Nailed It

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that for the past twenty years, one would be hard pressed to find me without perfectly manicured nails.  Not long and never red, just clean, polished, perfectly filed and, even (especially) during the worst of times, flawless.  It has been the thing that made me feel in control and, I assumed, conveyed to the world a psychic unity that often eluded me.  I readily and frequently professed that I would give up food before I gave up my beloved bi-weekly manis.  And then last week happened.

I had put exactly zero thought to what I was about to do.  I had not, in fact, even entertained the idea.  Yet, as I sat in the familiar chair struggling with my aluminum foiled covered fingernails* to turn the pages of the most recent “People” magazine I felt not the comfort and calm that always came with manicures, rather I felt agitated and irritated by the process and a little ashamed of the time I was wasting while I should really have been packing up my house to move.

The guy who has been doing my nails for years sat silently scraping the remaining “Dizzy Feet” (which, incidentally, is the perfect shade of pink)(I know because I spent an embarrassing amount of time over these past 20 years seeking just that: the perfect shade of pink)(it’s Essie for those who are going to go looking for it) off my nails, preparing to paint them yet again.  “Wait” I nearly shouted, “No polish…just buff them and throw on a shiny clear coat.”

He literally stopped and stared at me.  I think he jaw might have dropped open a little.  It was then that I knew that I was done with this whole ritual, habit, commitment.

photo (18)

The symbolism is not lost on me.  This has been a (ten year) period of all sorts of crap coming at me from left, front and center.  It all began in November, 2004 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been a steady stream of stress, change, upheaval, mishegas**, anxiety, transition and general shit-storminess.  Yes, there have been some wonderful things thrown in there, too, but, all in all…it’s been a rough patch.  Through it all, my nails were always perfect.  In fact, the day before my surgery I made sure to have my nails done so that when I woke up I would feel like at least a shadow of myself.  Same with the day before my father’s funeral, the day George told me she was a girl, when my husband and I decided to separate…

Now that we are approaching year three of Jess’s transition, my house is sold, I’ve found a place to live, I have a wonderful man in my life and the world is continuing to spin on its axis I realized I don’t need perfect nails any more.  To be clear, they are well groomed and will remain so.  I actually kinda like the way they look and found myself (almost) getting a little judgey (that’s my made up word for being judgmental) when I see a woman with nails that resemble the way mine used to look.  But, rest assured, it has been a fleeting thought as I, perhaps more than most, deeply appreciate the value of a perfect manicure.

Pathetic as it may sound, I consider this a victory, a success, a milestone.  I feel liberated on many levels.  I do, however, reserve the right to relapse and return to the perfect pink someday…


*Gel manicures changed my life…but in order to prepare the nails for a new coat, one has to wrap the nail in foil and acetone to melt the crap out of them.  As noted, it makes for very difficult trashy magazine page turning which, I realized, was a good 75 percent of what I actually needed when I walked into the nail salon.

** That’s “Jewish” for craziness.

The Power Of An (Eskimo) Kiss

It happened so quickly as to be almost imperceptible and could more easily have been missed than been caught.  It was as quick as it was gentle, organic, sweet and utterly heartwarming.  I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it.

We’d just eaten a delicious Indian dinner and had taken our place in a long line at the ice cream shop; me seeking to cleanse my pallet with a tart yogurt.  They had declined the opportunity to order anything for themselves, but would willingly sample my dessert when offered a spoonful (or two as the case may be).  Married for a mere fifty-seven years,  they stood in comfortable, well-fed silence waiting for the rest of us to indulge when, with no fanfare or trace of contrivance, they exchanged a warm glance, their eyes sparkled and they  gently touched noses.  I felt goosebumps erupt on my arms and warmth run through me.  It was a moment that I felt lucky to have witnessed, although admittedly, the intimacy of it forced me to reflexively turn away, allowing them a modicum of privacy among the waffle cones.

Just an Eskimo kiss…and one, I am willing to bet, was not the first or one they will even recall.


I have thought a lot about why this moment was so powerful to me.  I’ve considered the fact that their relationship began exactly when my own parents’ did and how both unions are/were so solid.  I’ve noted the ease with which they maneuver together and apart.  There is, too, such a profound, unspoken understanding of strengths, weaknesses, quirks, foibles and neuroses that their dance is seamless and secure.  Isn’t that what everyone ultimately wants?

