Tag : I. Kramer

Live from the Lilith Blog

November 18, 2008 by

Entry #6: On Gratitude

Needless to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve written. The fall months have swirled up and overhead, dried leaves rushing away from me, ungraspable. These months have been a whirlwind of academic rigor in my doctorate program, while the real conquest has been unspoken for. These months my mother has slipped quietly into doctor’s office, the obligatory testings. They count her blood cells and tap out her heartbeat, make sure one is multiplying slowly enough while another beats quick-tempo enough. I remember years ago now, when the doctor explained to us why my mother was subject to constant echocardiograms. Chemotherapy isn’t localized but attacks the whole body, depressing the heart, he had said. At the time, I swore my heart slowed too, depressed by the news. I pictured her strong beating heart then like a tired dog. I pictured the heart that had once brought life to mine. Back then I asked myself the most universal question—how do we cut out those damaging pieces in our life while protecting and not forsaking those most essential life-giving parts? Back then it was a funny puzzle for us to work out, how to keep the best parts of her.

These months we walk unsaddled by the immediate fears that cancer brings. These months there is no screech in the record player, we glide through the hum drum of busy daily monotony, in a premature victory.

It’s funny how quickly gratitude melts into the unchecked privilege of the daily grind. It’s unchecked because we just go, just do. We just fall into our deadlines, our paychecks, our minutiae of life stressors. We just consume, our daily meals our daily news, we are consumed. And through this I try so hard to ask mindfully, what is gratitude, how do I engage my thankfulness? Do I think of cancer often and daily, do I hum a silent morning ohm for motherhood and life? Do I let myself drive full throttle through the streets of daily life, full engagement as the ultimate act of gratefulness? How shall I be grateful for my hushed non-newsy existence these past months, for my mother prattling off Thanksgiving recipes and movies I ought to see and the blessed nag she has honed and crafted in her elder years? I still await the answer.

–I. Kramer

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Live from the Lilith Blog

September 29, 2008 by

Entry#5: Turning 60

That Tuesday I awoke early before the sunrise and walked myself like an eager, panting dog along the quiet sidewalk, strung against the hues of pale golden light. In the gray I contemplated, in the amber I celebrated: her life. I met her in mid-town Manhattan on the morning of her 60th birthday. Would I have done it differently if the situation had been otherwise? Maybe. Can I imagine it otherwise? The luxury of unacknowledged health? No.

I was glad to rise early, to take her to breakfast, to soak her in alongside the challah French toast, to take her in, scooped in to my spinach and goat cheese omelet. It was one of those moments where the conversation is so well-intended and genuine, where both parties are trying hard out of love despite their obvious difference. I want to bubble-wrap those moments, I want to press and hang those moments as reminders for all the drab, conflictual ones in between.

Perhaps it was also fulfilling for self-congratulatory reasons. She made me feel good about myself, proud of the woman I had become, proud that I had my priorities in line to her, proud even that I was coming to her as a young woman who has finally found love.

I knew she was trying- this love not what she had imagined for her nice Jewish girl, this love not the wood-framed coffee table she imagined to see in her own living room. She hadn’t gotten used to the texture and color, the height and shape, but this morning breakfast, my omelet, her challah, she seemed to say I will, I do, and I’m proud.

This weekend marked the 60th Birthday family celebration, too: The kids (under 30) pitched in to buy her a pink Beachcruiser bicycle, replete with Beagle-doggie basket and pink streamers (oy). Her sister surprised her by flying in from across the country. We had t-shirts made with her face on it (embrace garishness, I say) for a family breast cancer walk (postponed due to the bagels and lox weighting down all stomachs beforehand). Most of all, this weekend she made an (erev erev) Rosh Hashanah speech, proclaiming a New Year of health and love for all of us, of personal growth (deleted: engagement & childbearing pressures to those aged 32 and under).

I know every birthday won’t be so fanciful and bright. I know I could say more terrible things. But for now, the energy glows in ways it hasn’t in the two years passed. Beneath the shadow of illness and frailty, there is so much life.

–I. Kramer

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Live from the Lilith Blog

September 8, 2008 by

Entry# 4: One Month Anniversary in the Cancer Chronicles

To say the words feels equivalent to conjuring fiendish spirits. To write out the significance of this approaching month- this precarious, shifty month- feels equivalent to summoning thieves, to doing rain dances after cyclones. To give words to it feels heedless and irresponsible. If I speak the words, I evoke it, I summon it, I lift it wool-heavy from its timid placement on the coat rack. Instead, I do what I’ve learned best from the women in my life: balk, cower, and worry. Instead, I find myself like the woodpecker, knocking three times when asked, flitting to the nearest wooden peg during dialogue whenever asked, “And how is her health…?” This part of me whispers Shah! This part of me wants tight-lipped silencio!

