“The story is too hard to tell.”
This statement has taken me longer to write than anything in my life. The first time I applied to law school two years ago, I was on a path with a clear plan and clear priorities: to move back to LA and be near my family as I finished law school in three years on scholarship. It was in the first month at home that summer that I learned my family was changing forever. It was in the month before school began that my grandma’s cancer spread requiring a second round of chemo and radiation; the prognosis was still good though with this form of cancer being successfully treated in 89% of patients.
Everything I understand about strength and resilience, I learned from my grandmother. She was diagnosed with a “highly treatable” form of cancer at the end of 2013 and everything seemed to be going exceptionally well for about 9 months.
I shaved my head after my first week of law school. I survived orientation week and then went to the barbershop where I had the barber cut off 13 inches to donate to a wigmaker for cancer patients and shave the rest. I am a doer. I don’t do well sitting still and problems that I can’t solve myself drive me wild. The strongest woman I ever knew, who helped raised me and I could always call on, who faced down anger and prejudice as a part of a mixed-race couple on the South Side of Chicago in 1965 was reduced to tears by the patches of hair on the floor. Watching my 69 year old grandmother be self conscious when she lost her hair during chemotherapy seemed for me almost too much to bear; and so I cut my hair off so that she, at least in that aspect, wouldn’t have to go through it alone.
Obituaries are odd things to write. In June, I wrote my grandmother’s obituary on a computer inside a voluntary psychiatric facility. I wrote about how she made the best macaroni and cheese, spoke almost perfect English but never figured out that one brushes her “hair” not “hairs,” traveled the world and was survived by so many people who loved her completely and without reserve. I wrote about the lessons she taught us through her actions about caring and giving and truly living the life that you imagine for yourself. From inside of a facility for those who have survived suicide, I wrote about the beauty of living and the importance of not taking life for granted, but I wasn’t yet sure if I believed it. I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why God would take someone so faithful and so good. Why when I still needed her–when I needed her most would her prognosis go from good to dead so suddenly? It’s an odd thing to be wishful that a loved one had more time and upset that she had so much more living to do, when you yourself want to die. At once death is the worst enemy and the trusted friend, someone you hate more than anything but that you wish would pay you a visit. I’m still here and she’s not, and I will never be able to make that compute in my mind. I pick up the phone to call her often and I haven’t been able to bring myself to move my things out of my room in her house. It’s silly I know, but somewhere I think that if I leave everything exactly as it was when she was there, I can hold on to the idea that she’s just around the corner and will be back soon.
My hair is short in memory of my grandmother. Maybe one day I’ll grow it out again, but right now I like being reminded of her every time I run my hand through my hair. I’m doing my best to live like she showed me.