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this mutation

There are maybe three phone calls that you’d really describe as the worst in your life: the person you love most in the world has been killed or severely injured, your beloved pet has been killed or severely injured, your doctor has test results and they’re not good.

I got the third — for which I’m grateful, to be honest, the other two are worse — and it was the worst phone call of my life after the worst, most anxiety-riddled three weeks of my life.

My girlfriend took the call for me — the saint she is, appeasing my anxiety at the cost of her own, always — so I can’t recount it in perfect detail but the gist was, “You have cancer. We thought it might be a worse, more rare cancer, so we had to send all your bits and pieces away to be double-checked which is why it’s been three weeks, but no, you’ve just got the regular ol’ garden variety of endometrial cancer.”

Cancer is not a fun word, it’s not a kind word. It sounds ugly and feels wet and clunky and hiss-filled in the mouth. It effortlessly terrifies everyone who speaks English, makes them simultaneously recoil and lurch toward you in apology and pity.

I am 28 years old and I have endometrial cancer.

I have cancer. This is what I say to myself every morning upon waking and every night as I try to fall asleep. It’s a constant, gently barbing hum at the back of my throat any time my mind quiets. Sometimes, like the evening that followed the worst phone call of my life, it isn’t quiet. I say it aloud because if I don’t remind myself that it is real, I cannot cope. I fear I will forget and my life will return to normal without me realizing and it will come again and strip it away from me again, fresh and brutal.

I have cancer.

Sometimes it comes out like a cough, sudden and jarring, scratching at my throat. My eyes water and sting, but it passes quickly — a swallow of water down the wrong pipe — and everything’s okay again.

The night I learned he results of my labs, I looked in the bathroom mirror and fluffed my hair and stroked the skin under my eyes because I still haven’t found an eye cream I want to buy. (I’m almost 30 and I live in a place where the temperature is regularly 20 below, hydration is a priority.) I looked into a face that has cleared up tremendously in the last few weeks because of a drastic change in diet and exercise, my color finally returning to me after months of severe blood loss that necessitated two separate blood transfusions and a total of nine pints of strange blood commingling with my own. I looked in the mirror and I smiled and I said, “I have cancer and I have never looked more beautiful.”

My narcissism truly knows no bounds.

“I am reading Gone Girl on my Kindle and I have cancer.”

“I am shopping for a desk lamp at Target while having cancer.”

“I have cancer and I am moisturizing my face.” “I have cancer and I’m deep conditioning my hair.” “I’m cleaning the bathroom and I have cancer.”

It’s a refrain to center my reality. For now, this thing inside of me, this vicious brutality of mutation is part of me and I must learn it, acknowledge it, accept it.

Cancer will — hopefully, prayerfully, “Please, oh please”-fully — not always be my reality, the center of my every breath, but for now it is.

I have cancer.

I have cancer and with luck, it’ll all be fine.

I am Ash, I have cancer, and I’m doing okay, really.

you’re the nearest to my heart

Dear Crystal,

Today is five years since we started dating. Five years. That’s crazy, right? Genuinely unbelievable? Five years since we realized we wanted to hold hands and kiss and stuff and said, “Hey, let’s try this relationship thing” and then you kissed me real aggressively and got a bloody nose all over my chest. Good, memorable, wonderful times.

You’re the best person I know and not just because you not only tolerate, but love and enable me. You are smart and funny and kind and generous and I have never had someone love and support me the way that you do. You believe that I can do anything, even when I am sure than I cannot do anything at all.

You feel so much. It’s one of the best thing about you. You just feel. You feel love and hate and joy and sadness and you feel them all with a depth I cannot begin to imagine being capable of. It’s honestly magical to watch you experience the world because you see things that other people not just don’t, but can’t. You are moved by the world, frightened and delighted by it, and I am so grateful that I get to see that. Through you I see and learn things that I never could on my own.

You are infinitely kind and patient. Mostly. You care immensely about so much. You believe that people can be better and you push them toward it, even when it hurts. The world is lucky to have you.

There is an inherently narcissistic weight to being in a good relationship, but I have never been one to shy away from narcissism. You make me better. You make me smarter and more creative. You give me ideas and tell me to make them stories. You inspire words in me just by being who you are and moving through your life.

You have not taken every moment of our relationship in stride — you are too anxiety-ridden for that — but you have taken every moment anyway. You have rolled with terrifying and miserable changes and you have done so with hope and good humor. You have stood by me at my very, very worst and you have picked me up and cleaned my wounds when I was sure I would never stand again. I am so, so lucky to have you. The luckiest.

heartbeats
You know I don’t like promises and that I always cross my fingers even when I make them, but I’ll make you a few anyway. I promise to pull your eyelashes when they look loose. I promise to yell at you when you let water bottles accumulate on your side of the bed. I promise to think you are weird and wonderful every single day that I am lucky enough to have you in my life. I promise to probably walk out of Target again when you fight with me.

