Final drafts

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Lenten Roses. Photo by Anne Cassity.

“None of this was supposed to happen.”  Nina Riggs

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Nina Riggs

Modern Love has long been my favorite weekly read in The New York Times. For the uninitiated, it is a series of essays submitted by readers that focus on all aspects of contemporary relationships. Some of them are funny but most of them crack my heart wide open and a few of them simply gut me.

Such was the case with two essays written by Nina Riggs and Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Nina’s piece appeared in September of last year and Amy’s was published just a few weeks ago. I don’t know if these two writers knew each other – Nina lived in Greensboro, NC and Amy was a longtime resident of Chicago. I do know that their lives are inextricably connected by the most morbid of coincidences.

You see, Amy died on Monday from ovarian cancer – the same day as Nina’s memorial service. Nina died on February 26th, after a two-year Armageddon with breast cancer.

I never met either of these women yet I am haunted by their deaths. Amy was 51 and Nina was 39.

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Amy Krouse Rosenthal

“So many plans instantly went poof.” ~ Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have reread both of their Modern Love columns several times in the last couple of days and beyond the unfathomable reality of dying at such hideously young ages, I am fixated on how much these two women would have liked each other.

They are both mothers – and I am deliberate in using that tense. My own mother has been gone for almost 15 years now but I am still aware of her mothering. I am still a daughter and I still need to be mothered. No, I can’t take her to brunch on Mother’s Day but I do strongly feel her presence in my life.

I desperately hope that the children Nina and Amy leave behind feel that, too. Nina has two boys – ages 10 and 7. Amy has three children – 20, 22 and 24 years old. I can only quote my wise friend Jennifer once again, “Cancer is an asshole.”

These children still have their fathers – who from the cheap seats appear to be kind and good men who share the blessing of marrying well. They are also well-loved by their wives.

“I have been married to the most extraordinary man for 26 years. I was planning on at least another 26 together.” ~ Amy

Amy’s Modern Love essay was about, of all things, trying to find a new wife for her husband. It was, in essence, one last love letter to her husband written with humor and grace and a blindingly bright love. And it pretty much broke the internet.

Oh, and she finished the essay on Valentine’s Day. It was published 10 days before she died. I bet even Amy would think that plot was overwritten. Real life is like that I guess.

“Within 10 minutes of meeting John at a summer job at 21, I had already mentally signed on for life – although I waited at least a week to tell him that.” ~ Nina

Nina’s essay was about a couch – if a couch was a metaphor for life and family and home. She is desperately searching online for the perfect couch for her family – “An expansive bench that fits all of us. Something that will hold us through everything that lies ahead – the loving, collapsing and nuzzling. The dying, the grieving.”

I don’t know if she ever found her couch but she certainly found her voice – a voice brimming with emotional clarity and lyrical humor as she lived until she died. Her memoir, The Bright Hour, will be published posthumously in June by Simon & Schuster.

I know, I know. If it were a movie you’d say it was too over the top.

I pre-ordered Nina’s book on Amazon the day I learned that she had entered Hospice care. It felt like the only hopeful thing to do.

I’m grateful that Nina and Amy’s words are just a click away for eternity for it is only through their writing that I know them.

And I want more.

This was one of Nina’s final posts on Facebook – a few days before she died:

Dispatch from Hospice: they have morphine, open doors, a Cook Out down the road, allow dogs. John’s playing Springsteen. It’s gonna be ok.

Her post reads like a great short story to me – or better yet, a prayer for the living.

May it be so.

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What dogs and salmon can teach us about resilience

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The Angel Oak Tree in Johns Island, S.C. is estimated to be more than 400 years old. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

It’s been an unusually warm weekend for February in North Carolina. There’s an expression here: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few days and it will change. How true that is about NC’s climate, but also about life in general and the ever-changing shifts we experience in our own lives.

We opened the windows today and let in the spring-like air. What is it about opening windows that seems to help us breathe a little easier? Opening a window after weeks or months of being sealed from winter’s cold is strangely cathartic. There’s a release, a letting go that comes with such a simple action.

