Excerpt: The Department of
Lost & Found
And so I begin. Janice, my cancer therapist, suggested that it might be healthy for me to channel my feelings onto paper instead of channeling them inward and thus sitting around feeling sorry for myself, which I’ve spent a great deal of time doing in the past few weeks. So I’m going to give this diary thing a shot. Though really, who can blame me for moping? I was diagnosed with wretched cancer, my boyfriend dumped me, and the office won’t return my calls.
Of course, when Janice suggested this little hobby, I told her I had nothing to write about: my cancer was certainly out - spending hours in a darkened bedroom with a pen in hand mulling over my mortality wasn’t an option. But then, I was lying on my couch staring at the ceiling, hearing the radio but not really listening, when I heard Jake’s voice come over the airwaves. Jake. He of my all-consuming love. He was singing about lost love, and I sunk into the pillows and pulled the chenille throw blanket over my legs and wondered if he were singing about me. When the DJ spun a new song, I sat up with a start. Inspiration.
You see, Diary, in the weeks since Ned up and dumped me, it has occurred to me that I’m not entirely sure what went wrong between us. And when I further pondered this situation, I realized that I wasn’t sure what went wrong in just about all of my prior relationships. And when I pondered this one step more, I realized that I must lack any or all bits of self-awareness. I mean, what sort of person walks away from a relationship and doesn’t even devote a moment to the root of its ending? Sure, I spent time mulling over the ending itself—the overdramatic epitaphs, the wasted tears—but not necessarily the why behind it.
So with that, Diary, I’m off to retrace the steps and missteps of my past: yes, I’m going to track down the five loves of my life and see what I might glean, who I’ll be, where I’ll end up. Who knows where it will lead? But you’ll be along for the ride, Diary. Wish me luck.
The election was in six weeks and counting, and admittedly, being out of the action was beginning to take its toll. Ever since law school, I’d only known one thing: work. Higher, stronger, more. Which is how I’d ascended to the pivotal position as the great Senator Dupris’ senior aide. All by the age of 30, which I turned in early September, just before the world as I know it otherwise imploded.
Before said implosion of my world, I was a woman about town. I’d be parked by my desk by 7:30, already having run four miles, chatted up the Starbuck’s barista, and scanned the morning headlines. The next twelve hours would be a blur: the days would be spend cajoling aides, seducing lobbyists, caressing the media, or demolishing anyone who stood in the Senator’s way. If I were lucky, Ned and I would split Chinese take-out around 9ish, and after checking my email one last time, I’d crash on my 400-thread count sheets, only to start it up all over again.
Now? Well, here’s an example of what I did today.
8:27 – I wake up.
8:28 – I consider vomiting, so roll back over onto Ned’s side of the bed and pull my sleep mask back down.
8:31 – I can’t ward off the effects of Friday’s chemo treatment any longer, despite my heavy use of the anti-nausea drugs that Dr. Chin, my oncologist, prescribed, so I rush to the bathroom just off my bedroom and lean over the toilet while my body rebels against the very medicine that’s trying to save it.
8:35 – I brush my teeth, wipe the sweat off of my brow, and climb back into bed, swearing that I’ve never hated anything more in my life than this cancer, which, if you were privy to several of my professional entanglements, says a lot about my distaste for my current condition.
9:26 – The phone rouses me from bed, and I assure Dr. Dorney, well, Zach, I should really call him, (or Dr. Horny, as my friend, Lila, the one who ended up dating him for a year and a half before unceremoniously dumping him on the grounds that she couldn’t stand dating a man who looked a vaginas for a living, liked to call him), that I’m fine and didn’t need anything, and please to not stop by. I sit up in bed and catch my reflection in the closet mirror on the opposite wall: my matted hair, my three-day old pajamas, my sallow skin. No, I tell him firmly, you should most definitely not drop by.
10:06 – I feel my eyes (and brain, perhaps) glaze over as I become entranced with Bob Barker and his lovely bevy of beauties.
10:11 –The anti-nausea tea that I’ve quickly grown to rely on winds its way through my system, so I nibble on a banana. It’s only been three weeks (or one chemo cycle), and I’ve already lost five pounds.
10:54 – Despite feeling rather bullet-proof with my Price is Right expertise, I lose the vacation to the Bahamas and the Ford Thunderbird in the showcase showdown. Now what do I have to live for?
11:02 – Time to email Kyle at work.
From: Miller, Natalie
To: Richardson, Kyle
Re: What’s Up with Taylor?
Saw the paper this AM. What’s up with the leaks about Dupris’ tax returns? You know that Councilman Taylor will do anything to win this election and put her out of the job. He’s a slimy bastard – and a state Councilman at that! Where does he get off? What are you guys doing for damage control?
11:54 – I check email.
12:03 – I check email.
12:11 – I check email.
12: 34 – I realize that my Blackberry will alert me to my email, so decide to take a walk.
