My sister’s cancer…

I woke up this morning wrapped in blanket after blanket, looking like a nibbled corn dog with my round face peering out. “I’m sick,” I groaned as Fil snuggled close. After a night of Nyquil ramblings, this was something he’d already assumed. “I was at a fire last night. Whole house burned to the ground.” “Mmmm.” “I’m making an apple cobbler for breakfast.” “Mmmm.” “I’ll be back.” And off he went to the store, leaving me to fight the common cold.

“My head is stuffy,” I texted momma, hoping for more than an update of last night’s headlines. “Oh no. Well, your sister has a sore throat and a cough and is burning up inside and she can’t get cool and her skin is getting dry and rashey AND your niece wants a unicorn valentine box.” And with that I rolled over and shrunk back into my cornbread coating.

The single most impressive event of my day will eclipse all others, leaving me campaigning for it up and down my social block, but I’m almost always shocked when no one else seems remotely affected. “I’m sick, Bagheera,” and with the glare of one eye she’s back to sleep.

“I’m sick, mom.” “Cancer.”

“I’m sick, Fil.” “House fire.”

“I’m sick, self.” “Me too.”

This Thursday my sister goes in for the BRCA test, which will determine which operation she will undergo. Momma has been thinking about it a lot the past few weeks. It’s really all she can talk about, which doesn’t bother me, only I feel so detached from the whole thing.

I don’t see my sister’s bald head. I don’t see her dry skin or the bags under her eyes. I don’t see the hot flashes and sleepless nights. Instead I just hear from her and when we’re texting back and forth, it’s usually not about cancer. She likes to hear about the articles I’m writing or the bars where I’m drinking. I hate to say it, but I’ve kinda gotten used to the idea of my sister having cancer, it’s never really news to me. Please, don’t freak out! I’m not saying that cancer is something you grow accustomed to like aunthood, the snow, or an antique barrel turned side table (ehem, Filipp,) but when you’re an outsider looking in, when you’re the shoulder, the friend, the chemo partner (We love you, Brandi!), no matter how affected you are by it, it’s not your cancer. It’s your friend’s cancer, your wife’s cancer, your daughter’s cancer, my sister’s cancer.

I really doubt my sister feels territorial over it, and by no means would she pull a, “Well my cancer’s bigger than your cancer,” but with all the fuss we’ve made over it: the blog, the newsletter updates, the Facebook posts, and the easy conversation topic (yes, I’ve used the cancer card, don’t you judge me!), you really would think it was everyone else who had cancer.

Here’s an update for all of us- it isn’t.

It’s my sister’s cancer. It’s Abby’s cancer. Abby lost her hair. Abby can’t sleep at night. Abby has to call the doctor at the inkling of a damn itchy throat.

It is Abby’s cancer, but she isn’t Cancer’s Abby. She doesn’t belong to it and it can’t claim her. She is ours! She is Chad’s wife, Momma’s daughter, Paigey’s mommy, Linda’s niece, Gram and Pap’s grandbaby, Brandi’s best friend, and my sister!

We all fight for Abby because not a day goes by that the thought of her doesn’t exceed the best or worst moments of our day. There is nothing today that could be as great and wonderful were it to happen when Abby is cancer free. That was a mouthful. What I mean is that every good thing that occurs will be twice as good when the cancer is gone and every negative thing that happens never feels as bad as first hearing the diagnosis.

Here’s to my sister’s cancer. Thank you for making light of my common cold, my event, my moment.

I’m off to the craft store. I’ve got a unicorn valentine box to build.

Much love,

Liv

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The Irreplaceables

From Portland to Mass, New York to Pennsylvania with a quickie to Maryland, we did it all this past holiday season. It started with a conversation about friends and time. “Do you think we have made our friends for life?” I asked, while wiping onion induced tears away. “I think we’ve made our solid friends.” “Right.” “But, I think we will always make friends wherever we are, don’t you?” I nodded, though I really didn’t have an answer.

Do I think I’ll ever meet another Abby Kreider, who’s shared more adventures with me than Gumby and his damn horse, Pokey? No way. Another Debbi? Mattson? Kevin? Illya? Another Marcus-Marcus who has seen Fil and I at our best, worst, and mediocre?! Never. Yes, we will make friends everywhere we go, but once you’ve made your irreplaceables, your partners in crime, your jail bailers, your best enemies (for they know every dirty detail), these my readers, are hard to make again.