All weekend the sound of the chimes on our balcony have been tinkling. The sound is what I would imagine Tinker Bell would make, waving her wand and sprinkling fairy dust. The chimes are light and delicate with three small beaded Jade stones strung together and anchoring the center of the chimes. They’re so dainty that it’s rare they actually sway in the breeze and produce a sound that’s even audible. But for the last few days they’ve been constantly ringing, their sound following me as I roam throughout the house doing chores. Friends of mine from work gave them to me last year around this time actually. They came with a Bonsai tree that has sat neglected on my porch, its leaves dried and shriveled and transformed to a burgundy color. I tried in the beginning to care for it, but I was barely getting by taking care of myself during that time.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about resilience, not just my own but of others close to me. Last year I began to understand that the bad things that happen to us almost always turn out to be gifts. The tough experiences I’ve been through taught me that. Because of those experiences and all that I had to overcome, it’s taught me how to reset and find my way back to center, my baseline, even after the worst traumas.

I thought of resilience last night as I was lying on the floor with my dog Molly. She is the toughest dog I’ve ever owned and has gone through so much in her almost 8 years of life on this earth. My husband and I were out of town for the night on Friday and got a call from the kennel in the morning that Molly’s eye was leaking some kind of green goop. By the time we had picked her up, her eye was red and swollen and she seemed to be in pain. At urgent care, they told us she had a faint scratch on her cornea, but that she’d be fine and her eye would heal on its own. Still, I felt so bad that she had to go through all of this. And now I have to squeeze ointment into her eye twice a day, but she is the best girl and trusts me to spread open her sensitive eye and squirt this stuff into her sore eye. Last night, as I held her face in my hands and kissed her snout, I told her how resilient she is and she thumped her tail in agreement. In the last five years, she’s had four surgeries—all of which were pretty extensive procedures and recoveries. She’s had two teeth extracted and also underwent emergency surgery after a stick punctured her belly while she was running through the woods. And then this past December she had a lump removed from her chest that had a smaller second growth on it that turned out to be cancerous. I guess that now makes her a cancer survivor. And yet she is still smiling, laughing, thumping her tail, handing out kisses and walking around with an inflatable doughnut around her head as if it’s the next hot thing in doggy fashion ware. My Molly is a fighter. I guess I am, too.

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My smiley girl.

I thought this past week I would certainly fall apart. It was the anniversary of my miscarriage a year ago, and leading up to it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel when the day would arrive. To my surprise, I didn’t fall apart after all. There were a few tears here and there last week and a sadness underneath the regular day-to-day minutiae, but like Molly, I smiled through it for the most part. I had two social engagements with friends that I came close to bailing on, but I’m so glad I didn’t. My girlfriends Monday night were my solace, and Tuesday night at a friend’s going away party, I laughed so much my face literally hurt. I kept reminding myself of my intention for this year: choose joy. So Wednesday night I asked my husband to be spontaneous with me and get out of town for a night, and so we did. During our overnight trip to Raleigh, I didn’t care that we got stuck in traffic or that the Chinese food we had that night was terrible, I was just happy to be with Andrew.

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My girls always making me laugh. This is them in downtown Greensboro exchanging freezer meals out of the trunks of their cars. Don’t ask. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

Saturday morning, we walked to the nearest coffee shop and grabbed two wooden stools by the window that looked out to the street. It just felt good to be somewhere else. As I sat there sipping my tea and he his coffee, a young family with a dog sat on the bench outside in front of us. They were kind of a mess. The husband tried tying the dog’s leash to a pole, while the wife tried to console their toddler in the stroller who was looking pretty hangry and on the verge of a meltdown.

“That kid’s about to lose it,” my husband Andrew remarked.

We both laughed and then talked about how cute the dog was and watched him for the next 10 minutes. He was a black puppy, possibly German Shepherd, with pointy ears and one that flopped.

“I like how we’re more interested in the dog than the baby,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” Andrew answered.

A year ago, even six months ago, I would have sat in that window and started to cry seeing that family. But that moment became further proof that I really have returned to center. I really am resilient.