1:37 – The flukishly mild late September air warms my body from within, and as I sit on a bench in Central Park, I’m surprised to discover that I am not overcome with a fit of shivers. The chemo has turned my skin into virtual saran wrap, as if the drugs aren’t just killing the dangerous cells within me, but also eating away at my protective coating as well. I inhale the sunny air while watching a group of new moms “strollercize” in front of me and wonder if I’ll ever have kids. The pit of my stomach rises up, as I remember that Dr. Chin told me that the odds of a Stage III cancer patient maintaining her fertility are not high. I then further remember that the odds of survival aren’t that high either—about 50/50, give or take—so I push the ruinous, devastating thoughts from my mind, and pour my energy into walking the half-mile home.
2:07 – I finish the banana and become embroiled in the disturbingly weird plotline of the soap opera, Passions, involving a witch, a puppet and a long-lost sister.
3:11 – Plodding to my computer, I email myself to ensure that my email and Blackberry are working properly.
3:24 – Nap time.
4:55 – The phone once again shakes me awake, and I groggily say hello to Sally, my best friend, who has returned from Puerto Rico, where she is planning to marry next spring. I assure her that I’m feeling fine; I’m just a bit stir-crazy. Senator Dupris mandated that I take time off from work during the first few chemo cycles so that I wouldn’t run myself ragged, but it’s not the cancer that’s killing me, it’s the boredom. Thus my “Passions” addiction. I fill Sally in on my diary plan, and ignore her statement of “returning to the scene of the crime is almost always dangerous. I wrote an article on this once, and psychologists say that revisiting history can do more damage than good.” I respond that despite the fact that she is a women’s magazine writer, and thus well-versed in just about every subject and study known to man, she does not, in fact, know everything, and therefore, I’m planning on completely ignoring her sage counsel. She doesn’t argue, instead saying that if she has to write one more insipid story on lipstick, she’s going to jump off a bridge.
5:12 – I pick my cuticles.
5:16 – I pick my pimples in mirror until my face is both puffy and splotchy.
5:34 – I apply a cooling Keihl’s mask in hopes of undoing the damage of my picking.
6:02 – I check email.
6:27 – I make Lipton’s Cup ‘O Noodles Chicken Soup and sit down on plush white couch in my living room to watch the evening news.
6:34 – My blood pressure palpably rises, and I nearly blow a gasket when Brian Williams introduces a segment on Dupris’ “checkered” tax returns. When I sense that my cheeks are getting unhealthily red, I try to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, as Janice taught me, in an exercise to ward off stress, but discover that I don’t have the patience to count to five on each exhale, so I quickly abandon this so-called calming exercise. Barely hearing the end of the segment, I race, well, move as swiftly as possible under the weight of my blue puffy slippers and terrycloth robe, to my pine desk that overlooks Columbus Avenue and serves as my home office.
6:38 – I dash off a semi-frantic note to Kyle.
From: Miller, Natalie
To: Richardson, Kyle
Re: Have you seen the Nightly News???????
Haven’t heard back from you. The tax return shit is everywhere. The third story on NBC tonight. What the hell is going on??? Why haven’t you responded??? Does the whole office go to hell when I’m not there??? You need to act on this ASAP.
I’ll be up for a while. Call.
7:11 – I rush to ringing phone on my nightstand and feel a wave of disappointment when Caller ID comes up as my parents, not Kyle. Falling back on my bed, I stare out the side window while I absorb my mother’s daily stoicism masked as a pep talk—that my strong will can beat this disease and even if my grandmother succumbed to it, that I shouldn’t let that affect my attitude and outlook. She’d been offering up these mantras ever since she and my dad headed here from Philly and bunkered down at the Waldorf to nurse me through my first chemo blast, as if tough love were all that I needed to beat cancer. I stoically tell my mother that I wasn’t even thinking of my grandmother at the moment, but thank you for reminding me that this disgusting disease has already put its pox on our family tree.
7:52 – Relief washes over me as my mother finally says goodbye. My wave of nausea passes, so I nibble on a semi-stale bagel.
8:23 – I survey the damage of my zit-picking in the dim light of my white-tiled bathroom, and then half-heartedly brush my teeth. Why bother? I think. Morning breath is the least of my worries.
8:31 – I check email.
8:45 – I strip off my cherry red tank top and stare at my breasts in my full-length closet mirror. I stare and I stare and I stare, while I wonder what I did to cause my body to turn against me, to ever deserve this mutiny. I cast my eyes upwards and realize that in the blackness of my bedroom, illuminated only from the closet light from above, I almost look like an angel.
9:12 – I check email. For a faltering moment, I consider adding Ned’s name to the mailing list for the penis enlargement drug I received. Instead, I hit delete.
9:54 – I fall asleep on my couch while watching Animal Planet and wondering how it might feel to have an unconditional best friend who smothered my face in slobber even when poll numbers were down, even when I hadn’t showered for three days, and even when my face resembled a pepperoni pizza from Ray’s.
So that’s my day. Sure, just one day, but really not so much different than the rest ever since this cancer set up shop. Now be honest, if you were me, wouldn’t you need a hobby too?