I’m having some feelings. Some damp, stick-to-my-guts feelings. We drove into and through and out of the mountains today and yesterday in Idaho. We saw Redfish Lake and the sun came out just long enough for us to put on our sunglasses while the raindrops still speckled the surface of the water, into which we chucked and skipped rocks (I and the three-year-old chucked, everyone else skipped).
For some reason I can’t shake this sadness. Part of it might be the tamoxifen, which alters one’s hormones to help prevent breast cancer. And part of it is I got my period yesterday after the most emotional week of PMS. And it’s the heaviest period I’ve had in awhile. And that is fine. And part of it could be the waning sunlight into October, and that I need to start using my light therapy. But I feel a damp (as I’ve already said) pull.
I am pretty good and appreciating beauty and pulling myself out of the damp gravity. But I also want to give myself the space to feel what’s there. So I am.
Yesterday we drove up to Ketchum and Sun Valley. That Ketchum is where Ernest Hemingway died by his own hand certainly somewhat colored my experience of the place. It was beautiful, a resort town during the off season, and it was mostly us finding places to eat and the locals talking about their various properties. It reminded me a little of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Jackson Hole.
We drove to a nearby hot springs next to a river the locals frequent. On the way from the car to the springs I watched as a big white dog with humanlike eyes padded around the parking area (which is only a small gravel spot where you can pull a bit off the road) and narrow street, drooling, sniffing around. I thought he was with a couple of bicyclists, but he wasn’t. He did have a tag. As we walked up to where the springs were and prepared to climb down into them the dog continued to sniff around the bushes. I assumed he was looking for his missing people. It made me want to burst into tears right there. The look on this dog’s face while people who weren’t his splashed around in some hot water made me feel an ache of separation, of missing whom you love, of feeling lost in the world. I felt like a fucking asshole for sitting in that spring while that dog padded around, and while an approaching car honked gently a couple times so the dog would get out of the road, as he kept crossing back and forth.
We had zero cell phone reception up there, or I would have followed that dog myself and gotten the number off its license to find its people.
I saw some people in another car slow down, perhaps getting the information from his tag. I don’t know. It very well could have been that the dog lived in one of the local houses.
I settled into the spring with my friends and tried not to think about that dog’s eyes. We moved to a cooler pool after awhile and this kid named Braxton — 12 maybe? — with green hair said, “Whoever this hits has bad luck,” and shot a water gun into the air. He kept repeating that. This kid was a smart ass, and I didn’t like him. When I first saw him, I wanted to like him, because I just dyed my hair blue and I thought, “Oh, thank God, someone else with a weird hair color in the middle of nowhere Idaho.” But he was a jerk.
“You dyed your hair?” he asked me with a smirk.
“Yes,” I answered. “And I’m assuming that’s not your natural color either?”
“Nope. Dyed too. But someone could’ve puked on my head,” he said. “But then there would be chunks.” He turned to the little girl whose underpants were stuck in her butt crack and pointed his water gun at her. “Put your hands behind your back!” he commanded. She didn’t want to. None of us wanted to. Even though it was a water gun, it all just felt uncomfortable.
“Where’s your guardian?” my friend Shawna asked.
“I don’t have one,” he said snidely. “I’m having a sleepover. But my parents aren’t dead, so I don’t have a guardian.” Shot the water gun in the air a few more times. “Whoever this hits has bad luck.” And then he shot Shawna in the face with it.
“What if whoever it hits has good luck?” I suggested. Ready to get out of this fucking hot spring with this entitled little local shit.
When we had enough of the hot springs we headed back to the car.
“I have to confess, I can’t stop thinking about that dog,” I told my husband and friends. I tried not to cry. They promised we’d look for the dog on the way back and get the information off his license. We all looked around for him but didn’t see him. We changed from our wet bathing suits into our clothes behind our car doors.
We drove off and looked for that dog — I kept looking for a good mile back toward town. There were homes fairly close by, so we hoped that he’d found his way back to his people. I don’t usually pray, but I said some prayers for this dog and that he would find his people. Or that he’d find someone better, because how sad that this dog was lost long enough to have a string of drool falling from his terrified mouth.