Salmon are regarded as one of the most resilient species. Over the span of five years, they’ll swim upstream 7,000 miles in order to return to where they began so they can reproduce and then die. Despite hurdles like waterfalls and bears that threaten their life, they still persist. Like humans, we push on when faced with adversity because we too are fighting for our lives and fighting to return “home” to ourselves.

When we came back from our trip the following day, the chimes continued to tinkle. I can still hear them now as I type this. Those chimes were a gift in the early days of my grief. They used to make me tear up when I’d hear them, especially in the beginning, but lately, they bring me a kind of peace. I’ve come back from losing what felt like everything. My journey has come full circle, and I’m finally home.


 

 

 

 

Tickled pink

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Truth.

Would you like almonds or pistachios?

When you overhear a question like that, you know you are most likely in the company of women. And that’s exactly where I found myself at 3 AM last Saturday morning – on a bus with 49 other nasty women headed to the Women’s March on Washington.

I love women. We are nesters and that was ever so evident as I watched folks getting on our bus. Everyone carried at least two bags or a tote and a cooler. We brought pillows and blankets and enough food and water to last until Valentine’s Day. There was no room in the overhead bins. And this was a day trip.

Protesting requires protein and a lot of chocolate and we were prepared. I imagined the same scenario if it had been a bus of all men and I giggled out loud. I asked my seat mate and best friend Carla what her husband would have brought for the trip. She laughed and said, “His wallet.”

Irony never ceases to amuse me.

I initially had no intention of being on this bus. I was absolutely gutted by Hillary Clinton’s defeat (See Electoral College flunks out) and marching felt futile. And then the slow drip of disturbing post-election information came out – FBI Director Comey’s overreach, the verification of Russian interference and a general array of suspicious shenanigans.

In short, I got mad as hell and decided I needed to go to the march to rant and rave.

Cue the irony. I did go but I did not march and I did not rant. Instead, I stood in place, literally, with 500,000 of my new best friends at the biggest, most gentle block party protest in our nation’s history.

I’ll return to irony in a bit but let me go back to the bus for now. Carla was on board for the march from day one and only had second thoughts on inauguration day when she saw some scenes of windows being broken in DC. She called me on her lunch hour and in an only half kidding voice said, “I’m scared.”

I told her not to worry because this was a march for women organized by women and that it would be peaceful. Turns out I was more right than I had imagined. I just love it when that happens. DC police reported not one*arrest on Saturday. *not an alternative fact

When Carla spotted me on the bus on Saturday she practically squealed with delight and we hugged like two 13 year-olds away from our parents for a groovy field trip. I love Carla’s enthusiasm for everything – life, love and food. And she brought some good food. Breakfast was butternut squash pancakes with almond butter. The men’s bus would have had Pop-Tarts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We sat behind my dear friends Lori and Sue. They are globetrotters and are the kind of travel partners you want – easy going, fun and resourceful. And they are really good with directions – the kind of couple who would do really well on The Amazing Race.

The only drag about a bus full of women is that when you make a stop for the rest room well, you’re going to be there a while. And we were – but it was okay because almost everyone else in line was heading to the same place we were. And everyone was surprisingly cheerful and energetic for 5 AM. We were nasty women on a mission.

We went from bus to Metro train as we headed to L’Enfant Plaza and the start of the march. Saturday was the second largest recorded ridership in Metro history – over a million trips, second only to Barrack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. I found myself nostril to nostril with a lovely woman from Canada. She was in her mid-60’s and told me she and her husband had come down from Toronto on Thursday to be a part of the march. I was humbled by how much she knew about US politics. I thanked her for coming and she said, quite solemnly, “What happens in your country affects the whole world.”

O Canada.

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Only one way to go.

One of the most moving moments of the day was when we reached our final destination, riding the long escalator up to ground level and turning to see the sea of humanity. It was breathtaking and I forgot all about the fact that I wouldn’t pee again for seven hours. Democracy requires some sacrifice.

Back to irony. We didn’t march because no one really did. There simply was no room. There was one point early on in the day when we tried to get close to a monitor to watch the celebrity speakers that we literally could not move – not even a toe. That’s when Carla popped one of the Xanax she had brought for the trip. It was a good call and she probably could have gotten big bucks for the other two she had in her pocket.

