Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cancer Girl The Untouchable

Back when I first started chemo, when I was miserably sick and weak and bald and immunodepleted, trapped in the house, lonely, and bored out of my shiny white skull, I used to lie in bed listening to dance music on my iPod. I would lie there and cry because I wanted so much to be able to go out dancing. I wasn't even sure yet that I was going survive and get well, I didn't know if I would ever have another opportunity to dance before I died. The odds were not as encouraging then as one might wish. But odds be damned: I couldn't help it, I still dreamed every night about a time when I would dance again.

One day in a fit of wild optimism I went on eBay and bought myself the most beautiful pair of red cowboy boots I could find. The day they arrived in the mail my feet were too swollen from the Prednisone to even try them on, but I set them on top of the tv where they would be a constant incentive for me to get well. I would lie there with my eyes on the prize, visualizing my future self sporting a head full of brand new short spiky bleached white hair, all decked out in my beautiful new red cowboy boots, gleefully dancing my heart out all night long. And oh my lord, that image made me so idiotically happy! I held on to that happy image with a white-knuckled death grip through the very darkest passages of hell.

And my friends, tonight I finally wore my red cowboy boots to a zydeco dance, for the very first time. I decided I needed to get my mind off the worrisome pap test results, and just go out and have myself a ball. It was a big annual dance party, held in an outdoor pavilion out in the country, and just about everybody I knew was there. I had waited so long for this! Every cell in my body was buzzing with happiness as I greeted old friends, hugged, laughed, exchanged news, waved to familiar faces across the dance floor. It felt so goddamn good to see everybody again, I was about to explode. I couldn't wait to dance.

But the oddest thing: nobody asked me. Not one single person. I stood up in the front, in the center, and smiled, and tapped my beautiful new boots. But as every song started, guys I knew would quickly walk right past me like I was invisible on their way to ask somebody else to dance. I kept hoping and smiling and trying to stay happy, but you know, after about 45 minutes I began to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. Did I have a bad case of BO? A giant booger dangling from my nose? A snapshot of Lorena Bobbit taped to my butt? Or was it the stigma of cancer?

Well, of course old stuff started to come up. Standing there like a wallflower triggered all kinds of icky issues. And wouldn't you know, my damn therapist is on vacation. Old hurts bubbled up from the deep reservoir of doom where they lurk, and they seriously began to cloud my vision. All I could think was how ugly I am, a major sexual pariah with cooties. I relived the seventh grade cotillion where nobody ever asked me to dance because I was a homely girl nerd with thick glasses. And the asshole guy I asked to dance at a zydeco club two years ago who sneered, "Why should I dance with you? You won't fuck me." And worst of all, the devastating memory of how the man I had loved was sexually repulsed by me after my cancer. I felt so hideous and untouchable, I wanted to fall through the floor and die.

All these things have really done their damage to me, they've left indelible scars that still open up and bleed sometimes. I'm way too fragile, and I'm learning that I need to protect myself better. After an hour of never dancing, it was all I could do to keep my chin from quivering and my eyes from filling up with tears. I had to leave before I embarrassed myself further by crying in public.

See, this is the thing about cancer: the whole time you're sick, all you think about is how much you want your old life back again. But as time passes, it becomes heartbreakingly clear that you can never ever have that old life back again. You may be alive, but it's dead and gone forever. Too many things have changed, inside and out. You can't go back. You just have to do your best to rebuild a new life from scratch, and try to find new things that might bring you some semblance of joy.

And honestly, I'm trying not to be bitter or angry or vengeful. There's a little wee bit of me that's tempted to go to the next zydeco dance and stand up on a chair and holler, "Hey GUYS! When y'all get YOUR damn cancer and your stupid dicks fall off or whatever, see if I'll give YOU the fucking time of day." But alas, I've taken a solemn oath to never be mean to a cancer person, ever, so I can't.

Anyway. I guess I just need to forget about dancing for now, leave it behind, and try to fill my life with other things, things that won't rub so much salt in my old wounds and make me want to die. Because I really and truly can't afford to feel that way these days. You know?

But damn, it hurts a lot to lose yet another dream. A lot.


Blogger divrchk said...

The boots are gorgeous. Please save them. Dances always suck unless you're there with a date. Cancer or not. I'm sorry that you had a bad night and I hope that your Pap was nothing. I had a bad pap last year and I'm having my annual on the 9th. I'm a bit nervous myself.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Aw honey.

Two things.

First, I was going to say, "I know exactly how you feel" - but that's not true. But while I might not have sat in your seat, I have sure been in the ballpark. And it's an awful place to be.

