The next morning I woke up, dressed, and walked the three quarters of a mile across campus to my office. Normally I rode my bike and rocked jeans, my neon tennis shoes, and carried a backpack with all of my work paraphernalia in it. I believe my wardrobe accentuates the “young” in young professional but walking or riding your bike to work does not exactly facilitate heels and a power suit. Nor does the three flight climb up to my office which still usually ended in me panting and seeing stars.
Today I walked and rolled my hot pink suitcase along beside me. My aunt gave it to me as a graduation gift from high school. In the card that went along with it was a sentiment that she knew I had a bright future, this suitcase was for the adventures to come. (Also with the explanation that it was such a loud shade of pink so that I could find it easily in baggage claim. No sense wasting any extra minutes of this life waiting by that carousel) Since then, that suitcase has been on countless trips to Florida, Key West, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, California, Seattle, Colorado, Canada, it helped move me to Columbia, South Carolina, then on to Nashville, Tennessee, up to New York, then home again to Kentucky. I had thought the next time that I would pack it for another adventure would be to compete in a half iron distance tri in Wilmington, NC. Instead I was lugging it across campus so I could work a half day and then travel with my mother up to the Mayo Clinic to have another skull base surgery. My dad would be joining us the day of the surgery but my mom and I would go up first for consults and new scans.
I also carried with me the two items that I now never travel to Minnesota without, my pillow and my bear. My pillow is one of those awesome Tempurpedic pillows and it was a godsend during all the nights that I spent sleeping in an upright position. Because of the risk of pressure change in my head when I laid flat I was forced to “sit up straight” while sleeping during the weeks after surgeries 1,2, and now 3. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried it but it’s extremely difficult to maintain proper posture while unconscious. I fall asleep on plane rides all the time and the poor unfortunate souls who have to sit next to me usually have to wake me up as I start to lean towards them as I slip into an impromptu in-flight REM cycle. One sweet woman I sat next to a few months ago didn’t have the heart to nudge me. I woke up during our initial descent with my head resting on her shoulder and wondered in embarrassment how long I had been out. Had I been snoring? Oh God I didn’t drool on her did I? Anyway, the pillow was great for supporting my upper body so I didn’t slip down or fall to the side during the week I would spend at the hotel across the street from Mayo recovering when I was released from the hospital.
The second item that always travels with me is my bear. This is not a memento from childhood that used to protect me from the monsters under the bed, this is a bear that my brother gave me before I left for my first trip to Mayo.
My brother and I are four years apart so growing up we were always one frame shift ahead of or behind the other. He was in middle school while I was in high school, high school when I left for college, he was leaving for college when I returned home to begin graduate school. I was a swimmer and traveled with my mom on weekends and he played baseball and traveled with my dad. We did not become close until after both of us were out of school and into our twenties.
On the outside my brother exudes machismo. He was an athlete in college, he hunts, fishes, rides a motorcycle, he can lift heavy things, grow a beard, change a flat tire, I’ve never seen him throw a punch but I’m sure he could “defend my honor” if it came to it, the list goes on.
My brother and I are both very strong people on the outside but we both have a sensitive nature and a protective instinct for each other. For example, no girl will ever be good enough for my brother. Sorry ladies. I’m a tough sell. I was a bartender for a very long time during college and grad school and I have watched every one of you live up to every stereotype imaginable after you chug your vodka Redbull and socially down a Vegas bomb. Woo-girls are not to be trusted, (I know because I was one) especially with my brother’s heart. You’re just going to have to wait until you are in your mid to late twenties for me to be nice. (that’s when I grew out of it anyway)
When I found out about my first tumor I waited to tell him until I knew it wasn’t cancer. And debated about telling him at all when I found out that I would have to go to Mayo for my surgeries. He had also just started a new job and I did not want to distract him. I also worried that he would try to find a way to take off work and travel up there with us even though he didn’t have any sick or vacation time just like me. I felt a need to shield him from the responsibility of carrying the weight of this problem. However, my parents leaked the news and before I left for Mayo my brother gave me a “get better bear” for good luck as well as a strong and steady hug with a whispered “I love you, you can do this, if any of us can, it’s you.”
That bear has traveled there and back again with me now six times crammed in that pink suitcase. He sat in the bed with me while I was in the ICU and at the hotel while I recovered. He came home with me and accepted his post sitting on my bureau as a modified dreamcatcher. When I would wake up during the night after having nightmares of drowning I would turn on the light in my room and see him. For some reason the sight of that stuffed animal would bring me back to reality and help to calm me down. I could breathe, I was safe, everything was fine. I’m 29 so I’m sure many of my doctors and nurses thought this was a little ridiculous. A grown woman who needs a teddy bear? Where’s Mark Wahlberg? Is this that Seth McFarlane movie? But this was not a child’s toy it was a way for me to carry my brother and his protective nature with me. This was not a teddy bear it was a talisman.
I think my mom might have thought that I had gone nuts the night before we left when I called her in the middle of packing, in a panic, crying my eyes out. I explained to her that I had been trying to zip up the suitcase and caught the bear’s fabric in the track. I had ripped his back seam wide open and his stuffing was spilling out everywhere. It was a massacre. She reassured me that it would be ok and I growled back at her “Everything is not ok! I need to bring it with me! Why on earth didn’t you teach me to sew you crazy feminist!” (As I said, my mother is one of the few people who can handle me at my worst.) She came over with a needle and thread and performed surgery on my bear. Once he was reassembled I decided not to risk putting him back in my luggage.
So I walked across campus that morning with my pink suitcase, a pillow in one arm, and a teddy bear in the other. I looked like I was going to a slumber party with my gal pals Barbie and Skipper. People looked up as I passed them with raised eyebrows and I heard some woo girls who were in the middle of their walk of shame laughing at me.
I didn’t stop or look their way I just kept moving forward. I would need all of my energy for what my aunt had dubbed, “the adventures to come.”