Through these past few years of seemingly endless transitions, I am acutely aware of the comfort of sameness and the human need for a degree of consistency.  Two people touching noses are two people who are in sync and, while they are well aware of the guaranteed certainty of uncertainty, they got this.  It is that ease, that comfort, that even slim semblance of certainty which has eluded me .  Observing it in others, however, brought me comfort and peace knowing that it still exists.

My son is my daughter.  My marriage is no longer.  I’m nearing the time when I enter a new decade.   My home of twenty years is on the market, kept in a permanent state of immaculateness (sterility??) should someone be interested in traipsing through, judging every nook and cranny of the place that worked just fine for its four most recent inhabitants.  I’m working on a (fuzzy, at best) plan for the next two years which, if history is worth a damn, are sure to be as irresolute as the last two.

With so much up in the air it can feel as though the chance of landing on something absolute will permanently evade you.  And then you catch a nose rub in an ice cream shop…

Daniels, Elisabeth R.

As a kid, I remember my parents scanning (okay, they were reading) the obituaries listed in the newspaper. I didn’t think it odd as it was something they always did and was, in my child’s mind, “normal”. When I inquired as to why they did it, they responded with a jocular, “just making sure we’re still alive” and that was that.  I, too, am a scanner/reader of death notices.  Have been for as long as I can recall.  I’ve even been known to check them online.  Sounds creepy when I see it written, but I assure you, it is not.

That being said, I am immersed in this habit deeply enough to have a system. First I check the town in which I live, then my hometown and, finally, I scan for Jewish names. More often than not, I happen upon a familiar one: usually a parent or grandparent of a friend. Sometimes I have heard of the passing and seek out the announcement for the pertinent information, but more often than not, I just peruse without purpose. I’m not sure what I am looking for but assume it is my love of a good story that keeps me coming back for more.  Many (most, actually) stick to the basics and tell very little by way of a story but do serve to confirm that the name I am reading does indeed relate to someone in my world. I’ve seen them depressingly brief  and overwhelmingly detailed. None, however, has captured my interest as did this one:

photo (17)

Interestingly, Elisabeth R. Daniels did not hail from either of “my” towns, nor was she Jewish. I’ve no recollection as to what made me read her obituary, but I did and, as you can see, went so far as to tear it out and save it (admission: it was on my fridge for a few days).   It is, without competition, the Best.Obituary.Ever.

We all hope to leave some sort of mark on the world, some kind of legacy which will serve to define us years after we are gone. I cannot speak for the masses, but would venture a guess that most (all) people hope that theirs is a positive, honest (assuming the two are not mutually exclusive) and, if we are really lucky, meaningful one. We were kind, or philanthropic, or funny or a trailblazer of some sort. Or perhaps we flew under the radar and made little impact other than to live quietly and not bother anyone. Most (all) of us would prefer not to be remembered for the time we behaved like an asshole or forgot to filter our words. Elisabeth was true to herself (and, so too, apparently, were her mother Sally and sister Dinah). I cannot help thinking that she sanctioned (and maybe even penned )the delightfully honest memorializing of herself. Talk about going out on your own terms. Have at it, Ms. Daniels!

Being honest with ourselves and knowing who we are can be totally awesome or can suck big time: sometimes all in the same day. Digging deep and owning the good, the bad and the ugly ain’t easy, but is it freeing, for sure.

I’ve always admired (envied maybe) the honesty with which Jess has lived her life. Like Elisabeth, she is a “unique creation” and I hope that (many, many, many) years down the road, when her legacy is being written it will be done so with the same love that Elisabeth’s has been.

I hope the same for Harrison. And, frankly, for me.

Take *That*, Elephant

We were having an important conversation about an emotionally charged subject.  The banter was easy and agreeable, the tone respectful.  The subject matter had nothing whatsoever to do with me or my kid, yet when it morphed into the organic moment I had been waiting (um, praying) for, I (um) pounced.   It was that moment that I chose to share that my daughter, whom the person I was speaking with has met on more than one occasion, was born a boy.

It had been eating at me.  I had felt as though my lack of sharing was somehow duplicitous and had become the elephant in the room which only I noticed.  It was equal parts anxiety and the desire to be wholly honest which allowed the words to tumble out of my mouth with no fanfare (unless one could consider my gently resting my hand on my listener’s knee somehow fanfare-ish) direct eye contact and a kind-of-a-little-bit feigned bravado.  But the moment I said it, I felt my shoulders drop ever so slightly and my breath catch just a smidge as I awaited a response.



