Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's my party and ....

I don’t know why I started crying. I didn’t mean to. I guess it is the normal reaction to the letdown.

May 17 wasn’t even my birthday, but it might as well have been. My real birthday had come and gone. I was going through the motions on that day: April 20 - two weeks to the day after my surgery. I think I was still in shock or anesthetized and all I really wanted to do was talk to my oncologist, Claudine Isaacs, who I was supposed to see later that day. Andrea and Anamarija and Sarah Williams had brought me one Georgetown Cupcake, which I devoured. I plan to allow myself one once a year (except this year I have already had two so I guess I won't get my next one until 2012.) On my real birthday, I was distracted and trying to look excited when my friends showered me with love, attention and presents. And I mean shower. You have no idea how good my friends are. I am still getting these amazing vegan dishes dropped at my doorstep because my friends are so generous (and they don’t trust me to stay on the straight and narrow. They know that my mouth says ‘whole grain’ but my mind says bagel with cream cheese. They know how important a low saturated fat, organic, vegan diet is in terms of keeping this cancer at bay for the next 3 years, which is the danger period and so they continue to spoil me with the wonderful Christine Merkle, who has taught me to even like kale. Actually, I really don’t like kale, but I know how good it is for me and now I eat it because without Tamoxifen or Herceptin, food is my best pharmaceutical defense in keeping this cancer at bay.)

I was about to tell you about May 17. That’s when the love affair began (some might liken it more to a crack addiction. Let’s just say it is very SJP.) It was supposed to be a normal day. I’m not even sure if I had started radiation yet. It is all a bit blurry. But my Italian friend and neighbor Adele had made a reservation at Cafe Milano in Georgetown for lunch - to celebrate. It was a little overcast but when the plate of prosciutto arrived and the exquisite course upon course of Mediterranean plates kept coming we might as well have been in sunny Tuscany or Sardinia.
They offered us champagne. They could tell we were celebrating. They didn’t know I no longer drank. I took a token sip. Adele is one of the warmest, most thoughtful people I know (and I know many) and she is INSANE when it comes to spoiling a girl. I remember when we moved into our new house, she sent as a house warming gift the most exquisite orchid that I have EVER seen. Magenta and architecturally perfect. The kind you see in a hotel lobby or a painting. It sat in my front hallway and picked up the shades of pomegranate in the painting that Jerusalem artist Andi Arnowitz did and the suzainy from the Old City of Jerusalem that was woven into another beautiful piece that I bought before leaving Israel. But I digress.

At the end of the meal Adele said (and there was no stopping her - trust me, I tried): “We are now going to pick out a pair of those Louboutins!” No, no, no - in neither language did it work. I relented (ok - secretly it was the most exciting gift I had ever received - other than the time that my friend Eve surprised me with a Georges Reich handbag for my 30th birthday in Moscow a decade earlier!) We got in the car and went to Saks and tried on every pair. She and I both strutted back and forth in front of the mirror. What to do? It’s not every day that you get to even try on a pair of Louboutins. They make you want to put on a ball gown and walk up the front steps of the Met just so you can flash those cherry red soles to the world. And you know that there isn’t a man out there who would understand this. In fact, they don’t even know what the red sole means (until they get the bill). Women don’t wear these shoes for men - they wear them for other women - that’s how crazy we are. We carefully wrap the shoes in red felt bags with a romantic signature from the Parisian artisan who made them. I chose black eel skin - open toed - they must be 6 inches high. And yet they are comfortable. That is the beauty of a Louboutin. Of course, they are excessive. That’s the point. That’s why women who are wearing them smile as if they have a terrible secret. It’s a love affair pure and simple. We tried on so many pairs - should we get closed toe - a little lower - maybe I would wear them more often, if they were shorter. No, no, no. The decision was made when another woman who was eyeing a pair of Manolo Blahniks looked at me and said, “Those (the shorter ones) look mother of the bride. THOSE (the taller ones) look like they should be used for kicking down doors. Sold!

