There was a time i thought i would never stop having to come out of the closet. When i first identified as bisexual-then-lesbian-then-queer-then-stop-putting-me-in-a-box-goddamnit, the Internet was alive and well … but it was pre-MySpace and pre-Facebook. In other words, it was well before the days of just putting all your business out there in an instantaneous post (a post that might end up ruining your day if you didn’t get enough likes or comments). To share information with people, you actually had to TALK with them (gasp!) – and face to face, no less! It took me decades to come out to *myself,* then months to share the news with all the particularly important relatives and friends, then years to tell the rest of the people who dangled on the fringes of my world. Coming out was …
* sometimes excitedly reinforced (thank you, Womyn’s Concerns and Lambda Student Alliance);
* sometimes tear-inducing (except my grandmother already knew, so I’m not sure why i was crying);
* sometimes infuriating (my dad asked if i was going through a phase, even though i was twenty effin years old) (guys thought that gave them free reign to offer me opportunities to have three-ways with them and their girlfriends);
* sometimes disappointing (I misjudged the open-mindedness of a few of the people in my life); and
* mostly just a temporary inconvenience that ends up not being that big of a deal.
Regardless of the outcome, the point was that the process never really stopped. There are always people coming in and out of my life – both new faces and old – that require me to have that conversation with them.
It turns out that i get to start this process all over again in regards to having cancer.
It’s kind of a pain in the ass.
I have this urge to have T-shirts and announcement cards made: “Ta-da! It’s cancer. Now stop staring.” and “How the fuck do you *think* I’m feeling?” and “I am not the least bit interested in hearing about your _______ who has cancer.” I know that sounds mean. On other days, i have cared more about that. Today is one of those days i really don’t. I understand that people are trying to relate or give support or just fill the void of awkward silence, but it gets exhausting.
… except, apparently, when i tell little kids.
Let me set the stage.
I’m washing dishes. The sliding glass door in my living room is open, so i can hear the kids playing in the park. I like to listen to them. My dog doesn’t. She barks not-so-ferociously whenever any of them get too close to my fence, which apparently is happening right now. I towel-dry my hands and venture out into my backyard to silence the unnecessary yip-yips that might wake my nightshift-working-roommate. Two little girls are clearly arguing with each other behind some bushes, far enough away from the group of kids to let me know that they’re having a private conversation. I’m nosy, so when i pick up my dog, i walk closer to the kids to see what they’re arguing about. I listen to their words, and i observe the flies and the paper towels crumpled on the ground. The younger girl had pooped on the ground and unsuccessfully tried to clean up after herself. The older girl was ordering her to go home. The younger girl was crying and walking away, alone. The other kids started putting in their two cents about what had happened and what the older girl should do. They were not coming to a resolution.
Most people would just head back into their house and let the neighborhood kids work it out (or not). And then there’s me. What do i do? I put on my Instructor Ausburn hat, walk out to the park with some rubber gloves and a trash bag, and gently but firmly direct the older sister to go check on her younger sister to make sure she got home safely, then return to the park to help me clean up the mess behind my house. I would have bet money that the older sister wasn’t coming back, but i still sat down on the park bench and had a conversation with the other kids about NOT teasing the park pooper the next day in school.
“She’s probably really embarrassed.”
They nod – maybe in agreement, maybe just to placate me. Then, a brave girl about six or seven pipes up. “What happened to your hair?”
So forthright that i couldn’t even be angry at her. “I have cancer.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m gonna make it. I’m taking medicine, but it made my hair fall out.”
“Oh. My hair’s down to here.”
“My hair used to be that long.”
And just like that, the conversation about cancer was over, and we talked about hair and tag and recess while we waited for the older sister to return. And she DID. And she held the trash bag while i picked up the feces of a 6-year-old i’ve never met before in my life, and i told her that i was proud of her for being responsible and doing the right thing by coming back to the park. And she admitted that her sister was home crying, and i requested that she not tell the other kids that because they might make fun of her. And she agreed. And i told her that she was a good older sister to have around.
So, to sum it all up, today i learned that i would rather pick up fly-infested, paper-towel-smeared feces in a park while talking to little kids in a park about hair loss than have the cancer conversation day after day with adults.