Five years and counting

My groovy little brother turned 28 years old today. He was over at my parents for dinner, where Zsolt and I are staying. At one point, he asked me if I remember my 28th birthday. Oh yes, I remember. I’d just had surgery to remove my right breast, and was trying to scrape together some reason to want to celebrate. My friend had thrown me a party in her backyard. Mom was visiting for the month to help in me recover and prepare for chemotherapy. Zsolt had had a birthday the week before – he was literally in the hospital waiting for me to get out of surgery.

So yeah, it was quite the birthday. It was also five years ago.

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Five years is quite a significant number if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. I guess it’s the window in which, if you survive, you are deemed ‘cured’ in some measure. Lately I’m not sure how much it does or doesn’t mean to folks. But it’s still a big number. For instance, if you remain cancer-clear after five years you can apply for life insurance again. I was actually looking forward to applying for life insurance.

I remember planning to have a damn big party when I got to five years and was still cancer clear. It was going to be my line in the sand.

But this evening, right to the moment before I was asked that question, I’d actually forgotten the anniversary entirely. That’s not easy to do – many folks can tell you. But I’d forgotten because since five years ago, I’ve have a number of different moments to mark different test results. I’m obviously no longer cancer-clear. Now I fall into the stage 4 level of breast cancer where it spreads and they don’t have any amazing options or cures to offer. There are no more ‘all clear’ timelines. Instead, there’s average life expectancy.

But, dwelling there won’t help anyone, least of all me.

All I really wanted to say was five years. It’s good to be here. Great to be there. I just wish I could have said ‘Five years no cancer!’ you know? Instead, in that moment, I thought . . . five years. . . . and then had this weird feeling deep inside of me.

Here are some good things that have happened over the past five years:

Zsolt got his PhD

We traveled a lot, and did it well

I published Claire Never Ending and in a way, it makes me feel like I will live forever through the ripples

We moved to Canada

We created jobs when there were no jobs

We had our own apartment, and we made friends with our neighbours

I wrote and wrote and wrote, and became a freelancing writer

My friend and I started a podcast

I had three years of remission, and one year of shrinking

Every morning I woke up beside my best friend and husband

We traveled some more

I turned 28, then 29, then 30, then 31, then 32, and soon I’ll be 33

We came home

We made home

I sang in the shower

There was much drinking of tea with friends and family

Board games happened

And many other things, many big and small moments.

Life has been beautiful, just as much if not more than it has been hard. So, I am very, very grateful for these five years. They do mean a great deal to me, even if this anniversary isn’t what I had hoped it would be. Illness sure as heck changes your life, but I hope I am a better person for it. If I can’t have my life insurance policy, I can at least claim a damn good life.

So that is all I have to say about that.

~Catherine

 

 

 

More Audio & Storytelling :)

Here’s a little bit more of blog turned podcast. In this batch of Hey It’s Me I have two posts, and one collection of postcards read aloud. If you dig it do let me know. We’ll be traveling soon, and I also want to capture that somehow. I want to capture all of these moments and chronicle them. I just do. It’s never the same when you go back to read the old stories, but even if it’s not the same, it is still something.

Clips from https://soundcloud.com/catherinebrunelle

Check out the latest three episodes. I think the music is just lovely.

Music featured in these episodes were found on Free Music Archive:
That Kid in Fourth Grade Who Really Liked the Denver Broncos” (by Chris Zabriskie)
Deep Blue Sea (with Jean Ritchie)” (by Howie Mitchell)
I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” (1907, piano roll) (by John H. Glover-Kind) and “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899, Z. Brewster-Geisz version) (by Scott Joplin)

 

 

A Claire Who Lived for 1514 Words

ClaireNeverEndingA Cut Character from Claire Never Ending: I was looking through my files today, trying to find the revised short-story I’d written not far back as a spin from Claire Never Ending. What I found instead was this chapter. Well, it’s not a chapter. It’s a character I was building for the novel, but didn’t write beyond 2000 words. For each new Claire, I had to find out who she was – so would write these scenes that felt out a character. I think LaLa would have fit into Ruby’s story slot. Maybe she’s Ruby in a different dimension, if Ruby had never jumped off that train with James.

Anyhow, here is it. It’s never been edited, so please excuse the errors.  If you ever want to check out Claire Never Ending, It’s over on Amazon.


 

La La Bliss

 

“Make room, Fellas – clear space, you Dames.

We’ve just gotta announce who’s stepping on the dance floor. Drums! Somebody get me a drum roll! Come on, louder, bigger! Now keep it rolling men, make me scream over top of ya!

Ladies and Gentlemen slap those hands together, cause the hottest Betty in this roaring waterfall city has deemed to grace us with her delicious form. With all the curves of the Mississippi, and legs longer than a cedar giant. Let’s give a hand for the hottest gal this side of the border! Our very own hotsy, totsy, taxi dancing queen – La La Bliss!”

And from the shadows steps La La Bliss, already shaking her hips and flapping those arms – side dancing, knees twisting, breasts waving, beads bouncing. Catch those big charcoal eyes, and short, copper hair – mind the flash of her gold sequined headband wrapped round her pretty brow. The limbs are flying and her smile’s got snap – she’s a crazy, whacked out, sexy mess.

A quarter slips into the announcer’s palm with a big red kiss smeared along his perky, happy cheek, and a wink is delivered through her dark native eyes – a wink and a promise for a piece of the take.

“This one’s a quarter boys. She’s fine goods, Fellas. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em out. Quarter tickets only!”

Little Bliss knows how to sparkle. That’s plain as Jane’s face. Sparkle La La, La La Bliss. Not her maiden name, not her married name either. Because that was back then, back before La La was born. She’s a new woman now, and sailing above the rest of the desperate dames in this town. The lost women, she calls them. She doesn’t drop to her knees for her keep, not lucky little La La Bliss.