So, we planned a trip. A big trip. A several hundred mile trip. Hours. It was a long ass trip. Our first stop was Massachusetts, where we surprised Mattson and Raji the night they returned home for Christmas. We sat up until 5 a.m.(?) catching up, analyzing our current predicaments, laughing, and feeling a little sad when talking of those couple months in our lives when we were all connected at the hip. Those weren’t the best months. We all went through our own private hells during that period, but who better to go through hell with than your soul mates?

The next morning we said our goodbyes and South we drove to New York with a car full of gifts, wine, and our traveling cat.

It was Christmas Eve around 4:00 p.m. as we watched her enter the building from our rental car. It was the perfect set up. An unrecognizable automobile, a Santa hat, and jingle antlers. She had no idea. We waited in the fire escape as Fil made a call to his momma, who had just returned from errands. “Get on Skype,” he told her, “We’ll talk on Skype.” We quickly made our way to the door with a DRING-DRING of the bell. It was all hugs, kisses, and tears when she opened the door to find two of Santa’s forgotten helpers and their charming Christmas cat, Bagheera. The evening was spent with so much laughter that I remember my cheeks feeling warm and tingly as I drifted to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Christmas day we were back on the road, headed to Pennsylvania, where for two days we didn’t move from the couch. When we finally had the strength to get back in the car, Fil and I made a trip to Hagerstown to have lunch with my grandfather and his wife, Millie. We spent the afternoon catching up and talking of Portland. That night we watched movies with dad and Mary at the cabin. The fire was rolling, my belly was full of O.I.P pizza, and I couldn’t believe how incredible this Christmas was. We saw everyone on our Christmas list, which started with our mommas. There is nothing like waking up in your childhood bed, going to the kitchen, and finding your momma with a coffee and a sunshine smile on her face before you’ve even had the chance to pee. That, friends, is irreplaceable.

But all of the many warm, fuzzy Christmas moments still couldn’t keep my over-analytical, there-must-be-a-catch writer’s mind from screwing it all up for me.

One night while playing WWF Raw: Captain Hook (Fil) vs. Paige and Aunt O, there was a moment when all I wanted was to be back home in Portland. A moment when I wished we didn’t even make the trip.

Those close to me know I don’t handle leaving home well. I actually end up dreading visiting, knowing that I’ll eventually have to say goodbye again. I start thinking about it before I’ve even arrived. This visit was no different. I was so happy to see our parents, our friends, our homes, but coming home sometimes feels like coming back to reality. As if the life you’re building somewhere else, away from your start, doesn’t really count as life. It feels like all this time we’ve been playing house when out there in reality my three-year-old niece is learning to go on the potty and, in her words, “It’s just awful.” I’m reminded that while we are away in the never-never land of Portland, my grandparents are still getting older, our pets don’t really consider themselves “ours” anymore, our parents still have to go to work, our best friend will fly back to LA, my sister is still fighting cancer, and Christmas only comes once a year, damn it!

All of this seemed to hit full force on New Year’s Eve over Olivier salad and Halladetzs. After a nip of vodka and some twinkling candles, I burst into tears, running to the bedroom where Fil found me, “What’s wrong?” “I don’t know. I just feel sad. I’m SAD. Why did we come home?”

He dried my eyes and we spoke to the parents about life, worries, feeling lonely, and, as they often do, they reassured us that everything will be all right and life is good. Funny how all it takes to calm a twenty-something is a sip of wine and an understanding nod from your parents.

After spending New Year’s Eve watching movies, calling friends, and burning our regrets, tossing them out over the balcony, I could answer my own question. Why did we make the trip? Because Fil and I decided the night I asked if him we made our friends for life, that we would never, ever let “we’ll see them next time,” become our excuse. We never want it to become easier not to go home even when it is. Even when it’s going to take money out of the bank or time out of our lives. We never want to lose touch-when I say touch I mean hugs and kisses not texts and tweets. I want to hold the people closest to me when I can, I want to hug my best friends, kiss my grandparents, and squeeze my fat English bulldog. We will never choose “next time,” over sharing just a moment with our irreplaceables.

Happy New Year, readers!

Much love,

Liv

P.S. please check “ABBY UPDATES: TWO MORE TO GO.” You can find this on the side bar under “Pages.”

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Ode to an Oldsmobile

Alas, the day has come when I must say goodbye to the remainder of my adolescence. My partner in crime of 8 years, my horse with no name, my freedom, my vessel, my two door Oldsmobile Alero has lost his will to live.

From the hillsides of Western PA to the interstates of the Empire State, my Alero has carried me from one adventure to the next.

He was given to me by my father on my 16th birthday in the hopes of teaching me responsibility and respect for the road, but that old car taught me so much more. From driving on snow covered I-99 to my first road kill victim on Hog Farm Road, he has driven me through it all.