My husband claims no one else was worried about that dog. And I wondered if I projected some of my own existential ache onto him. At least I know I wasn’t the only one who saw him at all.
And then there’s now. I sit at my desk in the dark, back in Boise, writing. I touch the spot where I had the lumpectomy in my breast. It feels like a small divot diagonally above my right nipple. Sometimes there’s an ache there, sometimes there a “zinger,” as my radiation oncologist called it. I guess I do still have some feelings about loss, even if I only lost a duct with some cancer in it. That was part of my breast. Since I’ve been sort of “done” with my book, I haven’t been writing about my feelings very much. And maybe they’re all backed up. So this is a good idea.
Brent is making us some vegetable soup with squash and mushrooms and what we have in the house. I just want to be carefree. I also want to drink wine, but I’m only supposed to have three a week. And I’ve been going over that since we’ve been in Idaho. And for a lot of the summer in general. It’s really fucking annoying because I’ve cut down substantially, but I still want more than I’m having, and yet I feel like even what I’m having is too much (by my doctor’s standards — though she said one of her other doctor friends told her friend who was a patient: “Drink your wine.” Who the fuck knows?)
You know, I am not over what happened this winter. And I feel like I should be, because of all the cancers, it wasn’t a super shitty one. I want to just be galavanting and freewheeling and living it / loving it. But I feel this damp ache. And I feel my breast, and no one else can feel it. We each are different. And it all feels so nebulous and a little scary, too. Like, how does any fucking doctor know anything?
And the other piece is we bought a house across the country. And I am glad about that. But the part of me that kept me stuck for so long because she was scared is terrified, and poking me with her visions of existential crisis. And then there are other parts who are like, “but you should be enjoying the fuck out of your life right now! You’re wasting it!” And so I feel CONFLICTED as fuck on top of everything else.
And I miss my family. UGH THESE HORMONES. I hoped writing this would move the feelings through me — I guess it is. But I don’t want to just fucking cry for the rest of the night. Brent is listening to the Cass McCombs record, Mangy Love, in there, whistling, singing along, and making dinner in there, and I’m sitting here at the computer crying. And laughing to myself, too. Because for fuck’s sake.
I just feel like I miss everyone. I miss myself. I miss my cheer. Oh, well, I guess I’ve always been a worrier. But I miss being a warrior. I was such a fucking warrior when I had the cancer and then had surgery and was treated. And now I just feel so tired. And I feel connected, but disconnected at the same time. And we’re leaving Boise in a little over a week and I don’t want to yet. And then we’re going to Iceland, which I’m looking forward to, but I also want to feel connected to one place. We left Cambridge and bought a house here in part because we didn’t feel like we had major roots there, either. And now I am scared because what if here isn’t a place for roots either? Where is my pace for roots?
I look at my husband and my cat and know that they are my place for roots. And that scares me too, because the existential part of me is like, UGH. SO MUCH FUCKING LOVE. And more ugh. And I just want to sit and enjoy it. Carefree. For a long time. For as long as I want. And I could be doing that right now, but instead I’m having FEELS. Big cries, big feels.
This helps, I think. This helps. This is what I do. Or one of the things. So I’ll leave it at that for now. At any rate I need a tissue, and have not set myself up with tissues at the desk in this house like I have in Cambridge.
The other weird thing is that I was having intense gas for awhile (for like a week) and tummy issues, and now that I’ve written and written I don’t. I’m sure I’ll be farting again in no time, but it does feel like I’m doing something good for myself to process this and put it on the page. Maybe I’ll even sleep well tonight. Imagine that.
I have to remember to write. Like, every day, if possible. I think it kept me sane while I was being treated. And I think it is a huge part of my life.
Update a few days later: Yes, writing that helped. My belly feels better, my heart feels better, the tears cleansed. Jeez Louise, quiet prayer that I don’t wait so long to do it. Writing is my friend and when I talk to her I feel better.
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It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.