Second, and I know this is going to sound stupid and cliche but in your case I do think it's actually true for once - I think those guys were intimidated something crazy of you. Honestly, I would be. You're ripped, you're a hysterically biting wit, you've got fantastic style... Doofus guys like them would assume you were light-years out of their league. Because you would be.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't have screwed up the courage to let you condescend to have some fun dancing with them. For that, they suck, rather a lot. But I think your reason why was a little mixed up.

Those boots rock. Their first outing wasn't worthy of them. They need a better time, in a little while, now that they're all broken in.

Big hugs to you.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Tsunami said...

I don't know how to dance, but if I were anywhere near Deep Inferno, I would learn how just to have the honor of asking you to dance with me.

10:57 PM  
Blogger debinca said...

Keep the boots, you're gonna need them! I can tell from the artfully way you threw them out that they are keepers, Dang it all anyways, wear them to friday nights!!

On the pap, dang it again, let us know.... forget it, wear the boots to your next pap and dont take them oFF.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Alto2 said...

Oh, I don't think you should give up dancing. I think you should find another place to dance. Those red boots don't belong in the trash. They belong on your feet doing a 2-step with a fine young cannibal.

12:07 AM  
Blogger evil_fizz said...

first things first: tons of hugs.

second: the boots are awesome, and I think they deserve a second chance. If nothing else, your a round of your favorite drink and your own favorite song in the living room with the dogs.

third: there are lots of us thinking about you and wishing you all the best. I won't tell you to hang in there or anything because I am positive that you are in there, fighting every inch of the way. We're here for whatever you need.

fourth: all good wishes, karma, and starlight for the pap smear. Here's to techs who make a mistake when reading slides.

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know me but you have helped me.

My daughter (20) is fighting cancer and I have struggled to understand what she is going through. I know I never fully will, but this post helped.

Please don't give up on your hopes and dreams. Your life won't ever be the same but that doesn't mean it can't be better!

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I think you need to teach Superman to dance zydeco.

And here's hoping that "abnormal" doesn't mean "bad."

As for the red boots, well, I have a pair of tight, mint green five-pocket jeans (shown here, scroll to item 3) that I will never wear again because they just don't look the same over a prosthetic limb and socket as they would have over my fine, uninterrupted curves and two good, strong, straight legs, though I didn't realize this when I bought them while recuperating from amputation because nobody warns you of this, possibly because so many prosthetists are still men. The day I realized I could either be someone who looked hot in jeans or someone who could walk on her own power, never again both, was a bad day for me, and that surprised me because I'm not usually someone who cares very much about appearances. It was just another unexpected loss, just one too many, albeit a tiny one on my own personal scale.

Still, I haven't given away those jeans, and I kind of despise myself for that a little. Someone else should have the opportunity to look hot in them -- or just to have a nice pair of pants like them.

Maybe my next trip to the Red Cross bin or the Goodwill truck will be the one when I can finally let go.

At a certain point, and sadly not a point that passes never to return again but a place we keep revisiting again and again it seems, it sure does feel like one has been asked to let go of an awful lot. Insert all the Buddhist philosophy here that you want. It still hurts.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Patrizia said...

Great photo, but do not throw away those boots.

Elizabeth I suspect that even before the Big C, you scared the shit out of most men because you are so brilliant, fierce and uncompromising.

I remember the Painter from yr old blog. I'm sorry he didn't live up to the Gilroy test.

(The Gilroy test is the one true metric of real love. So-named because my aunt once had a large orange cat who was the most beautiful cat in the world before he got kitty leukemia and started wasting away. I was kind of an oblivious twit when I was a teenager and must have made some unthinking remark because my aunt spent some time gently explaining to me that it's very easy to think you love someone when they're beautiful. But that the test of real love is whether you love them with the same intensity when they're ugly.

"Everyone gets ugly from time to time," she told me, stroking Gilroy.)

11:47 AM  
Blogger Trasi said...

You pick those boots up out of the trash! You and your dreams are worth far more than the trashcan, and one visit to the dance hall ought not to spoil your spirit. Sure, you can't "go back". But you've been through hell and back and have your boots to thank for having gotten you through there. Just because your old life included dancing doesn't mean you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, stand up on a chair and say, "People, I had cancer. I don't currently have it. You can't get it from me even if I do. I have looked forward to coming out dancing and having a good time in these here red boots, and I'd appreciate it if y'all wouldn't avoid me like the plague. And I won't bite anyone's head off, either." You may be feeling a mite fragile for that at this very moment, but I know you have it in you.

