Sunday, May 23, 2010

An old friend dies/ life blooms as a daughter graduates

So---13 days and no son to look after. I fall into a heap for a day or two---constantly emailing and calling to see about the bone cancer results—but nada till two days later when it comes back- NO SIGN OF BONE CANCER. HOORAY !! I’M A HAPPY CAMPER. I try to think of who I can call with the fabulous news that the cancer hasn’t spread to my bones. Ah. No one. Funny thing about being single. There’s no significant other to give a fuck whether the cancer has returned or not. And of course one tries to NOT carry on about it all with one’s poor kids who have been put through enough I think..
And YES says the assistant to Dr Glaspy, responding to one of my emails, I should now have a bone density test to check out the current state of my bones since Arimidex will rob them of whatever it is that makes them strong and actually GIVE you osteoporosis if they’re in any kind of weak state.

Oi vey. But when I go to get it over and done with two days later, it’s such a doddle compared to the bone scan that was checking for a cancerous tumor in the bone. Ten minutes and I’m done. What a breeze.
But what must really be attended to if I am ever to walk out of the house again and engage in any social activities is vile ratty blonde brittle stuff on my head that is meant to be passing for hair. The fringe is all breaking off in big pieces and I can think of nothing to do but appear yet again at the hairdressing joint that used to tend to my lovely long straight ‘sunkissed’ locks where the clientele is so youthful and healthy that chemo-ravaged hair is a tad on the wild side.
“What ‘appened to you love? asks the British owner who thinks he's as cute as Jamie Oliver but ain’t …”Let me guess - a perm gone wrong and now you started cutting it off yourself?”

‘Um, no, I had cancer, remember, and it all fell out. And then, when you were on holiday, Sally dyed it blonde.”
He clearly has no recollection whatsoever despite always remembering to tip him. Half-witted bastard. Much to his horror I break the news that we must go back to the color that had first sprouted from my bald head and indeed the color that is now on a good inch of roots---an odd shade of dark poo brown. But I must ‘own’ it – that’s my color and perhaps it will feel better in its natural hue and stop acting like a crack baby jutting out in all directions and making me look like a mad woman who can no longer find the time to groom herself. It bears very little resemblance to my once soft and manageable totally dead straight hair. It’s hair from another planet called Chemo and it’s the unmentioned booby prize you get.
He claims, clearly lying, that he has an emergency client to tend to and some gloomy apprentice is assigned to me – clearly in the hopes that I’ll never darken their doors again. She does the job with something less than enthusiasm but at least there’s no phony ‘oohing and aahing’ once it’s done. This is not a look they want to promote and I’m surprised I’m not ushered out a back door. I slink out of the salon a broken woman –no more the ‘gay carefree blonde’. It’s silly—and deeply shallow—but hair color can cheer you up or depress the shit out of you.
From that day on I stuff a hat on my head pretty much every time I walk out the door. I try to forget I even have hair and I really see for the first time how someone can let themselves go…..over a week goes by and I don’t even bother to wash it. It’s so dry and unhealthy that there’s no need and I actually feel nostalgic for the good old days when it was greasy and vile after just 24 hours.

So with the teen in Italy there’s no longer the routine of having to drag him out of bed every morning -a daily ritual that begins with my iphone playing the blues at 7am whereupon I literally drag myself up, enter his room, shake him a few times, ask for a verbal response to ‘YOU AWAKE NICK?’ and then turn on his heater so the darling won’t be chilly when he gets up. I then repair to kitchen to make his lunch and get some tea and then I run back to bed till two more ‘snoozes’ have been pressed on the iphone then I pop back in a carefully-timed 18 minutes to give him morning pills and vitamins. This time he must actually sit up and swallow the pills and I make sure the little blue Adderall is not dropped into his pit of a bed so that hopefully the speedy effects of this actual amphetamine I give child for his ADD will crank him into action. Then I rush back to kitchen and prepare one of his Top Three breakfasts—soft-boiled eggs and toast ‘fingers’ – thus named because the toast is cut thin enough to dip into the runny yolk and then straight into mouth—OR fried bread dipped-in-egg OR three Weet Bix and honey, milk and some berries. And yes, I lurch into his room with breakfast and he eats in bed. And then, a five minute insane dash to get dressed, load his backpack and run down to the car. (He bathes at night)
Ludicrous behaviour on my part? Undoubtedly. But it actually forces me- an unmitigated sloth of a morning, to get going and if I don’t do it this way, he’d be happy, as oft has been proven, to go to school on an empty stomach. I feel the least I can do, having failed to find a Prince Charming who would marry me and happily become father to my child, is send him off to an institution he loathes, with a bit of sustenance in him.

