Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hero Moment

Last weekend my son and I watched the movie The Natural. It seems these days he eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball. Two practices a week, four games, plus a private coach. One would think he would be sick of the game when it comes time to relax (Lord knows I am), but no. We’ve worked our way through every baseball movie I could think of: Little Big League, Rookie of the Year, The Perfect Game, The Bad News Bears, Trouble with the Curve, The Sandlot, Eight Men Out, even The Benchwarmers. Last Sunday I was plain out of ideas, but then I remembered the Robert Redford movie I had enjoyed at about the same age as my son.


The flick was a little drama heavy for him and he didn’t quite understand all the more grown up issues at play. He did love the whole idea of the almost magical bat “Wonderboy” and the scenes of The Knights playing in games held his attention. Then came the movie’s most spectacular scene (SPOILER ALERT!) where the injured Roy Hobbs hits a homerun to win the game. And not just any homerun, but one that hits the lights. Firework-like explosions light the sky; sparks rain down on the larger-than-life hero as he rounds the bases and his team mates clear the bench to greet him with cheers and hugs at home plate.


“I’m totally going to do that one day,” he whispered.


“I have absolutely no doubt you will.” I kissed the top of his head.


Yesterday we visited K. She’s in the thick of chemo so we jump on the times she feels good enough to have company. I miss her so much and I hate the misery she’s going through. It’s already robbed her of her hair and not to mention the luxury of everyday routines or any sense that life will be normal again. Still, she is positive and strong and a total warrior. We all draw strength from her strength though part of me feels it should be the other way around.


Unfortunately the visit was cut short by—you guessed it—baseball. It was round one of the AA Little League playoffs. Do or die time. Win or go home. Once E had dressed in his full baseball regalia, K asked if he had eye-black since it was really sunny. I replied we used to have some that stuck on, but I’d lost track of it.


“I have some pretty cool ones,” she said with a grin.


She produced a set of press on tattoos shaped like eye-black with breast cancer awareness mottos on them. E pounced on the chance to display his support for K. He loves her almost as much as I do and it empowers him to be able to do something, anything to help.


He chose two that read “Pink is the new black” and “Find the cure”. We applied them and took off for the game. The other players all asked what the tattoos were all about. He explained he was wearing them show support for someone we love who has breast cancer. The other boys nodded their heads and said things like, “Cool, man.” Even if they had made fun, E wouldn’t have cared. He’s just that kind of kid that meanness rolls off of and for that I am so very grateful.


The game was a long battle. We were one run behind for most of it, the score 2-3. We gave up one more run in the 5th putting the score at 2-4. In the last inning, our first two batters went down, one, two. Time for a two-out rally. We got one runner on and only one more batter before E who bats clean up. He’s been swinging for the fences all season and damn near getting it over. Even his coach said he was due, it’s only a matter of time. He knew the boy before him would get on base. The kid is a solid single hitter. E could feel it in his bones— this was his moment.


So one runner on, the next batter takes the plate, E’s on deck warming up. And then, Crack! The ball sails deep into a hole in the right side of centerfield. The fielders are scrambling. The lead runner rounds second and then third. The coach signals for both of them to keep going. The lead runner flies toward home and slides. Safe! The score is now 3-4.


The tying runner is barreling toward the plate. Our whole cheering section is on its feet. I’m jumping up and down screaming like a fool. But the fielders have gotten their stuff together and the pitcher has possession of the ball. The pitcher flips the ball to the catcher. Our runner slides, but too late. The catcher makes the tag.


“You’re out!” the ump bellows.


Game over.


As the initial shock and groans of disappointment die down, I look at E. He’s still standing there on deck, helmet on, bat in hand, only now his head is hung, shoulders shaking a little. He swipes away clearly unwelcome tears from his eyes. He never got his last at-bat.


In the car on the way home, he is as vocal as I’ve ever heard him after a loss. Usually, he sloughs it off, but not this time.


