Word of advice; do not, for the love of well made chicken soup and all other things holy, ever ever ever Google the words and look at the images for “The brutal art of being”.
“There is brutality and there is honesty. There is no such thing as brutal honesty.”
~ Robert Anthony.
That said, living is brutal. It is hard on our bodies, what with that getting old crap… then there are certain aspects of how we treat one another. Why the fuck are we so stupidly cruel to each other?
There is another part of me that kind of finds this sentiment above a bit ridiculous. I mean, we are animals after all, it’s not like opposable thumbs and the ability to breast feed instantly granted us some sort of “nice card”. As a matter of fuck fact, I learned at an early age that life had this brutal part to it. Between friends with bodyguards, sleeping in the same room as my brother so one of us would have the chance to scream for help in case we were kidnapped, watching my dad routinely killing bulls through his grand love-affair with bullfighting… this were in my face demonstrations that life could have a nasty bitter after-taste. It is super interesting to note that the same place that gave me all this… hmmm….. brutality, if you will…. also gave me magic. Beautiful, glorious magic.
I, at this very moment, am wondering if I lost the ability to see this magic? A temporary (I would hope) blindness? Or maybe I am seeing another side to the magic, and I need to learn to recognize it. Perhaps it left when my faith in the divine disappeared in a puff of smoke? When I used to feel this kind of angst (for the lack of a better work and to a much lesser degree) I used to think it was a part of my search for grace. Maybe it is an extension of searching for grace? A more fevered search.
When I left my life behind and moved to Ecuador to attend medical school, one of the more incredible things that happened was that a boy followed me there. I had no idea that he loved me, but he did. My Ecua-mami (my mother figure in Ecuador) and I talked about how this made me feel… I was nervous and apprehensive, I had never even considered even an attraction to him, yet here I was planning a vacation with him. We talked about assumptions and implications. She told me that I would make my own decisions, but that life would, in a way, make them for me. That is exactly what happened.
I never was able to love him the way I think he wanted me to. I learned recently, that he just earned a significant year chip in the Bill and Bob club. This dramatically coincides with when he realized I was not going to spend the rest of my life with him. While I can’t confirm that his experience with me served as some catalyst, my gut tells me it plays into that. Life is brutal. I took so much for granted with him, though not in a shameful way. I still think about that experience traveling around Ecuador with him with a certain fondness. It was, however, rather brutal… thankfully it was imbued with a certain magic that the landscape provided and in some ways became one of those significant romantic moment of ones in my life.
So, fondness… there is a gentle art to fondness. I used to be a master of it… it being genuine fondness. Maybe this is where I should explore next. That area is a place in my experience, my life, where some hard truths about self are to be acknowledged (like the story of the boy above, for example). The nice thing is that fondness is gentle, and even the hardest of these truths are tempered with a certain gentleness.
Navigating a cancer diagnosis that has a surgical intervention is pretty complicated. In the case of breast cancer the mastectomy or lumpectomy scar is right there for you to look at, it is hard to hide from, even in a case where the patient has opted to get reconstruction.
Girly bits, the lower ones, cancer is a little different.
Both breast and cervical cancer are traditionally considered women’s cancer (though men can and do get breast cancer). Our breasts and vaginas are the most obvious parts of what makes us women (yes, yes, yes, aside from all that inside touchy-feely kind of stuff).
I have not had breast cancer, but I used to sit on a board for an organization that served women who had breast cancer, and as such I heard a ton of stories. Women’s sexuality, for many of us, are tied up in our boobs.
Are they small. Are they big. What kind of nipples. Do they sag. Do they perk.
People we, as women, love intimately, typically love them.
I can’t imagine the mental turmoil surrounding losing your breasts.
I know too well the psychological turmoil in losing your lower girly bits.
For starters, here is a pictorial cartoon like representation that I took from the ethers about what those girly bits look like. I would have used actual body parts, but really, it can be hard to tell from something like a medical school cadaver image.
It should not be a surprise to anyone that I owned these parts. These parts are also part of what made me a girl. Aside from boobs and all that other stuff. Gender identity… I believe that is the new buzzword.
So, below is a picture of me after the surgery. I had to use some fancy apps on my phone to remove those parts which I had removed. But this is all that is left inside me. Most of my vagina. And my ovaries. Everything else was taken out. My uterus – OUT. My cervix – OUT. My Fallopian Tubes – OUT. There were some other things that got taken out too; lymph nodes, tissue… but those aren’t girly bits. Oh, and you may be wondering what is up with my ovaries. For now, since I plan on asking my oncologist about them at the next meeting, I just imagine that he blinged them up and hung them on my ribs or something once he separated them from my uterus and Fallopian tubes. I imagine that they are dangling like a disco ball for my abdominal region (what seems to have gotten big enough to play host to an CRAZY internal organ dance party).