Sidebar: Carla was the best march buddy. She brought two of everything – one for her, one for me. Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, granola bars and fingerless gloves. We were on the Protest Ark.

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I’ve got all my sisters with me. Me, Hillary, Carla, Lori, Sydney and Sue. (Left to right.)

So we gave up on getting close to the main stage and slinked our way back to an area that was a wee bit more open. We looked like kindergarteners crossing the street in a rope line – we held hands and went single file. Our pixie friend Sydney was with us and she makes Hobbits look tall so we really had to keep a close handle on her. It was actually kind of sweet – most folks were ambulating this way – holding on to each other for dear life.

Yes, that was a metaphor – literally and figuratively.

Pinkapalooza, there were posses of pussyhats! Everyone was wearing them – women, for sure, but lots of men and lots of children. Oh my God, there were baby pussyhats!  Sadly, I had several offers from friends to make me one but my head is bigger than Oprah’s – true story – and I would have looked like I was wearing a pink duffel bag on my head.

I know there has been a lot of negative chatter about the pussyhats and the conversational use of the word ‘pussy’. Really? I mean, really? For some reason I keep hearing Billy Joel in my head.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Nope. You don’t get to play the role of the offended because women are now wielding the same words that the president has used. I will take it upon myself to speak for the Nasty Nation and say, “We ain’t got time for that.”

The Pussyhat Project began in Los Angeles shortly after Trump’s victory when two friends decided that women needed a platform to make their voices heard. As Jayna Zweiman, one of the women behind the project explained, “It’s reappropriating the word ‘pussy’ in a positive way. It’s a pussyhat – one word. This is a project about women supporting women.”

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An aerial view of the march. That’s a lot of pussyhats.

The impact of the hats was even greater when I saw the amazing aerial views the next day when I watched clips from the march online. We grabbed back and it was spectacular!

To compensate for no pussyhat, I brought along my “pocket” Hillary – the pantsuited action figure my sister gave me for my birthday last August. She was my constant companion for the weeks leading up to the election. I took her everywhere – out to dinner, to the Chicago Marathon, you name it. And I couldn’t bear to pack her away after the election – I even put her out with my collection of Santas for Christmas.

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I’m still with her.

There was no way in hell I was going to that march without Hillary. I tucked her in my shirt pocket and I can’t tell you how many people noticed her and even asked to take a picture with her. In the mob at our first stop, I didn’t realize that she had fallen out of my pocket. A young African-American woman leaned into me and said sweetly, “You dropped your Hillary.” That was the kind of day it was. People just being kind to each other.

So we never really heard the A list speakers but we did get to take in all of the fantastic signs. They were so freaking clever! I really do hope that someone puts together a coffee table book of some of the signs as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. I would buy one in a hot minute. And I was thrilled to read the other day that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History sent curatorial teams out to collect signs and art post-march in Washington.

I’m not going to lie to you – there were a lot of vagina signs. Wow. Some people are really good artists and/or gynecologists. “I am not Ovary-reacting” and “Viva la Vulva” were a couple of my favorites in this genre. There were numerous tributes to Hillary which I found quite touching. And there were many just flat-out hilarious signs like “Melania, Blink Twice if You Need Help” and “We Shall Overcomb”.

In short, the signs were as unique and diverse as all the beautiful people who were there.

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The message was delivered. Loud and clear.

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That about covers it.

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That’s what she said.

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Hillary was everywhere.

I think I was most moved by the number of older women I saw at the march. Women in their late 70s and even older. These women thought that they would finally see a woman elected president in their lifetime. Their dream dashed, they came out to be heard and seen. And I’m here to tell you – attending a big march like that is not easy. It’s not like a cocktail party where you can just drop in for an hour or so. There is no drive by democracy. Our group was on a bus for 12 hours, on our feet for about seven and oh yeah, the not peeing thing. It’s not a day to be comfortable and that’s the point.

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Mad props to these goddesses.

Anyway, I wanted to gently pet each and every one of these wise owls as they passed by me.

