my phone asks me if I wouldn’t mind making a call, holding a hand, or answering questions for a friend. So I wrote a letter. This is to all of the Kates and Leighs and Laurens… and to Abby.

 

Dear Abby,

I heard. Or I guessed it from the cryptic posts and cried when your status confirmed the damning pathology. Telling people–saying it out loud– makes it more certain than the slides. I hope you had some Ativan for that.

Maybe it’s super early, maybe DCIS, maybe a quick lumpectomy and just-to-be-sure radiation will be curative. Maybe you’re exhausted from all of the tight smiling as people tell you how lucky you are– so lucky to be pushed out of the plane because there is a parachute that opens almost all of the time.

But maybe it’s not the lucky kind.

Maybe it’s the pink ribbon monster hiding under the bed. White-coated well-meaners tell you with practiced concern that it’s not curable but it’s still treatable. Maybe they can tame and starve it for years, turning it into a defeated Voldemort sort of cancer. Maybe they’ll optimistically cite future graduations and weddings and vacations and plans like you’re thinking about a time-share in Orlando right now. As if it didn’t take seven books and umpteen tragedies to turn Voldemort into a fetal worm. As if any of this can have a happy ending.

Maybe it was there all along. Maybe it just came back (why does it fucking come back?). Maybe surgery was years ago and your hair is amazing now but there is still this little hidden part of you that only the other Shitty Sorority members see. Maybe you fucking knew it would come back but didn’t tell anyone because the “lucky” people would whisper that you weren’t being “positive.” Maybe you are scared shitless and praying nonstop or for the first time in your life.

Maybe God is listening and sending warm assurances—not that it’ll be okay, exactly, but that He is there. Maybe it feels like God isn’t listening, or doesn’t bother with things like unrestrained mitosis. Maybe it was just too much begging for impossible things. Maybe prayer doesn’t work like that, or for you, or with any sort of speed… or at all.

Maybe. One thing is certain: no one knows anything. Here’s another: you’re not alone.

Probably you are reading everything you can: the cancer sites, the scary statistics, and the stories of a hundred breastless women, gauging the level of your unluckiness against blogging strangers. Probably one of them is like you. Look, she’s totally like you! Probably you’d be fast friends even if you never spoke a single word to each other. Probably.

No, definitely. Definitely that.

There’s no pledge period for the Shittiest Sorority. Sisterhood is immediate. I have yet to chat up a head-scarfed stranger without finding something to laugh or cry about. Usually both. Our hidden parts–our secret cancer selves–we save each other seats in the bleachers. We’ll watch this peculiar sport of losses and triumphs together. Come sit next to me. I brought snacks.

We have cheerleaders, too. It’s different, but they are absolutely vital. Their pom pom positivity, casserole-toting enthusiasm for health and healing, all that marching in your name for cures– it’s wonderful and adorable. Their cheers are prayers, and their prayers are medicine. They fill in for us when we don’t have the Go! Fight! Win! spunkiness people love to witness in the cancer-ed. But you and me, we know cheerleading is for the healthy. And their prayers are purer than ours with all of the distracted, terror-stricken pleading. Let them pray. Maybe it works. Probably?

I see you, Abby. I’m waving you over here. (I’m still here.) Come sit with me on the bleachers. Get under my blanket. You don’t have to do the wave or cheer the fight song. We’ll just see how this plays out. Together. With snacks. And Ativan. You are not alone.

Definitely. Definitely not alone.

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Roadkill

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, a handful of years into graduate schooling, with a series of rotating apartments and a persistently ring-less finger, my dad and his best friend, Lynn, began referring to my boyfriends as “Roadkill.” I wasn’t particularly promiscuous, but inching up on 30, the sheer numbers of boys who would never be my husband got, well… numerous. More often than not, I was the one who was bored, disillusioned, or unfaithful (sorry, boys) and the one to call it quits. Thus, Roadkill.

Ty was my neighbor and probably one of my closest buddies during senior year of high school. He will always be one of the funniest people I have ever known. Carpooling to school through rural neighborhoods we once saw a horse do a yawn-whinny thing that we imitated often and at impromptu times. It was only hilarious to the two of us. “Are you cereal?” he’d ask. “Not nece-celery,” was the answer. He loved The Grateful Dead, so my Julie Andrews covers were deliciously irritating (to him) and entertaining (to me): Roooolll A-Wheyyyy the Doooo! Do you have that one friend who makes you laugh at nothing—a Jerry Seinfeld with a Pez dispenser? That was Ty for me.

Ty and I spent many bellyaching, laughing-too-hard-to-breathe nights together. Chastely. We were truly just friends. But you can imagine how well Ty went over with The Roadkill. One summer night I brought a new boy home. Ty was over for dinner, which was common. Wine was flowing, which was really common. And everyone was making fun of each other, which is in the Stockton Family Syllabus. Future Roadkill misread the room– or was too thin skinned– and got a little territorial about being the boyfriend (with its implied set of privileges) instead of the friend. Ty didn’t miss a beat.

