Tuesday, October 14, 2008

something to celebrate

This past weekend my wife and I marked our 26th wedding anniversary. We did dinner and a movie on Saturday. On Sunday, we took a drive up to the Hudson Valley for a day of apple picking with our son. It is a ritual we have enjoyed on many Columbus Day weekends over the years. Looking back I am reminded of how time and life move along quickly.

In the early years our relationship was as sappy as any romantic comedy. When we met, I was the stage manager and she was the lighting director for our college theatre group. She laughed at all the playful lines I delivered over our headsets between cues. We had some favorite spots we liked to frequent. Piano bars in Greenwich Village, wine and cheese establishments in Forest Hills, and an old styled neighborhood bar in Fort Greene that was regularly visited by our college friends were our standards. When we were out we would often spontaneously exit where we were and ride mass transit to any place in New York City for a simple pleasure. It could have been to grab a coconut and blueberry ice on a hot summer night before closing at The Lemon Ice King in Corona. Or perhaps we would go for a rousing ride around the clinkety-clank turns and free falling swoons of The Cyclone in Coney Island. And in the winter our thoughts were certainly in sync for a late night sleigh ride down a slippery slope in Crocheron Park.

But it was during our jaunts in my first car that we really melded our bond. I had purchased a used, willow green, body beaten, and under carriage rotted 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia for $400 dollars. I drove that classic for three years and then sold it for $250 dollars. I wouldn't be surprised if that big hearted and plainly styled coupe hasn't reached the graveyard yet. For on the inside, it had the stuff of a champion. It required no maintenance and broke down only once, when I actually did run out of gas. In the summer we would take long drives to the beaches from Montauk Point to the Jersey Shore, or from lakes in the Catskills to the Pocono's. We would build ourselves campfires and stay all night. As the seasons changed, on gray wintry nights, we would search out empty parking lots and do spin outs in the snow. And when we tired from our simple pleasures and playful exchanges the unadorned shelter of that Ghia allowed us to find warmth, comfort and passion in each others arms.

In seemingly warp speed time our daughter is in her last year of college, and our son has just entered kindergarten. Our favorite spots now belie our most time manageable spots, when factoring in proximity to our home and baby-sitters. As for spontaneity, well that has morphed into an occasional last minute plan for a drive to Upstate New York so we can meet our daughter for a family breakfast at IHOP. And if our spending plan allows us a little more freedom we might ride the Interstate East to Boston and catch dinner at Quincy Market with a hotel room movie as a night cap.

Then, ten months ago, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had previously been through some false alarms in the past when cysts were ultimately found to be negative. I think I was in denial about the nearness of those misses and their potential magnitude for desolation. Plausible denial though, I would contend. After all, she was at low risk for breast cancer by many measures. She has never been overweight. She used birth control pills only for a short time in her early twenties. She gave birth to her first child before age 30. She breast fed. She drinks alcohol less than moderately. The only known history of breast cancer in her family is her grandmother at age 80. Plus, the garden in which she loves to toil is organic. With that comforting case of denial I rarely felt that we had dodged a bullet in the past, even though I had implicitly thought that breast cancer must be a nightmarish torment for a woman. Then crashing head on into the knowledge that my healthy, fit, lively and model shaped wife needed a bi-lateral mastectomy was a surreal moment of having that nightmare come to life. It felt as if we were caught in an earthquake and the epicenter was directly below our feet.

We have tip-toed along the ridges of this trembling rift for the better part of a year now, holding on for life. We've held on while meeting with radiologists, surgeons, oncologists, genetic counselors and breast cancer specialists. At times we were dizzied by all the options and decisions that need to be made wisely but promptly. We rolled with the tremors when my daughter had bronchitis and my son got pneumonia simultaneous to my wife's surgery. Through it all, her courage has been enormous. Her courage has been far greater than any courage I think I could have mustered. She has been strong, graceful and unflinching in meeting every challenge. She overcame the gut wrenching emotional challenge of walking herself into an operating room to have her breasts removed. She eloquently undertook and mastered the challenge of explaining a mastectomy to our young son. She purposefully conquered the challenge of remaining grateful and positive for the benefit of our daughter. She battled the persistent challenge of keeping a routine work day when inner primordial voices and images cut a disruptive path through her sleep the night before. And she held tight as her hair fell out.

We have been fortunate that her cancer was detected at an early stage. We are also grateful for our support from family and friends. Managing our careers, our lives, and the cancer has been easier when at times we would come home to an unexpected meal. Our environment was also calmed when our son was being taken care of for a few hours, or a couple of days, while we were taking care of ourselves. And it was priceless to have a friend who knows how to listen, when at times, the stress piled so high that just pulling into a 7-Eleven parking lot felt like a vacation.

There is still a long road to recovery ahead of us. We have found much testament of this road as it is told to us by the swarming mass of cancer survivors we have encountered along the way. And even though my wife's physical scars will heal, their shadows will stay behind. Her emotional scars I suppose are resolved to dim, needing to be somehow in accord with the gaslight that will accompany her at check-ups for the rest of her life.

We are both spiritual people. We have strong faith in a higher power. We believe in miracles. So, almost a year later, we are grateful to be celebrating our anniversary. We are looking forward to gathering up our tattered bodies and embarking on the journey of the rest of our lives. As I look ahead I am reminded that time and life, ironically, often move forth in circles. And so I hope that in the warmth, comfort and passion of each others arms we can slowly, little by little, one day at a time, walk in search of simple pleasures, playful exchanges and solid ground.

(c) 2008 Christopher's Views


  1. Any woman would be lucky to have her husband write such a beautiful piece about the story of their relationship.

  2. Incredible piece, Chris. I can still picture your car parked on my block! Awesome story all around.