I had a bad dream.
My parents were in the dream, but not all of it. A mother of a friend was there, and I guess that made me feel like I was younger than I am today, although I could see myself in the dream and I look exactly the same.
The mother of a friend was talking to someone else, about my parents.
"Her poor mother," she was saying. "She had breast cancer. She had to have a mastectomy. It was so terrible."
This woman would have no idea how terrible all of it was, but that's not the point.
She went on to talk about my dad. About how it was worse for my dad. My mom is cured, but my dad is not. He's living it right now. And it's so terrible. And it's terrible for the children. And it's terrible for the grandchildren. It's just terrible.
In the dream, I stumbled away from this woman, in tears. My dad was there to catch me and he asked me why I was crying. I don't remember exactly what I said but it was something like,
"That's not who you are."
I mean, it is. On one level, it is. I get that. I don't get it to the level and intensity that I'm sure both of my parents do, but I do get it as a daughter. I don't understand what it's like to wake up every morning of your life and be afraid your body might do something to kill you. I hope I never have to understand that.
I do get the fear. I do get the trepidation. I do get the anxiety and exhaustion.
It's just that all of that? Is a very small piece of who my dad is.
My dad is intelligent and kind and hard-working. Dad to four and Poppaw to more than a dozen (and a number of children who are unrelated also claim him). He is funny and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. He is not his cancer.
My mom is not her cancer. She is not her diagnosis from 1992. Yes, she had to have a mastectomy many years ago. Yes, she lost all of her hair. Yes, it was very hard for everyone.
She does not sit around dwelling on it. She is the hardest working retired person I know. She cooks amazing meals. She lets me vent to her when my life sucks. She doesn't take any crap from anyone (I did not inherit this quality from her unfortunately) and at the same time is amazingly forgiving. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was forty years old and she's spent the last twenty-one years making sure she really lives. It's sort of amazing.
I always find it difficult when someone asks me to tell them about myself. What do I say? I always start with the fact that I'm a mother. It is the most important thing in my life. I rarely mention I am a mother of twins. I don't think anyone cares except me.
I always say I am a wife. I don't say I am a particularly good wife. I'm not so sure I am.
I say I work and man do I ever. I hardly ever mention that I'm an author. I don't think anyone cares about that either. Sometimes not even me.
That is where I am stuck.
I could say a lot of things that might make you feel sad for me. I could say that both my parents have cancer. I could say that I almost died when I gave birth. I could say my first husband walked out. I could say my job is hard, that people yell at me about things which I cannot control. I could say I feel alone, a lot, and sad. I could say I'm still fat, even though I try hard not to be. I never got to have another baby that I so desperately wanted, still want. I could say I wish things could be easier.
All of these things are true. All of these things could probably be considered terrible.
I just don't want them to be who I am.
I do not want to be defined by what other people have done to me. By the hurtful things that have happened in my life. By my depression or difficulty. I don't want any of that.
We're all victims of something. Every one of us. Some of us have much worse stories than others.
I don't want to be a victim. I don't want anyone to ever feel sorry for me. I don't want you to think of my parents as victims because they surely don't see themselves that way. I don't want you to look at your own life and think, "Things can't get better", because they can. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not for twenty years, but they can.
I don't want to let my sadness, my pain, every hurt I've ever felt be who I am.
I don't want that for you either.