The Oldsmobile Alero has seen all there is of the East, coasting in the glory of I-95 from St. Augustine, FL all the way to Rockland, ME. There is no denying he drove good miles.

When I called my mechanic for a report on the maintenance, I knew the news was not good. Having been transferred to “Services” immediately, I already knew. “It’s not good. Your transmission is shot. And the cost is more than the car.”

More than the car? More than my first car? My sweet sixteen car? I am sorry, sir, but can one put a price on their adolescence?

Throughout high school Alero was my escape, my escape from parents, school, work, and life. Blaring Kanye West’s Graduation album, I flew over the roads of Henrietta with best friends Abby, Stef, Brittany, and Jeri.

The night before high school graduation Lee Martz and I cruised the back roads of Martinsburg, listening to Edith Piaf and smoking American Spirits, talking of college, parties, love, and moving away, never looking back.

In my college years the Alero carried me to my first place in Altoona, PA across from the VFW. Carried me to parties at Chuck’s Farm and up the hill to the Maurer’s for Wednesday dancing.

When I decided to move to NY, Alero was right there with me. Never once falling behind the Mustangs with NY plates. Many a’traffic jams we sat together, overheating, praying for an inch, hoping the Tappan Zee would not fall before we arrived.

Through love and break ups, Alero was right there. And I pray he forgives me for letting that one guy behind his wheel.

Today, my friends, is a sad day for me. And Friday night, when Fil and I go to pay our respects, I will pour a Miller High Life over Alero’s tires while blaring Champion.

So, here’s to you, Oldsmobile Alero. Here’s to the late night Sheetz runs, the long days on I-287, and getting me home safely every Christmas, I thank you.

Very soon you will join an army of cars, soldiers that drove on until the very end.

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A Hell of A lot of Thanks to Go Around!

I am sorry for two posts in one day, but…

In two days Americans will gather around the blessed, sacrificial bird and celebrate our lives with families and friends! We will be laughing, smiling, and loving as we pass the sweet potatoes and chug our wine. We will re-tell the same old stories and catch bigger fish in the new ones. We will praise our grandmas’, mothers’, and aunties’ cooking, and promise never to eat again, all the while looking forward to a cold turkey sandwich that night. Ah, my God, I love Thanksgiving and I love the American family!

When it’s all said and done, when the dishes are put away, the last bottle of wine uncorked, and the paps, uncles, and kids asleep, we will all take that moment of silence to ourselves and think of how damn lucky we all are.

This summer and fall have been a whirlwind for me. I moved to Portland, Maine with a boy I fell madly in love with almost two years ago. I moved in with him even though I vowed to friends in middle school never to live with a boy before marriage, yuck!

And now we have a cat together after an entire life of being a self proclaimed “dog person.”

I became a teacher and again fell madly in love, this time with “my kids.” Whether they know it or not, my students brighten my day and for the first time in my life I look forward to going to work. I hope that feeling never fades.

SistersAfter the move my world was rocked. My big sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and would start chemo almost immediately. I was hollowed. For days my imagination became a burden, filling me with fear and assuming the very worst.

But today, readers, I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for.

Yesterday my sister visited Magee Womens Hospital for her second chemo treatment. The first had made her pretty sick, so it was a sullen day for her and my mom. As usual, I said my prayers and went about my day, continuing to keep her in my thoughts.

Today we were truly blessed. My sister returned to Magee’s for her checkup, only to be informed that the doctors could no longer feel the lump!

This means the chemo has already started to shrink the cancer!

Upon hearing the news I asked my sister, “Do you even have cancer or did you just want extra Christmas gifts?” We had to laugh because Paige has been telling everyone that my sister wants more Breast Cancer memorabilia. Sequined fanny packs and all. So, if she did indeed fake this whole cancer thing, jokes on her! Hehehe 😉

Readers, friends, and family, I am so thankful for the time you take out of your day to read my blog, supporting my sister and family through all of this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending hugs and kisses to my niece, for keeping my mom smiling, and my sister’s spirits high.

I hope you and your families have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope those of you who can’t be with your families will keep warm with friends, and I hope that all of you thank yourselves for being you; for being strong, loving, and faithful. And if you get the chance, hug your sister!

Much love,

Liv

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“It’s Crazy.”

The little girl with wild curly Qs sprouting around her pixie ears, studies her mommy from the kitchen table, swinging her legs to the soundtrack of her two-year old mind. It goes something like this: Doo, da, da, Dee, Doo, da,da, Dee.

Mommy looks different today, she thinks. No, it wasn’t that she was taller and it wasn’t that she got smaller, but mommy was certainly different.