I promise to love you every single day until I can’t anymore.

Thanks for five incredibly lucky years and for the year and a half before that where everyone thought we were already dating anyway.

- Ash

our house at the south end of our street

There are a lot of complicated feelings in moving somewhere, even if you’re not moving far away, even if you’ve only lived somewhere for a little while or you never really liked the place anyway or you’ve been trying to escape since you were born.

my grandparents had these done for our families by some friend or other and i’ve always kind of loved ours

The house I’m moving out of — the place — is my home and my hometown. It’s the house my parents brought me home to after I was born and it’s got 27 years and almost five months of history for me. I learned to walk here and to talk and to read and write. I’ve made a lot of terrible decisions in these walls and a lot of good ones. The bedroom I’m typing this in right now has been mine since my sister moved out at 18. I was nine. It’s seen all my milestones.

I’ve cried and laughed a lot. I’ve spent days in this room, unable to leave, because I was too sad or angry or anxious. I’ve shared a bed with my friends and my fiancĂ©e and some people I hadn’t know that long and once there were literally 18 people crammed on it in pursuit of a picture.

I wrote my first novel in this room. I’ve written every piece of my own writing I’ve considered tolerable in this room. I have learned the most important things I know in this room. I fell in love in this room. And I shared it with the love of my life. I got engaged in this room. I’ve broken things in anger in this room and screamed in joy and fought and yelled with so many of the most important people in my life. I’ve thought about suicide in this room. I’ve come beyond wishing I was dead in this room. I spent three entire months watching Daria: Is It Fall Yet? on loop in this room because I was too depressed to do anything else. I can still effortlessly recite it word for word. I have had slumber parties in here and drunken sleepovers. I’ve stayed up for 72 hours in here and slept for 24. Where I painted and let my friends paint all over my walls, regardless of skill or intent or design.

This house is where I broke both my arms, where I’ve gotten hundreds of bruises and scratches. Where I figured out the person that I was and learned to love and appreciate her. It’s the house where I always thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do and be and had it turned on its head a dozen times over. Where I figured out that I don’t ever have to know what I want to be when I grow up, that it’s okay to just keep trying things that make me happy and interested.

This is the house where I had parties that lived in legend even though no one ever drank or did drugs, where inside jokes formed and flourished and crushes got the least inventive nicknames. Where I had the “cool parents” and never had a bedtime and learned how to make good decisions because I was given the freedom to make the stupid ones. Where I smoked my first cigarette and had my first kiss… and a bunch of other firsts that I won’t mention because this is a post I know my dad will read aloud to my mom and that’s too awkward even for me.

This is the house where I nourished the three friendships that have kept me alive for the last 10+ (and 19, this September) years, where I sometimes tried to destroy them. Where I turned the newest, fastest friendship I’d ever had into a my first real, important, lasting romantic relationship. (Don’t worry, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to wreck that one too.)

This house is where high school happened.

Including those 18 people and the aforementioned artwork (courtesy of the very talented Bryce and his signature ASB writing and Miriam’s lovely portraits).

This house is where friendship happened.

Where a majority of our TEN annual Christmas parties have happened, including number one, five, and ten.

Where drunkenness happened.

And where I was a baby and a child and an adolescent and an adult. Where I was part of the best family I could’ve ever asked for.

I am going to miss this house, this place where I put my heart for the last 27 years. I’ve lived in other places, but they’ve never been what this house has been to me, what this city has been to me, what this whole place is. I spent my formative years wishing I was anywhere else on Earth and now I’m going to spend the next few wishing I could get back. And that seems fitting somehow. But I know it’ll never be this house again and I know that the people who live in it next will destroy some of the things I have learned to love most about it — the creaking floors and the dated kitchen, the green bathtub, and the 1952 original windows that are a bitch and a half to open — but they’ll make their own memories in it and I think that makes it okay.

It’s in my nature to want to destroy what I can’t have though, so I’ll probably spend the next three weeks fighting every urge in my body to just start smashing things, to upperdeck the toilets, and steal the house down to the studs. But I’ll resist and try to remember it as well as I can instead because it’ll always be the first place I think of when I hear “home,” the first place I ever lived and probably always the longest. It’ll always be, in some significant way, home.

goodbye momma, goodbye poppa

So. My parents move to North Dakota on Saturday morning.

Wait. Go up there, back to the beginning, and read that again, please. And again. And again. And again. And again. And over and over again until it’s the only thing you can hear inside your head or feel under your skin or understand. Read it until it’s ringing around in your bones like a tiny forgotten windchime hanging in the breezeway of a house where no one has lived for a long time. And then maybe you’ll understand, like, a tenth of what I’m feeling over here in my real life.

Isn’t that ridiculous? Isn’t that the most intense/tragic/pathetic thing you’ve EVER read regarding someone’s totally alive and healthy and communicative and loving parents? It’s SO ridiculous. But that doesn’t make it not true! ALL THIS SADNESS IS DOWN INSIDE MY BONE MARROW.