“Coach should’ve held J up at third!” he says, hands thrown in the air. “I could’ve batted him in. Why didn’t he hold him up? And why didn’t J run back to third when he saw the throw to the catcher?”


“I don’t know, baby. What’s done is done. Why are you so upset?”


“This was my last AA game ever.”


“Okay, but there’s still travel league and AAA in the fall.”


“Yeah, but I was robbed. I was robbed of my hero moment.”


Ahhh, so there it is. The visions of a soaring baseball, shattering ballpark lights, and showers of sparks evaporated in a one single error.


I think on this for a minute and know that for a child his age, this has to be hard to process. I glance in the rearview mirror and look at his forlorn, dirt-stained face. The breast cancer awareness tattoos are still there, still legible after all the sweat and drama. Then the bigger picture becomes clear.


“Hey.” I get him to look at me. “You weren’t robbed of your hero moment.”


“How’s that?” He asks, lips twisted in doubt.


“Miss K says you became her hero when you put on those tattoos, proud to show your support for someone who really needs every bit of strength she can muster right now.”


A little smile breaks through his scowl. “I guess you’re right.”


“I am. You were a hero tonight whether you believe it or not.”


“Thanks, Mom.” He beams at me, his mood visibly lightening.


I know he thinks I’m blowing smoke, but I hope one day, when he looks back on all this, he’ll realize it’s not one moment of greatness that makes someone a hero. It’s a lifelong commitment and millions of seemingly small acts of kindness and bravery. He’s already well on his way…

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cephalorectal extraction

The past week and a half has brought a slew of poking and prodding for K: scans, X-rays, blood work, the placement of a mediport for chemo. I, on the other hand, have focused on one critical procedure: a cephalorectal extraction. For the layperson that means I'm trying to get my head out of my ass.

I've been walking around in a fog for weeks and I simply don't have time to screw around. I have a manuscript for a novel due June 1st. Then there's L's schedule which means starting crock pot meals by noon on baseball days, ensuring he has enough snacks and water, juggling two practices and four games a week. Showing up at the right field at the right time with the right jersey on is no small feat. Not to mention that planning meals around our strained budget means I cook most foods from scratch each and every day. Plus there's general household chores to prevent my home from devolving into a shit hole reeking of sweaty man-parts, dirty socks, unwashed dishes and overflowing trashcans.

I have no time to have my head so far up my ass that I can see my uvula, but that's been my modus operandi lately. Flitting from task to task, finishing nothing and creating more work in the long run. Oh and I've been baking a lot too. I don't get it either. When I'm stressed I bake. I don't even eat what I bake. It's a strange compulsion that I really don't have the time or enough letters following my name to examine. All I know is it's got to stop. Cindy, put down the sifter and back away from the oven!

Yesterday, I took a good long at myself and saw a woman going through the stages of grief. Why? WHY?! It makes no sense. I'm not the one with cancer. What is happening to K isn't happening to me... or is it?

During our weekly wine and whine session, we talked about that very phenomenon. It's true, I'm not the one facing my mortality. I'm not the one who's already endured three surgical procedures just to get ready for the main event. I won't have poisons injected into my blood stream. I won't puke my guts out and I won't lose my hair. But that doesn't mean it isn't ripping my heart out to know that someone I love dearly is going through all this. The same phrase echoes over and over in my head: I don't want this for her.

When I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. If you must get cancer, this is the one to hope for. Traditional medical wisdom states, "No one dies from thyroid cancer" which isn't quite true. About 1900 people will die this year from the disease and I don't want to be disrespectful to the families who will lose or have lost someone to the cancer "no one" dies from. That being said, there's a reason there aren't walks and 5Ks to raise money for thyroid cancer research and it doesn't boast a colored ribbon either. It's very treatable with surgery and radioactive iodine.

Even though I had the SpongeBob of cancers, by the time my team of doctors declared my treatment successful over a year later, I felt as though they had put me through a series of medieval tortures, not to get me well, but just for the hell of it. I also would never again enjoy that sense of immortality my peers seemed so certain of. To this day every lump, every bump, every anomaly on any test scares the bejesus out of me. I think, "Crap. Here we go again." Based on that limited experience, when I think of K's cancer, the multiple surgeries, the tests, the twenty weeks of chemo and all the indignities that come with it, all that comes to mind is: I don't want this for you.