She’d been told over and over that Mommy is “sick,” that Mommy’s medicine makes her tired, that she needs to be a good girl for Mommy, but no one told her this. How come? Why not? 

The little girl strokes her curly Qs, pulling on one before letting it spring back into place. Wonder why mommy did that, she thinks. It looks kinda funny. Looks like Pap’s. Looks like my babies’. Wonder why.

She watches as Mommy makes her way to the bedroom and follows.

Mommy pulls a shirt or two from the dresser, playing dress up. The little girl watches. Mommy is good at dress upMommy has nice dress up clothes.

Before long Mommy and the little girl are joined by Drouchy, the dog. “Hi, Drouchy.” She jumps up on the bed. “Ugh, move over, Drouchy!” The little girl fights for space, deciding to use Drouchy to her advantage; as a head rest.

 Which baby should I take to school, she ponders, while popping another Goldfish in her mouth. Will I see Gigi today? Maybe Grammy. Why does Drouchy do that? Eww.

Now Mommy has work and the little girl will go to school. Mommy bundles her up and asks, “Which hat?” The little girl crinkles her nose as Mommy pulls the green sparkle one over her head.

“Sparkles.” “You want your sparkle hat too?” She nods and off they go.

On the way to school the little girl thinks of everything she loves starting with Mommy and Daddy, Gigi, Grammy, her Pappies, Goldfish, Babies, Playdough, and swimming.

She looks out of the window and wonders where the leaves went. Wonders if the trees are cold. She waves to the cows with their butts showing and wonders why they don’t wear pants.

At school the little girl plays with the other little kids. They play with babies, toys, and crayons. The little girl bounces about all day discovering answers to all of her questions, making friends, within minutes losing them, and making them again. The little girl with the curly Qs thinks of nothing but play all day.

But at 5:00 the little girl remembers her first question of the day. She sees Chloe’s Mommy, and Sarah’s Mommy, and Ryan’s Mommy.

At home the little girl lies on the bed with Mommy and Daddy. She rubs Mommy’s head. “It’s a wittle scwatchy. Why you cut your hair?” “Remember, Mommy’s medicine makes it fall out.” She rubs Mommy’s head again and after her dozens of questions and hypotheses, the little girl with the curly Qs comes to one conclusion; “It’s crazy,” she says with a shrug.

The little girl lies her head against Mommy’s, the prickles tickling her ears. She snuggles against Daddy and let’s out a soft sigh, thinking how Chloe and Sarah don’t have sparkle hats like Mommy’s.

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Easy as Pie!

I was once described as an apple pie, so why not bake one? This is the recipe I followed yesterday. Pretty easy, but if you’re going to take this on make sure you have the time. I started at noon and the pie was in the oven around 3:45. Best of luck, readers! Also, a new post will be up tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., just in time for your lunch break!

 

http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/classic-apple-pie.aspx

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INT. ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT – DAY

Two baby boomers, a lumberman, a chemo patient, a Russian, a writer, and a two-year old walk into a one bedroom apartment…

Sounds like a bad joke, right? Or the beginning of a Coen brothers film.

This weekend the family came to Portland. Thursday night Momma, Dan, Abby, Chad, and Paige piled into Dan’s work car, the Mercury Grand Marquis (the kind of car Whitey Bulger may have preferred for transporting bodies), and made the ten hour trek to Portland, Maine, arriving early Friday morning.

Walking out of our apartment building, Fil and I were greeted with the biggest, CHEESE smile and two-handed wave we’ve ever seen. Paigey could not have been happier to 1) get out of that car and 2) see Aunt O and Uncle Fil. From Honey Crisp apples to four bags of Bedford Candies’ pop corn, my momma packed it all. It was hugs and kisses galore before everyone booked it to the apartment to use the bathroom.

Now, my family is certainly not for imposing on anyone and were more than happy to stay at a bed and breakfast, but having been away from everyone for two months I thought it would be fun to have a little family sleep over. So there we all were in Fil and I’s one bedroom, finding makeshift chairs, and serving pancakes.

Friday was spent catching up and touring Old Port. We visited my boss at Cabot and my parents couldn’t have been happier to know that is where I spend my Saturdays. Both agreed it is a very cheerful place. Paige was exhausted from the trip and she fell asleep somewhere between Mexicali Blues and Dry Dock, where we had a good lunch. Unfortunately, my sister was not feeling well from her first treatment, so it was hard to find food that wouldn’t upset her stomach.

We made our way back to the apartment around 5 for some homemade soup.

Friday was over. Fil and I slept on the air mattress, Paige and Abby on the pull out bed, and Chad squeezed himself onto the love seat. Surprisingly, we were all pretty comfortable, or just comforted by being together.