But this is my trying to make light of something that is far more serious. My scar from this surgery is on my abdomen. It has not really exemplified what exactly happened to me.
I had all those parts removed. My vagina was shortened.
For the past 5 months, I have been terrified to think about what my new body was like. I knew and celebrated it being cancer free, but it changed. it changed in ways that make it very obvious.
But these are things I cannot see. And because I can’t see what my new vagina was like, I had created horrible images. These were courtesy of words like scar tissue and granulation that were tossed my way in my post surgical exams.
Those are not pretty words, images of keloid and granulation in my mind as to what my new vagina looked like. I had images of puckers tough tissue reminiscent of the ears that a bullfighter cuts from a bull. In my head, my new vagina was hideous. I was ashamed and horrified.
So, finally, after five months. I got up the courage to take a feel and see what it was like.
It wasn’t hideous to the touch, there were no areas of puckered keloid tissue with granulation that I could identify. The tissue was smooth, taut, moist. Just what it should be, though missing the nose tip of a cervix.
And when I thought about it some more, I saw so many possibilities and had to chuckle at the notion that each one had at least one “rule violation”.
I thought about one dealing with the many faces of cancer; from the physicians that find it, the pathologists that decipher it, the oncologists that treat it, the people who have endured it, the families of those who suffered it, the nurses who care for them, the scientists researching it.
It would be good, but it is a theme and violates the programming rules.
Then I thought about what it was like growing up as a third culture kid, and how cool it would be to get other people who grew up that way. I think my friend Doralice would have some wonderful insights, as would my friend Sparrow, and my friends Jeff and Erica. I think it would be interesting to give voice to that kind of experience. It is a bit unusual.
I have met so many interesting people, I would love to have an event to hear them talk… the Jivaro indian that had to flee his tribe because he wouldn’t convert, the people who started putumayo, the circus people, the rodeo folks, singers, entrepreneurs of the ridiculous, those off grid (the hardest to organize), photographers, movie stars, cartoonists in the golden era, explorers, survivors, hedonists, narcissists, and so on.
That got me to thinking about what would happened if I was told I had to give a Ted talk… kind of talk could I give? what would it be about?
My ideas for Ted events is large…. but the list of things I feel I would be qualified to talk about is pretty non-existent.
I suppose I could talk about how being diagnosed with cancer was life changing in some spectacularly subtle ways… or what it was like being born to a bullfighter father and an explorer mother, though that is really their stories. About being a child of divorce (booooooring). What it was like managing a high stress pregnancy, most of which was spent on bed rest (gag me).
At this point in my life, I think I would talk about why I think vaccines are important, from a theoretical view, and cultural view, and prevention view, a mothers view, a survivors view,
What would your Ted talk be about?
*stands for examine your zipper, pretty darn quick, before I look (a childhood phrase)
So, I left this comment: I am a bullfighter’s daughter. I feel for all of those men and their families. The bulls did what they were bred to do.
But after all these years, I still get sick to my stomach when I reply to these things and/or bring up my familial ties to bullfights.
I still so vividly recall one day after bullfighting came up in my college English class and people were saying so many things that I knew to be incorrect that I spoke up and corrected them. After class, a woman in her 50’s that was in the class with me came up to me and said “You and your family disgust me”, she then spat on me (my feet, actually) and left before I could have replied. Admittedly, I was pretty speechless.
I can understand why people hate bullfighting, it is so in your face with forces of nature that humans tend to ignore. But, I am so lucky to have seen a very different side (through my father and our bull ranch where we raised fighting bulls), one that is so much more impassioned with things like respect and admiration between two very different animals (the human and the bovine).
I think that if there is a good side to being subjected to the vitriol of those who loathe bullfights… I know what it is like to be bullied (isn’t that an interesting phrase to use here). In my case, I did not choose bullfighting, it is what my father loves with an immense passion. I love my father, I have to include that in our relationship, I have had to come to peace with it, to dig deep and find out why and strangely enough it is through that process that I have learned that every time I want to react strongly to something I know that I also need to dig deeper (hard to remember, but it is there), to know that there is always more to the story. I have to be gentle, I have to love and most of all… I have to learn how to forgive. It is sure hard when people spit at you though.
I imagine that when one is the child of any parent involved in something that requires spectators (think; athletes, actors, rodeo clowns, what have you) you grow up attending a lot of those spectator events.
Holy mother of god, I am betting that they attend a ton of those said events. But in a very integral way… you are on the field, on the set, in the barrel.
My life was spent much like this.
