Monday, October 12, 2009

Saying Goodbye to My Childhood House

19 days remain until my dad sells the house. It didn't hit me 'til last night, when I woke up at 2 AM and couldn't fall back to sleep. I tossed and turned for an hour. And I thought a lot about the house I grew up in (that's it in the photo, isn't it pretty?).

Everyone keeps asking how I feel about the house selling. The thing is, I said goodbye to that house 7 years ago when my mom died. I knew then and there that the house would never be the same. Her too-loud laugh and warm hugs had filled the space for 20+ years. Without it, the house felt as hollow as the pumpkins we gutted and carved last night.

My cousin Susi says she wants to see the house before it goes. I keep thinking she's going to be disappointed. She wants what I want: my mom asking us girls to set the table with her pretty butterfly dishes and all of us gathering round the table to eat baked ziti and laugh at Sally's ridiculous stories, like when she accidentally walked into the men's room at the gym, plus an inappropriate remark about how God really knew what he was doing when he made the woman's body (and not so much when he made the man's). If Susi goes there, she'll see what I see: a ghost of a house, the ghost of Sally.

The truth is, the house being gone is a bit of a relief. These days I prefer going to Susan's house. It has the warmth that my house lacks. And with my dad living there too, it will feel even more homey.

My sadness about the house is also uplifted by the people buying the house. Just like my parents, it's a young couple who are both teachers. And just as my parents moved in with infant Jordan, they're moving in with a newborn son. To top it off, the woman's name is Laura, the same name as my best friend. When my dad told me about them, I immediately knew and told him, "It's meant to be. Mom wanted you to sell the house."

Have you had to part with your childhood home? How did you get through it? What did you save, what did you throw away?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fear of losing the happies

I woke up at 6 AM today -- on a Saturday, mind you -- sweating from a bad dream.

It was the kind of dream that's so bad you don't want to say it out loud, for fear you may completely jinx the person in the dream or yourself. But I think sometimes if you say it out loud, you get rid of it, so here goes: In my dream, my Uncle Bobby died.

I guess you first have to understand Uncle Bobby. He's a one-of-a-kind. He's the single, hip, lives-in-NYC uncle who's always telling you about the latest jazz club or Vietnamese sandwich shop he discovered. Best part is he'll describe it with the enthusiasm of a tourist even though he's lived in the big apple for 50+ years. And he's always eager to spend time with his 5 girl nieces, all of us in our 20s who completely adore him.

Uncle Bobby's been on my mind since Yom Kippur, when we went to temple services together (our annual tradition since I moved to the city 4 years ago). Between services, he told me all about his new job. In a mid-life career switch, he just graduated with a masters in teaching and landed his first job at a terrific school in Brooklyn. After hopping from radio voice-overs to NYC tour guide, teaching just seems to suit Bobby. He's smiling bigger than I've ever seen him.

In my dream, I kept thinking how unfair it was: He had just found his happiness and now it was taken away.

I suppose you're thinking what I'm thinking: the dream isn't about Uncle Bobby. It's about Sally and it's about me.

Sally, when she got sick at 57, had been in the prime of her happiness. She had married late for the '70s (she was 34), had children later (she had me at 39), and was finally enjoying her husband and children and planning for retirement. Cancer came in and took all her happiness away, just like that. It took some of my happiness away, too.

Like Sally's happiness at 57, I feel I am reaching my happiness now at 27. Living with Mark is the start of our home and life together. After so many nerves of whether or not to move in together, living together fits us so well. But sometimes, when I overhear girls on the subway telling their girlfriend to dump his sorry ass, or when my own girlfriends get their hearts broken, I tell myself sternly, "Marisa, this could all go away tomorrow," and then I look for holes and gaps where my happiness could slip through the cracks and be gone.

Happiness has always been top priority for me. Mom used to like retelling the story of me at age 2, sitting on the potty. She and dad had just had a fight. "Mommy," I asked, looking up at her. "Are you happy with Daddy?" Imagine Sally's shock. "Why, yes, sweetheart," she said, "Don't you want to get married one day?" I guess I pondered this, still tinkling, while I came to my decision: "I just want to be happy."

The funny thing about happiness is that as soon as you become fearful of losing that happiness, you stop feeling happy. Why shouldn't Uncle Bobby just enjoy his new teaching venture? Why shouldn't I just enjoy my new life with Mark? What goodness comes of fear? It may first seem like a humble quality, but really it just breeds negativity.

Off to re-start my Saturday with happiness. Step 1: Breakfast. Step 2: Haircut. Step 3: Dinner and a birthday party with close friends.

I wish you all a happy day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Kind of nice or a load of crap?

Hi there,

So, it's October, which means it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The topic came up over the weekend while I was at an annual ladies' getaway to the Jersey Shore with Laura, Mrs. G (Laura's mom), and Mrs. Byrne (Laura's mom's close friend). We discussed whether we were on board with the cancer awareness months. Here's what we decided:

  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month is clearly the most popular and gets the most media attention of any of the cancer months. We need to pay more attention to other cancers, especially pancreatic cancer (which has such a high death rate) and lung cancer (which often has little sympathy because it's associated with smokers).

  • We're a little tired of all the Breast Cancer Awareness products. Stores are stocked with ridiculous items like a pink nail polish with a pink ribbon on it. Sure, some proceeds go to breast cancer, but it's often as little as 3 - 10 %. Why can't companies donate money to cancer charities in a subtle way? The products seem so showy -- for the companies and the consumers.

  • Why should just one month be associated with a specific cancer? Why shouldn't we be charitable and aware every month?
I couldn't help but relate to these arguments. While I feel grateful to the pancreatic cancer foundations like Lustgarten and PanCAN, I don't feel at ease participating in the events like charity walks or fundraisers. Each year I debate doing the walk, especially because my mom, dad, and brother did the walk when my mom was sick. But it just feels forced. I can't tell if I'm being a chicken, or if I just feel funny buying into it.

On the other hand, I admire people who embrace the charitable activities, in particular my cousin Deena who will walk for 3 days straight to raise money for breast cancer, since her mom is a survivor. I wish I had her courage.

What do you think about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or cancer awareness months in general? Kind of nice or a load of BS?