Cell service was obliterated by the massive usage so we were out of the loop with what was happening all around the country and the world. When we made it back to our metro stop for our bus pickup, we were all on our phones looking at the marches in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, New Zealand and are you kidding me Antarctica? I had no idea that this would be a global day of protest and that’s when it hit me – the world is watching. 

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Women’s March, Frozen Edition. Fairbanks, Alaska.

Oh, and I never got to rant either. I was too damn happy and exhilarated to be with so many good folks. It was the best I had felt since November 8th and I left DC with a big basket of hope.

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Do you hear the people sing?

The bus ride home was very quiet. We were nasty tired. Carla slept for a good bit of the trip, her head resting on my shoulder. I’m old enough to be her mother but she never makes me feel that way. She is a thoroughly modern and independent woman and this was her first real foray into political protest. I know it won’t be her last and it was very special to share the day with her.

I couldn’t sleep and I really didn’t want to. I love the odd but gentle intimacy of being with strangers at a time they are usually home in bed sleeping. There is a vulnerability in the darkness that is almost palpable. I heard breathing and snoring and a few whispered conversations. I felt like the night watchwoman, protective of these women, many of whom I had never met until this march. I wanted them to remain well long after this day was done.

I’ve always taken comfort in the adage “safety in numbers” and if that hypothesis holds true, judging by last Saturday, we’re going to be okay.

You can bet your sweet pussyhat on it.

 

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The future is female.

 

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My badass bus mates. We’ve still got a lot of fight left in us!

Making waves

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January 20th, 2017. What could go wrong?

The Impossible is an absolutely gripping film from 2012 about one family’s experience in the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. One minute they are enjoying a Christmas vacation at a lush resort, the next they are literally swept away into total chaos and destruction.

I thought about this film in the middle of the night when I could not sleep – 24 hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Probably just a coincidence.

Wrong!

Last night as I was stone cold awake, I had a physical sensation that felt very familiar to me but I couldn’t quite nail it. Then it came to me – that feeling you have in the middle of the night before you or a loved one are having surgery. You know – that anxious feeling where you tell yourself that there is nothing to worry about and everything will be okay. And then somehow it is 4 AM and you still haven’t gone to sleep.

The devastation of November 8th feels far away from me today. It is no longer unfathomable to me that Hillary Clinton was not elected president. You’ve all seen the various autopsies and any combination of causes – FBI Director Comey, Russian hacking, fake news, misogyny, patriarchy, a flawed campaign and high unfavorability ratings – can explain her defeat.

Don’t get me wrong – I will mourn Hillary’s loss for the rest of my life but today it’s a fresh pink scar and not an open wound as it was for those first awful weeks. A fearful dread now hangs over me (and approximately 65,844,953 others) as we feel the rumbles of the electoral tsunami creeping ever closer.

I started watching some news again the first of the year. My dear wife likes to watch the Today show as she’s getting ready for work. We have developed some new safety protocols – the main one being that if Kellyanne Conway appears on-screen, she is to hit the off button immediately. For the record, we have that same rule in effect when Sarah McLachlan’s  Arms of the Angels PSA comes on, too. No Kellyanne. No sick kittens. The human spirit can only absorb so much pain.

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Just say no!

I find myself crying more easily and more often these days. The Obamas, damn them, certainly haven’t helped matters. It seems as if every day one of them gives us another reason to weep but their grace, humanity and humility have helped make me believe for a little while that everything really will be okay.

My biggest breakdown to date came right before Thanksgiving when I was still deep in the throes of my election depression and avoiding all media. I just happened to be surfing for Sex and the City reruns (they always make me feel better) when I caught the White House ceremony when President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 recipients, including Ellen DeGeneres.

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Twitter continues to save me on a daily basis.

It was the faces that killed me. Obama’s face – so genuine and respectful – and the faces of the recipients – all of them superstars in their fields – but so absolutely gobsmacked by receiving this award from this president. Tom Hanks, Robert DeNiro, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Bruce Freaking Springsteen – all of them with enough hardware to fill an armory – all deeply moved by the honor.  Ellen flat-out ugly cried, bless her heart. And I ugly cried right along with her when President Obama told us that we should never forget how much courage was required for her to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago, noting that she “pushed our country in the direction of justice.”

