Hero Worship

March 6, 2010 at 8:17 PM (Family, friends, kids, mommy guilt, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I got to meet Kelly Corrigan today. You know, she wrote The Middle Place. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Quickly – I’ll wait. Well, maybe not.) She grew up in the same place I did, and we have a mutual friend, Lisa, who was plugging Kelly’s new book on FB yesterday and hooked me up with the reading today at a local library. The moment she walked into the room, I felt like I had met her before, or knew her from somewhere. (I’m sure I wasn’t alone.)

Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She was  37, and her daughters were 2 and not-yet-4. (Sounds strangely familiar, right?) Anyway, I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, but I will tell you that when I read The Middle Place the first time, it certainly relieved me of the pressure of having to write my own cancer memoir. Sure, the tumors were in different parts of our bodies, we live on opposite coasts, and her tale takes a different course than mine, but aside from that she pretty much wrote down every thought that was running through my head that first summer of treatment. My knee-jerk impulse to careen home and curl up in my mom’s lap. My realization that the world was not nearly as forgiving a place as my life to that point had led me to believe. My constant search for the best words to use in mass emails to strike the balance between accuracy and upbeat optimism, so as not to get anyone down (and ensure plenty of replies). My awe at the way my husband stepped up to the plate to maintain some semblance of order over chaos. My fear of how every moment of my illness was affecting my kids.

Kelly read from The Middle Place and her new book, Lift, a small but laser-sharp review of her daughters’ little-girl years, which she wrote so they would remember more than Kelly had of her own early youth. She explores so many of the hidden joys and pains of parenthood, and made me want to write down more of my own boys’ moments, knowing my own terrible memory and feeling the need to share their trials and triumphs with them when they’re older.

Quick-witted and smart, the more Kelly spoke, the more I understood why her books and her essays are so well received. She said herself that she “walks a fine line” of not-having-really-bad-stuff-happen-to-her (no plane crashes, alcoholism, crushing poverty) but still speaking to everyone in common sentiments. Her humorous take keeps the mood light enough that you want to read more, but the love that is so evident in all of her stories, whether about her own daughters or just dear friends, carried all of us in the room right into her lap.

So of course I had to say hello, and our mutual friend had given me a name to drop. I told her how she had written the book that I was going to write, and she laughed graciously. I’m sure I gibbered on, unable to get across how truly aligned I had felt with her own reactions, making my career as a wordsmith seem a bit misguided. I only hope that I didn’t embarrass Lisa too much.

Maybe when I get to meet Jude Law some day I won’t sound like quite so much of a starstruck schoolgirl. Then again, he hasn’t read my mind. Yet.

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Home Again Home Again

December 24, 2009 at 1:11 PM (Family) (, , , , , , , )

In The Middle Place (you’ve read it, right?), Kelly Corrigan talks about how when she learned of her breast cancer diagnosis (as a young mother of two living in San Francisco), she wanted to race across the country to the house where she was raised, climb into her father’s lap and curl up. I remember feeling exactly the same way when I was first diagnosed. Whether because of my strong relationship with my parents or the remembered childhood comfort associated with the house my family still lives in, there was something visceral about my need to be protected that obliterated my (healthy) marriage, responsibility to my children, or my established life in Massachusetts. I wanted to hop on a plane, leap in my car, lasso a camel, whatever, to get home as quickly as possible and retreat to the insulated cocoon of peace and security that my parents’ house had become in my mind.

To this day, I still hold trips home in a special place, maybe more than your average grown-up-who-lives-elsewhere looks forward to holiday visits. There’s something so familiar (I originally typed “familial” – unintentional but appropriate substitution) about the house, neighborhood, people, stores, that fit neatly in my subconscious in a way that needs no thought… I can get places in my car without thinking about the route; finish or restart old conversations without losing track of the topic; pick paperbacks out of my bookcase and remember having read them years ago.

Of course, there are always the annoyances that I tend to gloss over in my rose-colored haze, the lack of closet space, the same arguments, same family dynamics. Some of this stuff has been going on for so long that I might feel uncomfortable if there were resolutions at this point – how would we know where to seat people if no one were arguing anymore? 

So as you sit down with your families this season, take a moment to think about where you’d go, where you would really want to find yourself, in a moment of crisis. Then take your favorite people and go there. Give them each a hug, eat a big meal, and sleep soundly.

Merry Christmas.

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