The next morning we took my sister to our friend Jonathan’s where he and Fil set up a studio space. It was chillier than expected, so we wrapped pretty quickly, but the photos turned out great and we had some fun.

For the rest of the afternoon I felt as if I were practically dragging my family around Portland, trying to fit in as much as possible, and never once feeling quite right about it. It just felt as if nothing was going my way. Momma and I got to walk around Congress St. for an hour or so, and stopped in some fun stores before Dan met up with us. After nearly hitting mom in the middle of the street, he did a drive by and we jumped in the car. At that point it seemed the looming cloud of tension and anxiety was just too heavy and….

the old Marquis broke down in the middle of Congress St. with all of Portland heading out to their favorite Saturday night hot spots. Of course this was going to happen. The whole day felt as if this was going to happen. How did we NOT know this was going to happen?

The car was towed and the the boys went to help Dan.

Back at the apartment Paige and I watched Tinker Bell while mom and Ab enjoyed the peace and quiet. Around 9 o’clock the boys arrived home, all quite giddier than before and momma called it a night.

All in all the weekend was fun and exactly what it was meant to be.

I think we can all agree that a visit from family never quite turns out as it was imagined. All week I had built the visit up in my mind, filling it with adventures, laughs, and quality time. And, as I usually do, I let what I wanted the weekend to be get the best of me. Rather than enjoy the fact that my family had come to visit, I found myself worrying over minor details that couldn’t be fixed and feeling that I hadn’t done my job as hostess.

On a quick run for groceries I said to Fil, “I feel like this wasn’t what I wanted it to be.” Fil sighed and, as a partner should, told me frankly, “You’re a perfectionist. Nothing ever goes exactly the way you want it to, Olivia,” and with that he patted my leg and found the best parking spot.

After it was all said and done, after the Marquis broke down, the guys had a little too much to drink, and poor Paige got her finger stuck in the elevator, my family piled back in the car and headed home.

With tears filling my eyes, Fil and I made our way back inside, opening our door to a quiet, still apartment.

Baghera was passed out on the bed, praying that the short person who followed her all weekend wasn’t back for round ten. The walls seemed wider and the floor looked empty. It felt weird. Fil and I sat on the couch with our Gearys and listened to the quiet.

I spend a lot of time thinking of my family. I compare others to it. I define myself by it. I evaluate myself by it.  There are times when I feel entirely accepted by the family, confirming all my beliefs, dreams, and values. There are also times when I feel alienated, too aware of our differences. Differences that, in reality, are just our heightened similarities.

This weekend I wasn’t sure how I felt. On one hand I was overjoyed that my family made the trip to Portland. On the other hand I was anxious and irritated that they weren’t seeing Portland they way I see it, or so I thought. Why doesn’t everyone see it my way? Why doesn’t everything go the way I wanted? Why wasn’t this weekend the weekend I planned?

I’ve been asked by others and have even asked myself if the difference in cultures would ever get in the way of Fil and I. Honestly, I know with all my heart that that would never be the case. We both come from close, dependable families. We value love, commitment, hard work, faith, and friendships.

My family may be a bit loud, interrupting one another, trying to get the joke in first, laughing at our own misfortunes. Fil’s family seems more reserved. They enjoy their surroundings for what they are and debate matters of life and love rather than whether or not Pap is 5’9″ or 6’0″. But both of our families come from a long line of musicians, storytellers, and adventurers. Once we imagined what our deceased grandmothers would talk about and came to the conclusion that they would sit in silence, listening to the ocean or lake, and every now and then smile at one another, knowing exactly what the other was thinking.

Maybe I’ve gotten off topic, not that I know what it was to start with. I just know that if anything ever got in the way of Fil and I, it wouldn’t be our families, it wouldn’t be our cultures, and it wouldn’t be whether or not to use butter or olive oil (BUTTER). It would be that maybe a color wasn’t just right in my picture perfect mind. It would be that something said or unsaid wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It would be my fault.

It would be my fault because I couldn’t veer off the interstate and take a dirt road. Because I wouldn’t take a left instead of a right. Because I wouldn’t accept a shade lighter than the one in the painting.

So I’m trying. I’m really working on it. I don’t want to relive moments over and over in my head. Directing them the way they should have occurred, writing in the better lines. My perfections are destroying the moments. Instead of accepting each scene of my indie film, I’m cutting it to be a cheesy blockbuster.

Our families and friends aren’t edits. We don’t have a first, second, third draft. They are what they are. And if I don’t stop picking apart my scenes, I won’t have enjoyed any of the acts.

Much love,

Liv

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