March,2013…So the plan was in place. We would fly out to California, where Cory had begun his new life in his dream state 6 months before. We would pack up his things to come home to begin 2 consecutive month-long rounds of chemo to bring his cancer into remission.
Why not just do chemo and skip the transplant then, if it would bring it into remission? I’m glad you asked, because I did ,too…..
The reason is that someone has to be relatively healthy to recieve a transplant. And Leukemia, at the advanced stage Cory was in, is an aggressive beast, so remission is usually a short-term affair. So, he would be very temporarily healthy. Just long enough to receive his transplant.
Point being, the timing of the Plan was essential.
We hop on a plane and proceed to have a beautiful, beautiful time. He had to wear a mask in the airport so he wouldn’t catch anything that could be life threatening or postpone the timing of the Plan….so other than some people taking the long-way-around us when they saw the mask, it was a “normal” trip. Changing planes, standing in mile-long lines waiting to be patted down, standing in the Body XRay machine, dozing in vinyl covered chairs, playing cards on the floor, yawning a lot, people watching, enjoying each other’s company, or comfortable in one another’s silence….
You see, Normal IS Beautiful, but no one ever really gets that until things aren’t normal. Then you Know.
Anyway, we sat at a too-pricey wine bar and shared a flight of wine and ate cheese, crackers, and grapes. And left hungry. We were on our way to California, though, so when in Rome (or on your way to Rome)…
We never spoke of The Cancer on this trip.
We had spoken of it before we left…Alot…in the Shock and Grief and What-Now and I Cant Believe It and You Can Beat This talks…
He cried once in my kitchen. I use that term loosely. It was a shuffle with a look at the ceiling, then a longer look at the floor, a couple short catching breaths, then eye contact. His eyes were welled up and a tear was creeping down the sharpish edge of his cheekbone. I wiped it away. My eyes immediately filled as well and we shared a couple This Sucks quietish tears.
I decided upon Diagnosis, though, that I would never be more upset than he was at any given moment. If he could handle this, then I sure as hell could and would. I did scream and sob, mostly for him, but I saved it for my pillow.
My self assigned jobs would be pray-er, encourager, positivity speaker, and love, love, love & affection-giver, and advocate for whateverheneeded. (Mom Jobs for sure, but what is the point of anything else?) …Oh! and laugher! Most important job of all.
I like that our family eventually resorts to humor in tough times….it’s nice to laugh sometimes when nothing is funny.
Like a little light in a dungeon.
We laughed a lot on this trip.
After landing in San Fransisco and renting a car, we drove in crazy bumper to bumper highway traffic to the San Fransisco bridge. We parked illegally (Cory brought out the edgy side of me), and asked a stranger to take a quick touristy picture. I wished we were tourists.
We got to the funky, eclectic place Cory lived and worked. A goddess-loving, large-wildcat and bird sanctuary. There were 101 really interesting stories about the people who lived, worked, and passed thru there…Cory was lovingly amused by them all. It was a property wrought with contradiction, like life usually is. Gorgeous courtyards and gardens and beautiful animals to the front. Beatup trailers, RVs, and unfinished or abandoned ideas to the back.
Cory was a Cat-Caretaker/Web Designer. That wasn’t on the list of childhood “What do you want to be when you grow up?” choices, but it encompassed his gifts and talents to a tee.
He was the family “fix my computer” Guy, he scored a 4/4 on his AP Computer test, went to college for Computer Science…computers and code were one of his things. And “their website is stuck in the 80’s, Mom”….
He was also an Animal Whisperer. Vanessa (Cory’s bestbest friend from college who lived and worked there with him) and he relayed a story from the winter before of him spending days with a wildcat to remove a string from a surgery it had had to drain an absess. In her words, “Cory spent a week gaining her trust; slowly approaching her in her cage every day saying, “Hey baby girl, I’m here to help you. Will you let me help you? Shhh, it’s okay,” or some variants thereof every single day. Until he could approach her. Until he was able to pet her her. Then he was able to sit next to her and scratch the top of her head with the scissors in his hand so that she’d get used to the scissors near her face. Finally, he was able to try to cut the piece of string. The scissors were too dull- it wouldn’t cut. The wild cat got angry, growled, and ran into her den to hide. It was another four days before she let him that close to her face again. Cory remained calm and patient, stopping by before getting on the bus to college, and also when he got home. He finally got the string out of her face, no problem. From then on, she often let him pet her and play with him.” He succeeded. The makings of a legacy…
At the farewell dinner the next night I heard that story a few times over from the staff there, coupled with words of love and admiration for him. I sat by a lovely woman (seemingly my age, seemingly unassuming with mousey brown hair and grocery store-shopping attire) who after talking about how wonderful Cory was, and what utter fascination she had for my being a mother(“How did you become a mother?!” Ummmm….), she then proceeded to make a strong case for the reality of Teleportation. For real. I tried to look matter-of-fact while I listened. If only….
When I shared this with Cory and Vanessa, they were not surprised. Cory affectionately laughed and Vanessa only said, “Ive got to get out of this place…” They were observers, employees, and loved the people, animals, and the land— but carried their Midwest sensibilities in their back pockets.
I enjoyed them together so much.
Vanessa had prepared a room in the resort for me. I was so,so touched by her hospitality, she was taking care of me before Id even arrived. She attended to the little things so I would be comfortable. I decided I’d write to her mother…shed be proud of her, I was sure. She’d raised a Beautiful Heart and through her sometimes tough exterior, Vanessa touched me. I never had the chance to spend much time with her previously, but decided she was family the moment I saw she and Cory interact. Their relationship had the markings of dependability, ease, acceptance, understanding, hardship, laughter and mostly, of uncondition. I could see in her eyes she was scared and vulnerable and worried with the news of the new developments. I wanted to scoop her up and bring her home with us.
In the 36 or so hours I was there, I had the Napa Valley Cliffnotes Experience. We walked the Meditation Labyrinth and the Fresh-Vegetable Gardens on the property, walked to the local coffee shop (a moment I am forever indebted to Vanessa for snapping this picture), visited the local self-employed grocer, made rounds to 4 of the vineyards, ate greasy Mexican food, also ate a Vegan fresh and filling meal, drove with the windows down and the music loud, and took in the breathtaking sight of the landscape. I know why he loved it here.
The Reality of the situation was always floating around us, but for now, we consciously and collectively treated it like an afterthought.
“So, did you call the Mini-Storage place?…oh, good, should we put my name on the contract too?…..the grape vines are shaped so funny, they look like little trees, don’t they?”-Me
“The vineyard is down the road to the right….hang on, first I have to stop at the doctor I’ve been seeing here.”-Cory
“All packed? (why is he coughing?) ….So, are these birds trained, too?”-Me
“The tow place is on its way….Have you met my friend Dragonfly? He’s from Ohio, too!”-Cory
The tow guy had been called out of dinner with his family to come too many miles to tow Corys motorcycle to the storage unit. He showed us pictures of his kids. Cory pushed the buttons to do the lift….I had flashbacks to when he was a little boy.
Cory thanked him repeatedly. He was So appreciative of every human being. All the time.
We had the privilege of raising a Beautiful Heart too.
So-long, California. See you all too soon….