As culture, we don’t talk about menopause very much. It must be as important as puberty, motherhood, or any other major biological turning point, but I have yet to learn much about it. Some of my older female friends have been kind enough to offer a little wisdom, like: “Menopause changes everything,” “I don’t think I slept well for over a decade,” “Your body’s going to do what it’s going to do,” and, “Thank goodness that’s over.” When I learned that menopause would start immediately upon having my ovaries removed tomorrow around noon, that was possibly the scariest part. That and the part about it being irreversible. Keep ’em coming, ladies!
I’ve been reading Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection. I have a confession to make: I’ve never read or seen The Vagina Monologues. But I know enough to know that it is highly ironic that Eve Ensler would develop cancer in her uterus and vagina. Her writing about it is wonderfully expressive and unabashedly political. It won’t replace The Bright Hour as my favorite memoir of the cancer experience, but it is way up there on my list. If you read her work as earnest, it is insufferable, but if you read it as ironic, then it makes more sense. Here’s one thing she wrote:
HOW’D I GET IT?
Was it tofu?
Was it failing at marriage twice?
Was it never having babies?
Was it having an abortion and a miscarriage?
Was it talking too much about vaginas?
Was it worry every day for fifty-seven years that I wasn’t good enough?
Was uit the pressure to fill Madison Square Garden with eighteen thousand or the Superdome with forty thousand?
Was it the exhaustion of trying to change?
Was it the city?
Was it the line of two hundred women repeated in hundreds of small towns for many years after each performance, after each speech, women lined up to show me their scars, wounds, warrior tattoos?
Was it suburban lawn pesticides?
Was it Chernobyl?
Three Mile Island?
Was it my father smoking Lucky Strikes and my mother smoking Marlboros?
Was it my father dying slowly and never calling to say good-bye?
Was it my mother’s thinness and frailty?
Was it bad reviews?
Or good reviews?
Was it being reviewed?
Was it sleeping with men who were married?
Was it always being third?
Was it my first husband sleeping with my close friend?
Was it shopping and needing to shop?
Was it being a vegetarian for thirty years?
Was it Froot Loops?
Massive chorine in swimming pools?
Was it Tab? I drank a lot of Tab after I got sober.
Was it Lilt (the tosic-smelling substance my mother used to perm my hair)?
Was it Tame (the solution she used to get the tangles out)?
Was it crinoline (the abusive and starchy material I used to have to wear under all my dresses)?
Was it Shirley Temples? Ginger ale with red dye number two juice and a red dye number two cherry on top–a favorite of the sophisticated country club alcoholic father.
Was it drinking water out of plastic bottles?
Not being breast fed?
Canned chop suey?
Was it turquoise popsickles?
Was it Epstein Barr?
Was it in my blood?
Was it already decided?
Was it deet?
Was it that I didn’t cry enough?
Or cried too much?
Was it promiscuous sex?
All those arrests at nuclear power plants?
Sleeping in radioactive dust?
Was it my IUD?
Was it birth control pills?
Was it not enough boundaries?
Was it too many walls?
Damn, I forgot to get arrested at nuclear power plants. But I did use Tame and drink the occasional Shirley Temple, so we have that much in common. I am grateful for those who can articulate what the illness experience involves, and Ensler has been an important voice for women’s experiences.
So it’s the holidays. I’m pretty sure that last night’s latkes are still slowly being digested in my stomach, which is at it should be on Hanukkah. As many recent articles and posts have noted, there’s not a lot, materially that we NEED over the holidays, other than the time and the experience of being together, so gifts are really not the point. However, your time, which has really come to be a stand-in for your life, is certainly valuable. It occurred to me that one of the nicest gifts that I have gotten is the people who have taken the time to read The Bright Hour or another cancer memoir that shares the experience of living with cancer on a day-to-day basis, so thank you to those who have done this, and if you are thinking of doing it, realize that this is something that you have done for yourself and for people who benefit from having their experiences voiced, shared, and heard.