But without Nick around I sleep in to appallingly late hours and my body clock immediately re-sets to its natural rhythm- which is to stay up till 1 or 2 or even 3am and sleep in till 11.Or later. I’m not proud of it. My need for endless sleep (a good 9 hours which I never get) has been the bane of my life and even more so since cancer came knocking. But on the fourth morning I must drag my weary body up at ungodly10 am to go back to Dr Charney who has the results of my Complete Hormone Profile. They’re not good. It seems my body is ‘breaking down’ faster than its ‘building up’ and she patiently shows me the four pages of results trying to explain anabolic versus metabolic and the colored graphs and charts. I’m never in the good zone and bottom line is my adrenals are shot, I’m not in good shape and there’s a reason that I feel so staggeringly awful all the time. (Like I might have had some actual fun and am in the midst of a permanent truly shocking hangover.) We briefly discuss the dreaded Arimidex that I’m taking. She’s not a fan but legally cannot tell me what to do as she’s not an MD. Se suggests waiting for the Bone Density results.

She also gives me fairly costly supplements (and advises I throw all the crap I’ve just stocked up on from Trader Jo’s) and that I should try to eat really well, exercise or do yoga, meditate and above all try to de-stress. The last suggestion seems utterly impossible given my dire financial straits and it seems to me that the odds of getting actual paid employment, despite sending out countless emails, are terrifyingly slim. How exactly does one de-stress I ask her, when I was last paid as a writer/director in the Stone Age, when I have no pension plans, no Life Insurance, no savings and …okay, I remember in the nick of time she’s not my therapist and promise to return 2 weeks later for a detoxifying far infra red sauna.
So, feeling worse and worse and with more aches and pains as each day goes by, and convinced it may be due to the Arimidex I email Doc Glaspy’s to get the bone density results. After a week still nothing. I call and am told there are no results because I did not have the scan. I convince them I was not imagining yet another deeply tedious trip to St Johns and could they please check again.
I receive an email the next day from my oncologist. “Your bone density test was a baseline. There is no result. It’s for comparison in a year to see if you are losing bone.”

No result ? When I tell Clara Charney this she has her assistant call and insist on results being faxed over immediately. Shockingly, it gets done. Guess what? There is a result. There’s two pages of results. I HAVE OSTEOPENIA. It’s a THINNING of the bones, a lower than normal bone mineral density—the PRECURSOR to osteoporosis- or as one expert I googled said simply “Anyone with osteopenia is on the road to Osteoporosis.” I am so upset with the good oncologist.
Why tell me there is ”NO RESULT”. He is asking me, someone with thinning bones, to take a drug where the MAIN SIDE EFFECT IS BONE LOSS. What other effects are not yet known as then drug is relatively new and thus hasn’t been round long enough for the full story to come out. And in a year, when my bones are even thinner and osteoporosis may be setting in, Dr Charney says the likelihood is that I would be given Fosomax which apparently makes it appear that your bones are building up again but it’s a false reading as its just rotten old bone which then shatters rather than breaks. She admits that if she WERE ME, she would NOT be taking the Arimidex but keeping a close check on estrogen levels and doing everything else in my power to stay healthy.

It sounds so completely sound and sensible as I walk out the door. Skip the poisonous Big Pharma drug and stay healthy the natural way. But the darndest thing happens by the time I’m home. My new pal Mr Fear has a word in my brain.
What IF pain and aches and osteoporosis is the price I have to pay to stay healthy and cancer-free? (BECAUSE, if I was a rabid conspiracy theorist, anyone with an answer to cancer has been drummed out of the business, sued till they were on their knees – or threatened with death as the beady-eyed Vitamin Section clerk at Erewhon told me yesterday as his eyes darted hither and thither to see who was spying on us before he furtively went into a corner and wrote down “ROYAL RIFE” in caps on a post-it note. “This guy invented a cure for cancer in the forties but the drug companies had his medical license taken away. Look it up on the internet. There’s a guy here in LA who has made the machine. Come back when Megan’s here and she’ll put you in touch.” I’m ready to believe anything at this point but when I google him up, the guy, who still has some followers, does SEEM to have been a total nut job. I just need to ‘man up’ and make a decision about this drug.