I pray there’s no turning back now.

 

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Ellen’s award-winning ugly cry.

The White House released a YouTube video recently in which many famous and not so famous folks share how they have been inspired by the Obamas.  In the video, noted feminist Gloria Steinem says, “It was the first time in my life when I felt like the White House belonged to everyone.” I know that feeling, too. In 2011, I was invited to the White House for a LGBT reception in celebration of PRIDE month. I don’t care how cool you think you are, being a guest at the White House is a pretty heady experience.

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I’ll always regret that the most qualified Clinton never made it to the Oval. That’s me in the White House, 2011.

I remember going to D.C. for the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in the spring of 1993. It was an empowering and life changing event for me as I heard speaker after speaker talk about taking our place at the table. It was too much for me to imagine back then that table would one day include one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I cried again the week before Christmas when my friend Gina posted a picture of her partner Marco becoming an American citizen. Marco is a handsome and charming Italian (redundant) and my wife and I both fell madly in love with him when we met him at my best friend Carla’s (Gina’s sister) wedding four years ago.

Marco and Gina are both brilliant mathematicians – those rare folks who actually used algebra after high school. They are that groovy couple who do the unimaginable and make math look hot. Anyway, I knew Marco had been studying for his citizenship exam but when I saw his sweet mug on Facebook with Gina’s caption, “One of our newest citizens!” – well, I lost it.

I told her that I wanted our country to be deserving of Marco’s beautiful smile. It’s like that bumper sticker says: I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.

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Marco. Making America more beautiful.

His beaming face and the special red, white and blue tie he had purchased for the occasion just gutted me. I thought about so many people joking – sort of – about moving to Canada post-election. Such a disconnect from how gleeful Marco looks in Gina’s photograph. The Obamas made me feel like our country was deserving of that smile.

I’ll be back in our nation’s capital this weekend for another historic march – this time the Women’s March on Washington, the day after the inauguration. A lot has happened in those 24 years since my last march, especially in terms of LGBT rights. I’m legally married to the person I love and entitled to all the rights associated with that piece of paper.

Back then, I was still anxious about being completely out. This march, I’m most anxious about finding a Don’s Johns that isn’t completely gross.

And I’m not just marching for myself this time.

I’m marching for a thousand and one important reasons. Correction – make that 1002, counting Marco.

Ciao, Bellas! Ciao, Obamas!

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The First Family. I’ll even miss their dogs.

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Be the light in the darkness

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Photos by Carla Kucinski

It’s 3:30 on a Wednesday. Three days before Christmas. I am sitting in my favorite tea shop, sipping a cup of hot cocoa that tastes like a melted milk chocolate bar. I feel its warmth as it travels down my throat and warms my insides. These next two weeks are all about comfort and self-care. Pause. Rest. Reflect.

My eyes burn from the lack of sleep I had last night. I painted my eyelids with grey eyeliner and combed my lashes with thick black mascara to make myself look and feel more awake than I am. I stayed up most of the night with my dog Molly who had a tumor removed from her chest the previous day. It was a fatty tumor about the size of golf ball near her shoulder, with a smaller bump that had appeared last month. When we picked her up after her surgery, our vet was certain the smaller tumor was cancer and sent it out for further testing.

That night, I slept with Molly on the couch with our tower of pillows and piles of blankets and stroked her head as she whined through the night. Every time she whimpered I Googled: Dog, pain, surgery, whining—trying to find ways to soothe her. There’s nothing worse than hearing an animal suffer and knowing there’s not much you can do but be there—be her comfort, her security for all the times she has been yours. As I sat beside her on the couch, I propped my head up with the palm of my hand to keep myself from nodding off while I stroked her silky ears. I started thinking about earlier this year when she didn’t leave my side the entire time I was recovering from my miscarriage. She camped out on the couch with me, nuzzled her muzzle into the crook of my arm and slept with me for days. When I cried, she licked the tears on my face. Now it was my turn to take care of her.

Molly recuperating after surgery. (All photos by Carla Kucinski.)