“Line up boys!” she laughs into the mic. Her eyes scan the crowd and she winks at them all. Make it look fun, make it look wild. And she holds out her hand as the men race to claim her – bumping and pushing and falling at her feet.

The pink and yellow lights of Freddy’s Bourgeois Dance hall shine and slip and catch her in the spotlight, blind her in the eyes – and if you weren’t desperate, and if you weren’t fighting, if you had a seat at the back and were apart from the crowd, nursing a whiskey and worn out from the world, if you weren’t a drunken mad man frothing at the mouth and piling your tickets into her pale little hand, then maybe, for just a moment, you’d spot something smouldering behind her dark stare. As she hits the polished floor with that good sorta jazz music flying in the background, and swings into the Charleston with her too short, too ugly partner whose staring at her with glassy moon eyes and a look of utter awe slapped across his face, maybe you could see a little of the hurt, glancing at you before it melts back into her smile, and she laughs and shakes her hair.

She’s a naturally injured woman, little light La La Bliss. But so are most women who end up dancing, who end up here, alone, where the water plummets between two countries.

With the stab of her fountain pen, Lala finished inking out her words slowly but surely. Every holiday she’d go out to the pharmacy and buy the prettiest postcard she could afford, and since coming to Niagara, she could afford the real fancy ones, printed in colour and everything. Now she turned the small card round between her fingers, watching the fat New Years baby stare at her with a sash across its basket reading 1927 in red glitter. It cost a dime, tourist prices, but she didn’t mind.

Finishing her note, she tucked it into her carpet bag; she’d never given up her carpet bag, or her worn out beaver jacket. They were items for life, her mother had told her as she’d passed them along, they’ll last far beyond your generation, her mother had said. And Gil had wanted to burn them. He’d wanted to burn every bit of who she was before arriving. Every last bit. She was never really his, and he knew that all along, knew it from the tan line on her ring finger that they never spoke about aloud. Anyhow, she wasn’t his girl, she was only his favourite.

The band was cooling off out there, playing a smooth jive that strummed and hummed through her dressing room walls. The crowd was thinning, everyone was going home. A knock on the door, it was one of the other girls, Rouge, dripping in sweat and patting her armpits with a towel, “Good pull tonight, Bliss Baby?” asked Rouge, and she stepped into Lala’s dressing room and fixed her eyelashes in the bright, bulb lined mirror.

Lala reapplied her lipstick. “Not bad.”

“You going out? Find a fella or something?”

“Or something,” replied La La with a wink. Her voice had gone thick with the smoky halls and late night shouting. She put down the lipstick and lifted the iron, getting a few of those last curls, then flipped her head and shook it all out into a disheveled mess, straightening back up and fixing the strands in the mirror, getting it to look just right. Lala didn’t know too much about politics, or the world, or anything really. What she knew about were men. The other girls primped and puffed, but not La La; she oozed, she spread herself open and let it all hang out. Gil had always said a women looked most beautiful after making love. And Lala had the eyes of a woman left in the bed, so Gil had said. She knew that much about the men with the tickets: they all craved a smoky, hazy, loved up girl like her, even if only for one dance.

Rouge stopped her own primping and looked over Bliss. “I’m gettin’ out of this place Lala, you oughta do the same. You see these,” she bent in close and bore her small blue eyes into Lala’s large dark stare. “You see those lines? Didn’t have those before, eh, and I’ll bet you get them too. I’m getting outta here, Baby Bliss.”

“Where you going?” asked Lala.

“Hollywood.”

That got her attention. The whole reason La La had run away from home was to become a star. But somehow she’d been distracted, caught up by the Falls. She hadn’t even made it to the border, and it was only over the river.

“You gonna be a film star?” asked La La. She lit up a cigarette and took a long pull.

“I’m gonna have a laugh,” answered Rouge. That wasn’t her real name either. Round Freddy’s Bourgeoisie Dance hall, none of the girls had real names.

The clangs and the bangs and the boom boom booms raised up in a crescendo of razz-a-tazz music, with the bar tender calling last round, and the clock ticking down to three AM. It was Lala’s cue, the club was closing. She had a different show to attend next.

“Good luck,” said Lala, standing from her chair, picking up her fox fur cape and throwing it over her shoulders. She looked in the mirror a moment, at the lush woman who stared back all dressed up and ready to go, then she slid out of the fox and hurried to the closet, pulling out her old jacket – the beaver fur, and slid her arms into the familiar sleeves. With a sigh she turned back to the mirror. Rouge had slid into LaLa’s chair and pulled a flask from her garter.

“Want some?” asked Rouge.

La La buttoned her jacket and accepted the flask, taking a swig. “I’ll see you on the big screen,” she whispered, still staring at Rouge’s reflection.

“Here’s hoping,” answered Rouge. La La handed Rouge the flask.

Lala wasn’t jealous. She wasn’t anything, because a girl like Rouge wouldn’t make it down there, no more than she’d made it up here, up in Niagara. She was yesterday’s news, expired goods – and it came off her like a cheap perfume. No one would touch Rouge Deliquesce; Lala didn’t know much, but she knew that for sure.

Lala wasn’t jealous that Rouge was leaving. She was the star of this dance hall. Still the star. And nothing, nothing and no one, was gonna ruin that. Taking the postcard from her desk, La La tucked it into her pocket, picking up her burning cigarette and closing the door behind her as she left the dressing room, left the dance hall, and slipped out into the night. The dark buildings echoed with the click of her heels as she walked with sure steps along the frozen, deserted main street of Niagara falls.

She flicked the burning cigarette down into the gutter. She was the star of this little down. And now, it was time for her late night show. Gil was a man who didn’t like to wait.