For a supposed environmentally conscious gal, I get a ridiculous number of magazines.  I feel a bizarre mix of guilt and pressure when I see the pile of unread periodicals accumulating next to my sofa.  Sure, I could blame it all on Rocco’s inability to read the New Yorker with any sort of consistency, but I suppose I can admit I’m also partially to blame.

In the throws o’ the chemo last year, I was super grateful for the distraction of breezy publications filled with glossy photos and mostly meaningless drivel.  That’s an excessively harsh critique of the writing I suppose.  Let’s just say that in my nuked out state, all text was drivel to me.  US Weekly was beyond my reading comprehension level, people.  No matter how sage the advice of Martha Beck was, Oprah’s rag was harder reading than corporate tax code was in college.

House Beautiful was my favorite mag to read in the hospital.  The huge color photos of glossy goodness were breathtaking compared to my gray surroundings.  I loved that there was absolutely no pressure to even pretend to read the articles.  NO ONE reads those things, am I right?  I mean, even at my best I don’t have the attention span to read 3000 words on the various qualities and uses for the color tangerine.

Flipping through an issue, I stumbled upon a huge spread of Ina Garten’s new barn.  I sighed, coveting the spacious rooms dripping in sunlight, trees and grass visible through every window.  Turning the page, I was entranced by the full page photo before me.  I couldn’t stop staring at it.  Just as I went to tear out the page, my pump alarm went off and my focus shifted towards changing out IV bags.  The magazine slid closed and I completely forgot the image.

Several hours, IV bags, and magazines later, I remembered the photo but not where I’d found it.  I maniacally thumbed through my pile of reading material, driven by some strange compulsion to look at the image again.  Victorious, I ripped the page from its glue restraints before my mind could wander again.

The photo depicted the entryway of Ina’s barn.  I suppose if I’d bothered to read the text it would have said something vapid about the pristine wooden floors or revolutionary new shade of Ralph Lauren gray  paint upon the walls, but I only had eyes for the mirror hanging above the simple white couch.

The image reflected in that antique mirror filled me with contentment.  It looked so warm and welcoming.  I could almost smell baking cookies and mulling wine, almost hear the laughter and caring conversations, almost feel the warm sun toasting my naked toes in the light that spilled into the shape of a skewed square on that pristine wooden floor.  Never had I wanted to be Alice so badly.  I would have given anything to step through the looking glass into that inviting alternate world.

The next morning, image still on my mind, I abandoned the sketch I’d been working on to try and capture the magic of the photo.  I stole a roll of medical tape from an unattended supply cart and masked off a perfect square on a fresh page of my sketch book.  I spent the next two days with oil pastels under my nails and hard candy under my tongue as the nurses changed my bags and I whiled away the time.

Two weeks later, back for the next round of R-ICE, I begged my admitting nurse to put the IV line in my left arm, just below my wrist so I could start my second study of the photo.  She looked confused and slightly concerned when I asked for the rest of the roll of tape.  Moments after meeting my new roommate, I was taping off another square on the crisp blank page of my sketchbook.  This time I used the chalk pastel pencils I’ve been using since High School.  The nurses chided me when they saw the soft-colored rainbow of smudges that covered the tape and wraps coiled around my wrist, but mostly they left me to my own devices.  It didn’t hurt that I bribed them with the endless supply of Starbursts and Twizzlers my friends delivered without fail.

Fast forward another two weeks to my last round of chemo.  Despite my pleading, none of the veins in my left hand could take another toxic cocktail, so I played nice and let the nurse stick me on my dominant hand.  Between the handicap, the more meticulous medium of colored pencils, and the cumulative effects of the chemo on my brain and body, I was unable to finish the piece while still in the hospital.  After a week of recovery at home, I felt well enough to dig out the pencils and toil away until the drawing was completed.

I took the three drawings home at Thanksgiving and asked my sister-in-law to frame them for my brothers.  While we’d all agreed to no Christmas presents, I figured I could get away with thanks-for-not-letting-me-die gifts.  No one was going to yell at me that year – might as well milk it!  (I have no problem with double standards when they work to my advantage.)


Back in Jersey and regaining some strength, I still couldn’t stop looking at that damn photo.  I decided I needed to do one more study of the image – this time in paint.  In a moment of madness, gazing at the canvas selection of Pearl Paint, I decided that the painting needed to be four foot square.  Before I could even begin to think the plan through, I’d dragged the giant white sail to the register and swiped my credit card.

