19 Jun Triple Dose of Ritalin
Lately, I’ve been finding comfort in reading Charles Bukowski’s poetry, probably because he was so ruined and honest on the page. He’s been called “the laureate of the lowlife.” Mostly his bad boy pose is funny and far from tragic, though he fiercely courted tragedy. Here’s one of my favorite lines, during a heady, go-for-broke moment: “marvelous, so marvelous, like eating cold olives at 3 a.m. with half the town on fire. . . .”
Yeah, you go for it, Chuck.
Today was glorious on the farm. I was planting and weeding. Jill felt good enough to snip suckers from our trees. Second to mowing, it’s what she likes to do most when outside. She owns four pair of Felco pruning shears. If you know about gardening, you know about Felcos. Jill complains when I don’t put her Felcos back in her gardening basket. I must admit, I’m a chaotic multitasker and may leave gardening tools in five different places on any given day. You would be amazed at how many hand tools we have. At least 20 shovels of various kinds. Seven picks. Six hedge trimmers. And so on.
Jill’s chemo is doing its work, not stopping the cancer but slowing it considerably. Her numbers are down to the 400s (normal is about 35), the lowest they’ve been in six months. After weeks of experimenting, her infusion team has figured out the best dosage to minimize adverse effects. Which means that, in spite of her persistent fatigue and severe edema (in her left arm), not to mention anemia, she is managing much better than most patients. Hair loss bums her out, as you can imagine, and she has cried about it more than a few times. But she’s bought a number of head scarves and bands. And she jokes, “My remaining hair looks exactly like Joe Biden’s, doesn’t it?” Sometimes she’ll comb her remaining wisps straight out in a kind of Einsteinian halo and say, “How’s this–am I ready for my close up?”
We were surprised a couple weeks ago when a pair of blue birds took possession of a bird house I had set on a bench just outside our side porch. I had intended to hang it up but now it was too late, as I discovered the birds had not only built a nest but laid three bright blue eggs in it. We couldn’t leave their house sitting on the bench, so I nailed it to the our house, just a few feet away. Happily, the birds accepted the relocation and now we’ve got a fledgling family.
We have so many blue birds, I could’ve named our place “Blue Bird Farm” if we hadn’t already had a name. Blue birds are some of my favorites: they’re gorgeous, they mate for life, and they’re gentle souls. When I was a child, they were nearly rare, their numbers having been reduced by 70%. House sparrows are their mortal enemies and will destroy a blue bird’s nest, kill its young, and even kill the adults. Bird lovers have made a concerted effort to safeguard and assist the blue bird’s return. Jill and I are trying to do our part, having erected blue bird houses all along the perimeter of our property.
Spring work on the farm starts with the resuscitation of the kitchen garden and then the revival of our orchard (20 trees) and our many flower beds (10+). Mostly it’s about weeding, then fertilizing, then landscaping. Here in our seventh year, several of our orchard trees are sizable, as are many of our newish trees elsewhere. It’s most gratifying to see all of this come together. Honeysuckle and wild rose are the dominant fragrances right now. Lilacs too. Heady stuff and kind of dreamy. As usual, the fireflies made their appearance the first week of June. White clover flowers, purple larkspur, lavender asters nod and wobble under the weight of bumble and honey bees.
Recently, we loaded Maisie and Oliver into the truck and took a trip to Pennsylvania to pick up several old (1950s) aluminum awnings. Aluminum was the post-war miracle metal that gave rise to two decades of house siding and awnings of all sorts. It was interesting to see evidence of this in the small town we ventured to: tiny 1950s houses bristling with window awnings. Thanks to air conditioning, nobody uses these anymore. Jill and I have some design ideas for them. It’s part of our never-ending re-invention of this farm.
We’ve finally got our paperwork done: living will, final will, and power of attorney. It was mind-boggling to talk through all of this, reviewing the possible scenarios, which include my dying before Jill. We can’t discount the possibility, especially given the sometimes dangerous work I do, foremost of which is operating a tractor nearly every day. Also: Jill swears I’m ADHD and worries that I’ll run my truck into a tree because I can’t keep my eyes on the road. But let me assure you that I’ve never had a car accident—a fact that worries her even more because she’s convinced I’m due for one.
Still, I share her fear: nothing worries me more than the prospect of leaving Jill by doing something stupid like driving into a tree. No matter what, I’ve got to see her through to her end. When Jill was first told she was terminal with cancer, she vowed she wouldn’t subject herself to traditional chemo because its poisonous reputation is anything but encouraging. But, as she was out of time and had no other choice than to die within the year, she went ahead with the oncologist’s recommendations. We’re now into the third year of her 3-5 year prognosis. Every day is a gift.
They’ve put Jill on a triple dose of Ritalin to boost her energy. It makes her chatty and kind of manic. “Am I talking too much?” she asks, after having run-on for five minutes about this and that and this again. She’s never been more interested in the news. History too. She’s binging on documentaries. If she’s feeling especially peppy, she’ll climb on her mower and go at the fields. I can’t stop her. Yesterday she wanted me to move a pile of pulled weeds so that she could mow under our giant magnolia. I told her: “No, you’ve brutalized that magnolia for years, you’re so aggressive with your mower! Let me hand mow under the tree.” Five minutes later I look out the kitchen window and see that she’s moved the weed pile and is now fiercely mowing. Funny girl!
Just yesterday morning I heard her in the kitchen singing, “green meat and black bananas!” to the dogs and cats, who watch her with interest as she prepares her coffee. When I come downstairs, I find them assembled: three cats perched on the table and staring at her with devotion, her chair bookended by basset hounds, their tails in a slow wag, and Jill holding court with toast and coffee, her phone open to the day’s news. I can think of no better sight to greet me as I face another day.
Jill’s medical insurance goes up $10,000 next month: a total of $30,000 out of pocket for the year. If you can help, please consider donating to her Go Fund Me fund: thank you for considering!