I do not know what I expected really.  I certainly did not anticipate hysteria or anger, nor did I get it. I had built up the details and played out the scene of this interaction many times in my mind. I had allowed myself to perseverate over how and when to say something, fretted over the reaction I would receive, rehearsed the monologue (which, when the time arrived for recitation, fully escaped me) to the point of sudden sweats and aborted sleep. And it was all for naught.  The response was nearly as matter-of-fact as my delivery.  Compassion for the challenges we faced were shared.  Respect was evident in both directions.  Inset huge sigh here.

Perhaps it was selfish of me to blurt it out amid discussion of another child’s issue.  This wasn’t about me.  But as we were chatting, my mind feverishly darted back and forth between “not now, Julie” and “since we are getting down and dirty into kid issues, bring it on”.  You know which option won out.

And, while I never worried about the response I would receive, I obsessed over finding the right time, the right place and the right words.  I think I did okay.

I am appreciative of the acceptance.  I am cognizant of the fact that I lobbed a fastball.  I am grateful to have been listened to so respectfully.  Note to self: the anticipation is always the hardest part.



Here’s A Story*

I love a good story.  Even more, I love re-telling the story and collecting reactions.  My favorites are those that have an “OMG” or “can you believe it” factor.[1]  I prefer a happy ending but will never shy from the truth.  When I hear a great story for the first time, I immediately repeat it in my head, knowing that I will share it some time, somewhere.  That is how this blog came to be: telling our story which other people seemed to be interested in hearing.  There are times that my (our) story is either too big, too small, too scary, too boring or too private to share.  But I still love to tell a story.

Here’s one I heard just over a year ago, but love it as much now as I did the first time I heard it.

I used to work (until she left – insert sad face here) with a very cool lady whom I will call O.  She is eighteen years my senior and from (what I thought was) a different world.  She’d worked for many years at an ultra Waspy prep school which never saw the likes of someone like me.  I knew that her children were grown, she was a grandmother and she always adorned the t-shirts we wear to work with a pretty scarf tied neatly at her throat.  I curbed my sailor’s mouth around her (need not have done that, I learned) and thought she was a lovely lady who had been married for eons and been living a nice, albeit unscandalous life.  Well…I was wrong.  Turns out that she had not only divorced her husband of forty years but had then gone on to marry her college sweetheart.  But wait…there’s more!  Her former husband not only divorced her, but then he married his college sweetheart!  And, just to make things more interesting, they all get along famously. 

As she told me and watched, not for the first time, I am sure, my reaction of shock, she smiled and said, “Yep, you can’t make this shit up.”

Everybody has a story.

And another all time favorite:

A friend whose children were, at the time, probably somewhere around nine and eleven were all sitting in the bleachers at a Red Sox game.  There was a lull in the action and the nine-year old asked a question she’d been asking for a few weeks prior: “Where do babies come from?” The mom, who had been waiting for just the right time to answer the question, decided that then was as good a time as any.  Seated between her two children, the older of which already knew the answer, she proceeded to (artfully, I am sure) answer her daughter’s query.  The conversation lasted a few moments and the mom dropped her shoulders, relieved that it was over.  A beat later, her son, all eleven years of him, leaned across his mother, looked at his sister and said, “Now ask her what a blow job is.”  Simultaneously horrified and amused, the mother shared it with me…ten years ago.

Everybody has a story.

I have been negligent in keeping y’all up with my story.  I have gotten innumerable texts, emails and messages asking if I am okay or is my silence something to be concerned about.  Yes, I am fine and no, my lack of writing is nothing more than that – a lack of writing.  I’ve been asked how Jess is doing.  She, too, is doing fine.  As fine as any human being can be, that is, while in the throes of puberty, middle school, divorcing parents and navigating the transgender waters.   Ours, like everyone else’s, is a story that is unfolding each day.  There are days that come and go without incident.  Others, not so much.   There are times that I would rather tell you the story of my friend O or that of my friend and the blow job. Telling those stories (which are often more interesting than mine) is joyful and, frankly, sometimes easier.  I gather them up and try to find the time to share them with you.