As I tried to climb the stairs to the ground level, I began to have second thoughts.  After two steps I’d already ripped the plastic wrapping and mangled a corner.  Three steps later, my tongue was bleeding.  In the process of avoiding the ripped plastic twisted around my feet, a misstep resulted in the canvas catching a step and smacking into the bottom of my chin.  As I passed the halfway mark, I nearly poked out the eye of a fellow shopper.  Shit, it was not going well.  Perhaps four feet square was bigger than I had realized.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, I live in a wee apartment on the 3rd floor of a walk up in Hoboken.  I’ve got almost as many four foot square swatches of empty wall as I do tiaras.  (No, I’m not counting the one Thom keeps in his apartment for when he feels like a pretty, pretty princess.)  Where the fuck was I going to put this monstrosity?

As I stood on the overflowing sidewalk of Canal Street at 5pm on a weekday, trying to ignore the smell of the nearby Chinatown butchers, I realized there was a more pressing question.  How the fuck was I going to get this bitch home to Jersey?

There was no frickin way it would fit in a cab…as if I could find a cab at that hour.  After the debacle on the stairs inside the store, I wanted to minimize the number of flights between me and my front door.  If I took the PATH train, I’d have to walk the mile and half up Hoboken to my apartment while trying not to trip or get blown into the Hudson by the relentless wind.   The only option left was to take the Subway to Port Authority and jump on the bus.  Way to plan ahead, El.

Off I went, descending (precariously) the steps to the A train.  I have no recollection of how I got the damn thing through the turnstile while swiping my Metrocard, nor how many people I angered on the train by inhabiting far more space than the pesky bicycles that are illegal at rush hour.  Five flights of stairs later, I slid the canvas up the stairs of the bus, avoiding the incredulous eyes of the bus driver.  I stood in the aisle, encouraging commuters to squeeze past me into the seats at the back of the bus.  Once two rows filled, I slid the canvas back like the door on an amusement ride at Disney World.  “Remember to keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle until the ride comes to a full and complete stop,” I joked.  They did not look amused.  I tell ya, some people just don’t know how to react to bald chicks with a sense of humor.

Anyway, we both made it home intact and with no serious damage.  For the past year, I worked on the painting off and on.  I was fairly certain I’d finished it earlier this summer, but as with all my paintings, I find I needed a little time between completing my last brush stroke and calling the piece finished.  I like to pack them away for a week or two, before making an official judgment.  It’s like asking someone else to proofread copy you’ve been working on for seven hours straight – you just need fresh eyes.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to ignore a four foot canvas in six hundred square feet of living space?  Hard, Interwebz.  I ended up turning it around on the easel and removing the light bulbs in that room.

In late August, I spun her around again and decided she needed a little more tweaking.  She spent September in solitary confinement again, waiting for my fickle ass to make up my mind.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Signed, Sealed, Delivered

October came; I peeked, and decided I was happy with her.  She was done, but I could not bring myself to sign her.  It felt too much like tempting the fates.  What if my journey wasn’t really over?  Somehow the piece had become inextricably linked to the fight in my mind.  To sign the piece seemed like the equivalent of counting my chickens before they’d hatched.  (Not that I had room for chickens AND a four foot canvas in the room.)  I had no intentions of making any other changes, but I could not bring myself to add that little lowercase e to the corner…until today.

I’m calling her “Reflections” and I love her.

I think it’s finally really sunk in.  One year.  Remission is a beautiful word, Interwebz.  Wait till next year and I start flouting another beautiful word – cured.

In celebration, Rocco is whisking me away for a romantical couple of days somewhere unknown.  (Hopefully he’s better at romantic locations than romantic gifts.  Saving Private Ryan does not say “Happy Valentines Day” people.)  Hell, maybe I’ll even go all out and shave my legs.

Don’t look so sad!  You won’t even know I’m gone.  I’ve got a few posts in the can (‘cause there ain’t no way I’m not finishing out NaBloPoMoFo at this point!) so you can still revel in my wit and random vaginal references despite my absence.  Besides, Rocco is sure to say something ridiculous I can tell you all about upon my return.


  1. Excellent story. Gorgeous picture. Wish I could talk more now, but I need to go and read all of your archives. If you’ll excuse me…

  2. I am speechless. So I will not say anything more. Thank you for recounting your journey and for sharing the story behind this beautiful painting. Thank you for the wit and the raw honesty. Enjoy your Romantic getaway!
    .-= submom´s last blog ..Left-Handed =-.

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