» more: goodbye momma, goodbye poppa

~feelings~

Today I am going to ~get real~ and talk about my feelings. I like personal blogs, this is a personal blog, I am a person, the website is my name, and I want to talk about some SHIT, okay?!

My girlfriend and I have been home from Kansas City for about a month. And it has been an excruciatingly hard month for both of us. She is readjusting to a killer commute and a rough office environment and I am unemployed and mooching off of her and generally feeling like a massive, tragic pile of crap.

I liked Kansas City. A lot. And I really, until the last three weeks, enjoyed my internship immensely. It’s more complicated than the following sentences, but: I was good at my job. I enjoyed it. And then that was taken away from me very suddenly and very… unfairly isn’t the right word. Unexpectedly. Shockingly. Unbearably. And it made our last weeks there just unbearable. Really and truly stressful in a way that moving those 1600 miles had not even come close to being. And it sucked. And getting the hell out of Kansas City felt SO GOOD. But I left happy. I mean that. And I can remember the good parts of my job. And I’d do it again if they asked it of me. And/or something similar. I don’t know if I could stay there for more than a year or maybe I could. No, I definitely could. I could stay there forever. Maybe? I don’t know. What do I honestly know from second to second?

But I was so glad to be home. I am so fucking glad to be home. I missed my family SO MUCH. And my animals. And Disneyland. And my incredible friends. And California. I adapted to KC and I liked it, but I can’t imagine it ever feeling like home. Or maybe I could?

But having my feet swept out from me before the end of the internship has left me inconsolable in a lot of ways. The internship fell together so easily, so simply, and everyone spent so much time assuring and reassuring me that it was meant to be (because I am, like all creatives, eternally my own worst critic) and that I deserved it. And I left feeling a lot like I really hadn’t deserved it and a lot like I’d failed, even if failing isn’t why I left. Even if no one ever used the word failure. Even if my co-workers threw me a wonderful going away party and gave me cards and food and gifts and sent me away feeling warm and fuzzy and appreciated. And even if coming home is what was best for both me and my girlfriend.

I have anxiety. I AM SURE THIS IS SHOCKING AS SHIT TO EVERYONE IN THE WORLD, NO REALLY. And I experience immense, heart-heavy periods of depression when I feel like things are out of my control, when I feel I’ve failed. And the last month has just been that. A train wreck of misery and sadness and bad hygiene and being broke and frustrated and embarrassed and disappointed. I have taken it out on my girlfriend and my family and I’ve tried to hide from every single human being on Earth.

I haven’t looked for jobs because my blood pressure spikes when I think about going back to work, when I think about interviewing, when I remember how fucking awful it was the LAST TIME I was looking for work. People were constantly telling me I was overeducated and inexperienced and now I have an additional degree (a terminal Master’s!) and very little additional experience! And when they weren’t saying that, they were questioning why I would want to work so far away from where I live (I LIVE IN A SUBURB, THESE ARE MY ONLY CHOICES) or looking at my fat body and thinking that meant anything about how good I would be at a job or who I was at a person or better yet, telling me how I wasn’t the right representation of their office. THIS WHOLE PROCESS JUST SOUNDS GREAT, SO GREAT. I CANNOT WAIT.

And my girlfriend has been wonderfully patient and kind and takes incredible care of me. But I have to get a job. I want to work! I want to contribute to my household and to the world at large! I want to be upstanding! I am able to work! I am a capable, intelligent, competent person! I can work! I should do it!

But I fight with looking every day and every night and I hate myself more every week and the anxiety gets WORSE AND WORSE and I have more nightmares where my internship manager tells me how much she regrets hiring me and where I lose a house I don’t even own in real life and where planes crash and I fight with my friends and things break and I can’t pull myself together to handle any of it.

And I know writing this out won’t solve it. I’ve been talking this stuff out with the girlfriend for weeks and it has done little to ease the aches and pains and agonies and tensions in my brain, but it’s down anyway now and it’s loose in the world.

This week I am going to try to take hold of myself and apply for jobs. I’m going to work at that proactive thing. I’m going to shake myself out of this bullshit. Because that’s something I know I can do. Because I’ve done it before.

So check in with me in a week and it’ll either be resume sendin’, application fillin’ superchamp Ash. Or I’ll be in bed passed out in the fetal position surrounded by garbage and dog hair with a pizza box from Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza between my knees and a 22 of Wyder’s Pear Cider clutched in my fat fist as I cry into a wad of filthy paper towels while watching Drake & Josh. Only two options.

Or I’m going to knock over some sort of financial institution and head straight to Vegas. Three options.

Also, I groomed my eyebrows today (pluck pluck pluck) and didn’t overtweeze for the first time in maybe my whole life. NEW CAREER PATH?! j/k j/k I would rather touch someone else’s poop than the meaty end of their freshly plucked eyebrow hair.