But I have a choice in this matter and instead I speak. Instead, Reason flirts with Optimism, makes a sultry pass and I write.

This September is our one-month anniversary. This September is a hot racecar winding round the track a third time, and we do not know who or what grips the wheel. We wait for it while trying not to wait. In September 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. A lumpectomy and round of chemo later, we huffed and squatted at the finish line, by then already springtime.

Then like an annual summoning, like a court mandate, like a persnickety ex-lover, September 2007 arrived unwelcome back on our doorsteps. She didn’t want to race it again. She did it anyway. If I could’ve saved her…she saved herself. A double mastectomy and second year of chemo later, she tumbled leopard high, through the finish line. We waited, upholstered in Gatorade and banana. We waited, arm-wide. Strident with hoorahs.

It’s a funny thing when people ask, Is it gone? It’s not a miscarriage or a swallowed penny. It’s not an annoyingly lodged object that once gone, you are cleared of. (People seem to know this, but ask the question anyway.)

I’ve grown to know cancer as its own economy, fluctuating always, weakening strengthening, threatening to shake what I hold most valuable. We can’t know if and when it’s gone (exactly). We can’t know if and when it’s back (exactly). When people ask the money-question “Is it passed?” I presently quip- Oh! But it’s day by day.

This September 2008 marks the third September. There I have said it. But I am not afraid of staying silent, only of not speaking enough. And we are speaking bright and amber-tongued. This month also marks the celebration of her 60th birthday. I am not a jinxer (I declare) I am a daughter. And we are high leapers, living wild humble family-filled lives.

–I. Kramer

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 8, 2008 by

Entry #3: Transcendence

Why does it feel impossible to imagine your mother as anything but that, when up until you she was everything but that?

I remember when I was eight years old. The sun peeking in, cool dew blanketing the lawn, her voice a tether rope pulling me from sleep. Her voice rod-stout and firmly soiled. My world moved in motion circling hers, child keeping up. These mornings we’d rise early, chain our mutt to the leash and leave my sister sleeping, cross the street and walk the gravel backroads around a forgotten lake. The early morning was an allergist’s dream, fields strewn with sword grass and cockleburs. Power walking now, as if collecting all the dew and laying it on our bodies. Body-damp, this was our morning ritual.

One day, my mother’s exercise routine changed. One day she laced herself in gumption and began to run. The mutt and I kicking at her heels, scraggly, chipped in motion. I remember the shock, the betrayal at her running. How could she? She was not my mother then, she was a woman running, pitted in her needs and not mine. Was I so ego-swelled? I remember her, lifting sheer out of her motherskin, part animal.

Why does it feel impossible to imagine her as anything but that when up until now she was everything but that? I circled back, this is what I saw.

Before the mother was a divorcee searching for love in the form of a man. Before the mother was a woman working for the wage and for the dream, scraping a marriage like leftovers, hoping for seconds. Before the mother was a peasant-dressed hippie on Haight Street was a hope-drenched hair-ironed college student was a brooding adolescent. Before the mother was a sensitive child was a take-charge toddler was a babe longing for less formula and more breast. Before the mother was a babe simply wanting more from a curtain-drawn mother.

Illness changed everything. I divorced my child role, I committed to every other. (Infancy.) I remember chemo weeks, driving away from the hospital with her asleep in the front seat, watching the dash marks on the road. At home tucked in bed, she slept dreamlike. I’d check in periodically, bare silhouetted head covered in shelled light. All of the rooms in the house felt quiet with the presence of a newborn. (Childhood.) I remember the importance of the spreadmarks of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the critical placement of pink sippy straws in gingerale, the devoutly watched movies of dogs as famed-heroes.

I remember senility too. (Senility I say.) When she fell face first in a bus station and my racing heart. Her declarations. ‘I’m never going to see my future grandchildren’ she’d bemoan, wrapped in a turban and facing the television. Or, ‘When you’re all at my funeral…’ I seized these moments urgent as opportunity. ‘I’m not having this conversation with you.’ I spoke to the whole room (the sleeping beagle; the stepfather, bifocaled and Sodoku-playing). Miraculously she conceded. Somehow my words secretly soothed her. Somehow she sensed my refusal to discuss her funeral plot was a rejection of her deterioration and a call out to live.

Who was she before mine?

Before the babe was a clot like a red comet arced in motion. Before the clot was nothing but sky, was a constellation punched into the shape of a woman’s body. Before we knew who we were we reached for each other high as constellations and motioned as comets would. Before we were joined we blanketed the sky, checkered in electric light. We weren’t always cut and jigsawed. We weren’t made for each other but here we are.

Who was I before hers?

I am still her child, but a juggler too, eyes skyward, each ball in flight.