Molly recuperating after surgery. 

Fucking cancer. This year it already invaded the lives of three people I love, and now my dog. Eight days later, good news arrived. Lab results were in and it was in fact a mast cell tumor, grade II, but our vet was able to get the entire tumor, which meant no follow-up treatment with chemo drugs. “This is all good, good, good, good, news,” Dr. Fuller sang into the phone. I threw my arms around Molly’s big neck and wept. She celebrated with a Kong bone filled with peanut butter.

A two-inch scar remains where Molly’s tumor was removed. We called her Frankenpup for the first few days. We needed to find some humor in all of this as we waited to find out whether our dog had cancer. Over the last 10 days, the scar has changed from a jagged, angry red line to a faded pink scar. The fur where they shaved her is started to grow back in as if nothing ever happened. It made me think of a passage I read recently in “Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself 40 Ways” about finding beauty in your scars. “I see scars and I see stories. I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor. Living is beautiful. … We may hurt, but we will heal … ”

My pup is a survivor. I suppose I am, too.

I can’t help but think of my own scars that I earned this year. 2016 has been challenging and exhausting. I am tired. So tired. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill all year, and now I can finally get off and rest. I’ve been off from work since Dec. 18, which leaves lots of open days to just drift. It’s one of the rare times of the year where I let myself be lazy and quiet. My muscles ache. Even my bones feel tired. I thought maybe it was because of this sinus infection I’ve been battling on and off for the past few weeks, but honestly, I think it’s the weight of this year, still trying to hang on and drag me down. It’s like I’ve been carrying fistfuls of stones in my pockets this past year. But it’s time to finally let it all go. That phrase, “let it go,” has been a thread in this journey of ups and downs. I’m still not sure I’ve mastered the act, or even know how to begin. I’m learning.

Earlier this year my therapist, told me that I needed to decide how I wanted to carry this grief. What did I want it to look like? How did I want to feel carrying it? I think I started out holding this weight of grief, heavy like wet clay, in my heart and my stomach for months. Eventually the weight shifted and I carried it on my side, like I was holding a basketball that I could put down or pick up at any time. Some days my grief still feels like a boulder, other days it feels like a single stone. I want to pick it up and launch it into a lake, hear it kurplunk in the water, sink to the bottom, never to be found again. But it’s a part of me now, and always will be. I just need to learn how to carry it, live in harmony with it. I’m learning.

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Every year on the evening of winter solstice, my yoga studio hosts a ceremony that involves reflection and meditation with a few yoga poses thrown in. I went for the first time last year and found the experience cathartic and moving. The practice involves a “letting go” segment (there’s that phrase again) where we each hold in our hand a smooth, charcoal grey stone and breathe, meditate, and do a few gentle yoga poses while focusing on the things that no longer serve you and that you want to let go of. As I laid on my mat, the stone cold in the palm of my right hand, I thought about the past year and what I wanted to rid myself of. My cheeks became wet with tears. There was still so much pain weighing me down. All the “what ifs” and “what would have been” or “could have been” circled in my mind.

I found out on Christmas Eve that I was pregnant. I remember my heart racing as I looked at the two pink lines in disbelief. I flung open the bathroom door and yelled to Andrew, “I’m pregnant!” It was 5:30 in the morning. We had to wake up early for the 10-hour drive to his parents’ house in New Jersey. Andrew was half-sitting up in bed with a pillow propped up behind him, bleary-eyed but awake. I’ll never forget his smile that morning. I jumped on top of him and then Molly tried jumping in the bed with us. It feels like it was all a dream, but my heart says otherwise.

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I poured into that stone my sadness, pain, fears, uncertainties, worries and all of the hurt so many of my close friends have endured this year. I was one of the first people to drop my stone in the middle of a circle of flickering tea lights. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. As soon as it left my hand, my heart felt lighter hearing the weight of it hit the floor. It was a release from this chaotic year; even if it was temporary, it felt freeing.