I hope you will allow me that indulgence…to tell a story, which might not always be my own.

Because, you know what? : Everybody has a story.


[1] Transgender, anyone?

*Does anyone else have the urge to continue this title with:…”of a lovely lady?”

“Happy Birthday To You…”

It is not my story to tell.  In truth, I wasn’t even there to witness the scene I am about to share.  It was relayed to me not by the person who was a party to it, rather someone she shared it with who, in turn, shared it with me.  This happened several days ago, but the degree to which it has stayed with me and tossed around in my head brings me to this, my need to share.

On a mid-week night, in a neighborhood restaurant one step above an Uno’s or Not Your Average Joe’s gathered three generations of a family to fete their mother/grandmother on the occasion of her birthday.  They were a rowdy bunch, reveling in being together and marveling at the advanced age of the matriarch of the clan.  They drew attention to themselves throughout the meal, talking a little bit too loud, laughing a smidge too hard and, from what I have heard, oblivious to the fact that they were not in the comfort of their own home but were annoying to their fellow diners.

As the meal progressed they became more rowdy and less aware of their surroundings.  Other folks out for a (semi) nice meal flashed dirty looks and sighed heavily in hopes that they would send a message to the large group…to no avail.  Resigned to the fact that they would have to endure their meal amid such commotion, they ignored them as best they could, trying, instead, to enjoy their own companions and meal.

The sounds of the table were soon interrupted with the arrival of a birthday cake, seemingly engulfed with the resultant flame of a billion candles, and the wait staff’s half-hearted rendition of the birthday song.  And then it happened.  No sooner had they reached the “to you” part of the song when the guest of honor dropped dead in the cake.  Boom.  Just like that.  She didn’t pass out, or take a nap…no, she up and died.  In the cake.



Now, I will cop to initially finding this simultaneously horrifying and hysterically funny.  My mouth dropped open and my hand came up to cover it, as if to suppress my less than sympathetic response.  My G-d…what a way to go!

Later that evening, I was out to dinner with friends at the Cheesecake Factory.   Having just heard the story while driving to meet them, I shared it and they, too, responded with a mouth agape, hand-to-cover response and (slightly uncomfortable) laughter.  Apparently, The Cheesecake Factory is an enormously popular birthday dinner spot as evidenced by the fact that as we dined, we counted no fewer than half a dozen renditions of the song which will forever be aborted at “to you” in my head.  Each time the first notes rang out, our table grew silent as we anticipated a thud.  Fortunately, there were none.

Ever since hearing this story and conjuring up a vivid image in my head, I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  I find it to be so many things: horrifying, crazy, funny, unbelievable, frightening and awesome.  But mostly awesome.  I mean, really, think about it.  Yeah, it is really shitty for the family (here’s hoping their dinner was comped) but what a great way to go for grandma.  Surrounded by her family who were so caught up in the happiness and fun of the evening (well, the start of the evening, anyway) that they were utterly unaware of their surroundings.  Everyone was, by all (well, most) accounts having a ball.  The last thing she heard was “to you”, the last things she saw was a beautiful cake( in, no doubt, her favorite flavor),  the last thing she felt was love and the last thing she did was play a starring role in a great story.  Not so bad, actually.

So, on this, the eve of my (not a big one…yet) birthday, I think of the nameless woman who left this world in a dramatic, but all around pretty cool way.  Her’s is a story I will continue to recall and, in all likelihood, share.  I was not there for it.  I did not experience it.  But it will stay with me.

And, while I hope this is not the year I drop dead in my birthday cake, I can actually think of worse ways to go.


Here’s a Link to My Blog…


Last year, before meeting someone for the first time, I shared a link to this blog along with this note:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

And then, I will admit, I held my breath. I might have even turned a little blue (all interpretations intended) awaiting a response. As it happened, the response (which, thankfully, came just twenty minutes later) was intensely benign, little more than a shrug of the shoulders. Here I was, freaking out about sharing the story with yet another unsuspecting soul and the reaction was so matter-of-fact as to be almost disconcerting. It was, however, genuine and, with the notable exception of my hair color (okay, and my nose) I am – and likewise appreciate others who are – nothing if not genuine.