“Whatever, dude. Next year Britt will be with some other guy, but I’ll still… be… right… here.”

Roadkill was the only one who didn’t find this funny. He didn’t last very long. The next one did, but even he ended up smeared all over the grille. Those were Lynn’s words as he and Judy poured me the tallest and tastiest vodka tonic I’ve ever had, and listened to my latest misadventures in love. After that break up, I drove 7 hours to see them, their daughter, and to languish ring-less-ly on the deck of their gorgeous beach house… and to laugh.

I met Bernie just a few months later.

Thinking about Valentine’s Day, these memories shifted to the top of my mind like the big popcorn pieces when you shake the bucket. Suddenly I’m aware of Great Loves in my life who never gave me flowers or chocolates or rings, but made me pee-a-little giggle and poured me gigantic cocktails as I plowed through the dating years that led me to the best one.

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Ty and me on my 21st birthday. Can’t imagine why all the Roadkill hated him.

Luceo non uro

My middle name is Mewhinney. I’ve always loved it. No one is named Mewhinney. Except me. I’m @mewhinney! And of my dearest, closest, oldest friends, I’m still Mewhinney. I was named after Laura May Mewhinney, who Stockton family lore touts as tiny, adorable, and beloved. Growing up, I assumed all sorts of other stuff about her. Mewhinney is definitely a gal who winks. She’ll slip you candy from a stash in her handbag (and definitely calls it her handbag); she embroiders, drinks gin, and wears dresses with tiny floral patterns. Mewhinney gets all freckly in the sun and never leaves the house without a treat for the neighborhood dogs. Is any of this true? No idea. But this is where my mind goes: always to the pretty stuff.

There’s plenty of ugly stuff in the world right now. Possibly in response, Bernie and I recently left the TV off, turned on Corey Hart Radio on Pandora (highly recommend), shared a bottle of Fume Blanc, and appreciated the genius of Richard Marx. It was restorative. At our respective laptops, Bernie edited research papers and I traded song lyrics with Facebook buddies. The kids were in and out of the room wrestling and giggling and farting and being that awesome mix of adorable/irritating/lovable/gross that is The Teenage Boy. They know all the words to Take on Me and Teddy’s don’t… don’t you want me, well, it’s a parenting perk for sure.

I still unabashedly like Facebook, but I’ve seen at least a dozen friends (threaten to or actually) delete their accounts this week. The incessant onslaught of political HEY-DID-YOU-SEE-THIS posts– what David Brooks aptly describes as “the hyperventilating media”– are literally “trumping” funny quips about toddlers, car repair woes, and check-ins at Shake Shack in our timelines. If you’re like me, you’re sort of jonesing for the good ole days of Throwback Thursday bar mitzvah Polaroids and family-in-ponchos at Niagara Falls. I know it seems like the end of days, but I honestly miss discussions about Tooth Fairy handouts and your latest excuses for drinking on a school night.

But being apolitical is a political stance!

I read this on Twitter every day. Those folks aren’t closing up shop on social media and actually seem to be plowing forward with an increasing number of no, really, I, really, really, really hate him sentiments with funny/angry/poignant/unrelenting tweets. Certainly there are legitimate fears about our political leaders, but is social media hand wringing– or worse, trolling and fighting—is that activism? I’m not sure. Sharing info on how to contact your representatives and where to meet to march, that’s valuable politicking. But me? I’d still rather read your date night yelp review of the new movie theater. I’m Mewhinney!

Trump might be the Death of Facebook as we bore each other to tears with shared outrage. Brodie asked, “Is everyone going to pissed off all of the time for the next four years?” God, I hope not. The children are watching, indeed.

Here’s what I am noticing.

Out in the real world where we stand at deli counters and tip the delivery guy and chat up the waiter—out there, face to face, I feel like we are being nicer to each other. Have you found yourself smiling at a stranger over the lemons and limes, letting the Prius merge into your lane with a you-first wave, or making a more deliberate attempt to exchange even short pleasantries with your fellow line-standers? Are you trying to make fewer assumptions, or better ones, about the people around you… by talking to them? Have you paid for a coffee behind you, or thrown an extra quarter in an overdue meter just ‘cuz? These are the things I have seen.

Internet sleuthing led me to a Mewhinney family crest emblazoned with luceo non uro. Shine, not burn. I love that. Few things other than cardio or cut-and-paste-if-you-care cancer memes can tempt me to write angrily. I also don’t trust most reposted articles, preferring to read the opinions of smart lawyers who have a sober handle on precedent, our men and women of the cloth (of all ilk) who devote their lives to assuaging fears of earthly things, and Steve. But when I’m existentially and emotionally exhausted with world news, it’s a fun breather to scroll through the selfie stick snaps of your high school reunion. More than ever we need the silly things, the pretty things, and I hope that sort of sharing doesn’t die because our President is profoundly (and daily) uncouth. Even so, I guess there’s always Richard Marx, right there, waiting for me.

Luceo non uro. Share the good things, the pretty things, too. The children are watching.

moaenyso

Go ahead. Try to resist the uro gaze of Richard Marx.