I am and have been many things, a liar has never been one of them. Unfortunately, the affect that I seem to have on people these days makes me want to learn how to lie. When I spend time with a new person, the beast of a story that I’m working through shotguns any normal get-to-know you story thread. It really sucks. The shit that’s happened to me makes people feel one of two ways. Either they become visibly sad to the point that I sometimes feel like I’m breaking their hearts or, they feel like they can’t talk to me about their own lives because they falsely believe their suffering isn’t as significant as mine.
I’m in Steamboat right now, following up on some energy healing work, enjoying my favorite mountain town, working and generally fucking around. Yesterday, I got a massage. Massages and most anything else related to medicine or physical activity are awkward because cancer can’t be avoided. My massage therapist, Jo, incorporates cupping into her work so we had to talk about the fact that she couldn’t cup the right side of my back or chest because I had eighteen lymph nodes removed during my double mastectomy. Cupping or any fidgeting with that side of my body could lead to lymphedema, a swelling of the arm that would make what I do for a living—typing—extremely painful and difficult.
The next time I get a massage, I will say, “Please go gently with the right side. I had a medical procedure that requires very light touch on the right.”
Sounds like a robot, right?
After we moved through cancer, Jo asked what areas I wanted to work on.
“My back and chest. I have twins so I do a lot of picking up and putting down. I also sit at a computer all day.”
“Oh my gosh you have twins and you’re also working full time?”
My exact thought was, fuck. Where Jo sees stress—cancer, raising twins, working full-time—I see history and experience and, when I’m in the mood, many great things. Jo didn’t know that of course because she doesn’t know me. Instantaneously, Jo’s lovely eyes filled with tears and she wrapped me in a bear hug, which was cute and sweet especially since I am about four inches taller than she. Because of many things, my body goes rigid whenever a new person hugs me. I have to give it permission to relax and when I did this with Jo, I felt her breasts, her heartbeat and her energy, each more lovely than the next.
My massage with Jo started with me wondering what I had projected that made her so sad. A living cancer patient can’t be that sad by herself, can she? Possibly if that person has a direct connection to cancer. Perhaps that was the case with Jo. After turning the situation around in my head, I felt confident that I hadn’t projected misery. When I met Jo, I was coming off of an amazing night out in Denver, started the day with a serious ass kicking of a workout and pool time with a great friend and then drove to a badass condo in downtown Steamboat that I stay at for free. My projection for that massage was happiness and relaxation. Until pieces of my story leaked, of course.
After the massage, Jo asked about the boys. My first lesson in creative story telling came a few months ago with the twins, whose age I try to leave out of every occasion unless I’m specifically asked about it. “Are they enjoying their time here?”
“Oh they’re not here. They’re at their dad’s.” That was a stupid response. Again, Jo got teary and wanted to know why we had separated. Even when that piece of the story gets glazed over, the facts remain and these facts, which can be read about here, make people sad.
From here on out, when that question is broached, I will say “with their dad” instead of “at their dad’s” so as not to invite conversations about why mom and dad don’t live together, which always leads to further disbelief on the listener’s part. Even though I am okay with the conclusion of things, others are not because people are far more compassionate than we give them credit for. Even if they are not happy, they want us to be and people associate love with family and family with a more traditional makeup than the one I have.
Recently, I’ve started replaying conversations like the one I had with Jo and editing my responses for future use so the story isn’t so…impactful? Mood ruining? Devastating? I don’t know. If anything, cancer reiterated how good and compassionate most people are. When I hurt these kind and nurturing people without meaning to, it’s soul destroying. This is why I am learning how to walk around a story to tell it. This is how I’m learning creative storytelling, but I don’t want to learn this language. I don’t want to learn to close myself off even more than I already have. Writing honestly is easy. You just sit at the computer and bleed and when someone feels like sifting through that blood, they do. There’s no real-time interaction. There is no sitting with the pain someone sits through while walking through yours. It’s not like having a conversation.
This new language is particularly odd when it comes to dating. Yeah, my life is interesting, but asking about it means running into several whirling dervishes. Oh you lived in London? That’s cool. What were you doing there? Uhh…. I’ve found a way to generally talk about Jamie, my deceased husband, but I don’t say he passed away unless I have to and I certainly don’t mention how he died. When guys ask about the boys, I say I barely knew their father and leave it at that. I’ve considered going as far as to say they’re test tube babies, but I can’t bring myself to actually lie. It’s just not in me.
How do you tell the hard parts of your story when you don’t want to make people feel bad? This is a writer asking a reader and, presumably, a talker, how to make the hard stuff look less hard.