Why did I share such a personal disclosure so early in the game? That’s easy: I wanted it out in the open and not hanging over me, knowing that it would, in all likelihood, need to be shared eventually; and, I suppose, I subscribed to a “the earlier the better” plan. Perhaps I jumped the gun, but that, to me, was preferential to waiting too long. It felt dishonest to withhold something which I consider a large part of who I am, all in the name of not making someone else uncomfortable. And, further, not only did I did not want to enter into any kind of relationship in a way that felt disingenuous, I also wanted to know, frankly, that someone I was going to let into my life would have a similar acceptance of the reality of my life. For better or worse, I am all about full disclosure, honesty, and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I know that I am the exception and that many (okay, most) people would have let it happen more organically, if at all. That is simply not who I am and I have to be true to myself1 and, more importantly, my kid.

Interestingly, I have yet to come across a single person who has reacted negatively (in my presence, anyway) to the “announcement.” In fact, more often than not I wind up learning about their kid’s this, that or the other thing; mostly because all kids have some degree of this, that or the other thing. Those same folks who are more buttoned up than I (I know, I know…that is most people) find comfort in knowing that they are not the only ones who have a “secret” that might not play well in Peoria. It actually gives me great joy that I have been blessed with many friendships which were sown from this very honest exchange.

Upon meeting anyone with whom I suspect I will be spending more than just one parcel of time with, I have to suppress the urge to hand them a link to my blog and/or tell them all about how totally normal Jess is, despite her unusual path. How she is complicated but also wildly talented, ridiculously funny, disarmingly creative and crazy smart. That she inherited my left-handedness and blue eyes and the streak of pink in her shoulder length hair is reminiscent of one I had back in the day. That she can draw and sew and metal-smith so skillfully that you would not believe her work is that of a 12-year-old2. How she made an art form of making a mess of her newly cleaned bedroom in fifteen seconds flat despite swearing up, down and sideways that she will keep it neat. How she and I listen to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” in the car most Saturdays and have a (mostly) friendly competition to see who can finish the sentences and guess which is the true story first.3 That she he tries to get away with swiping my makeup and hairbands and clips and brushes but always gets busted. And how, yes, her path is not going to be an easy one. But perhaps most importantly, she is truer to herself and has the courage of her convictions more than most people I know…myself included.

I have some new people in my life who do not yet know the story of Jess. I am, for the first time, really struggling with how, when and where to tell them. My trepidation is not for me, but for them being caught unaware. My disquietude is out of respect for the ripple effect it may, unfortunately, have on people I care about. I worry not about acceptance, but understanding. My anxiety is over my having waited too long and the potential sense of dishonesty that they may feel, although it was never intended. And, in true Julie form, I am likely (um, make that hopefully) pre-worrying about something that could (just maybe) go off without a hitch.

I grapple with keeping things as they are versus wearing my heart on my sleeve. I waver between making an “announcement” and not saying anything all all. And, I have considered taking a page my from my own playbook and simply forward a link to this post with the same message that served me well once before:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

1My father always told my brothers and me to be true to ourselves and to have the courage of our convictions. I have passed that edict on to my children, but not always been able to live it myself. This one’s for you, dad.

2There has been jockeying for position on her friends and family pricing list since she was in Kindergarten. True.

3She is a formidable opponent. Sometimes it is embarrassing.

Love The Kid Whose Name is Left Out for Privacy

The following arrived in my in blog comments this morning.  I saw it when I first woke up, have been thinking about ever since and am thrilled to finally have a second to share it.

Hi! I go to (name of school left out for privacy) school and in Jessie’s grade. She is an amazing girl with a true heart! I know some people are mean to her, but let her know that (name left out for privacy) really does like her.


Wow.  Just wow.

I showed it to Jess and it is safe to say she is pretty much the happiest kid on the planet right now.

She has told me that she is going to give (name left out for privacy) a hug when she sees her.  So, too, am I.

Not so happy about the people being mean to her, however…


Who doesn’t have an email inbox overflowing with crap that we neither care about nor bother reading?  I know that mine is inundated with notices from American Eagle, LLBean, The Vitamin Shoppe, Old Navy, LivingSocial, Groupon and Goldstar[1] and, admittedly, I have managed to miss “important” emails amongst the clutter just like everybody else.  Periodically I will spend some time “unsubscribing” (which, incidentally, doesn’t always work but is remarkably easy to do) and experience, if even temporarily, a little bit of accord in my inbox.  I, along with throngs of other people, do so without fanfare, malice or the need to draw attention.

