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in recent years

   

   

can’t count the years on one hand

Dear Crystal,

I tried to write this like a regular post, like I was talking to my mythical invisible audience, and I tried it like nine different ways and they were all terrible, so I decided to write to you instead. You’ve been my best audience from the very beginning anyway.

It’s been six years since we first decided to try the whole dating thing! Can you believe it? Isn’t that crazy? Six years that you’ve stuck by me and continued to make this thing work even when it’s insanely hard. Six years of dumb fights interspersed with the rare important ones. Six years of laughing at each other, with each other, at everything and everyone. Six years of loving each other.

I feel like this is one of those times where I should say, “It’s not always easy, but nothing that’s worth it ever is” or one of those things, but it’d be a lie because loving you is the easiest thing I have ever done — hands down, no contest — and the most rewarding.

You are so smart and so funny and so beautiful. It’s kind of horrifying how much I like you, honestly.

I have been so, so lucky to know you for the last seven-ish years, so lucky to have gotten to be your friend and to love you intensely and romantically and grossly for most of it. Everyone that knows you is better for it. We’re all lucky to have you in our lives, someone so unbelievably loyal and generous and kind. No one who knows you really deserves to and most of us know it.

You take incredible care of me and everyone you love. You care so much and so deeply that it astonishes me. You make me laugh every single day, even on the worst days I’ve ever had. You laugh at my stupid jokes and you encourage me to be the best writer/friend/daughter/sister/girlfriend/person I can possibly be.

I love spending my days with you, even when they’re filled with dumb adult decisions and errands, even when I’m being medically probed and prodded, even when everything else is terrible — you never are. You are the best part of every day.

The last six years have been the most important of my life, I think, for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because of you. I will never stop being grateful for you, for your love, for your remarkable and indescribable presence in my life. I will never stop being thankful that I get to share that life with you, that we have a life together. Loving you is the greatest thing I’ve ever done and I’ll never stop being grateful that you let me do it.

- Ash

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.

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