By Jane Fishman / Savannah, Ga.
Have you ever wished to host a salon, 19th-century style, in your own home, where a select group of friends sit around talking about literature (Jean Stafford: my new favorite writer), the best way to traverse Iceland (the new “it” country to visit), how to mitigate gentrification in our favorite cities (including Savannah)?
Have you ever wished someone would deliver a gracious plenty of homemade chopped liver, a mold of green Jell-O with blueberries and strawberries, authentic Greek biscotti, an offering of baba ghanoush, perhaps a fresh baguette or a surprise package of macaroons sent in ice from a French bakery in Pittsburgh?
What about the possibility of someone with a good voice who comes over to read aloud from a book of your choice and while you can’t always keep track of the plot, you know you are loving the sound of the written word?
Have you ever wanted – please, please – someone else to polish your silver, do your laundry, arrange for play dates, take out your recyclables, clean the chicken coup, sweep your front porch, drop off your late library book, deposit your check to the bank or paint and shape your fingernails (someone with a steady hand who doesn’t forget to apply the all-important top coat)?
How about someone who will bring you, unbidden, a choice of THC products, including patches, bath salts, tinctures, gummies?
These things and more could be yours.
All you have to do is get a little cancer, yes, that word your mother – so superstitious was she – would not utter, preferring to say “C.”
Talk about bad timing. Talk about irony. A few months ago I released a book of favorite columns I’d written in the past 20 years. It was a fun project to work on during the isolation of Covid. I called the collection I’d Rather Be Seen Than Viewed. This rather cryptic title references the exchange that sometimes happens between people. “Nice to see you,” someone might say,” to which you, trying to be clever, might respond, “I’d rather be seen than viewed,” as in being laid out in a funeral home.
Talk about prescient.
I’ve thought about that a lot during the past six months. Like many of us, I’m not ready to be “laid out.” And why would I be? I’m healthy, I ride my bike. I walk around the park. I think good thoughts (mostly). I try to be generous. I floss. I can do 15 pushups. In other words, the diagnosis of that word starting with a “c” must be wrong. There must be a mistake. The doctor must be looking at someone else’s chart, someone who shares your birthday; it could happen.
That’s what you think as you sit all alone in that room with those generic charts, the tongue depressors, the warning signs. Normally you’re impatient. You think, “Hey doc, you’re a half hour late; my time is important too.” This time you stare at the closed door and think, “Don’t come in here with your bad news; just stay away.”
That when you recall Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking, as she comes to grips, gradually, with the sudden death of her husband. There’s denial. That’s when you consider Nora Ephron’s decision to keep her cancer from everyone but her family and a few friends. There’s shame.
It all happens so quickly. Who has time to get a second opinion? Before you know it, you’re lying back in a Barcalounger-type chair just like on a train, only this time you’re in an “infusion” room, hooked up to your port, which you sometimes call your Porta Potty, your portulaca, your Port-au-Prince, the thing that transports heavy duty drugs that end in -cin, -xin, -tin You hear drip, drip, drip in no particular order. When the hose crimps you hear beeps, lots of beeps. The room is filled with patients of all ages, all genders. “We’re the chosen ones,” someone jokes.
You don’t like this club you’ve joined but it helps to see other people bringing grace and courage to this subset. You look forward to the day when you have something else to talk about. Plastic dividers separate the chairs. A Covid thing, I guess. People who see one another regularly lean over and ask about dogs, children, hair (“One of my eyebrows grew back, not the other”). It could be a beauty parlor. People share their lunch. There’s always one person who talks too loudly, too much. You feel great when you leave.
At home you slink from one couch to another. Your dog follows you, a pal nestled in the covers. You can’t do laundry, wash dishes, take out garbage. You cry. You sleep, more than you thought possible. You cry again. You think, “Why me?” Was there radiation in those contraptions you stuck your feet into when you went to buy shoes as a kid? Was it that one time you used Roundup on weeds? What about that Kit Kat habit you had for a few weeks?
When you can speak, you say, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
The days merge. Covid isolation has you in good shape for this, another form of isolation. When friends stay too long at the informal “salon,” you learn to say, “Talk about yourselves. I have to take a nap now.” When Yom Kippur comes and goes, you wonder if this is the year you’ll be inscribed in the “Book of Life” for the final time. You’re not ready.
You learn how to say metastatic. You laugh (sort of) when you see a newspaper headline that reads, “How much exercise do we need to live longer?” It’s a good day when you can finally spend five minutes pulling weeds. You want to slap the person who says, “Think positive!” You are not, I can tell you, in the mood to think positive. You’re grateful for humor. The other day after I told someone I thought I was at the 75 percent mark, she said, “Seventy-five percent is good. I got through school at 75 percent.” I said, “I’ll take it.” Laughing felt good. I’ll take laughing.
Jane Fishman’s got a great life in Savannah. She gets to grow garlic, write newspaper columns in the Savannah Morning News about any wacko she can find (and get paid for it), publish books (her latest: I’d Rather Be Seen Than Viewed, a collection of her columns; preceded by So What’s the Hurry? Tales From the Train ; I Grew it My Way, How Not to Garden; The Dirt on Jane; and The Woman Who Saved an Island, the Story of Sandy West and Ossabaw Island), listen in on conversations with her two grandchildren, Baker and Benny, while going on morning nature walks as they debate which is better, living in the country or the city (“I like both habitats,” says 7-year-old Benny). Fishman owned a laundromat in Eureka Springs, Ark., cooked in a French restaurant in Key West, won a bunch of journalism awards in Savannah for humorous and serious columns. When she lived in Chicago and worked at WTTW public television, she met Fran of Kukla, Fran and Ollie and watched Abbie Hoffman rant at the trial of the Chicago 7. Fishman grew up in Detroit (Huntington Woods, really), where she never owned a car. She was the sports editor of her high school newspaper (The Acorn) at Royal Oak Dondero. This is her first wedding.