Well, apparently unsubscribing is meant to be shared as last week I received, in the comment section of this blog , a note that simply said:

Please delete my email address

 Upon initial glance I thought it was spam until I looked further down the page and noticed that it was from someone whom I have known for better than thirty years.  I wasn’t entirely surprised by the request (although I had necessarily anticipated it) but I was surprised by the fact that this someone would take the time to submit a comment as opposed to just, well, unsubscribing.  And, of course, it made me wonder why.[2]

My blog can be unsubscribed to quite simply.  At the bottom of the email it states, as clearly as humanly possible, to click here and voila, you are done.[3]  Frankly, unless I am terribly bored and have scads of time on my hands, I will never scour or even peruse the subscriber list[4] and, therefore, will not even know that you have taken your leave.  (No offense.)  By now (as in 2014) I know of no one who does not know this little trick.  Why, then, did my former subscriber choose to not just click the button but instead made sure to let me know that she[5] could no longer tolerate seeing my posts arrive in her inbox?  Hmmmm.


So I, ever the over-thinker, have been contemplating this for days.  (To be clear, my ruminations are less a function of caring much about this particular person, more about the human condition.) My conclusions:

  1. This person (or anyone who opts to draw attention to an unsubscribing) doesn’t like/enjoy/appreciate/understand/have time for/give a shit about/know how to read what I write;
  2.  Wants me to know that she feels all of the above;
  3. Doesn’t understand how to click on a button that says unsubscribe;
  4. Cannot “tolerate the ambiguity” of the story;
  5. Is sending me a thinly veiled message of her disinterest/discomfort/disdain/discomfort.
  6. She wants me to know how she feels about me…nothing to do with the blog at all.

Contrary to how it might appear (given my dedication of an entire blog post to this transaction) I truly (and proudly) do not care that she is over the blog.  A few years ago (oh, who am I kidding?  A few months ago) it may have upset, angered or concerned me.  I might have even shot back a snippy email.  But no, all I did was send a very friendly email with instructions how to unsubscribe[6] along with well wishes to her and her’s which was only slightly irreverent.

Now I am off to covertly unsubscribe to the emails taunting me in my inbox.

p.s. I just checked to see if she had, indeed, “deleted her email address”…and, in fact, she has.

[1] If you do not know about you should.  Go check it out.  You’re welcome.

[2] Um, have you met me?

[3] I am telling you this as part of the story and, to be clear, not as a suggestion.

[4] Although, to be honest, I have.

[5] That is the most I am going to let on who this person is.

[6] Note: I cannot “delete” a subscriber; it has to be done from their end.  So, armed with that information, you are free to do so.  Although I hope you won’t.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Lisa and Ellen

Everybody has a story.  I have often written these words, but this week I learned two new stories which will stay with me: the stories of Lisa and Ellen.  I have not met either of these women face to face (and likely never will), but did spend a long time chatting with each of them on the phone.  I admire them both for the strength they may not even know they have.

Lisa hit my car in the CVS parking lot.  Had she not left a note I might not have even noticed the scratch and dent on my “rear quarter panel”.  In fact, I almost didn’t even see her note.  I had gotten into my car at the end of a frustrating day[1] and only wanted to get home.  As I drove up the hill nearing my house I saw a small white piece of paper flapping under the wiper blade…never good.

“I am so sorry. I hit your left rear fender.” – Lisa xxxx,

I read the note, which she had written on the back of a receipt from the nail salon in the plaza (a girl after my own heart) and probably swore.  Argh.  My first reaction was that this was going to be a pain in the ass, expensive or just plain unpleasant.  Happily, it was none of the above.

I placed a call to Lisa and got her answering machine and began to leave a message.  It was a real (old fashioned, even) answering machine.  I know this because midway through my speaking she picked up the phone anxiously awaiting my call.  (She has not recognized the number and wanted to see who it was before committing to a “hello”.)  She was the first to speak, apologizing profusely for having hit my car.[2]  I admit to starting out a bit angry (frustrated is probably more appropriate, but I was not prepared to drop anger all together) but that cooled instantly.  She was so genuinely sorry for what was nothing more than the true definition of an accident that it was hard to stay mad.