And speaking of men, it sure looks like something close to a man walking out in the airport lounge as my boy, not yet 15, appears back on American soil after his 16 day trip to London and Italy. I’m thrilled to have him back. Routine again. Breakfast in bed for the sleepy teen and nagging about homework by night. I missed it.

And suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, I realize that it’s been weeks and weeks since I got out my trusty Rite Aid phone card and called my oldest friend in the world in Melbourne who’s been desperately ill with pancreatic cancer for well over two years. Her dear husband Graham answers with panic in his voice “So you’ve heard? ”

“Heard what?” I ask as my stomach lurches violently and I wish to God I wasn’t such a selfish bitch who’d forgotten to call.
“She’s not good. She’s back in hospital and she doesn’t know anyone. The doctor took me aside me today and said “Well this is it. Brace yourself.” he confides, his voice breaking. I want to scream. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach but utter the usual platitudes about how deeply sorry I am to this man who has said, in the past, that if she dies he’ll go off somewhere and never been seen again, ending it all. They had no kids, just two divine dogs—a dachshund and a Labrador and after falling in love with her in their early twenties, they rekindled their affair twenty years ago and have been together every day since.
I call Graham the next day, much earlier. He answers quickly again.
“Hi Lindy, have you heard?” he asks, his voice quite calm. My hopes suddenly soar. Perhaps the antibiotics have cleared up her lung infection, she’s snapped out of it and soon I’ll be having a good ol’ natter with Mand again.
“She died at 4am this morning. It was very peaceful. I talked to her all night. The doctor said that hearing is the last thing to go.” It’s just too much to bear. My oldest friend, the girl I met in first grade and have been so close to for fifty years, is gone. With pancreatic cancer that spread to her liver and lungs, it’s not surprising but it’s utterly devastating. This is Monday and the funeral will be held on Friday at St Andrew’s church in Middle Brighton, the local church that was associated with Firbank, my Church of England Girl’s Grammar school. The church we attended for Easter and Christmas services, the church where I was confirmed, where my brother got married, where I’ve been in recent years to endless funerals.

As I’m researching flights on Expedia to see just how much it would cost to get there, I realize that it would mean missing my daughter’s Final Art Show and graduation from Otis College. I just can’t do it. I make constant calls to Graham and my cousin and other old friends, weeping as they tell me that they’ve decided on the church music – John Lennon’s ‘Stand By Me’, Dusty Springfield’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ and Rod Stewart’s ‘You’re In My Heart’. Heavy-hearted, I decide to write something that will be read by my old pal Meredith.

“Nine two seven double six Oh (927660). I know those numbers as well as I know my own birth date. It was the number I called every morning at about 8.30. Just two rings and then I hung up, ran out the door and jumped into the old grey Vanguard with mum at the wheel. Off we shot, usually late, mum driving like a bat out of hell, to the top of Grosvenor Street to pick up my best friend who, almost certainly, would NOT be waiting there as planned. Mum would toot the horn, whereupon Mr Zach would appear, give us a harried wave or an exasperated shrug and then finally the wildly witty, whipsmart whirlwind that was Mandy Zachariah would fly out the door, grab the blazer and school hat Zach was holding out like a valet, and run to the car. In her hand, freshly-ironed green hair ribbons- as was de rigeur Firbank dress code- which she would tie around her plaits as we headed to school. Sometimes, if I begged, she would put her hair into a single plait and give one to me, her ribbon-less pal.

IN later years, if we had time, we'd head straight to the toilets next to the tuck shop and light up a quick Alpine as we'd suck on a Steamroller to hide the smell and chuckle at the thought of her big sister Sue, the school sports mistress, catching us in the act. Bizarrely, we never got caught. But we did get caught for many other misdeeds that generally involved the passing of notes and us laughing so hard and hysterically that we were in danger of exploding and we would be sent out of Assembly, or out of Divinity Class--or pretty much OUT of any class you can think of- on a fairly regular basis. We were easily amused but it's not a bad habit to have..

We were part of a jolly--and I'm afraid I must boast, a VERY cool gang that included my dear cousin Jane Parkes, the mischievous Meredith Walsh, Nicky Dearie, Sue Fooks, Jenny Pullman, Vickie Britten, Paula Kane and Julie Sturrock. Once we were too sophisticated to climb the Broken tree or play horsey by hanging onto the overall strings of the other girl and screaming "Giddyup", once we were way too old to play Skippy or Hoppy--we would lounge around on the oval, seeing who had the shortest uniform, who had the brownest legs, how good Lizzie Putt's hair looked, what we were going to wear to Dancing Class and how most of the Prefects were annoying, tell-tale goody goodies.