Adele and I hugged and we made our way back home. Kids would be arriving from school soon. They saw the box and asked what was in it. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they may not be able to go to college or we may have to sell our house and move because of my new addiction. (I told Adele that I would be recalling this day - May 17 - at my first “Shoe-a-holics Anonymous” meeting!) I planned to wear my new friends to a military dinner later in the week. I would be wearing them every day except my toe nails fell off a few days later from the chemo. I mostly wear closed toe shoes right now despite having bought a zillion sandals at DSW when summer started. But somehow I don’t mind the lack of toenails - they don’t bother me so much that I would go and glue on some fake ones - too scared of the glue. In fact they don’t bother me at all. I don’t have to clip my toenails anymore to run. Their new growth remind me of my new hair - like crocuses that suggest winter is at an end and sunny days are on their way. So occasionally I wear my Louboutins just in front of my full length mirror with my exercise pants rolled up. They will look so much better when I have toenails again.

So you would think that a day could not get any better. (And it shouldn’t have, really.) But then Ingrid called. She said she had something to drop off on her way home from work and she couldn’t wait until Paul got home. I said, “Come on over.” She rang the bell. Izzy barked. She handed me a box. It was flat - like a frame. It was a frame. I pulled it out and there it was a black and white lithograph from the cover of the Joshua Tree album. Bono looking off in the distance two and a half decades earlier. At the bottom was his signature. It said, “Jennifer: Love, Live, Peace, Strength. Bono.” I squealed. But this wasn’t any autograph. There was a back story. On September 29 a day after I was diagnosed, we had been in back to back doctor’s appointments since 9 am - first two separate breast surgeons, a quick PhD in oncology, my Ob/gyn who found the tumor, a plastic surgeon who marked up my chest and had me rotate in front of the Sears backdrop for the “before” pictures, and finally my oncologist, Claudine Isaacs. We told our story over and over. We listened. We cried. My mom and Greg accompanied me. I remember Dr. Isaacs crouching in front of me as my shoulders lifted and fell as I heaved with grief. I pleaded with her, “I have to survive this. I have three children. Give me everything you’ve got.” Seven days later a nurse would be looking for a vein and slowly shooting me up with adriamyacin. Claudine crouched in front of me and said, “We are going to get you through this.” September 29 was exhausting. I was catatonic at the end of the meetings. Not broken but tired.

I also had tickets to U2. My friend Paul Nevin called and at that point we hadn’t told anyone - we hadn’t had time. Paul was calling to tell me he had also gotten tickets for that night - at the last minute. I told him I didn’t think I could make it. He said, “Nonsense - we’ll pick you up - you can sleep in the car on the way to FedEx field. You are coming with us.” And I did. My sister Caitlin and I piled into the back of Ingrid’s car. Their friend Julia from the State Department was in the back seat as well. She could sense we were in shock. We didn’t talk. Caitlin just kept squeezing my arm. What a sister - what a day. The traffic was slow (it was like the opening line of “Beautiful Day”) suddenly we saw the stadium in the distance. It was pulsating like the Emerald City. The concert had started. We hurried. We got to the entrance and I handed the guard the printed tickets that Uncle Barry had secured from his cousin John, former Nirvana manager. But Barry was out of town and he had received two sets of tickets in the mail so he gave the second pair to other Godchildren - as he is want to do. They were good tickets - they always were. I knew immediately what had happened. He had given all four of us the same seats. I told Paul and Ingrid and Julia to go ahead. And without missing a beat (fortunately, I was carrying way too much cash in my bag - a bad habit from Moscow when there were no banks). I marched over to a scalper and asked him, “How much?” Too much. I gave him all I had and Caitlin and I had two tickets to the field. We pushed our way through the crowd and made our way pretty close to the stage. The music pulsed. I was still in shock. We sang at the top of our lungs and hugged each other....
“You’ve got to get yourself together, you’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it...It’s a Beautiful Day...Don’t let it get away....Where the streets have no name....See the stone set in your eyes, see the nail twist in your side... on and on.”

I slept on the way home. It was a Beautiful Day. But there is more. When Ingrid arrived with the framed autographed photo of Bono she told me what had happened. Her friend Julia was planning to attend the Atlantic Council dinner this year and guess who was coming to dinner? Bono. He was seated at her table in fact. The serendipity! So Ingrid plotted and schemed with Julia for her to go up to Bono and tell her the story of my diagnosis and that we were at the concert that night and ask him to sign a napkin. He did one better and Julia, who by the way in the meantime, had moved to Japan, managed to get it framed and shipped and Ingrid had just gotten it in the mail.

May 17. What a day - and it wasn’t even my birthday. But every day seems to be these days. Go figure. It’s not been all bad, I must say, and I feel a little bad saying it.