But if wishes were horses then beggars would ride.

Therefore, I will pull my head out of my ass. I have to function not only for my family and K's sake, but for my own. Life hasn't stopped so neither can I. K shows me that every time she does something brave such as making an appointment with a wig shop, barreling headlong into treatment--the sooner the better, or just getting out of bed in the morning.

Cephalorectal extraction complete. It's time to get to work!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Like a baseball to the crotch

When I was a kid, Madonna's Material Girl video blew me away. How I longed to be that shapely, jeweled-studded, pink satin clad goddess. I later found out the video was a tribute the late, great Marilyn Monroe. Another icon of hourglass curves and feminine power. I worshiped them both and decided I would strive to accomplish what these incredible women had (except for Marilyn's untimely demise, of course). Ahhh, the best laid schemes of mice and pre-pubescent girls. To quote John Lennon, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

These days, the only diamonds I come in contact with are comprised of red dirt and green grass. And as for pink ribbons, well, I could never pull one off perched atop my head, but I do wear one proudly on my chest as I help one of my closest friends deal with the indignities of breast cancer. Far from the clean, neat, sparkly world I dreamed of, my life consists of grass stains, mud ground into the carpet of my Jeep, some crying jags and lots of laughter at inappropriate times. I would not have it any other way. Hi, my name is Cindy. I'm a baseball mom, foot soldier in the fight against cancer, and writer of chick porn. You heard me. I write erotic romance, kinda like that awful shades of grey crap except way better--a senior in college who's a virgin? Do I look fucking stupid? But I digress.

My weekend started with a hangover. It usually does these days, but I have a system to whip myself into fighting shape before my son gets out of bed, which is invariably at the butt crack of dawn...unless it's a school day. At five Saturday morning, I tossed down a Sudafed (to help with sinus swelling from last night's overindulgence), three Advil (for the headache), a Super B Complex vitamin (to get rid of the sluggish, dizzy feeling), and a Vitex capsule (that's for my malfunctioning lady-parts, but that's a whole other story). After a couple bottles of cold water from the fridge, I'm right as rain.

L, my son, staggers into the living room, longish hair a cloud of snarled espresso-colored waves. I can hardly see his eyes, which are lovely velvety brown if you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse. He reminds me of Harry Potter if Harry Potter were a five foot tall nine year old, half Caucasian, half Puerto Rican with the booty to prove it. It's okay. My son has a bodacious ba-donk-a-donk. I am strong enough to accept this fact.

After four pieces of toast and two eggs, he is raring to go. I manage to put off the inevitable by nursing a cup of coffee and puttering around the kitchen for another hour.

"Can you take me to the baseball field to practice pitching?" he asks, SpongeBob apparently at an end.
"I can, but the question is will I."
"Will you take me?" He rolls his eyes.

I sigh. This is not my job. I cook, I clean, I scrub red clay out of white baseball pants, I write about engorged naughty-bits. I do not squat behind home plate while my giant fourth grader hurls hard projectiles at me. But I know neither his father nor his stepfather are able to function in this capacity. They are both at work. Damn them for being productive members of society and good providers.

"I guess so. I can wear your catcher's gear."
A large-toothed grin lights up his face.
I'm doomed and I know it, but at least L is happy.

We get to the field so early that dew still clings to the grass and the sun hasn't even fully broken the horizon. We shlep his massive bag of gear to the baseball diamond, do some warm ups, and then I put on his catcher's mask and chest protector.

"You should put on the shin guards, too, Mom." He picks up a ball and slaps it into his glove.

"I'll be fine." I sit on an overturned paint bucket behind home plate because there's no way my middle-aged knees will put up with squatting for more than about five seconds. But then I remember he has a strong arm and really could chip a bone with a misplaced fastball so I spread my legs very wide. Yes, I'm a genius. This way there is less of a chance that he'll hit my legs instead of the mitt.