Mand and I would walk home to her place where her mum Joan would feed us huge thick slabs of fresh white bread slathered with butter, sliced bananas and white sugar which energised us sufficiently for a strenuous, shoeless dance session in the living room. Mand , ALWAYS a great dancer, was desperate to get on the TV show Kommotion and so sheds pop on a 45 and we'd get down. Mand had a lot of great moves that left me for dead. The SWIM and I think something with a lot of head tossing called the Pony. We were pretty even when it came to Chubby Checker and the Twist- though we'd often collapse with a stitch after our massive snack.

Friday nights Mand often made a beeline for our place as she was very partial to the delicious Pine Burgers and chips that dad would bring back from the joint on St Kilda street opposite the yacht club. He'd often bring Minties and Jaffas too. We'd lie back, eat our Pineburgers, watch black and white TV- happy as clams. Then we'd go and practice our Twiggy-like eye makeup. Big black crease lines, white highlighter under the brow and for Mandy, who already had those great big brown eyes, painted-on lashes underneath. And very pale pink -or white lips. I told you- we were cool.

Then on saturdays, Mand often joined mum and me on trips to Church Street to look in the shops. We were mildly obsessed with the aforementioned Dancing Class outfits. To my amazement, Mrs Zach would actually whip up a dress on her sewing machine for Mandy in a day but after a while, Mand despised them and insisted on store-bought dresses. But she did already have her first pair of heels, in gorgeous white patent leather - and I was now on a desperate mission for heels too. Mand had spotted a pair in brown-with teeny-tiny one inch heels and a very cute bow. They were called Teena Dolls. They fitted to perfection and would match, as Mand pointed out, my itchy brown wool dress. We found mum and dragged her in but she was underwhelmed and refused to buy them. All the way home I whined on and on about the Teena Dolls and even the loyal Mand tried to convince mum that the Teena Dolls were a must. But with Mand in mid-sentence, she suddenly lost it, took the Peter Stuyvesant out of her mouth, turned round and screamed 'I'LL GIVE YOU GIRLS A TEENA DOLL!!!"

Well Mandy just thought that was one of the funniest things she'd ever heard and started to shriek with laughter, turning the disappointment into hilarity. Even mum, who adored Mandy, was soon hooting with laughter too.

Now, it's a silly little anecdote BUT it pretty much sums Mandy up for me. She had the most brilliant, infectious, finely honed sense of humor, with a wonderful appreciation of the absurd and for the NEXT FORTY YEARS, on many different continents, she would suddenly, out of NOWHERE, shout very loudly " I'LL GIVE YOU A TEENA DOLL!" and we'd laugh and laugh and laugh.

She always made me laugh. Her charisma and intelligence and love of a good time made her such irresistably good company. Whether it was down at Lorne discovering a fabulous band called The Groop with it's gorgeous lead singer Ronnie Charles- or hanging with Meredith at Bev and Nick Walsh's house by the beach in Angelsea or having a BBQ in the back garden with Zach and Jane at Airie's Inlet or sneaking into Molina's Pub on Church Street with Jane and hoping not to run into brother David who didn't approve or getting ready to head off to Dancing Class and trying to ignore the teasing of big brother Richard and his pals....whatever, wherever, it was fun with Mand. A sweet, kind and empathetic friend, she was generous to a fault and a bloody good journo, as well as a devoted wife to the wondrously sweet and adoring Graham whose wicked sense of humor and brilliant wit meant a match made in heaven.
He's also been one of the most caring, darling husbands on the planet. A fantastic bloke. They don't come any better.
When I suggested that Mand’s dad Mr Zach would like the Classic where my dad was living, I was thrilled when it all worked out as I got to see much more of Mand and Graham and all the Zachs...but it never felt enough. I adored hanging with Mand. As did SO MANY. There's a reason that she had such devoted friends and her dearest sister Nane around her till the end.

She was the life and spirit of the party. She liked to be happy, enjoy life with a lot of white wine and have an excellent time. She wants us to be happy and THUS, we must honor her wishes and try bloody hard to go on having a good time.
Love you Mand, my darling friend of 51 years and I send my love to everyone.