1:30 PM  
Blogger cc said...

I think you're terrific and sexy.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Elan Morgan said...

Everybody said it already, but hell, I would have totally asked your cute self to dance.

Mostly, what I have found post-cancer, is that people are less weirded out by me and more weirded out by their own not knowing what to say. Some people haven't said two words to me since my surgery. I wish they'd just trip all over their tongues, say something stupid, and get it over with.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Your post sent me back in time. Middle school square dance. Terrified to go but did...stood on the sidelines..not asked to dance. You're right, the pain does not leave you. BUT...I realize now that my pain was and is based in my own insecurities. You need to see yourself as you are truly seen by others. I do not know you personally and have been a reader for only a few months. Yours is one of the first sites I visit every day. The reason for this is that you inspire me. You are positive, creative, amusing, and strong. You don't need a dance partner. You can get on that dance floor and rock those red boots all on your own. You will find the right dance partner eventually; I did. He was worth the wait. Yours will be too.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Yankee T said...

Aw, Liz. How totally suckified. Take the boots out of the trash-I, too, believe you'll need them one day.
Sending big hugs.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Ginny Lee said...

Get those fabulous boots out of your trash! You deserve them and they deserve you! You'll dance in them alright, and it will be better than you dreamed.

I am reminded of a story about T.S. Elliot at some fancy party. A women turned to him and asked, "Isn't this party wonderful?" and he answered, "Yes, if you see the essential horror of it all".

You deserve better than was at that dance. Remember who you are and all you have to offer. Don't let the [idiotic behavior of] others define you.

9:25 PM  
Blogger E :) said...

Those people suck. Keep the boots - you don't need those people to dance! Go get a bottle of wine, put those shoes on, and turn up the music!

9:34 PM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

I'm with the people who think you intimidated them - from your pictures, you look fantastic. Or maybe you're right, maybe they were freaked out. I've freaked people (men) out all my life - the wheelchair scares them and in my experience, they have to get drunk to the point of incoherency before they can approach me. Makes you feel like you should be ringing a bell, chanting "unclean... unclean... unclean".

And then I found a friend who considers the wheelchair the greatest toy ever and we've danced dirty and jitterbug and frightened everyone in sight (plus had disapproving glances, which was awesome). I recommend going with a group of friends and all dancing together. Those boots deserve dancing and so do you.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Ya Looblue said...

take those boots outta the trash right now missy. they are part of your new life. reinvent reinvent.

i don't want to downplay any of the things you talked about in this entry, because it's so true and powerful and real. hell, i had a sobbing fit the other day because i missed my life before school was over. TOTALLY not as huge, but i understand the feeling of desperately wishing you could have something back that is permanently changed.

put those boots on, bring Superman to a new doggie park, and strut your stuff girlfriend.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Keiko said...

Ohhh Miz Lymphopo, I was sick for two years and doubled my bodyfat percentage. I dreamed the whole time of living in a lean lithe athletic body again. When I got better I went to the gym and didn't lose any weight the first week. So I gave up my dream.

Would you take that????

Put those boots back on, girl. You did not make cancer your bitch to be brought down by middle school insecurities.

And the correct response to "Why should I dance with you, you won't fuck me" is "Ew! You're RIGHT!" followed by hysterical laughter. then grab nearest friend, point him out and retell story.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Suzette said...

Well, that's the thing - you can't ever go back, no matter what journey took you away. You're more evolved now than the people you left waiting in the same place - you know more than they do and that is what is frightening to them.

It's important in groups for their own survival to maintain the status quo and one way to accomplish that is to banish those how do not or will not conform. It's been like this since we were in the caves. I doubt if there was any conscious awareness of this concept going on at the dance, but the fact is that your earned difference compels you to seek out the more enlightened among us.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Betsey C. said...

Damn, that was incredibly painful to read. But if I know anything about you from reading your blog, I KNOW that you are going to drag those boots out of the garbage can and keep on truckin'.

9:18 AM  
Blogger j0lt said...

Grab those boots, go again, and this time, why wait? Ask them!

I know it's hard but I used to do it all the time when I was single. I think it's because I have no patience.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Jodie said...

I've been single for 10 years,and I've recently fulfilled my dream of finally learning to dance...but men don't dance with me unless I ask, I ask them!

(and yes, I was a wallflower throughout middle AND high school, and I don't begin to look as good as you do now...but I don't sit out any dances, anymore, because life is just too short)

I hope you'll take those gorgeous boots out of the trash and try again.

6:23 PM  
Blogger nbm said...