He shrugs and takes the mound. The first pitch goes wild. I don't bother to lunge for it. He has a pile of balls to work through. The second pitch it a little off, too, so I tell him to move over on the rubber. He complains that he's over far enough but then acquiesces.

There's the wind up.
And pitch.


The ball smacks me square between the legs. My hoo-ha feels as if it has been branded. I jump up, howling, tears in my eyes. My genitals are throbbing and not in that good way I love to write about.

Breathe, just breathe, I tell myself.

Holy fucking shit. If guys do indeed have it worse with the same type of injury, I will never again laugh at groin shot on those home video shows.

"Mom, are you okay? I'm so sorry. Is your leg all right?" He runs to me, genuine concern tugging at his features.

"My leg is fine, you didn't hit my leg."

"What did I hit?"

Before I can stop it, the admission has escaped my lips: "You hit me in the va-jay-jay!"

His look of shock dissolves into a fit of giggles. He is still nine after all. Crotch humor is the height of hilarity at nine. I even manage a chuckle.

When we have both regained our composure, I resume my catcher's duties, albeit crouching behind the bucket. Fuck my knees, I am not taking another shot to the clit. I'm sure it's going to be bruised tomorrow. I do not need a trip to the ER, me clutching my crotch, baseball stitching permanently stamped into my vulva. No, thank you.

We make it through pitching practice without another hitch. We go home and I down more Advil. Screw my kidneys, my snatch feels like an over-ripe orange ready to split at moment's notice. I then deliver him to travel ball practice at nine a.m. and sit through an excruciating Little League game from two to four.

Wounded and exhausted, we go by K's house to see if she needs some company for the evening and she does. Having cancer is a lonely kind of worry and pain. She worries about her prognosis through death isn't on the table. Not yet. Just the specters of the same old, same old horrors: chemo, radiation, surgery, possible double mastectomy, stress to her son, her husband, her body which has already been through so much. It's all overwhelming, but I have brought provisions: two bottles of white zinfandel.

"What's up with the pink wine?" she teases. "Does everything have to be pink these days?"
"It was on sale at the grocery store."
She nods, a deep understanding passing between us.
"May I have an ice pack, please?" I ask, easing into a kitchen chair, grateful it is padded.
"Of course, what's wrong?"
"L hit me in the pussy while we were practicing his pitching."
"On purpose?" She furrows her brow, cracking the first bottle and pouring both of us extra large glasses.
"I doubt it. His aim still isn't that accurate."

We laugh and listen to the boys digging through a box of Legos. Swunch, swunch, swunch.

She takes a sip of wine and then runs a finger around the edge of the glass. "The lymph node from the last surgery was positive."
My throat constricts and I wish I could take away the fear crinkling the edges of her eyes. I can't. I know I can't. My world narrows to a pinpoint. I need to scream, but I can't. I need to put my fist through a wall, but I won't. Instead, I focus on the pink liquid in my glass and wish it was something stronger.

"What does that mean?" I ask, knowing the answer full well, but I also know she needs to say it.
Months of chemo, three different drugs, all of which will ravage her body, killing everything, not just the cancer. Neither of us can even cry. Not in any meaningful way. It's just too big. Too shocking. This was supposed to be a tiny thing. A nothing thing. But nothing ever works out for K the way it is supposed to. We often joke that perhaps she ran over Jesus's puppy in a former life and failed to apologize.

She finishes her list of tests to come and treatments to follow, a hitch in her voice.
"So what do you think?" she asks.
"I think it would be easier if you had been hit in the cunt by a baseball."
She huff a chuckle, tears snaking down her cheeks. "Me, too."

I want to tell her how sorry I am. I want to shout. I want to burst into tears, but none of that will help. I lift my glass of wine to my lips. I may not be able to take away the pain, but I can sit with her and listen to our children play.

It's not enough, but for now, it'll do.