A funny story: When I got the result of my biopsy (positive for invasive lobular carcinoma), I called my friend Rebecca (not her real name) in Paris because she wanted to know the result. Rebecca and I were as close as friends can get. In the decade since we’d met, we had told each other big secrets. We had seen each other through divorce and heartbreakingly bad relationships. We had endured (or were enduring) our kids’ teen years. We were so close, in fact, that we could tell each other the real truth instead of the “girl truth,” which is truth that isn’t really true; but merely supportive.
A year and a half later, I’d had my surgery, chemo and radiation. I also was working full time as a single mom with two teenagers. I was, to put it mildly, distracted.
One holiday weekend, I’d made plans to go biking with Rebecca. On the planned Sunday, I sat at my kitchen table, gazing out the window at my dying California pepper tree and wondering how I was going to cut it down. The phone rang. I sipped on my grande non-fat latte, planning my route up the pepper tree, mentally marking the sequence of cuts. I ignored the phone.
The next day at work, I looked at my Outlook calendar. “Bike Ride with Rebecca,” was the text I’d put in the Sunday box. My heart sank to my socks. Shit! I had forgotten about the bike ride! I called Rebecca. She was pissed, as expected. I apologized profusely. She wasn’t appeased.
I went to work and sent an email. Again, apologizing profusely. My memory, since chemo, has become a plastic knife in a drawer full of Henkels precision blades. If it is not in writing, it does not happen. If it is in writing, it might happen.
Rebecca wasn’t buying my apology, and she told me so. Then she sent me an email that provided further explaination. She wrote that it was clear that I didn’t have my priorities straight. I was stunned.
My ex was friends with Rebecca. After several months of silence between me and Rebecca, he and she ran into each other at a trade show. Whe the topic of me came up, she expressed her disappointment in my skewed sense of what was essential and what was not essential in life. She said she had been there for me totally and was disappointed in my lack of appreciation. She compared me to her friend, Alice, who had done cancer so gracefully, effortlessly. Alice, apparently, did not forget her appointments.
I guess it’s not really a funny story. As I sit here writing, I still feel the sting of those words and am filled with bitterness, defensiveness, incredulity, unforgiveness.
The main point of this story: There is no way to adequately explain to someone who has not been through cancer how tired, forgetful and distracted you were and still may be.
This holiday, I had a similar experience. I had forgotten something important, and the repercussions were intense. The fallout has filled me with rage.
I called my best friend Sharon in Tallahassee. “How are you?” She asked. I told her the truth: “I am a venomous bag of hatred.” I told her about going to church (for the second time this year) and crying at the music’s lyrics about forgiveness. I’d been praying to be forgiving, but all I could feel was misunderstood and royally pissed off.
Her advice: Stop trying to forgive. It doesn’t come from you anyway. Just live in neutral for a while. Stop thinking about how mad you are. How right you are. How wronged you were. Just put it on a shelf for a while.
So that’s what I am going to do. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Unless I forget.