In the constant cartoon that runs in my head, you stood up on that chair and said,

"HEY ASSFUCKS! Look at my KICKASS MOTHERFUCKING RED BOOTS. Ask me to dance, stupid."

And then a bunch of guys came forward and were like, "Oh, snap. I've been trying to get up the courage to talk to you all night, sassy lady."

And then you said, "Blah blah. Less TALKING, more DANCING. If you're lucky I won't kick you in the crotch when we're finished."

And then they said, "I think I love you."

The end.

9:59 PM  
Blogger dajamama said...

If I were a guy, and I lived in Deep Inferno, and I knew anything at all about dancing to zydeco, and I were at that dance, and I had way more gumption than I do as a woman who lives in Pittsburgh and doesn't know how to dance...

I totally would have danced with you.

10:22 AM  
Blogger kahless said...

Well gee. The one time I stay home and lookit what I missed. Bummer.

I'd a danced whitcha.


4:54 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

I'm straighter than a ruler, but I would have danced with you, and I don't know a thing about zydeco.

Tell you what, though... if you're ever in DC, and you hear some music--I don't care, you and I are dancing and you had better be wearing those boots! :-)

9:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Stumbled on this site looking for floor heaters. Odd.

Best of luck to you. Your tone is so brave and what you are going through is so very hard. But if I may offer a bit of unsolicited advice--don't put yourself out there and hand the power to others, by that I mean why when no one asked you to dance did you not say to hell with it and just dance? It's done all the time. You sound powerful--BE powerful, do what you want, stop letting folks hurt you by their just being human and normal and not noticing you. You have so much time here and no more, we all do but you must know that better now I'm sure. Do whatever the hell you want! Much love and the best of luck.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

Granny Liz,
I sure do wish I could whisk you up, take you into the swing scene, introduce you to everybody, and show you a grand old time.

But it wouldn't be your scene. *sigh*

I'm sorry things didn't go well in Zydeco.

And though usually I'd suggest getting used to being the asker like I had to do in the swing scene here in Minnesota as it got more and more filled with follows and emptier and emptier of leads, heck, I'm not gonna tell anyone to embark on such a project during a stressful time. That's a project for stabler times.

(Though if you do decide to embark on it, please do come to me for story-sharing and empathy. I've given a lot to swing dancing women and girls adjusting to being a chronic asker here in Minnesota.)

One more thing, though...give it another try? From my experience in my partner dancing scene, I do wonder if overall things have changed to be fuller of follows at your level of dance ability than they used to be. And you know, that doesn't just change the men's/leads' behavior at dances that're follow-heavy. It has a strange long-term / every-dance-event effect on them. They just...stop asking. They don't even remember to ask if they're at a dance where there are too many of them! They just get all, "Oh well, there are too many of us...I'll drink more water until I get asked" instead of saying, "Oh! I'd better ask tonight!" It is STRANGE...but real. At least in my swing scene. So if you can, I'd recommend giving it another chance and seeing if this dynamic seems to be in play in your zydeco scene.

10:48 AM  
Blogger citygrrrl said...

i do hope you still have those boots, girl, cause your gonna dance... even if it's with me!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

Save the boots, find another dance, and don't go alone. When you first arrive in South Louisiana as a white person from California you are an exotic tourist and certain dances seem fun. I have seen a great deal of this.

What the new Californians in town think is going on is not always what is really going on and things are more complicated and I do not think it is because you had cancer, I think it is because you are now more of a local.

And it *is* true that a lot of people dance with the new ones or the foreign ones because they think they can get laid, and it is often the case that the Californians and Midwesterners are there for sex tourism, and once it is discovered someone is not up for that, it is no longer the same, either.

Remember Louisiana is very very patriarchal and so on ... much moreso than Latin America, you could cut it with the proverbial knife. And chivalry is in many cases only skin deep.

I am from Pointe Coupee but I studied in Cali and when I got home
people who did not know me well thought I would now be generally available for sex and when I was not I they were angry and confused.

Louisiana is very family oriented and do you not notice at those dances that women are with large family groups ... or if they are alone they are at a place that knows them well and where they know many people ... ?

2:01 PM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

P.S. and most important about going alone to dances and getting respect -
the thing is that many of those who *do* go alone are not really alone since everyone else there knows their parents, their cousins, etc.

2:03 PM  
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11:38 AM  
Blogger as said...

That doesn't mean they shouldn't have screwed up the courage to let you condescend to have some fun dancing with them. For that, they suck, rather a lot. But I think your reason why was a little mixed up. biber hapı

8:55 AM  

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