My cousin Jane calls at 3 am friday morning (Melbourne is 19 hours ahead of LA) to tell me that the funeral, amazingly, was not really sad at all. A huge turn-out, lots of laughs and a tremendous tribute to a darling girl. All the clich├ęs in the world flood my brain as I sit up in bed, crying yet again and talking to my dear cousin. Seize the moment. Try to find the joy. It’s all over soon enough.
Twelve hours later it’s time to get ready for my darling daughter’s Final Art Show down near the airport at Otis. I haven’t seen her this excited since ….well I don’t know when. She and her fellow graduates have been slogging away at Otis for weeks- till the wee small hours cleaning up their grubby, chaotic studios, repainting them and turning an entire floor of the building into pristine, professionally snow white galleries to show their work. Now she runs round the house, getting dolled up and without warning, trying on her cap and gown for me to see. I hadn’t known she even had the outfit here and as she spots tears springing to my eyes, she quickly whips it off and tells me to ‘get a grip’ before proceeding to work on her outfit for the evening which invariably means trying all manner of cute, glam, sexy outfits before opting for her much-preferred laid-back look.
These days, it takes me a full three minutes to get ready. Black pants, a jacket from 25 years ago and a hat. Who knew one would feel nostalgic for those heady times when clothes were thrown around the bedroom as one frantically got ready for a date or a party? Hands up who’s even has been to a party lately…

So soon we’re hurtling in witty Friday evening traffic with our dear friend Tim Curry to this place of learning where my darling has been closeted for weeks, months, years. And I’m as happy as I’ve been in a long time. And soon, about ten feet from LAX, we’re at Otis College---and we’re rushing from fabulous room to room and she’s pointing g out her work with a giant grin on her face and greeting people and being charming and standing in front of her work for her deeply annoying camera-happy mother and I’m not getting the clear shots I want but it’s okay and she’s gone and we’re trailing behind as she points out the three gorgeous watercolors … and then there’s the truly beautiful installation she’s done of stunning crystals that won the Juror’s Prize last night and next, three giant drawings of sumo wrestlers that are so fine and beautiful my heart is just bursting.
…..Oh my goodness and here’s the infamous and electrifying knife installation—all manner of shiny, luminous, sparkling knives and right at this moment her father appears and ever the joker, loudly insists they’re all his missing knives and makes to start pulling them out …and so it goes with friends and ALL her extended family all appearing which includes one mother plus her two stepmothers, her dad, her half brother and sister and even Nick Hobbs and a school friend are soon seen casually strolling in, having just arrived back from a school trip to Washington DC. It’s a great night and I just love her work though the fact that someone has decided to put names of artists on a list at the door and NOT next to the work itself is, in my humble opinion, moronic.

And on Sunday morning we are back at Otis as my dearest girl- totally ‘rocking’ the glam/professorial look in cap and gown, dark red lipstick and a stunning gold sash that signifies she is graduating with Honors – a minor detail she incredibly modestly just happened to tell her mother last night. And it’s the picture-perfect graduation you see in American movies, the first I’ve ever been to and it lives up to the build-up with a fabulous procession of faculty and students, rousing speeches and all the appropriate pomp and circumstance. I’m in a muck sweat, standing on my chair trying to work out whether I should use my new Canon bought specially for the occasion to just photograph or video the moment her name is called and she walks on stage. At the last minute I opt for video and run half way down the aisle and fight my way through a throng of similarly crazed parents so I can really capture the Kodak moment. It doesn’t disappoint. She glows and I am just the PROUDEST MUM EVER.

Moments later, as caps are even flung into the air-like in the movies, I realize I’ve done something very right. I have an outstanding, wonderful, sweet, kind, clever and talented daughter. Her beloved mentor – one of the best sculptors in America- the late Robert Graham who she took a year off college and worked for, transferring from Chicago Art Institute to be at Otis close to Bob’s studio in Venice, would have been SO utterly delighted and PROUD of her too. Congratulations Lola darling. I love you so much.

And the graduation gift from her mum? Not very thrilling. Not a groovy vintage 'woody' Le Baron car. She bought one herself a few weeks ago. Not a stunning new wardrobe from Barney's or a trip to Prada or even a holiday in France. Nope
A 2 month Kaplan course to study for the LSATS—so she can go to Law School next year. ‘No dough in art’, I keep telling her in stunningly philistine fashion. ‘GET A LAW DEGREE BABY!!! (Check out my first VIDEO at bottom of page--Lola graduates!!)

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Some people still think of Suzanne as a nitwit, but her books are outstanding. I read one on diet and exercise and it was exactly what I needed at the time.