–I. Kramer

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 25, 2008 by

Entry #2

‘I have a secret to tell you.’ The room is painted mustard. Her voice is a thread  above a whisper. They watch her like a dreamed President. She stands before them with a promise; they all want the truth. No one is older than 10 in her 5th-grade classroom. 15 sets of eyes are sunken into 15 watching heads. 15 gangly bodies hunker down in 15 little desks. Expectant, giddy, they lean like rabbits at the stick.

After months away, she’s come back to them. Back to this school, this room, these wooden desks, this nubby carpeting. They wrote her cards because she was sick. “When will you come back?” “Get better and come back soon!” Their questions seemed to chirp and pucker, voices unused and new. She was their teacher, and they missed her.

She stood before them, speaking in edifying, lesson-planned tones. “I’m sorry I was away for so long, but I was sick…with cancer. Does anyone have any questions for me about it?” Hands shoot up high as pipe dreams. No one’s ever asked them something like this. It feels like an opportunity. It’s when they’re done asking that she whispers it.  “I have a secret to tell you. This isn’t my real hair; it’s a wig (eye-bulge, jaw-drop). I’m not telling any other classes, it’s a secret. And…if you close your eyes, I’ll show you.” A fellow teacher in the back of the classroom stifles her laughter, such moxie.

Fifteen sets of eyes shut like snakes in the night, 15 bodies feel bright and chosen. When they open, she’s before them, bald, transformed, Queen-like.

The next day she sees one of her fifth-graders in the hallway. The girl scampers over squinty-eyed, “Is that a wig?” she wants to know. My mother nods. The wave of specialness returns to the girl. She feels relieved that it’s just as she was told the day before. No one’s hiding, despite the costuming.

–I. Kramer

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 10, 2008 by

Entry #1: Owning Our Processes

06/07/08

The bus sighs and coughs to a halt. I awake startled from sleep on the overnight bus from Bangkok to Mae Sot, Thailand. We’re stopped on the side of the road. It’s a thickened midnight despite my watch reading 5 a.m. A Thai police officer walks the aisles, holding his flashlight like a baton. He’s checking this seat and that, waking sleepers, checking passports. He has a blue mask over his mouth for pollution, but it makes him look menacing. He’s checking for refugees. This is how I know we’re almost in Mae Sot, a border town chock full of NGOs, Burmese refugees, police arresting unlucky migrants, and Thai folk who (mostly) don’t give two hoots. I hurry to get my passport, but the officer shakes his head. My skin tips him off; I’m of the wrong ilk or maybe the right.

I panic for a moment before I regain my calm and realize where I am. I think of home then, all I’ve left, all that lies in wait, an unfed animal at the front door. I wasn’t sure about this, pulling myself out of my life, coming back here and working with the Burmese refugee women I’ve grown to love. I knew it was the right thing, but then. Mostly I would’ve stayed for her, and that’s the one reason she told me to go.

How can I quantify this year, this lonely miracle year my mother pushed through again? It came again this past fall, a second fiercer gale, come to sweep the harvest. We held tight, blue tarp black stake. We offered her breasts and held tight the ribcage. We kept her. How could it come back, a night dream I never wanted? I moved past the question quickly enough, past the crowds and into a quieter room. Cancer patient. She’s so much more than that bare, flop-shoddy word. I deliberate, how not to cloak her in the sickbay of cliques, how not to scrub-dry the humanity out of all the clinical jargon?

How do you name her the same woman, the same perfume lingering through the years on her wintered sweaters, the same second-wave feminist who dances to Motown with two fingers towards the sun, only with a diagnosis of quickly multiplying cells? How do you reconcile a nag-drawn woman with the desire to have her live forever? How do you merge a once tenuous relationship and make it unbreakable? For once, I don’t deliberate. This union was no mistake. For once, I do.

I can’t attribute this transformation to a melding of congruent personalities. We are not soft-waxed and flame-tipped. Maybe overcommitted, oversensitive, and generous.

Perhaps it’s not us but the space between us. In that reflected pool, I now see the smallest clock and it is ticking. We don’t have the time for personalities to align or taut edges to slacken. I need to dive in. I need to love her now. I have seen the rough road and it is motherless. I will always choose the guilt-worn path, potholed, fret-marked.

Sometimes I stare blankly at the doctors, the numbers, the people in the ‘movement’ rattling off breast cancer odds. You won’t hear me ticking off stats. I am not a metronome, and this is not my piano recital (Amen). You won’t hear me waving pink flags swirled in white cursive ‘Cancer Survivor’ lettering. None of that she-beat-the-odds banter. Call it a life subjected to Jewish superstition. Call it depressive. This isn’t a survival pep rally. I want her to do more than survive. I want her to re-question, how shall I live? We all have our own process. This one’s mine.

–I. Kramer

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