When the Dust Settles and the Smoke Clears

Most of us are familiar with variations of the expression, “When the dust settles”, or, “When the smoke clears”, we find out who our real friends are. This expression is apt when the roads our lives take become winding, and there is no clear path ahead of us. Sometimes, family and friends decide to stick with you as you navigate tricky twists and turns. Other times, they disappear into the dust and smoke, never to be seen or heard from again.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the people I’ve known who have vanished into the mist. October is not an easy month, not just because of the proliferation of pink. It is also the month when, in 2007, my life as I knew it changed forever.

If you have been lucky enough to not go through an experience where you wake up one day and things will never be the same, cherish that luck. I’m not talking about being diagnosed with cancer. I’m talking about your life literally changing to the point where all your routines, and all the things you regularly count on, acquire an expiration date.

October 17, 2007 was the day that happened to me. I don’t need to share all the details on this forum, but by December 2008, I lost my home, a great many of my possessions, and any security I took comfort in. By October, 2010, I lost even more possessions, including the car I was driving, the place I was living, and the remaining family I counted on. The past five years has been a mighty struggle to regain some semblance of security, and throwing in a breast cancer diagnosis has made it even more interesting.

During this time, I haven’t been able to completely forget about the people obliterated by the dust and smoke. I’ll admit the memories have gotten dimmer, but I find it difficult to erase them from my mind. I’m not one of those individuals who can metaphorically kick friends and family to the curb and forget about them. Some people I’ve encountered are experts at it, including my own mother and brother, and I’m grateful I never inherited that trait. I don’t typically fear karmic retribution or winding up in hell, but I’d rather ascribe to the “do unto others…” gospel even though I’m not a practicing Christian. It just makes sense to not shit on people at any  given opportunity. As I said, you never know when you yourself will  be the recipient of shit.

I’ve run the gamut of emotions during this time: anger; sadness; pity; rage; revenge fantasies. You name it, I’ve felt it. I’ll add remorse to the list because I must admit that my behavior at points was less than stellar. Unfortunately, when I reached out to a few individuals to apologize, my efforts were rebuffed. That made me feel even worse.

I recently found out that two women I was quite close to prior to my life implosion were also diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve heard snippets about them through third parties over the years, including how one of them would gossip about me being the architect of my own demise. I managed to blow off the information and move on, but now that I’ve found out we share the bonds of cancerhood, I can’t stop thinking about them. You always say you wouldn’t wish cancer on your worst enemy, but I find that I don’t exactly feel bad for them. After all, they didn’t feel bad for me when I was having a hard time, so why should I feel bad for them? That sounds petty, but it’s the truth.

Before I sat down to write this essay, I conferred with members of a private Facebook group I belong to about whether or not voicing these thoughts was a good idea. I took each and every opinion into consideration and decided to go ahead and write them down. Writing has always been cathartic for me, even back in the days before blogs existed. I kept diaries at different stages of my life. They were supposed to be private, but others who did not respect my privacy invaded it. Now that we regularly question our levels of privacy, I thought, what the hell? I’m at the point where I honestly don’t give a shit who knows what about me, or who gets offended by what I write. I can’t figure out a way to make a decent living as a writer post-breast cancer, so I might as well throw as much as I can against the wall to see what sticks. That’s pretty much how I’ve been living my life for the past eight years, so why stop now?

I will end by saying that despite all the difficulties I’ve experienced, all the anger I’ve felt, and all the assorted shit swirling around in my head, I’ve managed to hang on to my empathy. Yes, people have wronged me, and I indulged in some bad behavior of my own, but I’ve never stopped caring. I do, however, need to remember that people are not always what they seem. It’s the only way I can keep moving forward.

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