A few days after Thanksgiving, a tarot card reader told me I was in my Wheel of Fortune Year, which is characterized by upheaval and change that will be painful, traumatic and shocking. She described it as having no control as life spun out of control. And there’s no time to adjust to each change. That’s certainly how this year has gone so far—a series of traumas, losses and heartache. But she also said it was a year of tremendous growth and advised me not to stay stagnant, to shake things up, take risks and be open to creating new opportunities. I definitely haven’t been sitting idle.

“You’re lucky you’re alive,” a friend said to me the other day, looking me square in the eyes. She is Vietnamese and follows Chinese astrology. I’m a monkey, and this past year was the Year of the Monkey. I thought that meant it was my year. My friend told me it was the opposite: when it’s your year, it’s the worst year. The Chinese new year began on Feb. 8. That same day I found out we lost our baby. My year of bad luck had begun.

But the winter solstice ceremony helped me remember the bright spots in 2016. As my teacher asked us to think about the good memories, I closed my eyes and started to smile as images of this past year flashed in my mind. I thought of all the places I’ve been. Me and Andrew in Maine. Vistas. Walks on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. Lobster and warm melted butter. Atlantic Beach and its sparkling ocean. Reading on the deck. Sunsets. Sunrises. Laughing at Molly chasing birds in the water. Roanoke. The bitter cold. The wind chill. February. Valentine’s Day. Dinner and martinis. A rock show. Fire places in the lobby. The sun cutting through the trees. Asheville. Cocktails at a sidewalk café. Mountains. Us. Life returning to normal. Late night heart-to-hearts with my oldest sis on her couch in our pajamas and glasses. Sipping rosé with Gina and Marco. Laughing. Crying. Sharing our life’s stories. The sweet ending of summer. Swimming in the lake at Omega. Napping under the trees and summer sun. Meeting Janie. Meeting Janine. Facing my fears. Reading my work to strangers. Crying in front of strangers. Being vulnerable. The drive home. The Catskills. The Hudson–the magnificent Hudson. Lobster fest under white twinkle lights. Tasting my first oyster, a mix of salt and sea. Being the surprise at your best friend’s birthday party. Pajama parties. Cocoa. Laughing until your face hurts. Old movies. Balloons on my birthday. Snowflakes. Sunshine. The turning of leaves.

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Life can be ugly, but also beautiful. The two cannot exist without the other. The good still outweighs the bad, and yet, why is it always the bad stuff that seems to lodge itself in the forefront of my brain and loop on repeat? Why can’t my mind be flooded with the good memories?

Addison texted me the other day and said we were like the phoenix rising from the ashes. This year was an opportunity for me to grow. I came to some realizations about my future, and I’ve been making steps toward fulfilling my plan to create a richer, fuller life. When I look at myself in the mirror, I mean really look at myself, I see someone with scars but also someone who has chosen not to hide them. They are proof of my strength and resilience, a reminder of what I’ve survived and what I’ve lived. I no longer want to honor my pain and sadness and grief. I want to make whole this sutured heart of mine. It’s time I start honoring the joy in my present life and give power to that and not the past. No more looking back.

Kabir says, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” As I walk into 2017, I imagine myself digging my hands into my pockets and pulling out fistfuls of stones and letting them slip out of my hands as I walk forward and leave them in my wake. They are no longer coming with me on this journey. There isn’t any room. There’s only room for joy. I have to believe there is a greater path, destiny for me that I will follow. Grief made me feel trapped. Unmovable. And I think this is what these last few days of 2016 have been about for me. Sitting with my grief. Really sitting with it, embracing it, having a talk with it. I’m done with you. We’re breaking up. I need to come home to myself. This is my entry point into true peace.

The winter solstice ceremony closed with each of us lighting the candle of the person next to us until the entire room was aglow in candle light. I looked around at the faces in the room, glowing in the golden light, and I saw a diversity of expressions: peace, joy, sadness, pain. Me? I felt like my entire body was smiling. “Be the light in the darkness,” my teacher said as she lifted her candle. It made me think of the famous quote by Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” In those moments of darkness when it seems no light can get in, I vow to find it and not lose sight of it as I head into the new year with an open heart and open mind. I owe that to myself. 2016, I’m letting you go.

Some of the bright spots …

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