Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I haven't posted in awhile and it's been hazily hanging over me, not because I believe people are on the edge of their seats waiting for my next string of sentences to be "published" and not because I'm unwilling to give myself a two month break from the very manageable once/month posting I promised myself I would definitely do. But mostly because a) I've been doing a lot of playing, and b) I haven't been quite sure where to go from my previous post.

Legos should never get
too comfortable in their Lego boxes
when in the Damaske household
About two months ago, it was confirmed that I'm BRCA 2 positive (you might already know this). I think I've been counting on myself to have something original to say about this development, something worth sharing. I figured somewhere between August and now that my brain would process this news and bend it into a uniquely reflective message. One day I'd be assembling a coast guard Lego boat with my son and everything would click into place.

Of course, I was hoping (and sort of even cautiously assuming) that I would test negative for the mutation. I might have even had a developing post in my head, thanking my lucky stars for landing in the far better half of the 50/50 odds (isn't that sort of sad? that I can't even use that line?). But, I didn't test negative and though I've known this for awhile, I haven't the slightest idea what to say about it. It's bad, of course; its best solution will result in physical losses that hardly seem real and it threatens its own sort of mental havoc, but really, all it boils down to is here is a fact about me I now know; decisions have been made, doctors have been consulted, and it seems like my only choice now is to move forward in misery or in good humor. And my gosh, how dare I choose the former.

I keep thinking about this talented, warm-spirited, extremely young teacher in Danvers, swept away a week ago from a seemingly full life where she appeared to be so very present. She has a pinterest page that I looked at for a good long time and while I know very little about pinterest and how much goes into maintaining one's page, she clearly put thought and love into hers. She had plans for Halloween on there, but also plans for Christmas, and dreams about specials details she would include on her wedding day after she found her future husband, and even ideas for different things she would do with her children when they arrived.

The page itself, in all its thoughtful detail, reveals so much about this vibrant woman, what she treasured and where she wanted to go, and it is heart wrenching that all of that is now shattered. But for some reason, looking at it made me feel a shred better. It allows the person who never knew her (but would have loved to know her) to envision her future exactly as she wanted it; I can see what she adored and imagined for herself with no other strings attached. To me, it all plays out as she has it designed on her page and in her mind: In my vision of Colleen Ritzer, she does get to visit the Full House home in San Francisco, and she does get to wear her hair exactly the way it looks on several of the pictures she pinned for her someday wedding day, and she does take a photo of her young daughter in her wedding dress so that she can give that picture to her daughter on her own wedding day. I never knew her, but I wonder if she'd like us to click through her pinned pages as we would flip through a film strip, thinking yes, this is her life, this is how the pieces all flowed together.

None of us have any idea how outside factors are going to fuck with our plans, no matter how damn hard we think about them. Sometimes, horribly, entirely unexpectedly, time just freezes in the midst of living. You are thinking about your day, how you are going to reach out to a friend or child in need, you are planning your weekend, you are feeling good about things, and then, abruptly, it's snatched away from you. Here's a person, it seems, who loved what she was doing as she was doing it, appreciated what she had while it was happening, thought about her future while enjoying the moment, and taught, at a very young age, values that some, so much older, never learn. She has in the past week become well known for a tweet she sent out this summer: "No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good is a wonderful legacy to leave behind." Twenty four years old and she completely got it.

Once in awhile, for those of us who are here, we are subtly reminded to look around for a moment, enjoy this, take it in. I have spent the last couple of months meeting with doctors, talking through statistics relating to the gene mutation I officially carry. I've been asked to think about my own priorities and to make choices concerning what I'm willing to do to myself in order to prevent the probable life-threatening outcomes. You need only take the tiniest step back from the world you are so wrapped up in to find immediate perspective. If I'd had the courage when I was young, as Colleen did, to lay out just what I wanted out of life and make it known to anyone other than myself, I think I'd be just about out of other things to want at this point, aside from having my mom in the picture. How dare I threaten in any way what I have now. So, yeah, off with the boobs, out with the tubes, goodbye to the ovaries, but I'd love the rest of me to stick around. You get the head's up about something like this, you better consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

And there it is, the message I've been trying to figure out; it comes to me as I write and I realize, of course, that there's nothing new about it. It's the outlook I must have had before because once I was a kid and thought like a kid. And then, later on, my children arrived and began to reteach me the crucial lesson. Be present, be here, it's a moment, just a flash. This is where joy is easily accessible and empathy most effective. Take this in; you only have a moment.

I look sweet, but
just try and put me in a
carriage when I'd rather be
Gracie, almost two, collapsed in front of the grocery cart at Stop and Shop yesterday while the cashiers looked on with a mix of horror and sympathy. That was hard, but also a little hilarious. I groaned a little but also thought, "Ha! I'm here, this is happening. I'm that mother in the grocery store trying to get control of my toddler." A passionately angry little girl and a memory to embrace. My "no thank you, mommy, no THANK YOU" girl lay flopping on a cement grocery store floor because WALKING, not riding, is what mattered more than anything at that moment.

Two hours later, same day, Noah asked me to please clean up the bathroom floor because he was "dancing while he was peeing" (and maybe I'm the only one who thinks that's sort of awesome). These moments are tiny but outrageous; they are blips that are bulging with life. I write them down, I take pictures, I stare at Noah and Gracie's hands as they hold one another's. I need to store it, hold onto the memories while collecting the next ones. It's easy to have setbacks from exhaustion and impatience - I have plenty of them - but by the end of each day, when all is quiet and the house is asleep, I find my way right back. I miss my wild ones. I sneak into their rooms and look and there they are. How can I not thank my lucky stars that despite everything else, I have this, right now.