Friday, August 19, 2016

Flashback Friday

Twenty years ago, in August of 1996, I was a 17-year-old girl about to start college. I had just flown across the country from Seattle to Baltimore, Maryland, by myself. My parents and I had said our tearful good-byes at the gate at SeaTac (back when you could still walk people to their gates at airports). I'd get picked up at BWI by upperclassmen on the welcoming committee. There were about four of us who rode nervously in the university-issued van to campus, our new home.

I moved into an un-air-conditioned, stifling dorm room at Johns Hopkins University, all of my worldly possessions in a large suitcase, plus a box or two I'd receive from home in the next couple of weeks. I had my rolls of quarters for laundry and phone calls home, my shower tote for carting my toiletries to and from the shared bathroom, and the weird extra-long twin sheets made specifically to fit those narrow dorm room beds. I just needed to go buy a box fan to deal with those last few weeks of swampy mid-Atlantic summer.

That first week is kind of a blur of freshman orientation activities like figuring out who has your same area code, if anyone, and things like finding the financial aid office for a check so I could buy books. And then I started a work-study job at the campus bookstore, so I got to see what classes everyone else was taking, too. The bookstore was mercifully air-conditioned, and in a basement, so I was happy to spend time there, even if I was only making $5.25 an hour.
At some formal my freshman year. LOOK HOW YOUNG!
***
Fifteen years ago, I was a college graduate living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and working as a lobbyist. It was late summer 2001.

I was also training for my first marathon. My marathon training team would meet early on Saturday mornings to run along the historic C&O canal path past Georgetown, into the shaded woods in Maryland, through old tunnels, for miles and miles. It was muggy, but the conversation was good and the cause was worthy. I had joined the AIDS Marathon Training Program to raise money for DC's Whitman Walker Clinic, at the time the largest service provider for AIDS patients in the District. My marathon would be at the end of October in Dublin, Ireland.
Prior to security barricades and guards everywhere, ca. 2001
Then September 11th happened. I was at a client office in Northern Virginia that brisk, beautiful morning, listening to a presentation on systems security when everyone's phones and Blackberries started buzzing. How rude, I thought. But then the whispers made their way to the podium and the speaker stopped speaking. "A plane hit the World Trade Center," a colleague said to me, quietly. I had been in the World Trade Center the weekend before. We all gathered around a TV in the conference room to watch the news coverage, wondering what the hell had just happened in New York. It looked like footage out of a movie. This can't possibly be real, I remember thinking. And then the Pentagon was hit. 9:37 a.m. It suddenly became crystal clear we were under attack.

I was able to reach my boss, who said they were closing the city. She asked whether I had a place to stay. I called a college friend who lived in Gaithersburg, Maryland, outside the beltway. I could crash with her until the city opened again and I could get back to my apartment. We drank cheap wine and cried about the new world we were living in.

Two days later was my twenty-third birthday. I didn't much feel like celebrating.

But I did get on a mostly empty plane the next month and I ran that marathon in Ireland.
Proof.
***
Ten years ago, I was just returning from studying abroad in South America. I had finished my first year of law school and had taken the opportunity to spend six weeks in Santiago, Chile (where I spent much of the time sick with what was probably a bronchial infection) and Buenos Aires (where, recovered from my mystery illness, I ate my weight in grass-fed beef and red wine).

Chris and I had been dating about a year by then. Our schedules were equally crazy. I'd taken leave from work to go to South America, but was back at my job and school that August. He was frantically trying to finish his dissertation and typing away in his office at the Smithsonian most nights until the last bus came by, sometime around 1:30 in the morning. We saw each other on the weekends, where we'd rehash our weeks over runs through the zoo or beers in Adams Morgan. Or both, if we were feeling ambitious.

I was exhausted, but who cares when you're twenty-seven and in love?

In 2008, I graduated law school, followed Chris to Arizona, took and passed the bar here, and planned our wedding. We got married that fall, so broke it felt like we were in college again, but we had each other. And at least one of us (not me) had a job.

***
A little more than five years ago, Quinn was born. I'd settled into a job with a great team, Chris and I had purchased our first home (a tiny thing built in the 1950s), and Arizona was even growing on me. Life was so good.


Then on August 19, 2011, I went in for an exam with a breast surgeon who asked me to go to radiology right away. I still remember what I was wearing, a cute belted smock, navy with white flowers. I later threw it away. The radiologist took one look at my ultrasound pictures and told me she was 99% sure this was cancer.

Time seems to stand still at moments like this. I'll never forget where I was for 9/11, or what it felt like those first few days away from home at college. I'll always remember the prickly tentacles of fear that crept up the back of my neck when I was told I had cancer that Friday afternoon five years ago.

I wouldn't learn until later how aggressive or extensive it was, but I knew my lump was large. I'd thought it was an infection from breast-feeding. I was shattered to learn how wrong I was.

Five years later, I'm still here. A woman in my workout class this morning said, "Oh, congratulations! Five years is when your risk for recurrence goes way, way down, isn't it?" She was so excited, I hated to burst her bubble. But I chose honesty.

"No, it's just when they stop tracking us," I said.

She looked crestfallen. "Oh," she said.

"But it still feels like a milestone," I added, throwing her a bone. But also because it's true. It does feel like a milestone some days, like a rock in my throat on others.

Quinn is finishing his second week of kindergarten today. Chris just started teaching a new semester at ASU. I don't often know how to celebrate this day, or whether it's appropriate for a cancerversary. I mean, it was a terrible day of our lives, but then, look how far we've come. A lot of times I give the day a moment of silence and move on, but I think five years deserves something. Ice cream and a movie is sounding spot-on.

5 comments:

  1. I hear they make wine ice cream these days? You do you! That is all that matters. :)

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    1. Oh, my dear Mandi -- I would love to split a pint of that with you! I think of you all the time. Thanks for checking in on me. XO

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  2. You remain my hero--and such a fine writer! xox

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