And then we got to talking.  She told me that she has been a little scattered and distracted as she was beginning chemo the next day.  She did not tell me this to be manipulative, but rather to further explain the depth of her upset over yet another bump in her road.  I hear cancer and immediately forget all about the car.  I ask her how she is feeling, if she is getting plenty of Zofran[3] and how she is holding up.  I share with her that I, too, have had cancer but was fortunate enough to have been spared chemo.  We talked for 45 minutes.  I know that she has never married, is 72 years old, her sister-in-law is also her best friend (and happens to be named Julie) and she lives in the town next to mine.  We talked about great restaurants there.  We talked about losing her hair.  We talked about, almost as an afterthought if she was going to pay for repairs or put it through insurance.  She was utterly lovely.  I think she may even be a nun.

I took the car in for an estimate: $1,400 and four days of labor meaning I will need a loaner.  I have already called my insurance company and we will take care of it all.  I am going to call Lisa this weekend to tell her not to worry about it.  And, more importantly, to see how she is feeling.

And then there is Ellen.  Last night my  phone rang with an unfamiliar number.  I, like Lisa had, hesitated in picking it up but not having a old fashioned answering  machine I knew that if I didn’t pick up, I might have a return phone call to make so, in an unusual move for me, my curiosity won out and I picked up.

Ellen: “May I please speak to Julie”

Me: “Who is calling?”[4]

Ellen: “My name is Ellen, I was given her name and number from Karen at the Dana Farber.”

Now it was I who anxiously admitted she had reached Julie and that I had been expecting her call.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from my fabulous oncology nurse.  With nearly ten years together, we have developed not just a nurse/patient relationship, but a friendship.  (We are even Facebook friends…big doings) When Karen called she asked if it was okay to give someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer my name and number as she is trying to decipher the options she is facing in her treatment and wanted to talk to someone who had been there, done that.  Of course I would.

My first question out of the gate was to ask how she was doing.  The time between diagnosis and treatment is horrible, frightening, surreal, obnoxious, overwhelming and, at times, unbearable and she was in the thick of it.  Her response was that she was “half crazed”.  “Only half?!” I retorted.  And she laughed.  An easy, natural and genuine laugh.  And then we talked for over an hour.

I learned that she is married to, and has been with the same woman, for better than twenty years[5].  They moved here from across the country, a move that was difficult for Ellen but she now realizes how deeply she has bonded with her community as evidenced by the outpouring of support, encouragement and love she is receiving.  I told her all about my experience, my fears and how it feels now, nearly ten years later.  I told her to accept offers of dinner, to make this about her and to not worry about not returning calls.  We talked a little bit about Jess[6] in the context of other life issues that don’t go away just because you have cancer.  I offered to show her my boobs, to be available to her as much or as little as she wanted and to answer any question about anything.  I am, as you all know, nothing if not honest. (Aside: Breast cancer messes not only with your body, but with your very identity.  To this day, I notice everybody’s boobs everywhere I go.  I never thought twice about mine or anyone else’s before all this…I swear.) And then she told me, as matter –of-factly as I speak of Jess, that she also has MS.  Wow.  Some people have all the luck.

Ellen and I (like Lisa and I) laughed frequently during our candid exchanges.  We shared things with one another easily.  Two women who I would never happen to meet both popped into my life this week.  Both are on my mind and both of their numbers are now saved on my cell phone.  I made sure to ask Ellen if she texts.  I plan to text her to tell her of her cameo in the blog (which we also talked about).  I will continue to think of these women and their stories.  I will try to remember on the tough days that everyone has a story.

I do not normally go the preachy route, but …reach out to someone today.  Someone whose story you may or may not know.  It will make them feel good.  It will make you feel even better.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

[1] Damn car moved spots on me in the Target lot and was, when I left the store, no longer in the spot that I was absolutely certain I had left it.  Turns out I had my Targets mixed up and recalled, vividly I might add, the correct spot only in a different town.  I literally walked for thirty minutes looking for it.

[2] Truth be told, it is a terrible lot.  I don’t know anyone whose car hasn’t hit or been hit in it.

[3] For the uninformed, Zofran is the magical anti nausea drug that should be hoarded even for the just-in-case moments.

[4] Visions of telemarketers dancing in my head…

[5] Go Massachusetts!

[6] I figured as a card carrying lesbian she would be cool with Jess and her story ;-)