And by this, I mean THIS:
I look bored. Dear lord, I probably was… at the point the picture was taken anyway.
See, while I grew up watching my father bullfight, it was so much a part of our lives (at least until my brother was almost killed and my mom stopped going – more below) that I think I thought of it as if all kids my age were forced to attend these things.
Not all bullfights were boring though, the one in the picture of me above was actually pretty heart-stopping. All of us kids at the bullfights, played while the bulls were being fought, it was pretty normal in that respect. This day, however, would prove to be somewhat different. My brother would fall in to the bull-ring.
See, my mother, brother ,and I would always sit at the barrera. Those are the front row seats… which are right at the callejon or that alley way in between the two red walls in the ring (in the picture below), it goes all the way around allowing for the people working the bullfight to move to different places to help the men that are actually inside the ring.
My brother happened to fall in to the callejon just as the bull had jumped into it. Picture something like this, but with a real chubby 4-year-old running in front of the bull.
It was heart wrenching. We ran to the barrera, watching my brother run as fast as he could from the bull that was not to far behind him. Other people seated around the ring reaching in trying to grab him and pull him to safety. Almost like they were doing a “wave” at a stadium, but more life-threatening… screams from women, men shouting directions at each other… it was tense and full of that kind of energy. The men in the ring frantically running around the inside of the ring trying to figure out how to get the bull out and back in to the center sand, once they realized what else was going on. I can recall that experience so vividly, that my hands still shake and I get choked up as I type about it.
A gray-haired gentleman and his son (who must have been in his thirties) managed to catch my brother as I can recall watching as one of them held his chubby little arm and the other was holding on to his chubby little leg, raising him high and back into the stands.
I think my parents marriage might have really ended that day.
I didn’t come to hate bullfights, but I didn’t love them either. It was what my father did, and where I would get to hang out with all the kids of his friends… and eat, seriously, in Ecuador bullfight food is awesome… I smell an empanada de morocho and I can be right back at those memories.
My better memories of being at them involves hanging out with him before the big game/performance. It is a more tense experience in some ways, a lot of decisions need to be made and a lot of things need to be observed. Essentially, you look at the bulls and often have a lottery of sorts to see who would draw which bull. Then there would be talk about who gets to go first (seniority – often based on first kill or first fight). It is still my favorite thing to experience. After this, and in cases where it is just a tienta and no one should get hurt in a matter that requires major hospitalization, I like helping my dad out, passing him his swords and capes from the callejon, talking about the strengths and weakness the calf (no bulls here) may have.
Growing up though, during the actual bullfighting, eating and playing were the best part… of course, when my dad was in the ring I would often sit and watch.
I remember a lot of playing and a lot of eating. It infiltrated my weekends as well as my weeks… The picture above is of my son… somehow wrangled into helping my dad practice, there was always a lot of practice.
I still remember a lot of bullfights, but not anywhere near the barrera… after that day, anyway.
But none the less, it was how I grew up.
See, my father loves bullfighting. A lot. and by a lot, I seriously mean A LOT. He has been doing this since he was little, there are pictures of him as a pre-teen making his little brothers pretend to be a bull while he mimics moving the cape.
And then there was college, where he managed to talk his brothers and friends into doing this with him:
The thing is though, that between all the bullfights and the ranch we had where we raised fighting bulls… I managed to pick something of what he loves up.
I know a good fight when I see one, and while I can’t recite all the names of the passes, when they are mentioned to me, I have a pretty clear idea what they are talking about. The same goes for the bull descriptions, bull afflictions, and other such terminology employed by those who live and breathe this stuff.
And I don’t really hate it… I mean, I get a huge gut wrench when I see the bull killed and often find myself praying for the bulls quick demise and I can’t even begin to describe what happens to me when I am watching my father bullfight (and I am not as scared for my dad’s safety as I am concerned about his doing well).
My dad insists I have the “gusano”.
I am not as convinced. Sometimes, talking about bullfights gives me a serious headache… trying to explain subtle nuances to those who are not in the know, trying not to get spit on by those who abhor it, trying to let those who detest it get their anger out without being insulted, trying to catch the key pieces when I am around those who know far more than I… it is enough to literally give me heartburn.
I just can’t forsake something I grew up so intimately with. That in order to more fully understand I have tried to actually do something so I would get what it was about, to put the terminology and subtleties I understand into practice.
I am just at that point where I have given in and said, yes… this scary as shit thing that on occasion involves killing something is something I grew up with and I don’t think I would have it any other way… the good and the bad that it brought in to my life.
I have been in a ring with an itty bitty that managed to hurt me pretty darn bad (you don’t kill the itty bitty’s, you are actually there for other reasons).